Aversive Training Tools

Feb 3, 2019   Tracey Aston   Training

“Make him listen!” “Be the dominant one!”  “Show him who's boss!” It's an unfortunate truth that for many decades, this type of training was the most common dog training available. Aversive Conditioning is described as “the use of something unpleasant, or a punishment, to stop an unwanted behavior.”  This could mean yanking a dog's leash when they begin to pull, or using a shock or spray collar for obsessive barking.  Pet parents know our dogs are intelligent, tuned into our emotions and energy and want to please us. Therefore, it's much easier to train a pet to do what is expected of them, than to punish them after they've already done something.  Train not pain! 

Thankfully, the times are changing and with that more trainers are utilizing dog friendly, scientific based, modern positive reinforcement training.  Even with the decline of aversive and dominance based behavior modification, some of the dreaded tools of the trade have stayed behind. Although, they are slowly being phased out and are even illegal in some parts of the world.  All of these tools are made to cause pain. Even if your pet isn't injured or permanently harmed, they are still being made to feel pain. When used improperly, some of these tools can result in serious injury to a pet. 

The most common types of aversive training tools still used are collars – prong, choke, shock and spray collars! 

A prong collar, also called a pinch collar, is a metal collar with metal prongs attached to the links of the collar. These metal, fang shaped prongs are made to tighten and pinch when the dog reaches the end of the leash or begins pulling. When the dog stops pulling, the prongs loosen. While many will still argue that prong collars are safe when used properly, they ALWAYS pose the risk of serious injury. A scared or excited animal may try to bolt and injury themselves well before they realize they're being pinched.  Injuries from prong collars include punctured skin, trachea and larynx damage, and cervical and spinal damage. 

Choke collars are similar to prong collars but don't have the prongs attached to the inside of the collar. They are made to tighten around the dog's throat to stop them from pulling on the leash. Any collar that relies on tightening itself around the neck of a dog is dangerous and is in fact choking your dog like a noose. In a scenario similar to the one above, a dog can cause damage to the trachea, esophagus, thyroid gland, lymph nodes, jugular vein, eyes caused by sharp increases in pressure in the head, muscles and spinal column when it abruptly reaches the end of the leash. Again, even those who claim these devices can be used safely and humanely can't guarantee a dog won't be spooked and attempt to run. Unless, the human on the other end of the leash can react fast enough and run along with them, the dog is at risk. Can you say without a doubt that you can keep up with your pet? 

Depending on the type, shock collars, e-collars and spray collars will shock, vibrate or spray a substance into the dog's face when the pet barks. These types of collars control the dog with negative stimuli, which can result in heightened stress levels and anxiety. Shock collars do just that, they shock, with voltage stimulation. Some will argue that e-collars set on vibrate aren't painful and while that might be true for the pet physically, they can still startle and confuse a pet that doesn't understand where the sensation is coming from or why. Dogs bark for many different reasons – to communicate with humans and other dogs, warning of possible danger, and loneliness. Taking away a pet's ability to communicate can lead to numerous other behavior problems, including aggression. Finland, parts of Canada and parts of the UK have already banned the use of shock collars due to the risks.  

Association aggression is a huge side effect of these types of aversive equipment, if a dog is being pinched while on a walk, it may begin to be fearful of walks, when a dog sees another dog, heads toward the other dog to visit or say hello, and ends up being choked. The dog being choked is now associating the sensation of being choked with seeing the other dog. These collars can also cause dog on dog, human, and experience aggression.

If the danger to a beloved pet wasn't enough of a deterrent, humans are at risk from these collars, too! How? You ask. Well, the answer is in the description of aversive training, “negative” “and “punishment.” Pets that have been trained with these types of collars are more likely to exhibit signs of fear and stress because of the unwanted sensations they caused. This means, a pet parent could be putting on a collar, which stresses the dog knowing it will cause unpleasantness and the dog may react negatively. This could be in the form of fighting to have the collar put on, avoidance, aggression and even biting. Unfortunately, these memories stay with a pet, and even if an owner chooses to change the type of collar, a dog may still react negatively at the association of something being put around their neck. The most heartbreaking statistic on aversive training is the possibility of breaking your bond with your pet and losing their trust.  The pet was never shown how to do something right, only punished for doing it wrong! 

Loose leash walking, curbing excessive barking and leaving the yard can all be easily trained with positive, modern, scientific based, training without causing the dog pain, stress and anxiety.  This allows the dog the chance to make the right decision beforehand and builds their confidence and bond with their human. If are you having a problem with your dog pulling on the leash, our article on harnesses and their use will show there can be positive alternatives to aversive training tools.  Would you rather know what is expected of you and shown guidance or would you rather wait until you do something wrong and then be punished? Your dog is the same way. Abuse is abuse, and no animal should be punished for lack of proper training from the owner, or lack of knowledge about dog communication and behavior. Train NOT pain. These types of tools are archaic and have no place in the life of a dog.  

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