Science proofs that aversive training methods serously harm dogs

On 23rd November 2019 I had the honor to give a TEDx talk in Munich about a topic that is very important for me:

About how we tend to misunderstand our dogs, the consequences from that and how to make it better – for example with Animal-Centric Design. But also understanding the core principles of learning within every living being (mammals (also humans!), birds, reptiles…) will make a significant difference for you and for them when doing training. I will write a lot about training in the furture!

Important: Aversive training methods harm dogs (and everyone else)! This post is dedicated to the scientific proofs of that claim.

Watch the video for more information.

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The consequences of aversive training methods

“The use of aversive-based methods compromises the welfare of companion dogs in both the short- and the long-term” (Vieira de Castro et al, 2019). Harsh trainings methods, perceived failure and anxiety while training are vital stress factors for a dog (Scholz and von Reinhardt, 2007). The usage of aversive methods can result in canine aggression (Herron et al, 2009) and/or learned helplessness, occurring when dogs feel helpless to avoid negative situation, so that they give up and passively accept those traumatic events (Seligman, Maier and Geer, 1979).

A study (Ziv, 2017) comprising 17 studies on the effects of using aversive methods in dog training concludes that aversive methods should be avoided as much as possible due to the following reasons:

  • Positive reinforcement methods are more effective than aversive and negative reinforcement methods.
    Aversive training methods lead to more behavior problems, aggression (both against people and other dogs) and fear.
  • The usage of shock and pinch collars have a significantly negative impact on the dogs’ welfare, immediately and on the long run.
  • Dogs that are trained with aversive methods have a significantly increased cortisol level (up to 400%). That stress can result in serious health issues, like weak immune system and gastro-intestinal diseases, and a shorten lifespan.
  • Physical health issues and injuries directly caused by aversive training methods can be e.g. increase in intraocular pressure and neurological deficits.

Based on those findings, the author claims that several practices and devices should be made illegal. A similar study (Guilherme Fernandes, Olsson and Vieira de Castro, 2017) comes to the same conclusions.

Several official organizations of dog trainers and veterinarians like the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (2015), American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (2007), and Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia (2003) oppose the use of aversive training methods and highly recommend the use of positive reinforcement training methods. Additionally, the Pet Professional Guild Australia (no date) also calls for a change in dog training shows in TV, so that those should be force-free and realistic in the future.

What does that mean for us and our dogs?

I am still learning about positive reinforcement training methods every day, and I am still fascinated about all the possibilities and applications, even for myself! E.g. we trained Peter to be inhouse delivery boy, and I try to clicker-train myself to feel as if I ate chocolate. I will write a lot of articles about that in the future!

Most important take-aways:

  • Never use methods that force your dog to do something! Use methods that make your dog WANT to do something!
  • Never use methods that “reward” your dog by stopping something unpleasant
  • Educate yourself to understand if a trainer has the right skills. There are many trainers with questionable methods out there!
  • Visit the Do No Harm Dog Training group on Facebook:

References & Further Readings

Guilherme F., J., Olsson, A. and Vieira de Castro, A. (2017) Do aversive-based training methods actually compromise dog welfare? A literature review. Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2017), 196, pp. 1-12. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2017.07.001.

Herron, M., Shofer, F. and Reisner I. (2009) Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 117, pp. 47-54. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.12.011.

Scholz, M. and von Reinhardt, C. (2007) Stress in Dogs: Learn how dogs show stress and what you can do to help. Wenatchee, Washington, Dogwise Publishing.

Seligman, M., Maier, S. and Geer, J. (1979) Origins of Madness – Psychopathology in Animal Life. Oxford, United Kingdom, Pergamon Press.

Vieira de Castro, A., Fuchs, D., Pastur, S., de Sousa, L. and Olsson, A. (2019) Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare. Porto, Portugal, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Ziv, G. (2017) The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs—A review, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 19, pp. 50-60. DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2017.02.004.

Bekoff, M. (2019) Science Shows Positive Reward-Based Dog Training is Best

Dunbar, I. (2007) Dog-Friendly Dog Training

Anderson, E. (2015) Fallout from the Use of Aversives

Makowska, I.J (2018) Review of dog training methods: welfare, learning, ability, and current standards

Michaels, L. (2019) Do No Harm Dog Training And Behavior Manual

Yin, S. (2009) Experts Say Dominance-Based Dog Training Techniques Made Popular by Television Shows Can Contribute to Dog Bites

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (2007) Position Statement on Punishment

Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia (2003) Position Statement

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (2015) Position Statement on Humane Training Methods for Dogs

Pet Professional Guild Australia (no date) Position Statement On Reality Dog Training