Few people want to purposely hurt their dog but far too many opt for aversive dog training methods, allowing or even seeking out trainers who use electronic collars, prong collars, choke collars, or throw rolled-up beach towels at dogs in a technique called “bonking.”
Make no mistake: these training methods and tools do often work, forcing dogs to submit because they realize they have no choice – at least if they don’t want to feel pain. However, one day it’s inevitable that the dog will be so overcome with terror that fighting back is the only option.
Instead of learning how to appropriately react and respond to real-life situations, these dogs learn only how to protect themselves to minimize punishment and pain.
The recently released American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Humane Dog Training Position Statement and their Dominance Position Statement point out that aversive or force-training methods are not only unsuccessful at teaching dogs, they are also inhumane.
As trainer Victoria Stilwell of TV’s “It’s Me or the Dog” and www.positively.com said in a recent telephone conversation, “If dogs are our best friends, why do we want to hurt them?”
Not only do these aversive methods cause physical pain, they also create mental anguish. Instead of instilling confidence, they cause fear. What’s more, if the punishment is associated with a family member, a lack of trust occurs, and the human-animal bond may be extinguished.
Steve Edwards, DVM, AVSAB president-elect, explains that people are often desperate in their effort to “fix” aggressive dogs and may understandably be under pressure to do so quickly.
“The fact is that most aggressive dogs are fearful,” says Stilwell. “So when techniques are used which instill more fear, what do you think happens?”
Dr. Edwards says that what happens is that he and his colleagues get more business because already fearful dogs are now downright terrorized, and they may never know how to respond. Lucky dogs land at the doorstep of a qualified professional; others go right back to the trainer who caused or exacerbated the problem or to an animal shelter. Some dogs are euthanized.
The science from around the world supporting positive-reinforcement dog training is now abundant.
In the midst of the pandemic, Petco banned the sales of e-collars (electronic collars) in their stores.
“We say goodbye to remote controls that cause pain, and hello to expert trainers who mentor pets and pet parents with positivity, patience, and compassion,” said Petco CEO Ron Coughlin in his October 2020 statement to the media.
Petco national training manager Darris Cooper told me, “Today we know better. In fact, going the other way, positive reinforcement and using the approaches supported by the Fear Free initiative, are the most effective ways to readjust canine attitudes and support confidence.”
Among the many studies supporting positive reinforcement, arguably the starkest example was a study with veterinary behaviorist Theresa DePorter, DVM, based in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who worked with a local dog trainer who used aversive training methods in his puppy classes. After one year, an astounding 38 percent of the puppy class grads were rehomed, surrendered, or euthanized. After two years, over half (60 percent) of dogs were rehomed, surrendered, or euthanized.
Dr. DePorter then persuaded that same trainer to offer positive-reinforcement classes and instructed him on how to do so. The five weekly in-hospital puppy socialization classes were for pups ages 7 to 12 weeks. This wasn’t a typical tiny study of a pawful of dogs; she followed 519 puppies for a year. And one year later, 94 percent of dogs remained in homes, compared to aversive training in which over a third of puppies were rehomed, surrendered, or euthanized a year later.
If we really want to help dogs, we need to save them. You don’t help a drowning person who isn’t able to swim by rescuing him from the ocean only to throw him into a lake.
We can no longer tolerate mistreatment with the promise that doing so saves lives when we know there’s a better way.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.