When you know better, you do better.
Most folks would agree that more than ever before, people are crazy in love with their dogs. They’ve taken over our homes, sleeping in our beds and cuddling on our couches. When they’re sick, we’re sick with worry. When they die, a part of us dies with them. Their love is unconditional, and their support, relentless. They wait for us to return starting the moment we leave. They lick our tears, listen without judgement, and love us despite our ludicrous and many times impossible expectations. They attempt to learn our language, although we are supposedly the higher thinking species. There’s a reason why we call them companion animals and want what’s in their best interest. What’s eluding pet parents is clear and consistent information on treatment and training best practices.
There are two main philosophies in the dog training world. To over-simplify, there are those that don’t believe in the use of aversives and force. Then there are those that do believe in the use of aversive tools and force when training or living with a dog. In the dog training business, an aversive is something unpleasant that is used to suppress or diminish unwanted behavior. Aversive tools include prong, shock, choke, or spray collars, loud noises, spray bottles, and physical force or intimidation, among other things.
Why force-free (or non-aversive) training? Because you love your dog and want a safe and ethical training option for them. That’s the short version. The long version starts with dog training as an unregulated industry. It continues with unraveling a multitude of misconceptions about how dogs should be treated and how they are most humanely trained. Misconceptions are rampant regarding dominance, leadership, egos, using food, motivation, level of discomfort, the science of how dogs learn, ethics, and more. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Why force-free (or non-aversive) training? Because of science. The study of animal behavior has advanced in recent decades and unearthed a wealth of information on our dog companions’ brains, emotions and responses to different treatment and training methods. In 2017 a review of the literature was published called, The Effects Of Aversives In Dog Training and concludes those working with or handling dogs should rely on positive reinforcement training techniques and avoid positive punishment and negative reinforcement as much as possible. Many people with advanced degrees have dedicated their entire careers to researching how animals learn best. We believe in them and in their science.
Science says force-free training methods show less risk of aggression, anxiety, and fear. We also know pet parents don’t want to cause their dog pain, discomfort, or fear. Training should be something we do with our dogs, not to our dogs. Let’s have fun and elevate our treatment and training to be rooted in kindness and compassion, by taking into consideration how dogs feel about the process. In doing so we’ll be able to gain an enhanced, well rounded relationship with our best friends.