Fallout from Aversive Training Methods.

Why punishment is not longer used by educated trainers.

What is an “aversive” when used in the context of dog training?  An aversive is something unpleasant that is applied to the dog “to stop or suppress a particular behavior”. 

What is “punishment”?  Science defines punishment as “an environmental stimulus that decreases or suppresses a behavior”.

An aversive stimulus is a punisher.

In the natural world, “punishment” is critical to learning and thus survival.  All animals learn to avoid things that are unpleasant or dangerous.  But is it appropriate to training our dogs?  

While dogs can learn from using a punisher, the level of expertise that is needed to do this correctly is simply not available to the average dog owner.  The fallout from these techniques, if used incorrectly, can have long term consequences because of unintended associations and loss of trust by the dog. 

Examples of aversive or punishment training and its un-intended consequences:  

1. Dog jumps on a person.  The presence of the person is the stimulus for the dog to jump.

The owner applies a sharp collar correction on a prong, choke, or electronic collar at the instant the dog lunges forward.  The dog learns that jumping on people is dangerous and to avoid the painful correction, the dog does not jump.

But is this actually what the dog is learning and what else might the dog be learning that may become problematic in the future? 

The dog may associate the jumping behavior with the painful correction and stop the behavior initially but he may also be associating the presence of the approaching person with the painful correction.  Now people approaching become dangerous.  They have become predictors of a painful correction.  

Anxiety increases and reactivity increases. The painful correction is repeated and the cycle continues. Unable to avoid the painful correction, the dog may start using defensive aggression when a person approaches or fall into “learned helpless”where the dog shuts down altogether.

This type of painful correction can also lead to a deterioration in the relationship between the dog and the owner if the dog loses trust in the owner.

2.  Dog is enjoying playing outside in his yard.  The owner calls the dog to come in the house.  The dog does not respond.  The owner takes the dog by the collar and forcibly drags the dog into the house.

The dog is being removed from something he/she finds valuable with unpleasant restraint and put inside.  The dog’s recall has now become poisoned because it is a predictor of forcible restraint and removal from the enjoyable play-time in the yard.

This forcible restraint can easily turn into defensive aggression by the dog who resorts to protecting himself/herself when someone reaches for their collar.

The dog learns to avoid the owner because of learned negative associations and loss of trust.

I work with all kinds of behavioral cases and many of them include aggression.  Many of my aggression cases include dogs with a history of punishment by the owner, prior to the aggression appearing.  Aggression becomes a learned strategy…that works!  The unwanted stimulus goes away.  The dog is successful.  The dog will use that strategy again.

It is a very slippery slope when using punishment on dogs.  Often the way back is very difficult, if not impossible.  Train positively.  Instead of punishing dogs for doing something wrong, let’s teach the dog what to do instead, and reward that behavior so the dog can be successful.  

It is faster, it is much more effective, dogs love it and it builds a lifelong, relationship with your dog based on respect and trust.