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How NOT to Train a Dog: Why Aversives & Punishments Are Bad Ideas!

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Dog Behavior By AdminLogin 29 min read September 7, 2021

There’s plenty of advice on how to train a dog online. But while some of it is good, a lot of it is downright terrible.

We have plenty of resources at K9 of Mine on how to raise your dog right (our online training courses are a great place to start). 

But today, we’re going to talk about how not to train a dog

There’s a ton of outdated dog-training information online, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed or confused. We’re going to try to help by focusing on some of the most dangerous risks ill-informed dog training presents. 

Specifically, we’re going to take an in-depth dive into why you shouldn’t use aversive punishment in dog training.

If you’ve ever considered using an e-collar or prong collar on your dog, make sure to read this entire article first before making a decision! It might be the most important article you’ve ever read… at least where the health and happiness of your dog is concerned.

How NOT to Train a Dog: Key Takeaways

  • “Aversive” dog training tools and techniques are those that use pain or intimidation to achieve the desired result. Common examples include prong collars, shock collars, and “alpha” or “dominance-based” training philosophies.
  • There are a number of reasons to avoid using aversive training methods. For starters, they’re simply not as effective as positive-based approaches are, but they’re also simply disrespectful to your dog, who you ostensibly love. 
  • A subset of modern dog trainers still employ aversive tools and techniques, but (thankfully) science is helping to turn this tide. The empirical data on the subject of aversive approaches is quite clear, so it is wise to simply avoid trainers still employing these archaic approaches.

What Is An “Aversive” and How Does it Relate to Dog Training?

The term “aversives” refers to any training tool that uses pain, fear, or intimidation to punish a dog

More specifically, they use something called “positive punishment” to train a dog, which means they involve the addition of a punishment to deter an undesired behavior.

positive punishment

To understand what an aversive positive punishment tool really is, we need to explain a bit about learning theory.

There are essentially three different sub-theories of learning theory, including classical conditioning, operant learning, and social learning. Today, we’re primarily focusing on operant learning theory, first popularized by B. F. Skinnner. 

Operant learning theory posits four different feedback models, called quadrants.

The quadrants are as follows:

  • Positive Reinforcement: Adding (+) a pleasant reward when the subject performs desired behavior to reinforce it.
  • Negative Reinforcement: Taking away (-) an unpleasant element when the desired behavior is performed to reinforce it.
  • Positive Punishment: Adding (+) an unpleasant stimulus when the subject performs an undesired behavior to punish it.
  • Negative Punishment: Taking away (-) something desirable when the subject performs an undesired behavior to punish it

We’ll talk about some of these quadrants in greater detail below.

Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment: The Preferred Dog-Training Options

positive reinforcement and negative punishment

Positive reinforcement is generally the best tool in the learning toolbox, for reasons we’ll detail as we go. 

But not all positive-based methods are exactly the same. There are several different training approaches — including “force-free,” “LIMA,” and “positive-reinforcement based training” — that all fit generally under the same umbrella.  

Despite the minor differences between these approaches, they all rely primarily on positive reinforcement, as well as a small amount of negative punishment.  

Despite having the word “punishment” in the term, “negative punishment” actually tends to be a fairly gentle technique. This is because all you are doing is removing a reward (like your attention, a toy, freedom to access areas of the home), to punish an undesired behavior. 

In other words, if your doggo does something you want him to do, you could give him a treat (positive reinforcement). Or, if he does something you don’t want him to do, you take away your attention for a few minutes (negative punishment). 

Positive Punishment: A Dog-Training Approach to Avoid 

positive-punishment

Positive punishment is actually a lot more extreme than negative punishment.

With positive punishment, you’re adding an unpleasant sensation (like a zap from a shock collar or leash correction) to punish an undesirable behavior.

For example, if your pooch lunges at another dog while on a walk, you might pop his prong collar. 

This is not only unpleasant for your dog (and, to an extent, for many owners), but it is also unproductive, as we’ll explain further below

Accordingly, most ethical trainers will completely avoid using positive punishment. Or at least, they will use it very rarely, and only when all other options have been explored consistently and thoroughly for quite some time.

By contrast — and despite being referred to as  “force-free” or “positive-based” training — many modern dog trainers use both positive reinforcement and negative punishment. But these types of trainers will never use positive punishment – or at least will use it very rarely, and only when all other options have been explored consistently and thoroughly for quite some time.

For the purposes of this article, From this point forward, when I refer to “punishment,” I specifically mean positive punishment, not negative punishment

One more time, just to make sure everyone is with us:

  • Positive punishment = Adding an undesirable stimulus 
  • Negative punishment = Removing a desirable stimulus

Our discussion refers to positive punishment which is implemented via aversive training tools (which are designed intentionally to inflict unpleasant stimuli).

Aversive Dog Training Tools: Prong Collars, Choke Chains, and E-Collars

aversive tools

Shock collars (aka e-collars), choke chains, and prong collars are all aversive tools, which use pain (or, if you want to be generous, “physical discomfort”) to reduce the likelihood of a dog performing the undesired behavior.

Citronella collars and vibrating collars also fall under the aversive umbrella. For that matter, administering “leash pops” with a standard flat collar is also an example of an aversive technique (even though the tool itself isn’t aversive).

These are all considered gentler corrections than those issues via prong collars and similar tools, but they still rely on using an unpleasant sensation to punish and decrease an undesired behavior.

Why Should Aversives Be Avoided in Dog Training?

Aversives are controversial training tools, and while many old school dog trainers still employ them, no internationally recognized training organization employs these dog training tools or recommends them.

There are a number of reasons why aversives are not recommended in dog training.

1. Aversive punishment tools make training unpleasant for your dog.

As an owner and/or dog trainer, you want training time to be a fun and exciting experience for your dog. In order to get the best response out of your dog, training should be a rewarding and pleasant activity.

Using fear, intimidation, or pain as part of your training will make your dog dread training sessions. Dogs should look forward to training sessions, not be nervous or anxious about training time.

frightened dog

2. Aversive-based training Increases your dog’s stress and anxiety.

The implementation of aversives and punishment in training will only increase your dog’s stress and anxiety level. 

This isn’t conjecture; it has been empirically demonstrated: 

  • One 2019 study examined 92 subjects, some of which were recruited from a school that utilized aversive techniques, and others who were from a reward-based training school. The researchers found that the dogs in the aversive group displayed “significantly more stress-related behaviors: — including rapid panting, yawning, and lip licking, among others — than dogs from the reward group.  The aversive group also showed higher cortisol levels after training and were more “pessimistic” about future training sessions
  • Another recent year-long study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that owners who use confrontational or aversive methods to work with aggressive pets will likely continue to see aggressive behavior until training techniques are changed.

Obviously, we cannot create a life for our dogs that is 100% stress-free, but to be the instigator of such stressors when other more kind, gentle, and human methods are available is a recipe for a bad relationship with your pet.

3. Aversives create negative associations for your dog.

When you use aversive tools in training, you become a dispenser of fear and pain, and your dog may begin to associate these unpleasant sensations with your presence. 

In other words, training your dog with aversives teaches your dog to be afraid of you. 

It teaches your dog that you are someone who will potentially cause them pain or – at the very least – unpleasant sensations.

Fearful dog

Proponents of shock collars will say that the collars don’t hurt dogs – they just “startle” them.

This may be true when used appropriately (and keep in mind, they often aren’t), but having your dog associate you and your training sessions with being repeatedly startled will result in a negative association all the same.

If you’ve ever had a friend jump out at you from behind a closed door, you know how unpleasant being “startled” can be. Your heart rate jumps, and you get a rush of anxiety and adrenaline. 

No physical pain is caused, but it can still feel exhausting when you are startled.

If you had a friend who constantly jumped out at you from behind closed doors all the time, it would likely have a pretty significant impact on your life. You probably wouldn’t invite that friend over as often.

The same applies to your dog. 

Even if your dog is learning to curb undesired behaviors via aversive techniques, that’s not all he is learning. 

To quote a saying that dog trainers will sometimes use, “Pavlov is always on your shoulder.”

Let’s dig into what that means!

Pavlov is Always On Your Shoulder: Classical Conditioning and Canines

To explain the significance of the phrase “Pavlov is always on your shoulder,” we have to backtrack a little and talk about two core components of learning theory: classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

You’ve likely heard of Pavlov and his dogs before. 

Pavlov conducted an experiment in which he would ring a bell when feeding his dogs. Over time, the dogs began to associate the bell with food. This association grew so strong that the dogs began to drool upon hearing the bell, even when no food was presented. 

pavlovs-dogs

In this textbook experiment of classical conditioning, an outside stimulus (in Pavlov’s case, the bell) triggers a reaction in the subject that they would not normally have (drooling), due to the association previously developed (bell = food).

Classical conditioning is when a biologically potent stimulus is paired with a previously neutral stimulus, linking the two stimuli to create a new learned response.

To think of it another way, classical conditioning is all about involuntary associations. 

The dogs created an association between the bell and the food. Initially, the food generated a natural response in the dog (drooling). But, once the bell was added into the mix, the dogs created an association between the bell and the food, creating a new learned response of drooling upon hearing the bell.

To use a human example of classical conditioning, I’ll reference something from my own childhood. 

Growing up in New England, I still have a big rush of dopamine whenever it’s snowing outside and I hear the sound of plow trucks outside on my street. I get warm, happy feelings when I hear a plow truck because, as a kid, hearing a plow truck outside in the morning meant we had gotten hit with a wallop of a storm. And this meant that there was a decent chance school would be canceled. 

I remember hearing plow trucks in the dark of the morning and being overjoyed with the spark of hope that school might be canceled (or at least delayed).

These days I work from home and don’t have children, so school cancellations are meaningless to me. But to this day, I still get warm fuzzy feelings when I hear a snowplow truck outside, to this day. 

That’s classical conditioning! 

Classical conditioning is fairly passive – your brain is creating an association between two stimuli, but you’re not intentionally making that link consciously.

Operant conditioning, on the other hand, is about giving the subject choices and reinforcing desired behaviors while punishing others

Much of the discussion around dog training and learning theory is confined to operant conditioning. 

There is plenty of debate about whether primarily positive reinforcement-based training is as effective as positive punishment. 

Some also debate whether it is appropriate for LIMA approaches (a training philosophy guided by the principle of using the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive techniques to achieve one’s goals) to use negative reinforcement, etc.

However, the phrase “Pavlov is on your shoulder” is a reminder that, whatever you intend to teach your dog in training, the dog’s learning is never confined to your intentions

Dogs are sentient, thoughtful creatures. Some are enormously clever. They create their own associations without any design or intention on your part.

A few examples of accidental classical conditioning can include:

  • Your dog learns that you will take him out for a walk after making your morning coffee, and he ends up becoming excited and waiting at the door when he smells you brewing coffee —  regardless of the hour.
  • Your dog doesn’t often go for rides in the car unless it’s an essential vet visit, which causes him  to become afraid of the car.

In relation to using aversives, a trainer may intend that a dog associates an unpleasant shock with the aggressive behavior he shows when protecting a bone (something called resource guarding). 

But you can’t isolate that lesson to a  specific context or situation — he’ll make all sorts of associations based on the “correction.”

This is especially true in the context of dog training because we can’t explain verbally to the dog exactly why he is being punished, as we can with human children.

punishing a child

The dog is also learning that you are not a pleasant or rewarding person to be around, and that your presence can sometimes bring about pain. 

And on top of that, in the context of using punishment in response to a dog resource guarding a bone, the dog has also learned that he needs to hide resources from you to avoid punishment. 

He’s also learned that she will get punished for communicating via growling, which means next time he’s feeling scared or upset he might skip a warning growl and so straight for a bite. 

You definitely don’t want that to happen!

4. Aversive punishment damages your bond with your dog.

bond with dog

As mentioned above, using aversives when training your dog can build negative associations between you and your canine.

When your dog learns that you are someone to fear, someone who will inflict unpleasant sensations upon him, he learns not to trust you. This can severely damage your relationship with your dog.

It’s a shame that owners can’t really understand what they are missing out on with a well-bonded dog until that bond is broken. As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” 

But I can assure you, a bond with a dog who trusts you and enjoys your company is much more rewarding than a dog who simply obeys your commands out of fear of punishment.

5. Using aversive tools can cause your dog to “shut down.”

When dogs are repeatedly punished without understanding why or learning alternative behaviors, they can develop something referred to as “learned helplessness.” 

This phrase originates from psychologist Martin Seligman, who in 1965 was working on research into avoidance learning and classical conditioning.

(Fair warning: This story may be upsetting for some dog lovers.)

In the initial research phase, Seligman would ring a bell just before administering a light electrical shock to a group of dogs.

As the bell rang, the dogs would get shocked. There were no behaviors or actions the dogs could perform to stop the shocks.

As the research progressed, the dogs would associate the bell with being shocked, and eventually would become fearful simply upon hearing the bell.

In the next phase of research, Seligman placed each of the dogs into a large crate that was divided in the middle by a very low fence – low enough to easily be stepped over by the dog if desired. One half of the crate’s platform had an electrified floor, while the other half on the other side of the small fence was not electrified and would not shock the dog.

Seligman learned helplessness
Image from wikicommons

As Seligman administered shocks to the dogs via the electrified floor, he was surprised to see that the dogs made no attempt to escape or cross to the other side of the crate. They just lay down and more-or-less gave up.

Then, Seligman tried putting his second group of dogs in these same electrified crates – the ones who had never gone through the classical conditioning research and had never been electrocuted in response to the bell.

These dogs immediately jumped over the fence to escape the shocks. From this, Seligman deduced that the dogs who laid down had more or less adopted a feeling of total helplessness. 

Even worse, the dogs became depressed. They not only lost all hope but also the motivation to even try to escape the pain or change their situation.

Seligman coined this phenomenon “learned helplessness,” which he described as not trying to escape a negative situation because past experience has taught you that you are helpless to change your situation.

In fact, it’s not unusual to see learned helplessness manifest in dogs who’ve been subjected to shock collars during boundary training (such as occurs when using an “invisible” fence). 

If a dog is not trained well with an electric fence, he might not make the connection that he is getting shocked because he left the yard perimeter.

Instead, all he knows is that when he is in the backyard, he might get zapped. This may cause him to lie down and refuse to move in the yard. He may even refuse to go outside all together!

Does Positive Punishment Work? It Depends on What You Consider Success

As modern dog trainers, this can become quite confusing if you define “success” with a dog as simply stopping an undesired behavior. The ends don’t automatically justify the means! 

Using aversives may cause a dog to stop performing an undesired behavior, but he may also become afraid to perform many other behaviors simply because he is afraid of being punished. To the dog, lying down and staying still as a stone can feel like the safest option.

Nervous-dog

Some dogs will completely shut down under this stress and act more like robots than dogs. 

Now, some owners may consider a robotic dog a success.

Ultimately, this comes down to what kind of relationship you want with your dog. 

Do you want a servant you can push around? A pet you can bully who will always defer to you because they fear you? 

Or do you want a relationship with a happy, healthy dog who retains his essential doggo-ness while respecting you and listening to your input?

Unfortunately, while society has made some big strides in recent years, there is still very much an air of toxic masculinity in certain dog training circles that relates “respect” to “control.” 

Respect is not about controlling another being (human, four-footer, or otherwise). It’s not about having full power over another living being. 

In fact, I’m not all that convinced that dogs are capable of respect. At least not the way we think about it.

Respect is generally defined as a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. It’s about observing someone’s actions and looking up to them based on their past behaviors. So, for example, I might watch my friend give up her free time to mentor a younger person and respect her for that.

That doesn’t really seem like something dogs are capable of. A dog can trust you by learning you are a safe and reliable person to be with. They can love you for providing them with food, enrichment, and companionship. But I don’t think dogs can observe human behavior and think “wow, I really admire that person for cleaning up all my dog poop from the backyard.” 

We behave really differently than dogs, which is probably why they seem so exasperated and perplexed by us sometimes.

Expecting a dog to “respect” a human requires a degree of understanding and reflection that dogs are not capable of.

When people say “your dog should respect you”, what they usually mean is “your dog should be afraid of you.” And unfortunately, that is something a dog can do, and seeing an animal afraid of them is something that feels good to some misguided people.

It’s sad to say that many individuals get a tremendous ego trip over the power they are able to exert over an animal. Hence why many supposed trainers still endorse alpha dog training approaches that heavily focus on dominance, despite the science behind this concept being completely debunked decades ago. 

We no longer deem it appropriate to physically threaten or intimidate children or significant others in an effort to “keep them in line,” this is still considered by some to be acceptable behavior in response to pets. 

And sadly, this behavior is still encouraged and supported among some subsets of the dog-training community.

6. You can encounter serious setbacks, such as increased aggression

Some dogs will “shut down” under the stress of punishment-based training. 

However, others handle the stress differently. They will bottle up their fear and nervousness as long as they can, until they can’t contain it any longer and “snap,” so to speak.

dog bite

This is often what actually happens when people claim a dog attack occurred  “out of nowhere.” 

The action isn’t actually coming from out of nowhere, but the dog has been punished in the past for lunging, barking, and growling, thereby stripping the dog of his only way to communicate that he is uncomfortable. 

What else is the poor dog supposed to do?

Eventually this poor pooch — who’s been repeatedly punished and conditioned to suppress constructive communication — is saddled with more stress than he can bear. And this causes his response to escalate, and the end result is a bite, since that is his only communication option left.

This is a classic and common fallout for poorly-considered punishments.

If there’s one thing to take away from this article, let it be that you should never punish a dog for communicating. And in reality, all dog owners should become fluent in dog body language so that they can assess when their dog is feeling nervous or anxious.

Yelling at a dog for growling at a child doesn’t teach the dog to relax.

It does nothing to show the dog why he should not be afraid of children.

All the dog learns is “OK, growling is not allowed and gets me in trouble. How else can I get this scary kid away from me? I guess I need to try something else.”

Since the growl is not acknowledged as a sign of distress, the dog has no choice but to resort to biting.

Instead of Saying “No”, Ask Yourself: What Does My Dog Need?

It’s very easy to get frustrated with our dogs because they communicate so differently than humans do. 

As a personal example, my own dog Remy will sometimes bark at strangers once they come into the house. I know he is very excited about the visitors and is barking because he’s so amped up. 

I’ll sometimes catch myself saying “no” – it feels like the polite thing to do when your dog is barking is someone’s face. But instead, a better option is for me to pause and take the time to ask myself a few questions:

  • Why is my dog barking? In Remy’s case, it’s because he’s overly aroused and excited.
  • What does he need from me to stop barking? He needs help calming down.
  • How can I help him calm down? I can give him a chew, a frozen Kong, or ask him to lie down on his bed until he is more relaxed and the initial excitement of visitors has worn off a bit.

This is certainly more effort than letting out a loud and stern “no,” but it’s much more effective and gets to the root of the issue. If I yell at Remy to stop barking, he might stop, but his arousal level is not going down. I’m not solving the real problem.

Guess what else happens when Remy gets over aroused? He gets nippy. 

If I stop him from barking but don’t resolve the deeper problem of his arousal, he might end up nipping and biting at my guests. 

With that in mind, I should be thankful that Remy barks when he’s over-excited, because that gives me a chance to recognize that he needs help relaxing before his behavior escalates further.

dog nipping

6. Punishment can add gas to a fire and escalate the situation

Another major issue with using aversive-based punishment to work on issues like dog reactivity is that you are not addressing why your dog is displaying reactive behavior.

Using a prong collar to correct a dog for reactive behavior is just dealing with the symptoms. 

It’s a bit ironic that prong collar fans will defend it as a “communication tool,” when in fact it’s quite the opposite.

Sure, it allows you to communicate your wishes to the dog, but you’ve essentially put duct tape over your dog’s mouth, preventing the dog from communicating his discomfort, fear, or frustration. 

Similar to the example mentioned above, correcting a dog’s outward behavior does not help address the storm brewing beneath the surface.

If your dog is afraid of other dogs, he may bark and lunge in hopes of making the scary dogs go away. Inflicting pain or fear on your dog in these cases will simply escalate his outbursts and reinforce that other dogs are, indeed, very scary and bad.

fearful reactive dog

Your goal should always be to de-escalate the situation and calm your dog, not increase the amount of stress he’s feeling and escalate the tension by using force or intimidation. 

There’s a reason why there has been more talk in recent years about improving de-escalation tactics for police officers,  rather than relying on intimidation, violence, and threats that can often escalate already high-tension situations. 

Escalation often results in more violence – or at the very least, big, dramatic showdowns.

What About a Stubborn Dog?

Some trainers will claim that certain stubborn breeds require aversives in training – that they simply won’t listen without them.

But more ethical trainers are increasingly considering scrapping the term “stubborn” altogether, at least where it related to dogs. Calling a dog “stubborn” puts the responsibility and onus on the dog, in a somewhat unfair direction of blame. 

More often than not, when an owner describes a dog as being “stubborn” for not responding to a cue, the dog is not purposefully ignoring their owner. Instead, refusing to respond to a cue usually indicates that:

  1. The dog is overwhelmed by the situation and is over threshold, making him unable to listen and respond to cues
  2. The dog does not understand what the owner is asking him to do
  3. The owner has failed to provide sufficient motivation

That last one is where some owners may struggle the most. “Why should I have to provide my do with motivation?” you might ask. “Shouldn’t dogs follow our instruction out of obedience?”

The idea that dogs are built to obey a human’s whim is a bit of a pipe dream.

Some dogs are naturally more responsive and in-tune with their owners due to their breed standards (specifically, Dobermen, shepherds, and any dogs that have been trained for generations to work side-by-side with humans). But even those dogs need sufficient motivation to perform the cues you are teaching.

shepherd dog with human

Because here’s the truth: Most dogs are kind of selfish – just like all animals!

Despite what we may think of ourselves, as humans, we perform behaviors that benefit ourselves. We’re naturally kind of selfish too. That’s the nature of animals, and we do what allows us to stay alive. 

Dogs are no different.

Dogs naturally perform the behaviors that feel good and natural to them, like barking, chewing, digging, sniffing, or chasing stuff. These behaviors are naturally fulfilling and rewarding for dogs.

If you’re going to ask your dog to not do some of these behaviors in situations where they normally would, you need to make it worth their while. They simply won’t listen to you out of the kindness of their heart. This isn’t a diss at you or a lack of respect, it’s simply the nature of being an animal.

If your dog isn’t responding to your cues in a low-stimulation environment (like indoors) and you feel confident that your dog understands the cue, then you need to up the ante! It’s time to whip out freeze-dried chicken treats, string cheese, or whatever your dog loves.

giving a dog a treat

No creature will respond to your requests if you don’t provide adequate motivation. It’s your job as your dog’s caretaker to find out what an appropriate motivator is (and, ideally, one that does not use fear or pain).

Why Some Trainers Still Use E-Collars & Other Aversive Tools

There is ample evidence to suggest that aversive tools and techniques are inferior to force-free methods and cause dogs unnecessary stress and anxiety. 

So, why do some trainers still use them?

1. Results are fast and clients are happy 

There’s no denying that aversives can offer fast results. When a dog is learning by fear and pain, behavior suppression can happen very quickly. To an inexperienced owner, a dog may seem to have suddenly done a 180. It almost seems like a miracle!

However, the dog is not learning how to cope in this setting, or how to use an alternative behavior to channel nervousness. Instead, he is learning to shut down and suppress his feelings.

2. It can be easier to implement than positive reinforcement

Aversives rely on tools to punish a dog, rather than teach the dog to exercise an alternative and desired behavior instead. Positive reinforcement, which involves rewarding a dog for performing a desired behavior, can take more time. 

Like all real learning, it takes practice, repetition, and work. For the lazy trainer who wants fast results without actually teaching the dog new skills, aversive strategies are lifesavers.

In many aspects of life, it’s easier to notice and punish bad behavior, rather than reward good behavior. Rewarding good behavior requires more vigilance and awareness, as good behavior is easy to ignore or not pay attention to. 

The dog (or child) is not misbehaving, so you may not even be noticing them. They are being “seen but not heard”. 

However, when a child screams and cries or when a dog is chewing and barking, the bad behavior is very noticeable. In fact, it’s difficult to ignore. It’s easy to punish bad behavior, but requires more care, diligence, and mindfulness to reward good behavior.

Our brains are designed to constantly filter out non-interesting information, which historically has allowed us to pay greater attention to the patch of berries we might stumble upon, or allowed us to catch a rustle in the grass that could indicate a predator.

Unfortunately, this also means it can be challenging for us to notice and reinforce desired behaviors, like a child quietly reading on her bed, or a dog resting calmly in his crate.

3. Aversives provide power

Aversive tools like prong collars and e-collars are attractive to many trainers and desperate owners because they provide a lot of power. There’s no getting around the fact that fear is a very powerful motivator. 

prong collar

It can be so tempting to resort to aversives when you feel like you have a frustrating dog who is not making progress. I understand this all too well. 

Fear is good at controlling people. It always has been. But is that what we really want for our dogs? To be motivated by fear to do as we command?

Why, Exactly, Do You Have a Dog?

If you’ve been considering using aversive techniques to train your dog, I’d suggest stepping back and asking yourself why it is that you want a dog in the first place.

Do you want a blindly obedient subject who is nervous in your presence? Or do you want a friend who you have a unique relationship with – a friend who trusts you and enjoys your company?

Ultimately, so much of the training practice we choose depends on what we categorize as success.

Some people may consider training successful if it results in an obedient, robot-like dog who follows commands perfectly, regardless of the dog’s inner feelings.

However, I think most of us would consider training methods successful if they teach our dogs how to navigate the human world safely while still being happy, healthy, and whole.

If that’s your goal, aversives should always be a last resort in dog training and only even considered when every other avenue has been thoroughly explored.

Many of us have grown up being punished as children – sometimes frequently and severely. 

Historically, it was common for parents to punish their children in order to “train” them – or “raise” them, to put it in more familiar terms. 

However, just because this was how many of us were raised does not mean it is the only method, or the best one.

Today, you’ll find many parents focused on being emotionally available and communicating with their human children. 

Instead of sending a grumpy child to timeout, a parent might sit down and talk with their child to understand why they are unhappy and offer healthy suggestions for moderating their emotions (such as using breathing techniques, going to their favorite cozy spot, or giving words to their chaotic feelings).

Yes, raising both humans and four-legged children with a focus on non-punishment methods is challenging. But I’m confident it will reap rewards tenfold for both the teacher and the learner.

***

We hope you’ve found this helpful and it’s either reinforced your commitment to avoiding aversives or convinced you to change up your approach. Dog training isn’t always easy, but it is critical that you keep your overall pet-ownership goals in mind and treat your four-footer with the respect, compassion, and love he deserves.

And all that aside, aversive training methods simply don’t work as well as those that rely on positive approaches. 

Have you had success by switching to positive training methods? What kinds of behavioral changes have you been able to achieve by rewarding desirable behaviors and providing alternative outlets for your doggo?

Let us know in the comments below! 

dog chewing bone
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