The Effects of Harsh Methods in Animal Training

This article reviews the growing body of evidence suggesting that a dog’s behavior might be negatively affected by aversive training methods, and favoring instead reward-based training in which the animal is free from stress, anxiety, pain, force, and fear. We hope that this article on the effects of harsh methods in animal training serves as a help to you.

Punishment in Animal Training

Reward-based training, as stated by Herron, Shofer, and Reisner (2009), is “less stressful or painful for the dog, and thus, safer for the owner.”

High degrees of punishment may have “adverse effects upon a dog’s behavior,” according to Rooney and Cowan (2011), whereas reward-based training may enhance a dog’s future capacity for learning.

Researchers Deldalle and Gaunet (2014) discovered that “using a negative reinforcement-based method demonstrated lowered body postures and signals of stress, whereas dogs from the school using a positive reinforcement-based method showed increased attentiveness toward their owner.”

According to a review of the research on canine training methods undertaken by Ziv (2017), techniques involving punishment, fear, and pain are detrimental to the dog’s physical and emotional well-being.

He draws the conclusion that “there is no evidence to suggest that aversive training methods are more effective than reward-based training methods.” Blackwell et al. (2012); Haverbeke et al. (2008); Hiby et al. (2004); and Rooney, Bradshaw, and Rooney (2004) are only three of the research in this review that demonstrate the contrary may be true in both companion and working dogs. This being the case, it is suggested that those involved in dog training should prioritize positive reinforcement over aversive techniques.

For the United States as a Whole in 2017: “Think about the universe informed you that everything you did was bad. That’s one effect of being punished. Collect the data, then use it to train the dog to give the proper answer without being rewarded. Instead, you should consider correcting your dog when it strays from the path of wisdom. If you want to alter someone’s behavior, you need to write out a plan for how to do it. There are a million options out there, and 99.9% of them are wrong, so there’s not much point in trying to convince someone of what won’t work or isn’t wanted.

Despite the fact that “fear” is not in the definition of punishment, it may be one of the outcomes of punishment. “Remember, fear is an individual response, and what’s punished or a punisher must be regarded in terms of the recipient. How many of you never ask anyone else a question? What we anticipate from our canine companions.

Antiquated Methodology

Some people still choose to teach and modify the behavior of their dogs and horses using the “dominance” technique, despite the growing body of scientific evidence to the contrary. When applied to domesticated dogs, the basic principle of so-called dominance theory is, at best, out of date, and at worst, detrimental to the approach knowledgeable pet professionals should take.

The research that gave rise to the dominance theory of canines dates back several decades. Miller (2018) states that a study of captive zoo wolves in the 1930s and 1940s by Swiss animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel (1947) formed the basis for the incorrect approach to canine social behavior known as dominance theory. Schenkel concluded that wolves in a pack fight to gain dominance, and the winner is the alpha wolf. Schenkel’s studies of tamed wolves were incorrectly extrapolated to study the behavior of wild wolves, and from there to study the behavior of domestic dogs. Since Bradley (2019).

The famed alpha roll, a method of physically exercising authority over an animal, was initially popularized in the 1970s by the Monks of New Skete in their book How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend.

Roll, Alpha

In the 1960s, researchers studied packs of captive wolves that were housed in an area too small for their numbers and consisted of members that would not naturally be found together in the wild. This research led to the development of the alpha roll, in which a human throws a dog onto his back and pins him until he demonstrates “submissive” behaviors. Due to these factors, there were more incidents in which one wolf appeared to be pinning another.

However, modern research has disproved these earlier studies, concluding that such behavior is not typical of wild wolves (Mech, 1999).

Despite these conclusions and the vast behavioral differences between wolves and dogs, dominance theory was applied to pet dogs, became popular, and is still widely propagated today despite being a “obsolete and aversive method of interacting with animals that has at its foundation incorrect and misinterpreted data which can result in damage to the animal-human relationship and cause behavioral problems in the animal.” Professional Animal Caretakers’ Guild (2018).

Can the ethics of utilizing pain and fear as “methods” of animal training really be debated in the twenty-first century?

The good news is that studies have shown that we don’t have to apply training or behavior modification techniques that rely on escape or avoidance behavior, or that inflict fear or pain.

Instead, we can make use of the ever-expanding corpus of scientific knowledge and discoveries that support more humane, reinforcement-based practices. These protocols have been shown to increase an animal’s happiness and, in turn, its capacity for learning. They also help an animal succeed, boost his confidence, encourage independent thought, and provide him the ability to make wise decisions (O’Heare, 2011).

Tools Designed to Shock

Unfortunately, a wide variety of commercially available methods and equipment aimed at stopping, preventing, or punishing pets for actions their owners feel unneeded, inappropriate, or simply bothersome have evolved from the concept of dominance and the perceived desire to have ultimate control over one’s pets.

So-called pet correction gadgets are available for purchase as an illustration. Simply put, these are unpleasant stimuli designed to provoke a “alarm response” or “startle response” in pets for the purposes of care, management, or training. Ramirez-

According to Ramirez-Moreno and Sejnowski (2012), the startle response is “associated with negative affect” and is “a largely unconscious defensive response to sudden or threatening stimuli,” such as loud noises or quick movements. This apparatus is driven by terror because of how it is built and what it is used for. Professional Animal Caretakers’ Guild (2018).

It’s advertised and offered as a means of eradicating disruptive behaviors like barking, jumping up, and growling. Startling an animal to change its behavior is not recommended because the experience might be frightening for the animal.

When this happens, the terrified reaction can be aimed not just at the machine itself, but also at the operator, or at anything else that happens to be in the immediate vicinity at the time.

When anxiety isn’t addressed, it can lead to full-blown hostility, which is a problem for everyone involved. The startle reaction, also known as the aversive reflex, is “enhanced during a fear state and is diminished in a pleasant emotional context.” To wit: (Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 1990).

Assertion Learning

“learned aggression that occurs when an animal…experiences intense fear combined with an inability to escape it with fight-or-flight-style behavior” is the case of aggression motivated by fear.A dog’s initial growl, snap, or bite is usually an extreme measure taken in self-defense. Wow, it’s effective, but wow. When the dog’s fearful reactions are rewarded, the terrifying animal or person is more likely to retreat in the future. The actual issue is that dogs “begin to use it in instrumental, preventative ways rather than as reactions to truly threatening stimuli” because fear aggression is so self-reinforcing; it almost always makes the scary thing go away. (Wood, 2016).

Using an air horn or other aversive sound to stop a dog from barking, for instance, could lead to the dog associating the owner or trainer’s hand or arm with the unpleasant stimuli. In extreme cases, the animal may learn to always try to escape.

If the animal thinks that he can’t get away and/or that running away isn’t a good idea, he may decide that he has to fight back against the arm or hand movement, the person making the movement, any other stimuli in the environment, or any approach behavior in order to keep himself safe.

Punishment: A “Defense”

This is the theory that explains why a dog will stop misbehaving when presented with an object like a newspaper or a spray bottle.

This is why naive dog owners would claim in favor of positive punishment that they no longer use harsh methods such as shocking, spraying, or hitting their pets. When he sees me reach for the antibark collar, shock collar, spray bottle, or newspaper, he immediately stops what he’s doing.

Because the tool has been associated with distress in the past, the individual is unaware that fear is currently blocking the activity. Fear and/or worry led to the suppression of the behavior, but no alternative has been taught.

So, instead of training, the pet is being punished. When people are afraid or anxious, they often act out in a variety of defensive or adaptive ways, all with the goal of removing themselves from whatever is causing them stress. These actions are situationally and species-specifically determined. That’s according to research (Steimer, 2002, p.28).

More and more scientific studies (Schilder & van der Borg, 2004; Schalke, Stichnoth, Ott, & Jones-Baade, 2007; Polsky, 2010; Cooper, Cracknell, Hardiman, Wright, & Mills 2014) conclude that using shock to train dogs, humans, dolphins, or elephants is ineffective at best and physically and psychologically damaging at worst.

In close, the effects of harsh methods in animal training are many. It is best to avoid these methods of training when you are training your dog.