You will hear dog trainers talk about aversives.
But what do they actually mean?
And does it really matter whether or not we use aversives in dog training?
There is quite a lot of confusion about this topic, with many people thinking that the word aversives means cruel or harsh forms of punishment.
Let’s take a closer look
What are aversives?
In a nutshell, an ‘aversive’ is anything that a dog would prefer to avoid. It could be a smell, a noise, something painful, something angry, or something unfamiliar and scary.
What is aversive to one dog is not necessarily aversive to another. And what is aversive to a dog on one occasion, won’t necessarily be aversive on another occasion.
That’s because the more ‘wrapped up’ your dog is in what he is doing, the more excited or distracted he is, the more powerful a noise, a smell, or a pain, has to become, to be aversive to him.
There are some aversives that are commonly used by dog trainers in different parts of the world
Examples of aversives
Here are some examples of aversives that are commonly used in dog training
- Lead jerking
- Ear tweaking
- Ear pinching
The following dog training ‘tools’ are also aversive to most dogs
- Electric shock collars
- Rattle boxes
- Dog dazers
- Training discs
- Prong collars
- Choke chains
- Spray collars
Rattle bottles are an example of an aversives that many people don’t realise is an aversive
Most dogs don’t like them and would prefer to avoid them.
As the person holding the rattle bottle, the dog may well generalise this avoidance wish on to you. The last thing you want is a dog that finds you aversive, which is one of the major drawbacks of using them.
This is a problem with many consequence that are aversive, including prong collars, choke chains, dog dazers and the like.
Electric collars are another example of a tool almost all dogs find aversive.
They have the advantage that they may not be directly associated with the handler, unfortunately they have many disadvantages
Including the fact that they are painful to the dog and easily abused by the handler.
We tend to shy away from the effects of aversives and their purpose, by giving them names that are not associated with pain and fear, or that are considered more ‘acceptable’
E-collar instead of shock collar, for example, smack instead of hit, tap instead of kick, check instead of choke.
But if we are going to use aversives, I think it is important that we are clear as to what we are doing and the potential fall-out.
Aren’t we just talking about punishment?
Yes we are. Aversives work in dog training because they punish behaviors. In other words, they make the dog less likely to engage in those behaviors in the future.
Punishment is another word people get confused about when it comes to dog training. Often associating it with cruelty or pain.
Punishment simply means something which diminishes behavior, and you can find out why the use of punishment is being abandoned in dog training by reading the articles listed below.
So can we train dogs without aversives?
Happily we can train dogs without aversives. Most modern dog trainers now teach puppies and older dogs using positive reinforcement.
You’ll find lots of information about positive reinforcement training throughout this website.
Don’t forget to drop into my forum if you have any questions about it.
An aversive is not defined by it’s properties. It is not categorized by what it looks like or whether it causes pain.
An aversive is defined simply by it’s effect on the dog. If the dog will work to avoid it, or to avoid the consequences associated with it, then it is an aversive
If it doesn’t deter the dog, no matter how horrible it is, it isn’t aversive.
Aversives are used to punish or diminish behaviours that we do not like. And they can and do work.
But there are side effects to individual aversives and downsides to adopting a dog training approach that relies on them to any extent.
Modern dog training has switched now to training with positive reinforcement.
And while there are traditionalists who still train using aversives, the future of dog training is largely aversive free.
Which is great for dogs and for their owners too.
You might also like to read the following articles
- The use of punishment in dog training
- Modern dog training methods and techniques
- The demise of dominance theory in dog training
- Positive dog training methods – are we spoiling our puppies?