woman in a city park with her dog on a leash

A well-trained dog is better behaved, listens to commands, and is less likely to act out. But training isn’t always easy. Some dogs are intelligent and desperate to please their master, picking up training quickly and easily. Others are stubborn, headstrong, and can take several months to master even a basic command.

Many owners turn to dog training tools as an aid to training. Devices as simple as clickers and target sticks can support good training techniques, but items like prong collars court controversy, considered inhumane by opponents but essential by proponents. So, are training tools necessary or inhumane?

Aversive Training Tools

It is important to note that there are many different training tools and training styles available. While some might be considered safe and beneficial, the type that attracts negativity is the aversive training tool. An aversive is something negative or unpleasant that is used to control or prevent an action. This can include yelling at your dog but is usually taken to refer to extreme tools like shock collars and prong collars.

How Do Aversive Training Tools Work?

Aversives use a training technique that is known as positive punishment and negative reinforcement:

  • Positive Punishment – Positive, in this case, means that something is being added to the training or to the occasion. It doesn’t mean that the technique is good or uses positive techniques. Punishment means that the trained behavior will be reduced by using the technique. The trainer wants to reduce the likelihood of a behavior by adding something.
  • Negative Reinforcement – Negative means that the trainer wants to remove something during training, while reinforcement means that the aim is to add or encourage a specific behavior. The trainer wishes to reduce or eliminate an action by removing something.

A shock collar is an example of positive punishment. When a dog pulls on the leash, the owner calls them back and shocks them until they respond. The belief is that the dog will learn to respond and stop pulling because they will want to prevent being shocked.

These methods of training were once the most popular. Today, however, most trainers and animal psychologists will tell you that positive reinforcement and negative punishment are not only more effective but are more humane teaching methods.

Do They Work?

Aversives work on the principle that dogs, like people, do not enjoy things like pain and discomfort. In this respect, they may well work. Your dog may respond to your call sooner if it means that they will receive less of a shock.

On the other hand, does the dog associate the shock with the undesirable action or with the call of your voice?

Also, the use of aids like shock collars does not necessarily train a dog to stop pulling. If the collar is removed, and a standard collar is used instead, most dogs will go back to pulling.

Are They Inhumane?

In either case, causing your dog pain or discomfort is the goal of these techniques. Owners want their dogs to perform poorly so that they can be reprimanded and corrected. Your dog may learn what is incorrect but is never shown what is correct, and the technique aims to cause pain and discomfort. Proponents of shock collars and prong collars may argue that the collars don’t cause pain or discomfort, but they must do, otherwise, they would be ineffective.

Are They Necessary?

Aversive techniques may be effective. They may prevent your dog from pulling on the leash, barking at other dogs, or performing other undesirable actions, but they are inhumane. Psychologists also point out that they do not teach your dog good behavior, they simply cover up bad behavior. The modern trainer will use positive reinforcement, and other techniques, instead.

Aversive Alternatives

  • Positive Reinforcement – Positive reinforcement means adding something good when your dog does something desirable. You are seeking and encouraging the type of behavior you want. This technique is reinforced using negative punishment, so you remove something to reduce undesirable actions. If your dog pulls on his leash, stop walking. He will eventually realize that whenever he pulls, he has to stop walking, so he will stop pulling.
  • Treats – Many dogs love to please their owner. Giving them praise and affection may be enough to reinforce good behavior. Other dogs are driven by their stomach and the release of endorphins that small food treats give them. There are plenty of great-tasting, appealing, and healthy treats that can be used to further reinforce positive behavior.
  • Clicker Training – Clicker training has shown positive results. When a dog does something good, the owner presses the clicker and gives the dog a treat. This can improve the results of positive reinforcement training because the sound of the clicker is distinctive and grabs the dog’s attention.

Dog Training Tools: The Good and The Bad

There are different types of training tools available. Some aversives, like shock collars and prong collars, can prove inhumane as well as ineffective. Positive reinforcement, rather than negative, is considered more efficient, and it rewards and reinforces good behavior rather than punishing and covering up bad behavior.


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