Aversives in Dog Training

In dog training, an aversive is something used to discourage specific unwanted behaviors in dogs. It is something the dog finds unpleasant, usually involving a dog’s senses. Some examples include shock collars, bitter apple spray and penny cans. The use of aversives with dogs is controversial topic. A lot of dog lovers consider some or all aversives inhumane (or unkind at the very least). Many others feel that the use of aversives can be highly affective in dog training.

There are many different things that can be used as aversives. They are usually related to a dog’s senses.

Taste: these aversives are usually used to prevent a dog from chewing. They include things such as Bitter Apple, pepper, vinegar, or anything else you can apply to an object to make it distasteful to your dog.

Touch: aversives in this category are unpleasant for your dog to feel. This includes the shock from a mat or shock collar, spray from a spray bottle, sticky surfaces, and slippery surfaces.

Sound: these aversives create noises that dogs find disturbing. Things such as a shaker can, air horn, vacuum cleaner, and a whistle fall into this category.

Why Use Aversives

Aversives are used to deter dogs from doing things you don’t like. They shouldn’t be used in place of other training. Using aversives is most effective when paired with obedience training.

The following are some situations in which people might use aversives:

Some people put tin foil, double-sided tape, or a shock mat on the sofa to teach their dogs not to climb on the furniture.

A squirt from a bottle of water or the sound of pennies shaking in a tin can stop your dog from jumping on the counters, chewing something you don’t want him to chew, or barking.

Shock collars can also be used as a deterrent to chewing or chasing objects, or to teach a dog to stay on his property.

Problems with Using Aversives

You should consider your options with great care before using aversives as part of any training program. While aversives may be effective in some situations, there are a number of problems associated with their use.

Effectiveness differs between dogs. When it comes to aversives, the effectiveness depends on the dog. One dog may stop in his tracks at the sound of a shaker can full of pennies while another may not even blink. While some dogs may stop chewing the table leg at the first taste of Bitter Apple, some dogs have been known to enjoy the taste, thus making them more likely to chew the item. When using aversives, pay attention to your dog’s reaction to make sure they’re actually serving the purpose for which you intended them.

Loss of effectiveness over time. Sometimes aversives become less effective the more you use them. For instance, if you spray your dog with water from a spray bottle for jumping on the counter, it may startle him and cause him to jump off. After a few sprays, however, he may be used to it, and the spray will no longer have any effect.

Can make a fearful dog more fearful. Fearful dogs usually don’t react well to aversives. A loud noise that might simply startle one dog off the kitchen counter, can make a fearful dog fearful of ever entering the kitchen again. In this case, an aversive is actually too effective, and it can break down your dog’s trust in you.

Dog may associate the aversive with you. Another problem with aversives is that you are often in control of them, so they only happen when you’re around. For instance, your dog may stop counter surfing when you spray him with the spray bottle, but he’ll soon learn that he only gets sprayed when you are in the room. Here you are not training him not to counter surf, you are only teaching him not to counter surf when you’re around.

May cause aggression. One recent study done at the University of Pennsylvania confirmed what many dog trainers already believed – dogs who are punished are more likely to react with aggression. This is the case with some aversives. If you give your dog a leash correction or hit him, for instance, he may growl, snap, or bite in response.