Mini-Series: Topic #5 / Consequences of Aversion Training


A debate has been ongoing in the canine training community for many decades.  This debate centers around the discussion regarding the use of positive reinforcement vs. aversion techniques and bioethical considerations for dogs. Though proponents of aversion training argue that it produces results, opponents argue that these same results can be obtained by employing a more bioethical approach to training.

Here at the FSDS we have a very simple litmus test we urge all trainers to use:

  • Would you want this technique to be used on yourself or your children?

If the answer is no, then do not use this method on any of your dogs.

Negative Effects of Aversion Training

Though it is true that punitive means of dog training have been used for centuries, this does not mean that they are the best way to accomplish the end goal, or that they represent the best practice for a trainer.  It is our belief that any training method that causes pain for dogs is unethical.  Though proponents argue results, arguments on the other side of the fence (or leash) compel trainers to adopt training practices that are designed to produce happy and confident dogs that will work willingly.  This is of utmost importance for SD training and all future SD trainers must take this to heart.

Aversive training will have the following effects on dogs:

  • provoke fear and anxiety
  • provoke aggression
  • decrease the ability of the dog to learn
  • undermine the confidence of their dog in the handler as a compassionate team leader
  • induce avoidant behaviors
  • cause confusion
  • physically harm the dog

The more aversive the stimulus, the greater the fall-out consequences. In many cases, the emotional consequences of the abuse resulting from the use of aversive training tactics can be more devastating than the physical consequences.

Negative Reinforcement

Aversive training does not always imply that pain is inflicted, it merely implies that an unpleasant stimulus is applied to train the dog not to engage in undesirable behaviors.  Aversive training is negative reinforcement.  The amount of subjective discomfort the dog will experience will depend in part on the dog and the behavior the trainer seeks to extinguish.  For example, a time out for a dog with separation anxiety will be perceived as more adverse than for a dog without.  Thus, in part the perception of the dog shapes the reality of the consequence.

This is an important concept for a SD trainer to grasp, as ultimately it is the dog who will decide what is truly unpleasant and what is not.  Thus, when considering the use of training methods, it is important to use motivational training that is reward based.  Aversive training is not always physically painful or inhumane, but can be emotionally traumatizing and cause the dog to suffer long term emotional consequences.  The dog can draw unintended conclusions regarding the reason for the punishment.

Example: An owner brings their dog to a trainer to be cured of a jumping problem.  Every time the dog jumps on the trainer,the trainer pushes the dog to the floor. The dog concludes that the trainer is a scary person, and loses trust.  On a subsequent trip to see the trainer, upon arriving at the facility the dog refuses to get out of the car, crouching down in the back, trembling and whining.

Another unintended consequence of negative reinforcement is that a dog can sometimes generalize their response to other situations.  For example, if the trainer above were wearing a baseball cap, then the dog may become fearful of all individuals with a baseball cap.

Negative reinforcement seeks to eradicate a problem behavior without substituting in another behavior that will bring the dog the reward it seeks.  Since the goal of the unwanted behavior was some sort of pleasure or stress relief for the dog, the dog now must seek another way to derive pleasure.  Many times the dog will simply engage in a new (and unwanted) behavior to fill this void, sending the dog and owner both chasing their proverbial tails in an effort to get the behavior under control.

The FSDS permits only positive reinforcement training methods for all SDs.  Remember that a SD is a willing partner who works because they want to, not because they have to. Handlers must instill a sense of trust and security in their dogs, that comes only through positive reinforcement training.

Grand Opening of our Phoenix Training Facility

The much anticipated opening of our Phoenix training facility is scheduled for Saturday, March 23rd.  A ribbon cutting ceremony will take place at 10 a.m., and service dog teams within reach of the new Metro center Mall location are encouraged to attend.  Come out and meet our lead trainer and tour the new facility.  Check out our new hands on Interactive Learning Center and learn about services available to all teams, regardless of whether you are enrolled in our program or privately training  your own dog. If you are thinking about training a SD for your own needs, stop by first for information on how to receive assistance in selecting a dog with the right temperament for service work before you adopt.

Volunteers Needed

Do you love dogs?  Are you looking for stable hours and an opportunity to be a part of your community?  If so, you may be who we are looking for.  The FSDS is seeking volunteers to help out at our new training facility located inside of the Metro Center Mall.  Please contact our Associate Facility Manager,Jessica Parker, at 602-870-2008 to learn more.

Seeking Additional Board Members

The FSDS is seeking to grow its Board of Directors and we are currently looking for individuals with the following qualifications:

  • Military Veteran
  • Legal Expertise (attorney or paralegal)
  • Fundraising / Event Planning
  • Small Business / Capacity Building

Interested individuals can contact the Executive Director for more information.

Classroom News

Beginner Class – our new teams have made great progress in the mastery of their basic obedience commands.  The puppies are at work to learn commands such as “sit, down, stay and heel”.  Though this sounds simple on the surface, these are among the most difficult and important tasks to master, as these form the basis for all future training.  Keep up the good work!

Advanced Class – our advanced class is gearing up for their ultimate challenge – the final certification test.  This past month they have taken field trips to practice the performance of their upper level SD tasks with the distractions of public sights and sounds.  This includes a field trip to our new facility to help our students become comfortable and familiar in our future home.  We are expecting good things from all teams!

Wellness Tip

It is that time of year to start checking your working equipment and ensure that it is in good repair.  The summer is not far away, and it is time for you to purchase a new pair of thermal working booties for your SD.

Dogs can sustain severe burns from hot pavement. Did you know that that when the outside temperature is 77 degrees, the temperature of asphalt exposed to direct sunlight can reach 125 degrees.  In addition to the threat of injury from hot pavement, dogs can also injure their paws if they step on shards of glass or other shop objects they may step on.

With regard to temperatures, a good rule is to slip off your show or sandal and place your own foot on the pavement.  If it is too hot for you, it is too hot for your SD.  A better rule though is that a SD should have booties on their paws at all times when they are working to prevent injuries due to either heat or sharp objects.

With Sincere Thanks

We would like to thank the following individuals and/or groups for their support during the month of February:

  • Valerie Schluter
  • DAV Auxiliary Unit 1
  • Network for Good
  • Michael Anastos

We would like to express our sincere thanks to the  members of the Westbrook Village Veterans Support Club.  This past month, they hosted a Car Show to benefit the FSDS and help us to fulfill our mission of providing services to military veterans in need. An event such as this takes considerable advanced planning and hard work by many, and we are tremendously appreciative of these efforts.

Upcoming Events

March 9th – Armed Forces Support Group of Sun City Grand Annual Golf Tournament.  For information on how you can sign up to participate please contact them directly.

March 23rd– Grand Opening of our Phoenix Training Facility located inside of the Metro Center Mall at:  9617 N. Metro Pkwy, Ste 1072, Phoenix, AZ  85051.  Ribbon cutting starts at 10 a.m.

Photo Gallery

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