Should Aversives be Used in Training?

There are two basic approaches to dog training today – positive reinforcement and aversive training. The former involves using positive associations to reward good behavior. With positive reinforcement, your dog gets a treat, cuddle, or toy for doing something right.

Aversive training takes a different approach. With this form of training, you train your dog using a deterrent when he exhibits the wrong behavior. 

Professional trainers may choose one method over the other or use a combination of the two. 

What is Aversive Training?

Aversive dog training rests on the idea that a negative association with bad behavior dissuades a dog from repeating it. Thirty years ago, this might have meant rubbing a dog’s nose in their urine if they peed inside. Owners then even shouted at or smacked dogs as well.

We’ve moved on since then. Today’s aversive techniques are more humane. They still work on the same principle, though – the dog avoids the behavior to prevent the deterrent.

Such training involves techniques like spraying a dog with water or using aversive collars. These collars typically shock the dog or release a spray when they do something wrong. 

Why Should I Avoid Aversives?

Let’s explain this in human terms. Dog psychology is different, but the same principles apply in this case. If you land a big account at work and get a bonus, how does that make you feel? If you make a small mistake and you get disciplined, how does that make you feel?

If you’re getting the bonus, you’re motivated to work harder. If you’re getting disciplined, you’re fearful of making the same mistake again and are likely to start resenting your boss. Which would you prefer? 

Now, let’s put this in dog’s terms. The canine is just doing what comes naturally to him. He doesn’t understand that he’s not supposed to pee in the house, for example. When his normally loving owner punishes him for that, he doesn’t understand. 

He becomes fearful of you because he doesn’t know exactly how you’ll react in a given situation. Aversives may backfire because if he feels you act erratically, his behavior might also become erratic. 


You have to ask yourself whether you want a fearful pup or a confident one. Take our example of the reward and punishment system at work. Which method works best to motivate you? 

Your dog is not capable of reasoning in the same way that we are. You might understand why you face punishment, but he won’t. Aversive training is a method built on fear. It’s hardly the basis for a trusting and fulfilling relationship with your dog.

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