Thanks to science, dog training is finally on a course to leave the dark ages of pain, fear, and force that have been commonly used to train the family dog.
Science demonstrates that it is never necessary to use a choke, a prong, or a shock collar to train a dog. Not only are these tools unnecessary, but there is also ample evidence that using them may cause severe physical injuries, as well as dangerous behavioral problems, such as aggression.
When a tool or methodology that uses force, fear or pain is unnecessary and can cause significant, sometimes irreparable, physical and psychological damage to a dog, its use is not only inhumane, it is animal abuse. That’s why many trainers have been using clickers and rewards for well over 20 years.
According to the 2015 American Animal Hospital Association Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines, more cats and dogs are affected by behavioral problems than any other condition. The AAHA task force that investigated this issue addresses two primary reasons for these behavioral problems: mistaken or misinformed beliefs about canine behavior and the continued use of aversive training techniques. The guidelines include references to the many peer-reviewed articles that support their findings.
There is a wealth of information available about dogs and canine behavior and with the advent of the internet, it is readily available to anyone looking for it. But just because a statement is on a website, is printed in a book, magazine or newspaper, or is told to you by someone, does not make that statement true — even if the author is a veterinarian, a breeder, a dog trainer or a “self-certified” pet care “expert.” Some of the most egregious and detrimental myths about dogs and their behavior are: the dominance construct, the idea that dogs are wolves and live in a pack hierarchy, and the belief that you need to punish a dog by inflicting pain or causing fear to force it to do what you want.
The AAHA guidelines make the following recommendations on aversive training techniques. I’ve bolded some sections for emphasis.
This Task Force opposes training methods that use aversive techniques. Aversive training has been associated with detrimental effects on the human–animal bond, problem solving ability, and the physical and behavioral health of the patient. It causes problem behaviors in normal animals and hastens progression of behavioral disorders in distressed animals. Aversive techniques are especially injurious to fearful and aggressive patients and often suppress signals of impending aggression, rendering any aggressive dog more dangerous.
Aversive techniques include prong (pinch) or choke collars, cattle prods, alpha rolls, dominance downs, electronic shock collars, lunge whips, starving or withholding food, entrapment, and beating. None of those tools and methods should be used to either teach or alter behavior. Nonaversive techniques rely on the identification and reward of desirable behaviors and on the appropriate use of head collars, harnesses, toys, remote treat devices, wraps, and other force-free methods of restraint. This Task Force strongly endorses techniques that focus on rewarding correct behaviors and removing rewards for unwanted behaviors.
The guidelines also make the following recommendations on choosing a dog trainer:
‘‘Training’’ is an unregulated field, and unskilled, poorly schooled trainers may cause harm. It is worthwhile to establish a collaborative relationship with a qualified, certified, and insured pet trainer. An accomplished trainer can work seamlessly with the veterinary team to help clients implement behavioral interventions, provide feedback, and elevate the practice’s level of behavioral care. Diagnosis and medical intervention remain the purview of the veterinarian.
Trainers should have obtained certification from a reliable organization that has, as its foundation, the sole use of positive methods. Certification for trainers should require annual continuing education, liability insurance, and testable knowledgeable in behavior and learning theory trainers. Unfortunately, credentials don’t guarantee the use of humane methods or honest marketing. It is essential that clients ask trainers about specific tools and techniques used. If the tools or techniques include prong collars, shock collars, or leash/collar jerks/yanks, or if the trainer explains behavior in terms of ‘‘dominance’’ or throws anything at a dog, advise clients to switch trainers. Ensure that individuals teaching the class do not force fearful, reactive dogs to stay in class. Forcing dogs to remain where they are fearful, even using crates or baby gates, worsens fear. Classes should have a high ratio of instructors to clients and dogs.
If your veterinarian is unable to recommend a dog trainer that meets the above requirements, I encourage you to visit the websites of the following organizations, all of which require an individual to pass a comprehensive exam on the above topics and require continuing education. The credential offered by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board is relatively new but has the added benefit that certificants must agree to commit to not using shock, choke or prong collars, fear, physical force, or physical molding or any compulsion-based methods of pet care or dog training.
- Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers
- International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
- Pet Professional Accreditation Board
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. He produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, “The Woof Meow Show” heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at noon. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found here. Don also writes about pets on his blog