The Negative Effects of Aversive Training

Feb 5, 2019   Tracey Aston   Training

Aversive training methods don't take into account the communication style of dogs and rely on punishing a dog when it does something it hasn't been taught not to do.  In Psychology, the definition of “aversives” is an unpleasant stimulus that induces changes in behavior through punishment. The issue with aversive training methods is right in the definition – punishment.  A pet is being punished for a behavior without ever being trained the correct behavior.

Dogs trained with aversive training methods are more likely to exhibit signs of fear and stress and develop new defensive behaviors.  By far the most impactful negative effect of aversive training is the pet will start to associate their owner with punishment. That's no way to share a mutually respected bond! If a puppy is chewing on something it shouldn't and the owner/trainer notices this and physically punishes the puppy, all the puppy has learned is to equate the owner with the punishment. Puppies will still need to chew but now when they are chewing and see the owner, the puppy will become fearful and possibly aggressive. Or they will simply hide the behavior in fear of the repercussions.

In many cases, aversive training doesn't address the problem.  A dog that is digging or barking may be bored and require more physical or mental stimulation. Without addressing and redirecting the issue, now the dog is still bored but now is also fearful and confused. A stressed dog without its needs being met may start to obsessively lick their paws, scratch or urinate, only compounding the problem, leading to more aversive training and more stress. 

Dogs learn by generalizing situations. If a dog is out enjoying an afternoon walk, sees another pet and starts to pull on the leash only to be shocked, pinched or physically reprimanded, the dog may now associate that pain with the other dog or with walks.  Now instead of only dealing with a minor leash situation, the dog could become dog aggressive or fearful of collars, leashes and even walks! 

Using the example above, a dog that has learned aggression through aversive training methods could now become a liability to its family and those who come in contact with it. If the dog in the scenario does become human or dog aggressive, the owner is responsible for any damage the pet causes by biting someone or attacking another dog. It's also putting the dog's life in danger if it's labeled a dangerous dog or the owner can't provide rabies vaccination proof. All of this is over a leash-pull. And easily rectified leash pull, and now the owner's livelihood and the dog's life are at risk. 

Even if the owner is unfortunate enough for the dog not to become aggressive, aversive training could still cost them financially. Choke and prong collars can cause permanent long lasting damage that may require a vet's care.  Because aversive training doesn't work with the dog, the dog will require further training and now a trainer is dealing with a stressed, fearful pet. This could take months to reverse and put the trainer in danger too!

Pain and punishment are not training, and can be seen as abuse. This certainly shouldn't be how we treat our family members.  A relationship with your pet should be based on love, trust and security, and aversive training doesn't promote any of those things, and in actuality, can even hinder them. Train not pain! 

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