10 Negative Effects of Aversive Dog Training Methods

If you've been following the last couple blogs we've published, then you should have a fairly good idea of the methodology of Aversive Training Methods. The main issue that I have with aversive training methods is basically the side effects that appear that can be far worse than the original problem I was trying to fix in the first place. The more intense versions of aversive training are more likely to cause fall back than the minimally aversive ones. Remember, I am a professional with ten years of experience and training under my belt and there's still a significant chance that I mess it up - owners who are not trainers by trade have an even bigger chance of causing additional harm.

Listed below are common negative side-effects that I see, and hear about, from owners who have chosen to apply an aversively based training protocol with their dog.

1.) Aversive dog training methods often induce defensiveness from the dog. A dog who is being alpha rolled may (and rightfully so in my opinion) decide one day not to just take it anymore by biting as soon as he sees the hands moving towards him. Dogs at are often physically manipulated into positions that they are not comfortable with feel they have to bite in order to get their point across and handler's attention. Remember - with dogs, aggression often breeds aggression. Think about that for a bit....

A study conducted at the Matthew Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania it was found that when owners resorted to harsh confrontational techniques the dogs responded with aggression. The exact numbers are: 43% of dogs responded with aggression when being hit or kicked, 39% reacted aggressively to an alpha roll, 38% responded aggressively to having their owner grab their mouth and forcibly take an object out of their mouth and 26% responded defensively when given a scruff shake.

2.) When using aversive dog training methods, there are risks that the dog starts associating punishment with the person's presence. A common scenario I hear about is that the puppy urinates on the floor inside and when discovering it the handler smacks the puppy with a rolled up newspaper. Such punishment will not teach the puppy to go to the door next time, but rater to urinate under the sofa or somewhere else out of the owner's view. This was all because the puppy learned to associate punishment with the person's presence.

3.) Aversive based training can inhibit dogs from offering new behaviors. For example take a puppy who's handler wants them to retrieve items for them. This puppy naturally has a tendency to pick up objects and carry them around; objects such as the TV remote and human shoes. The handler is constantly correcting the puppy and yelling at them for carrying around these items. Pretty soon the puppy learns that picking up items in their mouth is not something that makes them feel good. How do you think it's going to go when, later on, the handler is encouraging the puppy to pick up an object later on during training? If the puppy had learned the trade game (where the handler exchanges the puppy for a treat/something it likes for the inappropriate item it has) then the puppy would be much more willing to learn how to retrieve items properly. In addition dogs (as well as basically all living creatures) have an instinct to act defensively or avoid stimuli and/or events that are perceived as unpleasant or frightening. So you'll have a dog that avoids you and doesn't wish to learn to interact with you in other ways.

4.) Once aversive training methods are allowed often fear is established and takes root. These create fearful and/or unstable responses and these responses become difficult to eradicate and this is because dogs (and generally all living creatures) have an instinct to act defensively or avoid stimuli or events that are perceived as frightening.

5.) Aversive dog training methods often suppress unwanted behaviors which creates a void that will likely be filled with other problem behaviors. Aversive training often doesn't address the origin of the problem behavior so it's never fully resolved. For example if a bored dog is continuously punished for chewing up patio furniture in the yard then while he may stop chewing eventually his boredom will manifest in other ways such as digging, barking, etc because he's not being provided with an appropriate outlet for his physical and/or mental stimulation needs.

6.) Aversive training methods are not guaranteed to work. If a dog's nose is swatted whenever he jumps up on the owner out of excitement this will not necessarily discourage further jumping. If the joy of greeting the owner is greater than the temporary discomfort of the swat then you can bet the dog will jump up time and time again. This is why so many dog owners are frustrated that their dogs still jump or pull on leash despite being continuously choked by a collar that is holding them back. The reward of sniffing that bush, or greeting that new person or dog supersedes the temporary pain of the collar.

7.) Aversion based methods often contribute to stress and development of defensive behaviors. Dogs often become extremely stressed with aversion based methods and develops escape and displacement behaviors such as repeated paw licking, scratching, and passive non-compliance just to get by and deal with their stress levels. Often people contact me complaining that their service dog in training "doesn't pay attention to them" and/or "is disobedient and doesn't follow directions." After spending a bit of time with the dog I discover that I don't have any of those issues with the dog that I recently met and have no previous relationship with. So how did the dog get there? Aversive training methods.

8.) The new defensive behaviors learned because of aversive training techniques often become part of the dog's behavior repertoire and will repeat them in the future even when aversive methods are not used. The new behaviors become rewarding for the dog and they will most likely repeat them in the future. Let's say a Husky is hand shy and tries to bite hands that are moving towards him and the person quickly withdraws his hands - the snapping at the hands behavior is reinforced by the person's withdrawal and therefore will become much more difficult to eradicate in the future. Of course, if you think about it, this problem would be non-existent if aversive based methods were not used in the first place.

9.) Dogs can generalize their fear/anxiety to all situations and not just ones where aversive training is being used. On top of forming negative associations with certain stimuli or events where aversive training methods were used, dogs can actually apply their anxiety to other situations (called "generalization.") So you may have a dog that becomes afraid or nervous in every single situation they find themselves in. For example a dog may be fearful of a broom because in the past someone used it to scare them off, but then maybe later on his fear of brooms expands to people walking with canes or someone mopping the floor.

10.) Last but not least, aversive dog training methods can be potentially reinforcing to the person applying them. It's a slippery slope. If a person is frustrated by a dog that repeatedly jumps on them, he or she may feel better when he slaps the dog's nose and the dog yelps in surprise or pain. This circle of reinforcement could be what causes the person applying such techniques to want to use them more and more - even as the first line of treatment in the future. This is what makes people sold on the effectiveness of aversive methods and be reluctant to want to try other methods. Unfortunately it can be what causes some to want to engage in more and more severe forms when the milder ones may not be working any longer which initiates a vicious cycle that I would consider abuse or very close to it.

We've spent the last couple blogs on this topic to discuss the negative's of using harsh and aversive methods when training your dog. Often I get asked "if you don't recommend aversive training methods, what methods DO you recommend and how do I apply that to my dog?" Often us trainers get caught up in the mumbo-jumbo of discussing dog training theory and we forget to break it down into easy to follow and understand steps that you as the dog owner can follow. Tune in here later this week for just that!



- survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors Meghan E. Herron, Frances S. Shofer, Ilana R. Reisner, Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 3900 Delancey Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6010, USA.

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