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Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

This article was written by TOBALIE in cooperation with Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

Aversive training methods are methods, in which the animal has to change a wrong behavior for humans through deterrence, suppression, punishment or unpleasant stimuli. The problem is that it works at short notice, but the animal is not given the opportunity to understand why it has received a pain stimulus, for example. It will stop its behaviour because of fear of a possible new pain, but does not know what to do instead and falls into a so-called learned helplessness (loss of control – the animal has learned nothing, no matter what it does – it does not bring anything and shows no more behaviour). The consequence of this is unpredictable, often they become “ticking time bombs” which can bite “suddenly” out of frustration, fear and helplessness.

What belongs to the aversive methods?

  • Punches, kicks, pinching, ear pulling
  • Jerking the leash
  • Flooding (stimulus flooding)
  • Alpha throw
  • Shock and fright stimuli (water jets, rappel cans, throwing objects, …)
  • Water and feed removal
  • Neck shaking
  • Spray-, vibration-, electric shock-, choke- or spiked collars
  • Clapping and other sudden loud noises
  • Grabbing hold of ist muzzle
  • Moxon rope
  • Halti (in case of improper use)
  • Yelling
  • …and anything that frightens or pains your animal.

Sense behind punishment?

From the point of view of learning theory, punishment means 1. adding something unpleasant for the animal 2. taking something positive away from the animal. Even if you always “correctly” commit a bad behaviour (at exactly the right moment, ALWAYS when the unwanted behavior occurs, hard enough-but not too hard, announced, not connected to you …), which is almost impossible, the question of purpose remains. Because the animal gets used to the aversive effects, so that nevertheless an effect is present, the punitive effect must become harder and harder. The animal has then only the possibility to defend itself or to fall into the learned helplessness.

What problems can arise from this?

  • Loss of confidence: The animal knows exactly from whom the punishment emanates. This damages the relationship with you! Your animal no longer seeks your closeness in overstrained situations to seek protection, but distances itself from you.
  • Constant stress/fear: Your animal lives in constant fear of being punished again. Sometimes it is stroked, sometimes hurt by the same hand. Often the animals become insecure in everyday life and flinch at the slightest noise or movement.
  • No learning progress: Under stress learning is blocked. The learning success is missing. What is often perceived as “well-behaved” is a completely frightened animal which is silent for fear of pain.
  • Sudden aggression: At some point the pot boils over and the animal suddenly bites, for example, because it has usually had its body language trained and was no longer allowed to show some calming signals on the escalation scale.
  • Incorrect connections: It’s easy for your pet to develop anxieties or respond aggressively to stimuli. For example, fears of water can arise from the water jet, but also negative associations can be made with what you see (if your animal is looking at another animal and is hit by the water jet, it is possible that it will negatively associate the other animal and react with caution or aggression in the future).
  • Not sustainable: Punishment may seem to solve a “problem” more quickly, but your animal does not know what kind of behaviour it wants. It quickly falls into old patterns or develops other unwanted behaviour.
  • Health: The psyche suffers a lot from these methods, but the body can also suffer damage. For example, you can cause a herniated disc by jerking the leash.
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From against each other to with each other!

Because who wants to have an animal that is afraid of you? It may cuddle, but it is always afraid that the same hand will beat him. Can you imagine what it is like to have to live in the constant fear of pain? Wouldn’t it be better if your animal trusted you, has his life under control and comes to you in difficult situations?

An example: You go for a walk with a friend. Whenever he/she does something wrong in your eyes, e.g. raises the left hand, you give him/her a light blow. At first he/she will ask you what this is all about. The animal would, too, if it could. Assuming you keep hitting your friend, he/she will probably get angry. If your punches get stronger and he/she still doesn’t know why you’re doing this, he/she will be so in anticipation of the punishment and constantly reckon with it. This leads to chronic stress and that is exactly what your animal has when you educate with aversive methods.

For animal welfare reasons it is also forbidden to work with these means: Austrian Animal Welfare Act

How did this happen?

Captive wolf packs were observed and aggression and other “behavioral problems” were thought to be the result of dominance. It was assumed that wolves would live in a strict hierarchy (hierarchy theory). They were artificially brought together animals of different ages, sexes and families who had no possibility to escape or migrate. These assumptions have long been refuted and corrected by, among others, Prof. David Mech himself, who contributed to the theory. Wolves live in family groups! The pack is led by the parent animals with the most experience, the juvenile wolves help with the puppy rearing before they go to found their own pack.

Unfortunately, many people, including trainers, stick to it. They think the animals are dominant and want something bad for us. This must be met with punishment and hardness to show the animal who the alpha is. This has nothing to do with modern learning theories. On the contrary, anyone who has ever tried to learn under fear or stress knows that this is impossible. Because the brain is switched in such a situation on fight or escape and not receptive. As soon as food is no longer accepted, one can assume that the animal is too stressed (“Red Zone on the scale of escalation“) to understand and learn.

What is the alternative?

So it is important to find out first of all why your animal is behaving in one way or another and to start at the source of the problem. For example, if your animal is aggressive towards strangers, there is no point in punishing it in the long run. The cause could be that it has had bad experiences and is afraid. Then it’s time to take the fear away from the animal. Instead of correcting what you don’t like, you don’t even let your pet get into unpleasant situations and reward it for the desired behaviour.

Training should always be fun. So be sure to motivate your pet and give it enough success. You will see how you can grow together as a team and live together harmoniously in the long run. Even if it is often the slower variant on the way to the goal, it is the only sustainable one.  For the welfare of your animal and yourself work with species-appropriate and non-violent education methods. You can also get professional help from a trainer who works non-violently and in accordance with animal welfare regulations (Pet-Map Trainer). You will see how easy and beautiful this kind of training is.

Please let us know, if you, via the Map, recommend a trainer who uses aversive training methods! Because for us, animal welfare qualified and non-violent animal training has top priority.
Stachelhalsband aversiv


Aversive training methods are based on punishment and have psychological and physical consequences for your pet. The only thing your pet learns is that it cannot trust you. He neither knows why he is being punished nor what he should do instead. So make sure that your pet has fun during training and understands what you want. Rewards and learning successes will motivate your pet to continue learning and your bond will benefit immensely!