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November 01, 2021

Veterinary behaviorists: No role for aversive dog training practices

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Reward-based dog training offers the most advantages and least harm to the learner’s welfare, according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, which says there is no evidence that aversive practices are necessary for dog training or behavior modification.

The new AVSAB position statement published in September draws on the scientific evidence on dog training.

A young woman training a chocolate lab puppy to shake hands at a park.

Aversive methods rely on punishment and negative reinforcement, wrote Zazie Todd, PhD, an expert on animal behavior, in a blog post about the new position statement. Reward-based methods involve positively reinforcing wanted behaviors and removing rewards for unwanted behaviors. They are also better at promoting the human-animal bond, according to the AVSAB statement.

Studies show that aversive methods can cause stress in dogs, which is why the statement says, “There is no role for aversive training in behavior modification plans.”

There are no exceptions to this standard, even for dogs with aggressive behaviors, according to the statement.

Dr. Todd writes that most common dog training issues can be resolved with positive reinforcement and management.

For more complex behavior issues, she writes, it may be necessary to add behavior modification, additional management, and sometimes medication.

The statement (PDF) includes answers to frequently asked questions, including how veterinarians should choose dog trainers for referrals and the role of veterinarians in behavioral care.