Aversive Stimulation and Confrontational Training Methods: The

Aversive stimulation and confrontational training are defined as any stimulation that instigates avoidance or escapes behaviors from the subject. There are many arguments made to minimize the impacts of using these techniques in the name of training and behavior modification. Research would suggest that these arguments remain thin. Although there is debate around the use of aversive stimulation and confrontational methods in the training and behavior community, science has spoken. The following information has been collected to reinforce the already proven physiological and emotional impacts of using these techniques on companion dogs.


Professionals with proven competency and continued education for training and behavior modification, including behavior issues like aggression, are aware of the statistically proven fallout resulting from these methods. Average owners, typically unaware of the risks, often fall prey to many carefully worded marketing messages from trainers using aversives, force, and intimidation. They walk their dogs into schools, hand over their leashes, and watch as their pets are subjected to e-collars, prong collars, choke chains, and “bonkers” — rolled up towels at the ready to strike the dog, usually from behind. What owners see is that the problem behavior decreases or ceases altogether. What they don’t understand is the set of maladaptive behaviors that will replace it. They are not aware of the significance of stereotypical behaviors and distress signals, or the long-term risks of each. Owners also have a difficult time identifying fear in their own dogs which may explain their ability to continue participating in these types of training scenarios.


Fear is a negative emotional state that directly impairs animal welfare. If it is not recognized by owners, they will be unable to take adequate steps to prevent it, such as avoiding related stimuli. Thus, fear can then lead to other behavioral problems, such as aggression (Hsuand Serpell, 2003), which threatens human safety, and can further impair animal welfare and negatively impact the human-animal bond (Serpell, 1996).

- Effect of training for dog fear identification on dog owner ratings of fear in familiar and unfamiliar dogs: Hannah E. Flint, Jason B. Coe, David L. Pearl, James A. Serpell, Lee Niel


The long-term impacts of chronic stress and fear have physiological, emotional, and safety impacts. Electronic collars that deliver shock triggered by barking, leaving a boundary, or administered at a human’s discretion has a physiological impact on a dog even if the practitioner is skilled.


"It appears that stress can be associated with aversive training methods. Increased cortisol levels followed shocks from electronic collars (Schalke et al., 2007) and were found in dogs with activated electronic and citronella bark collars (Steiss et al., 2007). Training inconsistency and the use of electronic or pinch collars were related to maximal cortisol levels (Salgirli et al., 2012). Importantly, Beerda et al. (1998) reported that unanticipated stimuli such as short electric shocks and sound blasts led to increased salivary cortisol in dogs. Low body posture, body shaking, crouching, yawning, and restlessness were also indicators of acute stress (Beerda et al., 1998). Finally, Dess et al. (1983) showed a marked elevation in mean cortisol with (258% increase) or without (400% increase) control over electronic shocks. Control over the situation was assessed by allowing or preventing the dogs from pushing a lever to stop the shock. In addition, elevations in mean cortisol were seen whether the dogs could have predicted (291% increase) or could not have predicted (374% increase) the coming shock (Dess et al., 1983). Predictability was introduced by presenting an auditory tone before the shock or shocking the dogs without signaling it beforehand. Such stress can affect dogs’ physical health. Indeed, a recent review of the effects of stress on animals’ health suggests that stress is associated with various damaging changes to physical health in dogs, including suppression of the immune system, gastrointestinal problems (e.g., diarrhea, vomiting, decreased appetite), delayed puberty, and decreased sperm quality (Mills et al., 2014).

- The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs, A review - Gal Ziv


There are multiple risks of using shock in training even by experienced professionals, including the physical injury to the skin around the dog’s neck. Some trainers have been seen putting the collars on themselves and experiencing shocks as a demonstration to owners about their safety. Collars must be fit tightly and this can lead to pressure necrosis and burns.


"Dog skin is more sensitive to shock than is human skin (in answer to the people who test the e-collar on themselves, see https://www.vetwest.com.au/pet-library/skin-the-difference-between-canine-and-human-skin: “The epidermis of a dog is 3-5 cells thick; however, in humans, it is at least 10-15 cells thick.”).”

- Electronic training devices: Discussion on the pros and cons of their use in dogs as a basis for the position statement of the EuropeanSociety of Veterinary Clinical Ethology


Shock modulation is also difficult to assess.


"Many parameters require consideration when modulation the shock delivered and the level of pain felt by the dog are concerns: shock intensity (Schilder and Van Der Borg, 2007; Lindsay, 2005), shock duration (Schilder and Van Der Borg, 2007), electrode size(Lindsay, 2005), beep warning and response time (Schalke et al.2007), degree of humidity, and the morphology of the dog itself [hair length, moisture level of skin, subcutaneous fat level (Jacques and Myers, 2007)]. Together, these data render it nearly impossible to determine the appropriate intensity of shock for a particular dog in any given situation (Lindsay, 2005).”

- Electronic training devices: Discussion on the pros and cons of their use in dogs as a basis for the position statement of the EuropeanSociety of Veterinary Clinical Ethology


There are also associations being built for the dog as the shock is being implemented which can lead to unexpected aggressive responses to seemingly unrelated stimuli in the future.


"Obstacles for e-collar use in everyday situations, include the many uncontrolled environmental stimuli that can be associated with the shock, including the trainer (Schilder and Van Der Borg, 2007). As an example, Polsky (2000) reported a case in which a dog associated with a person walking near the electronic fence with the pain from the shock and exhibited human-directed aggression after receiving e-collar training.”

- Electronic training devices: Discussion on the pros and cons of their use in dogs as a basis for the position statement of the EuropeanSociety of Veterinary Clinical Ethology


“More evidence of the risks linked to e-collar use comes from the scientific literature evaluating aversive methods in general. Indeed, punitive training methods induce higher risks of aggression (Beerda et al., 1998; Herron et al., 2009), fear, anxiety (Arhant et al., 2010), and undesirable behaviors (Blackwell et al., 2008) being shown, while decreasing the quality of the dog-owner relationship (Hibyet al., 2004), dog welfare, and dog-human team performance (Haverbeke et al., 2008) compared to non-aversive techniques. Negative emotional responses as a consequence of aversive techniques can lead to behavioral inhibition and can be detrimental for learning and performance of dogs, undermining the general purpose of training.

- Electronic training devices: Discussion on the pros and cons of their use in dogs as a basis for the position statement of the EuropeanSociety of Veterinary Clinical Ethology


Shock collars have been banned or restricted in their application by multiple European countries. Here is a link to the position paper from the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology supporting that legislation.


I recently reviewed some videos ofs a trainer who is known for using aversive and confrontational training methods. In one video he is demonstrating the use of a shock collar on a pet dog locked in a crate at a “training” workshop. The dog has been separated from his owner, placed in a crate, and is barking. He administers a shock to the dog. The dog flinches and begins to spin and whine. He says, on video, “Spinning is awesome,” and then instructs the owner to ignore the dog’s panic and misrepresents what is happening to the dog.


Spinning rhythmically or in predictable patterns is a stereotypical behavior indicating high levels of distress. The dog in this video is continuously whining, with tensely drawn lips, and quick, short, labored panting post-shock. Decades of observational research and body language studies have concluded that these behaviors are exhibited when a dog is attempting to avoid or escape something threatening. This dog has been locked in a crate, unable to move, and presented with an electric shock.


This is torture.


Unlike a broken leg, one can’t clearly see the harm done to the pet dog in these situations. Subsequently, it is very difficult to prove cruelty unless it includes the intentional disregard of facts outlining the connection between aversive stimulation and its substantial risk to an animal’s health and safety. If equal time is given to the multiple studies and research projects completed outlining the hazards of using intimidation and force to modify behavior, it will be clear that even in the absence of physical injury, dogs are being hurt. If this information is readily available to all individuals working with dogs and is willfully ignored, then the resulting injury is at least negligent. If there is absolute dismissal, then it is simply cruel with some applications rising to the level of torture.


In a second video, the same trainer is advising on Separation Anxiety. Separation anxiety is a medically diagnosed disorder. According to Meredith Stepita, DVM, DACVB, it is “...a behavioral problem in which dogs show signs of stress when their owner or favorite person is not present. Signs of stress can include panting, pacing, salivating, destruction (especially of the door the owner exited through), urination/defecation, vocalization (barking, whining, howling), self-trauma, and sometimes even escape in which the dog may injure himself.” Simply, it is a panic attack, elicited by decreased social contact and fueled by a change in the dog’s brain chemistry.


This dog in the video slowly moves forward toward the trainer has his tail tucked, he is flicking his tongue, and lifts his paw while in the crate—all attempts to avoid the interaction. The dog is poked in the chest with two fingers. Shock is discussed and described as effective to “reduce stress and anxiety.” In all of the above research cited, the actuality is shock promotes the exact opposite effect. With Separation Anxiety and other anxiety-related behaviors, adding shock can push the dog into a condition known as learned helplessness. This a dog that has been conditioned by the exposure of threat or a pain (shock collar) and continually given no option to escape (crate). Interestingly enough, experiments designed to prove this response were carried out using electric shock in the ’60s and ’70s and would be protested as cruel and torturous today.


Confrontational Training Methods


Other aversive methods are categorized as confrontational.


"While the use of confrontational training methods to subdue hypothetical dominance is commonplace, the current scientific literature suggests, instead, that canine aggression and other behavior problems are not a result of dominant behavior or lack of the owner’s ‘‘alpha’’ status, but rather a result of fear (self-defense) or underlying anxiety problems, important for an understanding of the motivation and treatment of aggression (Guy et al., 2001a,b; Mertens, 2002; Luescher and Reisner, 2008).Techniques such as forcing a dog down by the collar or by pushing on its neck and back—as, for example, in the‘‘dominance down’’—are associated with increased physiological stress (Beerda et al., 1998). Frightened animals are often self-defensively aggressive; it would not be unexpected, then, that dogs respond aggressively to such provocative handling.”

- Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors - Meghan E. Herron*, Frances S. Shofer, Ilana R. Reisner


This includes forced positions using hand and leash manipulation with and without prong collars, directly hitting or kicking the dog, and “earthquaking” a crate with the dog inside. These practices are common for some trainers in an unregulated industry. They heighten fear responses, lead to fight, flight, freeze reactions, and decimate the relationship between a companion dog and its owner. This relationship is a matter of survival for the domestic dog as we have selectively bred them for dependence.


“More evidence of the risks linked to e-collar use comes from the scientific literature evaluating aversive methods in general. Indeed, punitive training methods induce higher risks of aggression (Beerda et al., 1998; Herron et al., 2009), fear, anxiety (Arhant et al., 2010), and undesirable behaviors (Blackwell et al., 2008) being shown, while decreasing the quality of the dog-owner relationship (Hibyet al., 2004), dog welfare, and dog-human team performance (Haverbeke et al., 2008) compared to non aversive techniques. Negative emotional responses as a consequence of aversive techniques can lead to behavioral inhibition and can be detrimental for learning and performance of dogs, undermining the general purpose of training.

- Electronic training devices: Discussion on the pros and cons of their use in dogs as a basis for the position statement of the EuropeanSociety of Veterinary Clinical Ethology


Summary


Substantial research has been done on the impacts of using aversive stimulation and confrontational training methods. The dog’s physical and emotional wellbeing are clearly at a measurable risk. Aggressive behaviors have been statistically proven to increase while performance and interactions with owners decrease. These techniques are effective in instantly removing a problem behavior through behavior suppression and in more extreme applications, learned helplessness. Some practitioners use these tactics and get these outcomes all while refuting science, harming the dogs physically, and damaging them emotionally all while misrepresenting the outcomes to owners. When these tactics are used unabashedly, they place the dog under cruel and torturous conditions without any options.


This is cruelty.



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