Cocker Specific Discussion > Behaviour & Training

The Dangers Of Using Aversives ( rattle bottles, spray collars etc.)


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The Use Of Aversives To Stop Unwanted Behaviour.

Rattle bottles, air and water sprays, citronella collars and electric collars are all examples of aversive gadgets which may for a time stop an unwanted behaviour happening.

The term aversive refers to stimulation that you act to escape and /or avoid. That means it is unpleasant. Just think about your own experience. Do you think people making things unpleasant for you really promote an environment in which you work to your highest potential? It may indeed reduce a particular behaviour but there will be other effects won't there? We know in the work world that managing by fear is not the best way to get the best out of your workforce.
Using these devices is a risky business, fraught with possible unwanted consequences as associations may be formed with other things in the dog's environment that may have long lasting detrimental effects on the dog's future conduct as well as the dog/ owner relationship.

Using aversives,What could go wrong?

Fido's Sad Story

Fido barks every time he walks past the children's playground so gets squirted with the water by his owner. The guy in the pub said it stopped his dog stealing socks for a whole week so it must be worth a go?
 Fido may well stop barking for a while and indeed does at the shock of being interrupted.

What do you do when all of a sudden the barking starts up again?
Would you as an owner stop to wonder why Fido was barking?
It could be a strange noise or smell; it could be fear or excitement.
If only he could talk!

Fido is on his walk again the next day, and as he passes the playground he barks even more loudly and hoarsely and for his efforts he gets sprayed again.  (Which to reduce the chance of the barking happening again he must find unpleasant.)
The spray stops him again, just likes they said it would on the TV programme his owner watched last night. Just as his owners spray him a large red bus comes thundering past and Fido flattens on the floor.
The spray is not needed for a matter of days as his owners take Fido for long runs in the country. For some reason Fido doesn't seem to bark at all and runs and plays and is generally very well behaved. A few days later and he's back on his usual route when a bus comes past and Fido starts barking and spinning at the end of his lead. The spray seems to lose its power and does not stop him barking so out comes a rattle bottle full of stones, which is shaken loudly in his ear. This stops the barking for a while and seems to subdue Fido.
Fido does not seem as energetic and pants a lot always looking round him with wide eyes and flattened ears. As they pass the school the barking starts again so out comes the rattle bottle then just like the spray Fido learns to bark despite the rattling stones and at even more things than before.
The barking is getting embarrassing so Fido's owner then resorts to an electric shock collar, which seems to do the trick but after a week of enduring this torture Fido stops wanting to go for a walk and his owner is left wondering why?
Fido runs and hides underneath the kitchen table when the lead comes out which the owner finds very strange.
The owner tries to corner Fido and put his lead on so Fido  growls and eventually bites him in self-defense.
Fido is led into the vets consulting room and never comes out again but at least there is no more barking.

Aversives are supposed to reduce the risk of unwanted behaviour reoccurring, whether they work, as a long-term solution is questionable in most cases. Repeated use of aversives is the best evidence that they do not work, and any way does the dog know what you want him to do instead? Have you trained the correct response or does the dog have to guess what you want?

Before using things like sprays and rattle cans the dog must know what the owner expects him to do instead of the undesired behaviour.
There is usually only one right response so teaching a dog what we want takes only a very short amount of time.
On the other hand there are an infinite number of wrong responses so attempting to teach a dog by punishing undesirable behaviours can take an infinite amount of time.
If you realize that reinforcer's (pleasant things) drive what your dog does, and you control those (as opposed to unpleasant things, which we simply learn to work around) then you are on the right track. If you want a dog to do something, make it worth their while, and if you want your dog to like you, make interacting with you pleasant, not unpleasant. If you don't like a behaviour, make some other behaviour in its place more worth their while, while making the problem behaviour less effective.
Aversives result in aggression, emotionality, disempowerment and other difficult to predict problems. This cannot influence your training positively.

Food for thought.

Further Reading - Some interesting points made by dog trainer (and cocker owner) Terry Ryan regarding aversives can be read HERE


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