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Danger Of Using Fear and Pain Based Dog Training Approaches

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Drayton Michaels, CTC is the owner of Urban Dawgs Dog Training in Red Banks, NJ. He also holds a Certification in Dog Training and Behavior Counseling from the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers (known as “the Harvard for dog trainers”). 

Dangers of using aversive training methods

The main problem with using fear and pain based approaches is that you are not addressing the root cause of the behavior you are looking to change. You are just looking to suppress it by choking the dog or shocking them or giving them some sort of aversive.

Any PHD and behavioral will agree you can change behavior with aversive training but what’s left in its place? And the problem with using fear and pain based approaches is that dogs generalize fear better than anything. So, if they are afraid of your hand, then they are going to afraid of all other hands coming towards them. And if your dog has an overly generalized sense of fear because it has been shocked or choked or they have been trained with aversive methods, then they are going to have stress, and they are more likely to bite.

When dogs experience fear and pain they start to shut down, and they are not learning, they are trying to survive that event. If you remove fear and pain based approaches and you use positive reinforcement, it doesn’t mean you are permissive, it doesn’t mean you let a dog do anything, but what it does do, it will help that dog trust you and trust other human beings. You know considering that dog can land 25 bites in 4 seconds, why would want to risk that. Why would you want to create a dog who is afraid of people or other dogs and may bite them?


Why you should not use aversive or fear-based training methods:

Quick note: this article is talking about aversive training methods like kicking, hitting, rolling your dog over. We are not talking about punishment. There is a vast difference between punishment and aversives. Aversives are anything that uses force, threat or confrontation.

Note from animal behaviorist and University of Wisconsin professor Patricia McConnell“punishment” is an action that results in a decrease in behavior. However, “if an owner stares a dog down (argh! whoever started that idea anyway!) and the dog becomes more aggressive, the stare down was not punishment. Second, there are all kinds of actions correctly termed as “positive punishment” that has nothing to do with force or confrontations. For example, I use tons of food (positive reinforcement) to teach dogs a solid stay and respond to breaks in a stay with a Body Block. A Body Block is an example of positive punishment (adding something to decrease the frequency of behavior), but it is not confrontational or threatening if done correctly.”

1. If you are aggressive, your dog will be too: A study done by the University of Pennsylvania, found that animals who were trained using aversive methods were 25% more likely to react aggressively to their owners. They also found that these dogs were a lot more likely to respond aggressively to new situations than dogs who were not treated with aversive techniques.

What made us at WhyDoesMyDog.com upset is that this study found that 43% of dog owners would hit or kick their dog for undesirable behavior!! 

2. Threatening or forcing your dog can (once again) create a more aggressive dog: this same study also found that

  • 43% of dogs responded with aggression to being hit or kicked,
  • 38% of dogs responded with aggression to having an owner grab their mouth and take out an object forcefully,
  • 36% of dogs responded with aggression to having a muzzle put on (or attempted?),
  • 29% of dogs responded with aggression to a “dominance down,”
  • 26% of dogs responded with aggression to a jowl or scruff shake.

3. It is difficult to gauge the aversive’s intensity to your dog, and you can hurt your dog: You simply cannot know how painful something is to your dog. Some dogs can take a lot more while others cannot handle anything at all. So, something that might seem simple and harmless to you, can cause a lot of mental and/or physical damage to your dog. Especially if a dog is “acting up” because they are in pain and then they get punished with more pain.

4. The dog can develop a punishment callous: This is when animals (including humans) can develop a tolerance for an aversive stimulus. When that tolerance is established, that stimulus does not decrease behavior, and unfortunately, the human then increases the intensity of that aversive.

  1. Animals leanr to tolerate an ever-increasing aversives intesity
  2. Animals beocme shut-down and can’t learn

5. It does not teach your dog what they should DO: Trainers and people who use aversive training, focus so much time on stopping behaviors that they forget to focus on training the dog what they should do or how they should react to particular stimuli. Just imagine if you are an employee and everytime you do something wrong you got yelled at. It is going to take you a long time to figure out what your boss wants you to do and you will probably become frustrated or even worse aggressive back.

6. It creates a more fearful dog: A dog who is trained with aversive methods becomes a lot more afraid in new situations. Because the dog is so afraid of being hit or screamed at, they are less likely to try new things or to be curious. The dog is no longer confident.

According to the American Veterniary Society of Animal Behavior “… they can cause the animal to become fearful, and this fear may generalize to other contexts. For instance, some dogs on which the citronella or electronic collar are used with a preceding tone may react fearfully to alarm clocks, smoke detectors, or egg timers.”

What’s worse is that fear can be generalied to people and increase insidents of bites. If you are hitting your dog, your dog can become afraid of every raised hand and could bite a person who raises a hand aorund your dog.

7. Stress from the aversives can decrease the dog’s ability to learn: Higher or more chronic levels of stress inhibit the ability of animals to learn, and mainly to consolidate and retrieve memories (Joels et al. 2006; Mendl, 1999). Research suggests that high levels of stress may influence a dog’s ability to learn (Walker et al.,1997).

8. There is a high risk that the dog associates the aversive with the wrong stimuli: People have horrible timing. For the aversive to be effective, it has to be timed perfectly with a stimulus.

From Dog Welfare Campaign “Quite often, for example, dogs will associate the pressure from a choke chain with the word ‘heel’, but not with their pulling. So, when they hear ‘heel’ they tense up and brace themselves for the anticipated pressure. In practice, anything else present when the punishment is used may serve as a discriminative stimulus for the punishment (Polsky, 1994). In other words there is a real danger of an unwanted association being made between the unpleasant punishment and some coincidental stimuli, such as the presence of a person or other animal.”

9. These techniques reward the person who performs them: Aversives reward the dog owner who is using them. The dog does something “bad,” the owner kicks the dog, the dog becomes afraid and is no longer doing that bad thing, the owner feels like they have solved the problem. These techniques are good at suppressing behavior, and most people are just happy to see the behavior gone without working on what caused the behavior in the first place.

10. They ruin the human-dog bond: Aversive techniques put your relationship with your dog at risk. If you are creating a more fearful dog, he is going to be afraid to be a dog and will not be a happy go lucky dog. If there are other training options available, why would anyone choose methods that can hurt their best friend?