I have been wanting to write this blog for a while, to explain why I do not use punishment based training or aversive equipment and use rewards based training methods. I think for dog owners, its so confusing trying decide who the right person is to help you train your dog. There are many very persuasive high profile trainers around who recommend punishment based training.
At the moment there is no regulation in the dog training industry which means that anyone can say they are a dog trainer or behaviourist, without doing any study or gaining qualifications.
Do I Need To Be A Pack Leader
Many of the trainers who use punishment based training will often use language such as being a ‘pack leader’, or ‘your dog is trying to dominate you or be the boss’.
The pack leader dog theory comes from early research into wolf behaviour and is often referred to as dominance theory. This theory has been scientifically disproved but still continues to be quoted by often unqualified dog trainers.
Studies by David Mech in the 1960’s originally supported this idea after he studied unrelated captive wolves brought into a zoo to live together. The unrelated captive wolves did have social struggles and fought over resources. Further study has shown that related wolves in the wild do not behave this way.
He now defines wild wolf packs differently, he states that wolves who lead packs achieved their position purely from breeding and producing offspring, which in turn becomes their pack. Therefore they are merely parents/breeders and that is what they are called today, the “breeding Male/Female”, “male/female parent” or “adult male/female” Mech (2018).
Dogs are not wolves and shouldn’t be compared in the same way. Dogs also know we are not dogs and therefore we don’t need to pretend we are or dominate them.
It’s better for us to view ourselves as guardians that support and guide our dogs to make the right choices and fit into an often confusing human world.
What’s Wrong With Punishment?
There is so much scientific evidence now to show that using aversives and punishments can cause harm to your dog and your relationship with your dog.
Castro et al (2020) found that when dogs are trained with methods such as leash jerks, yelling, and shock collars, they have worse welfare than dogs trained solely with food rewards. The group of dogs that were trained using punishment based methods, displayed more stress-related behaviours, were more frequently in tense and low behavioural states and panted more during training, and exhibited higher post-training increases in cortisol levels than dogs from the group who were trained with rewards (Castro 2020).
The same dogs re-tested a month later showed the more aversive training a given dog had received, the more slowly it approached the bowl with food used in the test and were scared of the outcome of approaching the bowl. The aversive training had made them pessimistic about their choices (Castro 2020).
In a study by DEFRA (2013) into the effects of E-Collar use on dogs they found that, in the e-collar-trained dogs, salivary cortisol increased significantly when they were wearing a collar, compared to dogs trained only using rewards based training.
When dogs show aggressive behaviour it is often misinterpreted as an attempt at dominating the person or dog. Aggression is usually shown out of fear, anxiety, learning, social confusion and stress. This means fearful, anxious dogs are then subjected to scary and painful techniques aimed at making them submit to a higher power. This can result in the dog showing more aggressive behaviour in order to defend itself or they can become emotionally shut down (ABPC).
I am a member with distinction of The Institute of Modern Dog Trainers, I had to pass an assessment and I have to prove every year that I am continuing my studies and attending courses to keep up to date with the latest science based practice.
I am also a member of the Pet Professional Guild British Isles whose guiding principle is “Members understand Force-Free to mean, no shock, no choke, no pain, no fear, no physical force, no physical molding, no compulsion based methods are employed to train or care for a pet”.
I am proud to be a member of these organisations and to promote fear free training. I would love to see regulation within the industry so that there is less confusion for pet owners when trying to find qualified professionals.
If you are looking for help training your dog or struggling with a particular behavioural issue, get in touch at the button below to book in a free chat.
Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) APBC-Dominance-Article.pdf
Defra AW1402a (2013) Studies to assess the effect of pet training aids, specifically remote static pulse systems, on the welfare of domestic dogs; field study of dogs in training. Final report prepared by Prof. Jonathan Cooper, Dr. Nina Cracknell, Jessica Hardiman and Prof. Daniel Mills (University of Lincoln).
Mech, D. (2018) Wolf News and Information: Wolf News and Information (davemech.org)
Vieira de Castro, A. C., Fuchs, D., Morello, G. M., Pastur, S., de Sousa, L., & Olsson, I. A. S. (2020). Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare. Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare | PLOS ONE