All any dog owner wants is to live in harmony with their pets, for them to be well behaved so they can enjoy their company in a variety of places without it being a problem. For this to be achieved, a certain amount of education has to take place for your dog to learn what you want from him, otherwise he’s just going to get on and do what he enjoys doing the most, and who could blame him 😉
Problems can arise, however, when owners enlist the help of a trainer that uses aversive training methods, and many dog owners are unaware of what these are. They assume that because someone has set up a dog training business, they are the knowledgeable expert, and so accept that whatever they are told is the best way to train their dog. Sadly this is not always the case, and if you do enlist the help of a trainer that uses aversive training methods, you could end up with more problems than when you started!
How to Recognise Aversive Training Methods
Aversive Training Techniques are easily recognisable as long as you stop and think about how you are interacting with your dog, how you are handling his behaviour and whether your approach is proactive or reactive.
An aversive technique will almost always be reactive, your response in response to something your dog has or has not done. For example, your response to your dog pulling on the lead may be to jerk him backwards, this is an aversive training technique attempting to correct the behaviour of pulling on the lead.
Aversives are unpleasant stimuli used to attempt to cause changes in behaviour through punishment; by applying an aversive immediately following an unwanted behaviour from your dog, the likelihood of the behaviour occurring in the future is then supposedly reduced. Aversives can range from being slightly unpleasant or irritating (a smack on the nose) to physically damaging (such as jerking the lead or giving an Electric Shock). Not only are the techniques themselves unpleasant, but often an additional side effect is they can cause psychological damage that can become very deep rooted and long lasting.
Some common aversive methods a trainer may use:
- Jerking the lead: Used to stop a dog pulling on the lead or reprimand it for a wrong behaviour
- Choke Chains/Prong Collars: Used to cause pain by constriction when a dog pulls on the lead
- Shock Collars: Used to cause pain by electric shock when a dog runs away, attempts to leave a garden, to stop barking or any number of training failings.
- Physical Force: Used to ‘force’ a dog to sit or lay down if it fails to respond to a cue. Also used in an attempt to address many different behaviour problems, for example, pinning a dog to the ground to simulate an ‘alpha dog’ reprimand?
- Punishment: Used in many training situations to ‘reprimand’ a dog for an incorrect response or unacceptable behaviour, ranging from smacking a dog for failing to come back to physical abuse for chewing, destruction or defecating whilst owners are out.
- Squirting Water: Used to interrupt unwanted behaviours such as barking or aggression
- Throwing cans full of stones: Again used to interrupt unwanted behaviours such as barking or aggression
The Effect Aversive Techniques
Can Have On Your Dog
At best, when aversive methods are used in training, they can quickly cause a decrease in motivation and willingness to learn. whilst at the same time seriously affecting the human-canine relationship. Once a dog has learned to fear a particular stimulus, he could also show fear of other similar situations.
At worst, they can cause high levels of stress which could affect your dog’s health, ability to focus and learn along with his overall well being and contentment. Some of the more sensitive breeds can become unable to relax, fearful of people and in some cases it can actually cause aggression to develop as the dog tries to find a way of coping with or avoiding the unpleasant experiences.
Why Aversive Training Methods Don’t Work
Quite simply, aversive training techniques don’t work because they don’t address the CAUSE of the initial problem, nor do they actually teach the dog anything.
WHY is the dog barking?
WHY is the dog pulling on the lead?
WHY is the dog behaving aggressively?
WHY is the dog running away or not coming back when asked?
Aversives are used to stop a behaviour, but the behaviour is only a symptom of a cause, ie the dog barks (symptom) because he is afraid (cause). Although aversive training techniques may appear to work, in that they may stop the behaviour from happening, it doesn’t change anything, therefore the original reason for the dog barking, pulling or behaving aggressively is still there. He will just learn to suppress or alter his initial response (to another behaviour you probably don’t want) because of the unpleasant experience that occurs when he behaves that way.
This does not mean the behaviour has gone away, and the fact is, it is likely to return, often worse than it was to start with. However, in some cases the behaviour doesn’t return, but instead the dog psychologically suffers because the initial stress that created the behaviour is still present, it will just be expressed in a different way.
From the Dog’s Point of View: As an example, a dog is afraid of men and barks at them when he sees them. He does this because it is the only way he knows how to try and stop this fearful ‘thing’ from coming near him. It doesn’t matter that you know he has nothing to fear, what matters is his perspective. So you start squirting water at him when he does this (an aversive training method often used for reactive/aggressive behaviour) and maybe he is ‘shocked’ into silence, but he is still afraid! What’s more you have just ‘punished’ your dog for being afraid? Is that really what you want to do? Would you punish a child for crying or acting up because he’s afraid of something, or would you try to find a way to diminish that fear and show the child he’s safe and it’s ok? I know which I would choose.
If a dog’s fear is subdued through aversion, it will most likely manifest itself in some other way, or the dog could actually become reactive, because his original attempt to prevent having to face this fear didn’t work. Do you see how that could happen? The reactivity or aggression could even be redirected to a time and place the dog feels less controlled by the squirting water, he then becomes a very unpredictable dog!
In addition many dogs develop obsessive chewing disorders, digestion problems, disinterest and other psychological or physical responses to the use of aversive training methods. So you can see how using these techniques can really cause a myriad of additional problem behaviours other than the one you started with, not to mention ruining the relationship you have with your dog 🙁
Say no to aversive training methods, your dog will thank you for it, and end up being a better trained and much more relaxed animal. This in itself can reduce a dog’s reactivity to uncertain situations because he has a strong bond and trust in his owner.
If you are unsure whether your trainer is using aversive training methods, feel free to contact me and have a chat about it. You can use the email form here, or message me on the The Dog’s Point of View Facebook page here
In order to ensure you use a trainer who has been fully assessed and uses only positive, reward based methods in the classes and behaviour sessions look for one who is a member of a recognised membership body.
APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers)
IMDT (Institute of Modern Dog Trainers)
COAPE (Centre of Applied Pet Ethology)
PPGBI (The Pet Professional Guild British Isles)