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Show Me The Love! Chain Reaction

Posted by Christina Potter on

We’ve come a long way since the 1970s when aversive dog training methods were the norm. Aversive training involves causing a dog to feel fear or pain to induce compliant behavior. Some of the tools used to punish undesirable behaviors are shock collars and choke chains. The belief is that if a behavior results in pain or fear (punishment), then the dog will not repeat it. While this may be true, training with aversion will inevitably come with risks and will create a whole slew of other problems. First of all, you can cause physical injury to the dog due to whiplash, damage to the trachea or spinal cord, asphyxiation, paralysis, dislocated neck bones and more. This damage can be so severe that it can maim or even kill a dog. Second, you will only be inhibiting the behavior, but not changing its cause.Instant fixes, while attractive, offer only temporary results. Aversive training can also cause psychological damage.In the very least, the dog will be confused as to what behavior is desired. At worst, dogs may become fearful, anxious and aggressive. Many behaviors we are trying to “train out” of a dog are actually caused by fear, anxiety or aggression - so you will be exacerbating the very behavior that you were initially trying to correct. Your training will be counterproductive. And don’t kid yourself, however mild it may be, physical punishment is physical punishment. It is more likely that puppies will suffer more negative consequences when using aversive training, than will adult dogs, so one must be especially vigilant when training young dogs.

According to a 2004 study, (Hiby et al.) training using positive reinforcement based methods is more likely to be successful than those based on punishment. The study further demonstrated that using punishment when training dogs is associated with an increase in behavioral problems. In a 2009 study published in The Journal of Applied Animal Behavior, a dog treated aggressively will become aggressive. The study’s lead author, Dr. Meghan Herron, DVM, states that the number one reason people take their dogs to veterinarian behaviorists is due to aggression. Dr. Herron goes on to explain that “one reason owners may have difficulty making the connection (between aversive training and negative behavior) is that aversive techniques may temporarily inhibit reactive or undesirable behaviors – so that it appears the behavior has improved – but it’s not a long-term fix. In addition, owners may not have recognized non-aggressive fearful responses to the correction and may have felt the technique was indeed helpful in the particular context.”

Sadly, many dog owners aren’t experienced enough to understand what is causing the dog’s undesirable behavior in the first place and that’s the reason they seek out aversive training methods. How many times do we hear someone say that their dog is not aggressive, that it is only reactive? Well, I have news for you; if your dog is reacting aggressively to the mere presence of another dog, then your dog is aggressive. Since you cannot change the world, you must change the way your dog reacts to it. You must address the causes of these reactions, not punish them nor make excuses for them.

Thankfully, most trainers have moved away from those dangerous aversive training methods and many now use positive reinforcement to secure compliance.Behaviors that are rewarded will be repeated. Emily Blackwell’s 2008 study on dog training methods proved that if dogs were trained using positive reinforcement training methods they were less likely to show fear or aggression. By contrast, dogs trained using aversive training were more likely to show these behaviors. A study published in March 2010 in Applied Animal Behaviour Science showed a direct correlation between punitive training and, anxiety and aggression. Dogs trained with positive reinforcement are less confused about what is expected of them and, consequently, have greater self confidence. They are more likely to enjoy training and are better at learning new behaviors.

When choosing a trainer to help you train your new puppy or adult dog, ask what methods they use. Observe the trainer in action and steer clear of the ones who believe that physical or psychological pain can have positive results.

If you enjoy Christina's writing, check her books out! She is the author of “Chester Gigolo: Diary of a Dog Star” and "Insider Training: Chester Gigolo’s Dog Training Secrets Revealed” for which she won the 2016 DWAA Captain Haggerty award for Best Training Book and the 11th Annual National Indie Excellence Award (Animals & Pets). She is also a contributing author to “Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors”. She has written multiple articles which have appeared in various international publications.