PetCo recently announced that they would stop selling shock collars which is awesome news! It is a definite step in the right direction. However, the dog industry still resorts to using too many aversive training methods, and that has got to stop!
Aversive versus rewarding training methods
A dog’s learning can be divided into 4 different categories:
Positive reinforcement – we add something to increase a behaviour (we guide the dog to a wanted behaviour, like walking next to us, and they are given treats for following us and for staying where we want them to walk)
Negative reinforcement – we remove something to increase a behaviour (We keep a prong collar tight until the dog walks next to us, and then we slowly remove the pressure)
Positive punishment – we add something to decrease a behaviour (The dog is shocked with a shock collar to stop him from barking)
Negative punishment – we remove something to decrease a behaviour (If your dog is pulling, you stop and keep him from moving forward. You do not move forward until he comes back and the strain on the leash stops)
Aversive methods can be defined as doing something that your dog does not like in order to stop or alter a behaviour. Aversive tools offer a punishment in response to the dog’s behaviour.
However, research has found that for the dog to learn, the punishment has to be strong enough to stop the dog from doing the behaviour again, also meaning that the punishment has to be highly unpleasant and unavoidable. If it is not strong enough it will not have any effect on the dog, meaning that the behaviour you are trying to change will stay the same.
The argument that shock collars and other aversive training tools does not bring pain or discomfort to dogs is therefore faulty as we have just seen that in order for the aversive tool to actually change a behaviour they have to provide such high discomfort that the dog will refrain from doing the behaviour again. That means if you do not bring pain or discomfort the tool simply does not work.
Reasons why you should NOT use aversive training methods
Science has compared the use of positive punishment versus positive reinforcement and they found that positive punishment was not more effective than positive reinforcement. If positive reinforcement is just as effective as punishment, then why not do that instead. By using positive reinforcement in your training you also avoid the greater risk of your dog making an incorrect association between the punishment and why they are being punished.
You are out on a walk and your dog starts to bark at another dog and he/she is punished by you for doing so. Your dog is most likely reacting to the other dog because he/she is afraid. In fact the majority of reactivity in dogs stems from an unresolved fear they have developed.
It therefor does not make sense to add a punishment, as that will simply give them the association that if I bark or react, something uncomfortable, perhaps even painful will happen and that is definitely something to be afraid of. Their fear has not only been enhanced, it has also been confirmed. This in your dog’s mind can be translated to – seeing a dog means something scary will happen.
This leads us to the next point as to why you should not use aversive tools when training your dog. Aversive training methods does not deal with the underlying problem and believe me, there always is one! This can get the problem behaviour to escalate as the dog is left alone with dealing with his/her underlying emotions. In fact research has shown that dogs that were trained with aversive training methods where more likely to show aggression later on in their life.
Aversive training also does not show the dog what to do instead of reacting. You have to think, that a dog reacting is not thinking about his/her behaviour, they are reacting because of that underlying emotion – stress, fear, insecurity etc. It is your job as their owner or as a professional dog trainer to show them how to handle their emotions and give them alternatives to cope with the situation they find scary or uncomfortable.
Instead of reacting by lunching and barking, you can come sit here next to me and get a treat.
By providing alternatives for your dog your bond automatically becomes stronger as your dog now starts to trust you more. Aversive methods do the complete opposite making the trust between you slowly disappear and increases your dog’s stress levels, until your dog eventually shuts down.
Many countries have already banned shock collars completely, and in Sweden (where I live) the use of a shock collar is considered animal abuse and is prohibited by law.
Banning shock collars and taking stands like PetCo is definitely a step in the right direction. There are sadly still many trainers and dog owners that use aversive methods but by sharing scientifically based evidence positive reinforcing training methods will hopefully carve its way forward.
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Thank you PetCo for taking a step in the right direction, let us all follow that example.
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