Stop Using Aversives in Dog Training

Stop Using Aversives in Dog Training

Last Wednesday night, my husband and I took the dogs for a walk at our local park. This is a pretty busy little park. There are lots of families with children, the occasional dogs, and the fun part – there are about a million squirrels and geese. Even though it’s so busy, there is plenty of open area to move off to the side to give Buster space, so I actually really like going here to work on training. 

So we did one lap around the trail with zero issues and decided to do a second since the weather was so nice. When we started the second lap, I noticed a man standing with a leash wrapped over his should. I immediately started looking for a dog but didn’t see one. We walked a little bit further, and sure enough – about 30 feet or so away from the man, the Shepherd mix was lying in a down stay. His back was to the owner/trainer’s back. 

I immediately gave plenty of space, and Buster passed him with no issues. As we were passing, I noticed he was wearing a shock collar. Right after we passed him, a squirrel ran out in front of Buster, and a kid nearby happened to scream at the same time too, so Buster let out a little alien scream. I didn’t care. I immediately got his attention back, and we kept on walking with lots of treats and happy talk. 

That’s when I noticed the owner/trainer’s total Judgy McJudgerson look on his face and his little smirk as I was giving Buster treats. 

This annoyed me. Don’t get me wrong – I could not care less what he thinks, but it’s taken me awhile to get to that point. 

The point is – whatever happened to minding your own business? Whatever happened to keeping things to yourself? Whatever happened to just leaving people alone? 

I wonder how often this man sees other people using treats and snickers at them. I wonder if he does it to someone new in their training journey, and I wonder if he makes them feel like crap. 

So, we walked by him, and then noticed him later on the very outside perimeter of the park walking the dog, still off leash. 

I’ll give the owner/trainer kudos – the dog didn’t move while he was in a down stay and we walked past. But – the dog didn’t look happy. He was visibly stressed. His ears were pinned back as far as they could go, and he there were a couple of small whale-eye movements. 

I immerse myself in positive reinforcement based dog training. All of the Facebook groups I partake in are R+. Of course, all of the books I read are R+. Sometimes I get so surrounded by that positive bubble, that I forget that R+ is unfortunately, not that common. There are so many people who have not heard of R+ training yet, and there are even more people who have heard of it, don’t understand it, mock it, and then slap an e-collar on their dog. This makes me sad. 

Admittedly, there are just a small handful of e-collar trainers that I do follow on social media, but only because they are killing it at the social media game. I try to learn from them to see what social media strategies and marketing is working, but that’s the only reason I follow them. And then, there are the occasional things that pop up in my feed because the Google gods think it’s something I want to see. The other day, I came across a Pug wearing a prong collar – A PUG! I felt as if I had just witnessed a car accident with the car going up in flames. Why on earth would anyone ever think it’s a good idea to put a prong collar on a breed that already a) really doesn’t even have a neck and b) already has a compromised respiratory system by design. 

But of course, these trainers are good at social media, and they do post videos. I’ll often see just a few seconds of their videos. Do you know what their videos are always show though? A dog in a down stay, usually on a station/bed/platform. Those videos truthfully make up 95% of their videos. That’s it.

 You guys – there is SO MUCH MORE to dog training than a down stay. Is it important? Yes. Is it the most important thing? Honestly, I don’t think so. I’m also going to insert my totally controversial opinion here – down stays are actually very easy to teach. In my opinion, it’s boring and repetitive, but it’s easy.

So honestly, it breaks my heart a little when I think about how popular e-collar training is, and how those dogs are primarily taught to down stay. Where’s the fun? Where is the relationship? What about the games? A relationship between a dog and their owner is so much more than a fabulous down stay. Sure, with a good down stay, maybe the owner can take the dogs to cafe’s more, but are they really? And then what – the dog just lies there. 

I want to see more interaction between owners and their dogs. You are the only thing your dog has, and your dog wants to interact with you. 

So all in all, we had a great walk with zero issues, but it made me think of these things that made me a little sad. 

I really hope positive reinforcement becomes the norm sooner than later. In fact, let me leave you with just a coupel of fun facts about e-collars to ponder: 

1. They are on their way to being banned throughout all of England. They are already banned in some places, like Whales. 

That should speak volumes to you. If an entire country is banning a device, there is a a valid and good reason. We also know that they are way ahead of the United States in a variety of things, so why can’t we learn from them? 

I mean, to flip the script – I often hear people complain that the United States is stupid for having the legal drinking age set to 21 when it’s 18 in most other places. So, if we wish the United States would follow the lead of those other progressive places on that topic, why can’t we follow the lead with something as simple as dog training? 

2. At my day job, I work with contract workig dogs that serve on government contracts for the federal government. These are Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, German Shepherds, German Shorthaired Pointers, etc. None of them are trained with e-collars. 

I really wish the United states would ban e-collars, but I’m not sure that will ever happen. I just hope R+ becomes the norm soon enough, and the best way is to lead by example and keep spreading the message!

 

How do you train your dog, and what’s your favorite thing to train?