In aversive dog training,
- We discourage undesired behaviors by applying an aversive or unpleasant stimulus (positive punishment), and
- We encourage desired behaviors by stopping the aversive stimulus (negative reinforcement).
Different aversive methods may place more or less stress on our dog. In general, pain based methods are the most stressful.
Aversive Dog Training – Good 1
May get more consistent and prompt responses to commands.
As with any animal, a dog is very sensitive to danger and threats, because they are especially crucial to survival in the wild. When faced with a stressful stimulus (e.g. pain or a dominance threat), a dog will most likely try to resolve the situation quickly, so that he may return to a safe and comfortable state.
Many dogs will consistently perform a Sit, Down, or Stay, because they do not wish to endure pain and stress. Once we get consistent and prompt responses from our dog, we can give him more freedom, and let him participate in a wider range of activities.
Many aversive dog trainers point out, that a good command response is crucial when we are yelling Stop, and our dog is running into traffic.
Note however, that even extreme pain does not always guarantee full behavioral control. In addition, inaccurate timing and mistakes in training, may result in even poorer command control, as well as increased aggression. Therefore, the best way to prevent a dog from running into traffic, is through proper equipment (e.g. doors and leashes), and proper management.
Aversive Dog Training – Good 2
May show results in a shorter time-span.
As described above, dogs can be very motivated to avoid an aversive stimulus, especially pain. Therefore, we will probably start to see results to simple commands, in a shorter period of time.
In fact, a dog will respond best in the initial obedience training sessions.
Performance may degrade later, once our dog gets used to or habituated to the aversive stimulus.
Aversive Dog Training – Good 3
Do not need to carry around rewards such as treats or toys.
We always have what we need with us – our hands, collar, and leash.
Aversive Dog Training – Bad 1
May cause loss of trust.
One of the most dangerous aspects of aversive dog training is losing our dog’s trust.
Care must be taken not to over-correct him. We always want to try and set our dog up for success, and reduce the chances of him making mistakes. If we are seen as the frequent source of unpleasant things, he will lose trust in us, and may start to avoid us.
The trick of implementing aversive methods is redirection. We want to make it seem like the source of unpleasantness is not coming from us, but is a direct result of his inappropriate actions.
For example, spraying bitter apple on furniture is an effective and safe aversive method, because the dog does not associate the smelly furniture with us. Instead, he discovers on his own, that certain pieces of wood and stuffing have an unpleasant taste, so it is best to avoid them.
As soon as our dog complies with our command, we want to follow up an aversive correction with praise and rewards. This shows him that we are also the source of positive attention and good things.
When using aversive obedience training, timing is crucial.
Time our aversive correction and subsequent praise, accurately. In this way, our dog does will not get confused and frustrated, because he will know what the aversive stimulus is for, and how he can make it go away.
Aversive Dog Training – Bad 2
May encourage aggression and other unwanted side effects.
There are four ways a dog can deal with the stress of an aversive stimulus – fight, flight, freeze, or appease. Depending on the temperament of our dog, and his level of trust and respect for us, he may choose to fight or flee, rather than follow a command (appease).
We can correct this by refining our aversive technique. In particular, ensure that we are –
- Using the appropriate level of force,
- Using the right timing,
- Not over-correcting, and
- Redirecting the source of correction away from ourselves.
If a dog continuously chooses to fight, then we are encouraging aggression in him, and he may ultimately become a dangerous dog. If a dog continuously chooses to run away (flight), then we may break his spirit, and he may become a fearful and unstable dog.
If we are not careful, our dog may also associate the aversive stimulus to objects in the environment, or to the environment itself. For example, if a leash jerk is always applied whenever he sees another dog, he may start to associate the pain with the other dog, rather than to his lunging and jumping actions. This may make him aggressive or fearful toward other dogs.
In fact, this University of Pennsylvania 2009 study shows that at least 25% of the dogs that are trained with confrontational methods, exhibit aggression during training.
“This study highlights the risk of dominance-based training, which has been made popular by TV, books and punishment-based training advocates,”Herron said. “These techniques are fear-eliciting and may lead to owner-directed aggression.”
Aversive Dog Training – Bad 3
May injure our dog if not implemented correctly.
When we are using an aversive collar such as a choke chain or prong collar, make sure to consult a trainer on how to fit it, and properly use it. The choke chain is especially dangerous as it can cause harm with extended use, even when fitted properly.
All pain and dominance-based aversive methods, are best implemented under the direction of a trained professional.
Incorrect implementation of some of these techniques, may cause physical harm to our dog, as well as physical harm to us and others, if the dog becomes aggressive.
Aversive Dog Training – Bad 4
May become ineffective once our dog gets habituated to the aversive stimulus.
If we overuse an aversive method, our dog will probably become habituated to it. Once this occurs, he will be less motivated to respond to our commands, because he has become used to experiencing a certain level of pain.
At this point, increasing the force of our aversive stimulus may be necessary, and this will increase wear and tear on our dog. To avoid this possibility, apply the proper amount of force from the beginning (not too hard or too soft). The actual force needed will depend on the reason for the correction, and on the temperament of our dog.
It is best to get a professional trainer to show us the proper amount of force needed, so that we do not over-correct or under-correct our dog.
Aversive methods are more visceral, and have a more pronounced effect, especially in the short term. However, as described above, pain based techniques are also risky and can increase aggression in our dogs. Pain will also increase stress and lower quality of life.
Does aversive dog training work?
It depends on what we mean by work.