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Aversive training methods for dogs: Better not!


Aversive training methods in dog training are very controversial. It tries to get rid of unwanted behavior from the dog through deterrence and other unpleasant stimuli. On the one hand, the methods, when used correctly, can show short-term success, on the other hand, the consequences of this are unpredictable. You can find out more about the controversial topic in our guide. Aversive training methods are considered very controversial because they can harm the dog mentally - Shutterstock / spillikin

Maybe you've heard of Cesar Millan? The American is a book author and dog trainer, and he also appears regularly on television as a "dog whisperer" or "pack leader". He often uses so-called aversive training methods, which is why he is repeatedly criticized. The professional association of dog educators and behavior consultants even called for the end of the television program in German-speaking countries, since the methods can be misunderstood and misused by laypeople too easily.

What are aversive training methods for dogs?

The "Duden" describes the term "aversive" with "reluctance", synonyms for "aversion" are for example "disgust", "disgust", "resentment", "hostility" and even "hate". Aversive training methods are therefore educational measures that exert at least an unpleasant stimulus on the dog, causing him to be very reluctant, terrified, painful or afraid. Basically, these are more or less severe penalties. The aim of this is to quickly and effectively get rid of undesirable behavior from the dog. As soon as the four-legged friend does something that the dog owner does not want, he gets an aversive stimulus, hoping that he will combine this stimulus with his behavior and refrain from doing so in order to avoid aversion.

Aversive training methods are, for example, the following educational tools:
● Spray bottle or water gun
● Loud clapping or another sudden, loud noise
● Vibrating box filled with nails, stones or peas and other throwing objects
● Training collar: spray, vibration, electrical, strangling or spiked collar
● Pain stimuli on the leash, for example a line jerk
● Other pain stimuli, such as pinching the flank, "snapping on", blows with the fingertips, pulling the ears, lightly tapping the groin
● Forced submission by sniffing grip, "alpha throw" (tossing to the side), pulling paws away, stepping on paws, holding on to dog or lying on him

Short-term effect of aversive training methods

It may be that aversive training methods immediately lead to the dog abandoning the undesirable behavior. To do this, they must be used "correctly", that is:
● Your four-legged friend must understand the aversive stimulus as an unpleasant consequence of his misconduct.
● For this, your dog must not notice that the aversive appeal comes from you.
● The punishment must immediately follow the wrongdoing. Only a few seconds prevent your pet from associating its action with the unpleasant consequences.
● The aversive stimulus must be strong enough that it is worthwhile for the dog to refrain from misconduct. However, it must not be so strong that it causes pain or fear to the four-legged friend, possibly even injuring him.

For experienced dog trainers who have practiced this for years, it may be possible to meet these conditions exactly, so that the four-legged friend is actually doing what humans want. Similarly, drill in the military or authoritarian parenting in children. The individual will of the "pupil" is broken and subjected to the will of the educator. The dog sprints and obeys when aversive training methods have the desired effect, but it is difficult to predict whether it will stay that way in the long term.

After all, the corresponding dog trainers only have a short time to deal with the four-legged friend, but his family has with him all his life. Especially on television with Cesar Millan and Co., only excerpts and partial aspects of dog training can be shown, these are also trimmed for entertainment value and show effect. Inexperienced dog owners can quickly get the wrong impression.

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Anxiety and behavioral problems due to aversive training methods

Those who use aversive training methods incorrectly - and this danger is great - will damage their dog in the long term. For example, if your four-legged friend notices that you have the aversive appeal, it develops an aversion to you. He then does not understand that the unpleasant consequences are the result of his actions. If you are lucky, your dog will only do the wrong thing in your absence. If you're unlucky, he'll be scared of you. If too much time elapses between misconduct and punishment, your pet can no longer make the right connection - here it can happen that he becomes afraid of something else, which happened to be in his immediate vicinity when the fright or pain stimulus occurred.

If the stimulus is not uncomfortable enough, aversive training methods will not work, if it is too strong, you will injure your dog. Either way, the penalties damage your dog's trust and the bond between the two of you. The four-legged friend may bow to your will, but he is not happy and balanced, but is under stress because he constantly expects aversive stimuli. At worst, your dog will develop an anxiety disorder, become aggressive, or display other problematic behavioral problems.

Dog-friendly alternatives to aversive training methods

Instead of correcting unwanted behavior with aversive training methods superficially and with unforeseeable consequences, you should rather reward desired behavior with a reward. It's best to ignore undesirable behavior. For emergency situations in which your dog should quickly interrupt its actions - for example because it is approaching a potential poison bait or is running away from you - it must issue the commands "Off!" and "No" as well as control the recall. These require patient and consistent training, but never violence or drill. You can find help in our guide "How your dog understands commands better: 5 tips".