Maya Rae McCallum ISCP, MISAP 

Helping dogs and people stay together


Aversive Training 

Why It 

Does Not Work

image: small dog wearing electric shock collar

Aversive: adjective. Causing avoidance of a thing, situation, or behaviour by using an unpleasant or punishing stimulus, as in techniques of behaviour modification. (

In terms of dog training anything which causes pain, fear or startle can be described as an aversive training method. From one end of the spectrum extreme aversives such as electrified fencing, shock and prong collars to the other end of water squirting, leash jerking, can rattling, sprays and all manner of old-school physical ‘correctional methods’ are all aversives.

There are trainers who will tell you differently and that aversion training works. It stops the bad behaviour right? Ok let’s look at it. The dog barks a lot, he receives a mighty leash jerk to call him to order. He barks again. Jerk. Bark. Jerk. Bark. Jerk. As many times as it takes. The dog eventually learns that to be silent means he does not receive a painful tug on the neck. Or does he learn not to bark when the leash-tugger is around – or does he learn to be fearful when someone who looks like the leash-tugger passes by? Or does he carry on in silent misery until one day he snaps (literally)...

Here’s another one. The dog growls. Trainer pulls him to heel and snaps on a muzzle and can therefore carry out his training without fear the dog will bite. While you could say the aversive methods have indeed stopped the dog’s behaviour in the interim what it has not done is addressed the reason behind the behaviour. Let’s look at the growling dog again: a dog growls as a warning and (unless trained specifically to aggress) views biting as a last resort. So he doesn’t want to bite, he is using his voice (barking, growling) to tell his owner something is wrong. He may be afraid, he may be in pain, he may be uncomfortable in a situation, it could be many reasons but simply snapping a muzzle on him and bullying him into stopping growling is a sure-fire way to have that dog bite someone. NB: the muzzle is a training tool and also a method of protecting a dog and as such is not aversive in of itself. However, when a muzzle is used to control a dog's behaviour whilst pain-filled 'training' commences then it must however be viewed as such

Why do dog owners use aversives?

Probably because they see a quick fix; that is they see an immediate behaviour change. What is missed however is the fact that the reason for the behaviour has not been addressed and this can fester away in a dog’s mind causing untold misery and stress which oftentimes implodes or explodes with disastrous consequences.

A decent behaviourist will never demonise or shame those owners who have used forms of aversive training in the past because (and I have been told this often by dog owners) ‘they were at their wits end.’ I am always glad to work with my clients and their dogs  to reach the point when the dog’s behaviour is addressed kindly and effectively to leave both dog and owner with a positive learning experience and one which stays with the dog for the rest of his life