The word aversion means anything that the dog doesn’t like and would choose to avoid.
When we think of aversives we think of punishment devices like electric shock collars, prong collars, choke chains or slip leads or people hitting dogs. But in reality so many more things are aversive to dogs, what makes those things different is that we as owners, handlers, trainers habituate and condition our dogs to those aversives.
So what are aversives?
A collar or harness, a lead these are technically aversive to a dog they may be a bit uncomfortable for the dog and the dog shuts down or shows fear of the item and these things certainly restrict the dog, they can’t sniff about or run around and say hello to others or go and eat the smelly thing in the bin on the pavement. But we have a legal and safety need for our dogs to wear collars with tags on and to wear a harness and a lead on walks so they don’t hurt themselves or run into the road or escape into a field of livestock.
And then we have muzzles these can be a legal requirement due to breed specific legislation, or you may put one on your dog for the safety of others because your dog reacts badly through fear or shock or pain, or you may have a dog that is a scavenger and eats anything and everything to it's detriment. making a muzzle a necessary tool like a collar and lead for you, but no animal would choose to wear one of these if given the choice.
Confrontation is aversive to dogs, eye staring, alpha rolling or pinning, growling at the dog shaking it, all of these aversive methods can lead to a dog that will either shut down or act out aggressively.
Then we have the anti chew sprays and anti marking sprays or putting chili pepper or mustard on food to stop counter surfing or to stop Pika (poo eating) or chewing furniture or scent marking of toileting in the house, rattle bottles and air spray cans that again give the dog a shock like a shock collar or anti bark spray collar with the intention of breaking a behaviour. these are aversives of a different kind which may work initially but the dog can habituate to them so they become less effective and eventually stop working altogether.
Now we can see that there are different levels of aversive, those that humans habituate and condition dogs too out of necessity, due to laws and safety leads collars and muzzles, and some that we call punishers, the shock collars and prong collars and sprays and nasty tasting and smelling things which again our dogs can become habituated and conditioned to so they too become ineffective.
What research tells us
Research has shown us that the use of aversive methods or positive punishment and negative reinforcement has a detrimental effect on the psycological welfare of the dog and how it interacts with humans and other dogs. Some aversives certainly do work to reduce or stop behaviours that have recently started but alongside this stop or reduction we start to see other stress related problems in the dog which will then need further investigation and behavioural assistance.
What this means to dog trainers
The role of a reward based trainer is to find the least aversive way to work with and train a dog, to change behavours and reduce stress in the dog and owner. Some aversives out of necessity we condition dogs too so they become a positive to the dog and reward based trainers know how to break this conditioning down and take it at a pace the dog can manage, so that the dog comes to enjoy the training and no longer sees the collar, lead or muzzle as an aversive thing but as a precursor to something enjoyable to them.
And lets face it why use something that doesn’t have a lasting effect instead of having a detrimental effect on the relationship between man and dog.
Below are a few references that you may like to read that can lead to further your understanding of this subject.
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(1-2), pp.47-54.
Hiby, E., Rooney, N. and Bradshaw, J. (2004). Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal welfare, 13, pp.63-69.
Rooney, N. and Cowan, S. (2011). Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 132(3-4), pp.169-177.
Sargisson, R., Butler, R. and Elliffe, D. (2011). An Evaluation of the Aboistop Citronella-Spray Collar as a Treatment for Barking of Domestic Dogs. ISRN Veterinary Science, 2011, pp.1-6.
Schilder, M. and van der Borg, J. (2004). Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 85(3-4), pp.319-334.
Ziv, G. (2017). The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs—A review. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 19, pp.50-60
Lets eradicate these......
Remove the stigma from this......
Clair Litster-Huckle has a BSc (Hons) in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and an MSc Animal Behaviour and Training and has studied Canine psychology and Canine diet and nutrition.