Dog Training with “Aversives” or Punishment

When you examine the various advertisements for dog trainers or behaviorists, you will find a number of them describe the approach they use in training as “balanced”, or will indicate that they follow the “Koehler Method” or some other methodology such as the use of “e-collars”.  You should take the time to research what is meant by that terminology.   In general, these training approaches incorporate the use of “aversives” or punishment as part of the dog’s training.

What is an “aversive”?  Why are they used?

Essentially, an aversive is something that the training does to the dog when that dog does something undesirable.  They can take the form of an electric shock, an unpleasant spray to the face, throwing an object at the dog, making a sudden startling sound, jerking the dog’s collar, jerking on a prong collar or choke chain, or physically punishing the dog by hanging or choking.  In short, an aversive is an action on the trainer’s part to make the dog afraid of not obeying, or afraid to do something other than what the trainer wants.  The use of punishment in dog training is closely associated with the dominance or “pack” theory, in which trainers physically correct dogs with unpleasant outcomes for their actions.  This theory of behavior will be addressed in more detail in a later article.

A “balanced trainer” typically follows the training philosophy that punishments should be part of the trainers’ toolkits, along with incentives.  This is a carrot and stick approach.  Some of them claim that it is a science-based approach and point to the four quadrants of operant conditioning as justification for this thinking. Proponents of the Koehler method will state that dogs are being given freedom of choice about their actions and are learning to not make certain choices because of the pain or discomfort that they receive afterwards.

William Koehler (1914 – 1993) was a well-known, celebrity dog trainer and his book The Koehler Method of Dog Training was for many years considered to be the bible for dog trainers.  Like many trainers of the last century, he used extreme methods of punishing dogs for disobedience or for perceived “defiance”.  These methods included hanging a dog by a choke lead until he ceases moving and is unconscious, as well as the use of a weighted hose to discipline a rebellious dog by beating him.  In Koehler’s view, allowing a dog to be untrained or disobedient was more inhumane than using harsh methods to instill obedience in the dog (Koehler, 1962).    Koehler’s methods are still practiced by a number of trainers today, notably some of the trainers involved in the training of police or military K-9s.

In addition to the beating described above, trainers who incorporate aversives in their programs may use a wide range of tools, including but not limited to prong collars, shock collars, choke chains, thrown objects, loud noise makers and unpleasant sprays.  They can also use personal corrections, such as swinging the

Bull Terrier with prong collar

dog on its leash, hanging the dog by its collar, choking the dog, striking them, yelling at them, or a number of other physical punishments.

Why use aversives?

The use of aversive measures in dog training is based on the belief that the dog is intentionally and willfully being disobedient and that he needs to learn that this deliberate behavior leads to punishment.  Alternatively, these methods are used to form such unpleasant associations with certain behaviors so as to make the dog avoid performing them.  This second aspect is why these methods are sometimes called “scientific” by the trainers using them, as they involve some form of reflexive or Pavlovian behavior modification.

So what’s the problem?

The simple fact is that the use of physical punishment, intimidation and aversive measures in dog training isn’t necessary, or any more effective than positive training methods (Ziv, 2017).  In fact, the use of harsh corrections in training has been found to be counterproductive and actually increases behavior problems.  Studies have shown that punishment-based training not only increases a dog’s fear of his owners, it affects the dog’s social behaviors and overall trust of humans; the dogs actually become more resistant to training (Rooney & Cowan, 2011).     The use of aversives in dog training has been shown to be no more effective than positive training, and will actually increase serious behavioral problems (Hiby, Rooney and Bradshaw, 2004; Blackwell, Twells, Seawright & and Casey, 2008).  As mentioned above, dogs trained in an environment that incorporates aversives will actually be more stressed in training and resist taking part in it, due to their anticipation of physical pain and discomfort.  Their stress levels and anxiety during training are notably higher than dogs’ who are trained with positive methods.  In fact, dogs trained with punishments tend to avoid their owners and be less attentive to them than dogs trained with positive reinforcements (Deidalle and Gaunet, 2014).  These methods kill the dogs’ motivation to learn.

Studies have shown that the use of aversives and punishment in training are closely associated with increases in aggression and biting, due to the stress and strain associated with those training methods (Herron, Shofer and Reisner, 2009).  Such training methods actually endanger both the physical and mental heath of the dogs involved (Ziv, 2017).  The use of aversives actually causes dogs to be fearful and can create unintended negative associations for them – damaging their relationship with their owners and humans in general (Todd, 2018).

For these reasons, animal welfare organizations such as the RSPCA, the ASPCA, the HSUS, the AAHA and the AVMA have issued statements supporting positive training methods and condemning the use of aversives in pet training.  According to the AVMA “Aversive training has been associated with detrimental effects on the human–animal bond, problem-solving ability, and the physical and behavioral health of the patient. It causes problem behaviors in normal animals and hastens progression of behavioral disorders in distressed animals.” (AVMA, 2015).  The Association of Pet Dog Trainers, the International Association of Animal Behaviorists and the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers have all established the Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive  (LIMA) protocol, which emphasizes the use of positive training methods with an absolute minimum of any aversive measures.

Summary

The bottom line is that we have learned a lot about animal behavior and learning in the 60 years since Koehler published his training method, and have found that punishment and aversives are not only cruel, they are harmful to animals’ welfare, and result in behavior problems and fear-based aggression.  Further, they don’t get any better results that positive methods.  In spite of this, although many trainers and owners are resistant to positive-only training, citing their own expertise and questionable authorities.

References

American Veterinary Medical Association (2015). AAHA Releases New Canine and Feline Behavior Guidelines.   Retrieved from AAHA releases new canine and feline behavior guidelines | American Veterinary Medical Association (avma.org)

Blackwell, E. J., Twells, C., Seawright, A. and Casey, R. A. (2008).  The Relationship Between Training Methods and the Occurrence of Behavior Problems, as Reported by Owners, in a Population of Domestic Dogs.  Journal of Veterinary Behavior 3 (5). 207 – 217. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2007.10.008

Deidalle, S. and Gaunet, F. (2014).  Effects of 2 Training Methods on Stress-Related Behaviors of the Dog (canis familiaris) and the dog-owner relationship.  Journal of Veterinary Behavior (9) 2. 58 -65.  Doi 10.1016/J.veb.2013.11.004

Herron, M. E., Shofer, F. S. and Reisner I. R. (2009).  Survey of the Use and Outcome of Confrontational and Non-Confrontational Training Methods in Client-Owned Dogs Showing Undesirable Behaviors.  Applied Animal Behavior Science 117 (1-2). 47 – 54.  doi:  10.1016/j.applanim.2008.12.011

Hiby, E. F., Rooney, N. J. and Bradshaw, J. W. S. (2004).  Dog Training Methods:  Their Use, Effectiveness and Interaction with Behavior and Welfare.  Animal Welfare 13 (2004).  63-69.

Koehler, W. R. (1962).  The Koehler Method of Dog Training, Kindle Edition.  Retrieved from Amazon.com

Rooney, N. J. and Cowan, S. (2011). Training Methods and owner-dog interactions:  Links with dog behavior and learning ability.  Applied Animal Behavior Science 132 (2011). 169-177.  doi:  10.1016/j.applanim.2011.03.007

Todd, Z. (2018).  Barriers to the Adoption of Humane Training Methods.  Journal of Veterinary Behavior 25 (2018), 28 – 34.  doi:  10.1016/j.jveb.2018.03.004

Ziv, G. (2016).  The Effects of Using Aversive Training Methods in Dogs – a Review.  Journal of Veterinary Behavior 19 (2017). 50 – 60.  doi:  10.1016/j.jveb.2017.02.004

Stages of puppy development

A friend of mine recently expressed some exasperation that her 10 month-old puppy suddenly seemed to forget everything he had learned and was actively resisting training.  I asked her what she was like when she was an adolescent.  My friend’s dog is somewhere in the adolescent or juvenile stage, and is being a brat.  Its just a good thing he’s cute.

Like us, dogs go through stages of emotional and physical development, and their behavior changes during those phases.  Here’s an excellent brief on the subject, courtesy of the Arizona Humane Society.

Developmental-Stages-of-a-Dog

Choosing the Right Dog Trainer

In previous articles, I discussed the differences between dog trainers and behaviorists, and provided some insight into the various qualifications and professional organizations that are part of those professions.  Today, we’ll talk about how to pick the right person.

To keep it simple, I’ll limit this post to picking the right trainer:  What to look for and how to find one who meets your needs.  Picking a behaviorist will have somewhat different criteria and I’ll discuss that in my next post.  Note:  This assumes that we get back to a more normal society in the coming months and can have in-person interactions more freely than we can at present.  In the interim, there are a number of trainers who are providing very effective remote consulting, or one-on-one social-distanced training, during the pandemic.  But, for our purposes today, lets hope for the future.

So.  The first thing to do is ask around.  In this business there is nothing as beneficial as word-of-mouth advertising.  If one of your friends has a well-behaved and socialized dog, and had a good experience with a trainer, that’s definitely a plus.  Not only do you get to see the dog’s interactions and behavior, but you and your friend will probably have some shared values about training methods and similar lifestyles.

Next, look at the trainers’ advertisements and see what qualifications they have.  For example, if they have a CPDT-KA or CPDT-KSA certification, that means they have documented experience, have demonstrated skills and knowledge and –  very importantly – are engaged in continuous education1.    That said, when you see some letters after a trainer’s name, take the time to look that up and see what that certification actually means, what that certifying agency is.  They’re not all the same.  By the same token, when you see “member of ________” , take some time to look that up.  Some professional organizations have stringent membership requirements in terms of qualifications and experience.  Others, not so much.

After that, look at what they offer in terms of training styles.  A trainer who is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, or holds most certifications, will adhere to the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) philosophy of training and behavior work.  I’ll get into the details of this in a later post, but for our purposes today it means that the trainer adheres to professional standards that avoid any punishment-based training measures.  If you see an advertisement of a trainer who promotes the use of punishment methods, such as e-collars2, I would consider that to be a red flag.  Not only are aversive training methods contrary to ethical standards, but they have also been found to be damaging to dogs’ welfare and are less effective than positive training methods3.  Similarly, I would advise looking carefully at a trainer who describes his program as “balanced”.  This can often mean that this person is more prone to implement punishment as a training measure, instead of as a last resort.

If your trainer uses phrases such as “pack”, “authority”,  “Alpha” or other terms related to a dominance hierarchy, this can mean that he is using outdated and discredited training methods4.  This points out the advantage of hiring trainers who are maintaining a certification and are required to keep current on developments in the field.

Trainers will offer a variety of environments for you and your dog.  They may offer anything from group classes, structured playtime for socialization, individual one-on-one training, or board-and-train programs.  They may have a facility for conducting classes, or they may come to your house to offer individualized programs.  Each of these approaches have advantages for dog owners.

If your dog is new in your house, regardless of his/her age, I recommend taking part in a group training session.  This is a good social and bonding event for you and your dog, and also gives you a chance to learn about how well he is socialized with other dogs in a controlled and safe environment.   Again, read reviews and get recommendations before picking a program.

One-on-one programs are particularly useful for specific training in your home environment, such as loose-leash walking, greeting strangers, or other activities that don’t require a social setting but are centered on you interacting directly with your dog.

Board and train facilities, or doggy-daycare facilities that provide training can be very favorable for working people who don’t have a lot of spare time.  However, these programs must include the dogs’ owners in the training.  Your dog isn’t a car that can be dropped off at a mechanic.  A good facility such as this will involve the owner in training and provide work to do at home.

Lastly, interview the trainers that you are considering and tour their facilities.   They should provide their rates up front, along with details of their training program; and information about their business license, insurance and bonding.  Find out if they are affiliated with any shelters or rescues and ask for references.

Every person and every pet have individual needs and personalities.  One size does not fit all. But this will hopefully help in identifying the kind of trainer you need.

Next up:  What to look for in a canine behaviorist.

1  How to become a certified dog trainer – CCPDT

China, Mills & Cooper (2020), Efficacy of Dog Training With and Without Remote Electronic Collars vs. a Focus on Positive Reinforcement.  Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7 (2020).  doi:  10.3389/fvets.2020.00508

3  Fernandes, Olssen & Vierira de Castro (2017), Do Aversive-based Training Methods Actually Compromise Dog Welfare?:  A Literature Review.  Applied Animal Behavior Science 196 (2017).  1 – 12, doi: 10.1016/j.applanim 2017.07.001

4  The Dominance Controversy – Dr. Sophia Yin

Trainer or Behaviorist?

In an earlier post, I talked at length about the certifications to look for in a dog trainer or behaviorist.  If you took the time to read it, you might be wondering what’s the difference between them.  After all, they do the same thing, right?  Well, not really.  They represent two different disciplines that you might need in living with your dog.

So, you are sharing your home with a pretty intelligent non-human who has social and emotional needs, and communicates non-verbally.  And he is turning into a terrible roommate.  One of you needs help, but what kind of help?  As in all things, that depends.

First, keep in mind that anyone can put up a website, print some business cards and call himself a dog trainer or behaviorist – or dog whisperer, dog guru, dog spiritual healer, dog communicator, or any other title.  This is an unregulated industry, with its share of quacks and frauds.  In the first article in this series, What Do All Those Letters and Certifications Mean? I discussed the various organizations that certify and vet members of these professions.  In the next article, I’ll address what to look for in picking the right person to help you with your dog, but at this point, we’ll discuss what these professionals do.

What is a dog trainer?

Putting it simply, a trainer is someone who teaches you and your pet the skills needed to function well in your home and in society.  This includes manners, pet etiquette and behaviors that are needed to safety and a happy life.  These can range from basic skills such as sitting and lying down on command, coming when called, walking nicely on a leash, traffic safety, etc., to advanced skill levels such as protection training, sports and other activities.

Types of dog training.

The training can take many forms, ranging from multi-dog classes for teaching basic skills to owners and their pets, moderated play sessions for socialization (generally for puppies), advanced group classes, private sessions at owners’ homes, or board-and-train sessions in which the dog lives at the trainers’ location for a time.  In my next article I’ll go into these approaches in depth and discuss how to pick a trainer, but for the time being, it suffices to say that trainers have a number of tools at their disposal, and a number of different business philosophies and approaches.  One size does not fit all.

What is a canine behaviorist?

A behaviorist is someone who can address a problem behavior that your dog has developed.  A “problem behavior” being defined that something that the dog does too often, or not often enough.1   For example, if your dog has anxieties about certain situations – such as being left alone in the house, or your dog barks excessively at the neighbors, or is overly protective of his food bowl, these are problems that the behaviorist can help with reducing.

Behaviorist Methodology

Where a dog trainer uses repetition and encouragement to educate dogs and owners in how to perform certain actions; a behaviorist will work with the owners to observe what the dog does, determine what events or triggers cause it to happen, and develop an intervention to reduce or modify the problem behavior.  The key elements of this are to closely observe what happens before, during and after the behavior occurs; and develop an intervention based on behavioral science and professional ethics.

I hope this helped to clarify when you should seek a trainer or behaviorist.  We’ll get into the mechanics of training and behavior modification in a later article, along with what you should look for when searching for a reputable and effective professional to help you with your dog.

What to Look for in a Dog Trainer. What do all those letters and certifications mean?

You’ve taken your puppy home and are looking for a trainer. Or your adorable puppy has grown up and turned into a teenager.  Or the dog you’ve taken home from a shelter or rescue has developed anxieties and behavior problems.  So, you’ve begun a search for someone who can help you.  And you’ve found and entire internet full of trainers, and are overwhelmed with options.  What now?   What’s right for you and your dog?  This is a series of articles to help you pick the right trainer and training program.

First off:  Every article has an alphabet soup of certifications and qualifications.  What do they all mean, and how do you wade through all that?

Things to keep in mind:  In the United States, this is an unregulated field.  Every single person who advertises himself as a dog trainer can also certify other people as trainers, without any qualifications or standards and print out a fancy certificate.  This isn’t to say that the person who has gone through a course of training or internship under that program doesn’t know what he or she is doing and isn’t an excellent trainer.  But often it means exactly that.   As Victoria Stillwell says:

“Just as almost anyone can refer to themselves as a professional dog trainer, almost any entity can currently state that it ‘certifies’ its members or graduates to be a certain level of dog training  professional. While this classification can sometimes be as valuable as the paper used to designate the certification, the dog-owning public continues to place varying degrees of importance on the label of being ‘certified.’

 The truth is that the value of any dog trainer certification depends upon the criteria and assessment processes in place by the entity granting the certification to the trainer as well as the guiding principles and reputation of the certifying entity.1″

This is a list of the more commonly found reputable professional dog training and behavior consulting certifications.  Each of these certifications requires documented experience (ranging from hundreds of hours to years) in canine training and behavior, education and/or rigorous testing, and attestation of that person’s qualifications by professional peers.  Each of these organizations require their certificants to abide by a code of ethics, best practices and professional standards.  The individuals holding these certifications are also required to maintain their expertise through continual education in the field.  I encourage you to look at the links provided below to determine the best fit for you and your pet.

DACVB – Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.2

CAAB:  Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (granted by the Animal Behavior Society).3

ACAAB:  Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (Animal Behavior Society).

CPDT-KA:  Certified Pet Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.4

CPDT-KSA:  Certified Pet Dog Trainer – Knowledge and Skills Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

CBCC-KA:  Certified Behavior Consultant Canine – Knowledge Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

CDBC:  Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants).5

IAABC-ADT:  Accredited Dog Trainer (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants).

KPA-CTP:  Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Program6

A more complete list of animal-related certifications, and the criteria for those certifications, can be found here:  www.whole-dog-journal.com/lifestyle/human-focus/professional-dog-training-titles/

When looking at advertisements for trainers or behaviorists, pay attention to the fine print.  Does the trainer provide a set of credentials?  If so, you can search that certifying organization’s web site to determine whether that trainer is in fact certified and in good standing.  Also, does the trainer say that he’s a member of an organization, such as the IAABC or APDT without providing further information?  If so, look further.  Membership in these organizations is a great thing:  It provides access to training, current research and other benefits.  But there are also various levels of membership, including the general public.

If a trainer lists course that he or she has taken, take a look that the courses and see if they are listed as providing Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for maintaining certification.  This will provide you with a basis of determining the value of that course of training.  Also,  if a trainer describes himself as having attended a formal training program such as those conducted by Victoria Stillwell7, Pat Miller8, Karen Pryor6 or the Animal Behavior College9, look to see if he has successfully completed that training and has been credentialed by it.

Next in this series:  Do I need a trainer or a behaviorist?

Upcoming:  What is an ethical dog trainer?  What to look for in a trainer/behaviorist, and what to avoid.

 

References

  1. What Is Certification? | Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior (vsdogtrainingacademy.com)
  2. American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (dacvb.org)
  3. Animal Behavior Society
  4. Certification for professional dog trainers and behavior consultants (ccpdt.org)
  5. International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (iaabc.org)
  6. Become A Professional Dog Trainer Courses – Certification Program (karenpryoracademy.com)
  7. HOME | Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior (vsdogtrainingacademy.com)
  8. Peaceable Paws Intern Academies – Peaceable Paws

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