State of Emergency: The Dog Training Crisis is Here

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Do aversive-based training methods actually compromise dog welfare? A literature review

The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs – a review

Electronic training devices: discussion on the pros and cons of their use in dogs as a basis for the position statement of the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology (ESVCE)

Questionnaire Survey on the Use of Different E-Collar Types in France in Everyday Life with a View to Providing Recommendations for Possible Future Regulations

Carrots vs sticks: The relationship between training methods and dog-owner attachment

Does Training Method Matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare

Efficacy of dog training with and without remote electronic collars vs a focus on positive reinforcement

Dogs are more pessimistic if their owners use two or more aversive training methods

It is Mine! Using clicker training as a treatment of object guarding in 4 companion dogs

A survey of dog behavior modification practices in the UK: Who is offering it, what methods are they using, and how effective do their clients perceive training to be?

A Review on Mitigating Fear and Aggression in Dogs and Cats in a Veterinary Setting

An Investigation into the effectiveness of various professionals and behavior modification programs, with or without medication, for the treatment of canine aggression

Barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods

Owner and animal factors predict the incidence of, and owner reaction toward, problematic behaviors in companion dogs

Examination of the accuracy and applicability of information in popular books on dog training

On the Fringe: The Positions of Dogs in Finnish Dog Training Culture

Training Technologies: Science, Humans and Dogs in the Age of Positive Reinforcement Dog Training

Applying animal learning theory: Training captive animals to comply with veterinary and husbandry procedures

American Psychological Association Resolution on Physical Discipline of Children by Parents

Is corporal punishment an effective means of discipline?

Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: a meta-analytic and theoretical review

Corporal Punishment, Physical Abuse, and the Burden of Proof: Reply to Baumrind, Larzelere, and Cowan (2002), Holden (2002), and Parke (2002)

Fallout from the Use of Aversives by Eileen Anderson (A collection of resources):

Why Don’t More People Use Positive Reinforcement to Train Dogs? By Dr. Zazie Todd

Dog Training Science Resources by Zazie Todd

Beware the Misdirection Offense: The truth about shock, aversives, and punishment

67 Comments on “State of Emergency: The Dog Training Crisis is Here”

  1. The amount of weird or mean advice out there asking me to be mean to my puppy… And then a family member always saying “are you rewarding her for barking!??” when I get puppy’s attention on me and ask her to sit, and THEN reward her. For being quiet, sitting and paying attention to me.
    No, I wasn’t rewarding her for barking 😄 The barking was like 30 seconds ago, we have moved on!

    I have seen so many nervous dogs based on the old methods 🙁

    1. My moms friend was advised to rub the puppies face in their accident to potty train them. They actually did it for a while until they told us and we were like WTH stop it. Now they really didn’t know and have always listened when we told them something wasn’t right so please don’t think she’s a bad person. It just shows how harmful these people giving bad advice can be for someone that really doesn’t know what to do. This was a puppy she found abandoned on the street so she really didn’t have time to prepare its sad that people were giving her such crap advice!

    2. @MyWalterEgo Almost all dogs bark? It’s a major part of how they communicate? You don’t train a dog to never bark, you train them to be silent when you tell them to.

    3. Yes, too many people misunderstand this!! They think if the dog barks and you say “sit” and “watch me” and the dog stops barking and sits and watches you and you reward, you’re reinforcing the barking!!

    4. @MyWalterEgo Okay, dogs bark–just like people talk and cats meow. You are NOT going to eliminate all barking (and you wouldn’t want to). Let’s take an example from one of my own dogs. I have a little dog who is extraordinarily friendly. He just LOVES people! And he wants to make sure he gives everyone the opportunity to pet him and tell him how cute and wonderful he is!! After all, why wouldn’t everyone want that privilege? Obviously, I don’t want him pulling toward and barking at every person we see. I’ve taught him that when he sees a person he is to “watch me” (look at me). He does this in almost all situations now. When he is quiet and looks at me, he gets rewarded. If he makes a mistake and pulls toward a person or starts to bark, he doesn’t get reinforced (in that case we move away from that person and then I ask him to sit and watch me). If he complies, he gets a treat. I set him up for success so that he CAN get rewarded (rather than setting him up to fail so I can punish him). He still makes a mistake now and again–we walk in an area where there aren’t a lot of other people walking and if he’s “taken by surprise”, he’ll sometimes pull and bark. So he isn’t perfect–he’s a dog, not a robot. But we’re still working on it and he’s made such tremendous progress that I am happy with him (doesn’t mean I won’t continue to work on improving his behavior, though). You can’t expect 100% all the time.

  2. I think it’s the same with kids. Most people (maybe???) agree you don’t hit, punish, neglect or harm children. In my country that would be illegal and your child would be taken away.

    But people used to be very cruel to children. I feel like the dog conversation is similar, just a little behind.

    1. I don’t hit, neglect, or harm my child and never would, however yes I do punish my child through time outs, taking away a toy, etc. Punishment is a fact of life. Even as adults we face punishments such as being fired from a job or arrested if we break the law. A parent who doesn’t teach their kids that there are consequences for their actions are setting them up to fail.

    2. Yes! I was JUST having a discussion about this with someone on Instagram today. What’s “accepted” in kid raising has changed; I’m excited for the day that happens fully in the dog training world too!

  3. Your stress is showing. 🫤 This is tricky territory to navigate, and I think you’re doing a great job for your audience. Don’t forget to take care of *you*, too. Everyone in a helping profession (dog trainers definitely included) should read the book Trauma Stewardship.

  4. You’re an amazing trainer.

    That said I have had to use a combination of training styles to help with my extremely leash reactive rescue.

    I did use a prong collar to keep Luna for pulling me down and tripping me crossing very busy streets

    It was a safety issue in keeping from getting injured and or giving Luna back.

    Know down to a head halti and I have an amazing wonderful dog .

    1. Should have given a time line on using a prong collar and it was 6 months. Did try harnesses and she escaped all.

      Just wanted to add. Did use mostly Zac’s approach.

      Thank you Zac

    2. I was going to suggest a head halter. Working with rescues, we use head halters all the time. We take in very large Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds (one of the largest male danes we took in was 180 lbs–and he was NOT fat) who have never been on a leash and they pull like a steam engine. You basically have little choice but to go where the dog wants to go. We desensitize them to the head halter (we use Gentle Leaders) and it makes such a huge difference. We try to transition to a no-pull harness (and then a regular harness) once the dog is trained. Most dogs make the transition beautifully. There are a few, though, that stay with the head halter much longer than I’d like.

  5. When I first got my dog 2 years ago and was turning to YouTube, IG, TikTok for training advice, I only saw balanced training and dominance theory content. And that’s all I knew even existed! But then I found Zak’s channel and his methods were the only ones that were actually working for me. Eventually the algorithms caught up and I was seeing more and more positive reinforcement/force-free training content. So I think there is a lot of education that is still needed. It seems like “dog-centered” theories are still considered niche or alternative at this point in time (in the eyes of the general public). But I think that’s changing thanks to videos like these ❤

    1. I can also add that before I got a dog, I only knew about dominance theory (because of the you know who celebrity dog trainer’s tv show) and I 💯 thought that was the ONLY way to train a dog. But after just a few weeks with my puppy, I was seeing her develop resource guarding and barking behaviors towards me! She was distrustful of me! So then I turned to social media to find other advice and that’s when I found balanced training. Balanced trainers do use some positive reinforcement and that was working for me. But I was so sure that I still needed to use aversives, so I was. Things improved a little, but not enough. When I found Zak’s channel I can’t tell you how relieved I was, all of his methods were working! It took a lot of time to undo the damage I had already done with my dog’s relationship. But now, 2 years later I can officially say that the positive reinforcement is the ONLY method I use. I wish I had known more about the science behind these different training styles back then. So thank you Zak for making these videos. I hope people who are getting dogs now see these videos before they do too much damage like I did​@Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution

    2. @Kelly McMillen I lost so much respect for National Geographic channel. I think they are all about selling you a magazine with nice pictures and making shows that will bring high ratings. Just my opinion.

    3. Completely agree!! Balanced/compulsion still seems to be the prevalent form of dog training online, but I’m SO excited force free finally seems to be gaining traction with society 🙂 It’s the future!

  6. For me, I think it’s knowing when what you do is aversive or not. I am 70 yo and have pretty bad arthritis in my knees and back so a dog pulling isn’t a good thing even if said dog only weighs 14 lbs. So I saw a dog trainer who I believe is either balanced or aversive train a dog not to pull. You allow the dog to go toward the door but if the dog pulls, you jerk him back. I don’t jerk, I don’t think that’s necessary or appropriate. I just stop and say don’t pull. When my dog stops pulling, he is allowed to go forward as long as he doesn’t pull. Then when we get out the door, I tell him to wait. (It hurts if I go too fast) I think the dog trainer would have jerked him and brought him back inside. I don’t. We just stop, forcing my dog to not go anywhere and I tell him to wait and then verbally reward for his wait. When I’m ready, I tell him “let’s go” and he goes without too much pulling. During walks, he’s pretty good about not pulling but at least once on every walk, he’ll start pulling because he smells something he really wants to investigate. I stop and say don’t pull. Once he stops pulling, I tell him good boy and let him go towards the interesting scent. So am I being aversive?

    1. I would say definitely NOT!! You have boundaries for him (you can’t pull on the leash, you can’t rush out the door). That’s a good thing! I would never call myself “balanced”, but my dogs have boundaries (similar to yours). Like you, I’m older (I’m 67 and have osteoporosis!) and I have to be aware of how my dogs behavior could affect my health. Pulling is definitely not something I can tolerate, knocking me down to rush out the door is out of the question as well. That could break a hip or other bone and really have a major impact on my quality of life. Just because I reward them for doing what I ask (not pulling me around and waiting until I tell them it’s okay to go out the door) and don’t reward them for not doing as I ask, doesn’t mean I’m being aversive. You aren’t being aversive, either (at least not in my book). Remember, positive doesn’t mean permissive.

    2. That’s similar to what my trainer teachers who uses positive reinforcement . She says hold the tension if the dog pulls on the leash when it tries to pull and only start walking again when the dog releases the tension. Basically what you are doing . Become a post so they can’t drag you around and walks silky leash.

  7. Well, your videos have helped me, and I appreciate it. I’ve never used a professional trainer, except when a friend / trainer helped me train a German Shepherd for search and rescue. That was back in the day. I’m a grandma now, and don’t have the energy or leg power to keep up with a German Shepherd now. I think people need to keep that in mind too. My niece gave me a puppy out of her litter 3 weeks ago. A breed I would never have considered before. But this Cavalier King Charles spaniel is a fun addition for me, it turns out. He’s no Shepherd, but he fits in my life right now.

  8. I might get some flack for this and I would like to start by saying I’m not a trainer and I have never had an aggressive dog, so this is just my opinion. But if a dog is so aggressive that its owner doesn’t feel like they can handle it anymore or is in a shelter about to be put to sleep for being aggressive, I think whatever method stops that aggression the quickest and most affectively (not including actual abuse of course) is free game saving that dogs life is more important than momentary discomfort. Now if you have time of course try to train positively but some dogs don’t have that time and all dogs are individuals and some may need a different method. I think most of us have seen those trainers that have turned around many aggressive dogs with methods we might not love but I think if it saves a dogs life I wont criticize. however this is just my opinion for dangerous dogs. In general I think the gentlest method that works for a specific dog is the best method. I would love if they did more study’s with extremely aggressive dogs with both methods and the long term results. Until then I don’t think we can ignore the results some are getting even if there hasn’t been a formal study.

    1. Really appreciate you sharing your opinion! I am also not a trainer 😇 As far as I understand, the issue is this: while aversive methods may suppress aggressive behavior in the short term, there’s lots of data to support that there’s also a high potential for long-term issues including actually increasing the aggressive behavior. Focusing on suppressing behavior instead of actually addressing the underlying cause of the behavior may appear to work in the moment, but that approach has been found over and over to be potentially harmful long-term. Aside from that, alternative methods that do not have those long-term risks exist.

    2. Exactly. If a trainer is advising using aversive methods to combat aggression they are unknowingly gaslighting the dog. At least that’s what the science would indicate. While aggression studies with dogs are not abundant. Aggression is well studied in the animal kingdom and we know that learning theory applies to all animals not just dogs, not just humans etc…

    3. @Bree George That’s a great point! I would love it if they followed up with or did a survey of people whos dogs were trained by some of the more corrective trainers. Perhaps someone more controversial and well known like Cesar Millan. I think that could provide a wealth of data about long term effects. I definitely try to be as kind/gentle with my dog as possible and am glad the current data points to that being effective.
      Edit: wow I didn’t realize so many studies were linked below maybe there is more data than I realized, I will definitely look at some of these!

  9. Honestly, one of the biggest reasons I that I resorted to punishments or corrections, as opposed to sticking to positive reinforcement, the way that I had planned was societal pressure. Especially living in the south, the amount of judgment you get for waiting for your dog to give you the correct behavior and then reinforcing that as opposed to punishing him for the wrong behavior is kind of ridiculous. Even if it’s not people directly coming up to me and talking about my dog, its the looks, it’s the way they behave with their dogs, it’s the number of prong collars in my area. After a while, it made me feel like I wasn’t doing right by my dog just because I saw other people doing more aversive methods all the time. Thankfully, due to these videos I was able to reevaluate that view and go back to a fully positive reinforcement method in my dog, and I have been doing so much better sense, but it’s crazy what society can subconsciously create.

    1. As someone else who lives in the south, I can identify. But I tend to “buck” society and do what I think best, regardless of what everyone else thinks, but that’s often a difficult and lonely path to trod. When I feel too much like I’m swimming upstream and the current is just too strong, I watch Zak or another positive trainer.

    2. Keep it up! My husband is the only one around town with a treat pouch on his belt. When ppl see our dog doing so well I secretly hope his little pouch might inspire them to get one too and reward their dogs more.

  10. This is a question more than a comment. In those moments when as a “guardian” one becomes very frustrated and tempted to use aversive actions, what should one do? Is backing off the training a legitimate option? Action out of frustration is not usually positive.
    Thank you for all you inspiring information.

    1. Frustration is very real! Meaningful progress can’t be accomplished when we are frustrated with our dogs. This is why we take careful effort to be aware of what the environment is when training and how it affects our individual dogs. I cover this in depth frequently on my channel with dogs in the real world.

  11. Thank-you for this video. So important to be addressing this issue head on. It is so much easier on line to find trainers that use aversive methods. Because aversive methods often have immediate results that look good in quick videos. Interestingly, if you watch the balanced trainers, you discover that much if their long term success isn’t corrections but consistency. For skilled balanced trainers, I really believe they would have similar results by dropping the aversive methods.
    I also think skilled balanced trainers that also stress relationship building and rewards are likely not doing the dogs they work with too much harm. I worry, however, that people looking to them for help are missing that information and focussing more on aversives. It is these dogs that I really worry about.

    1. Yes. It is a wide spectrum. However, any dog trainer implementing a aversives as part of a training plan or behavior modification plan is at odds with what science tells us no matter how well intentioned.

  12. Zak, can you do videos on how you worked on Inertia’s reactivity? I think it will help people understand that non-aversive methods are not just for teaching a puppy to sit or walk on a leash.

    I also have a reactive dog. I was very fortunate to connect with a trainer who is an expert in working with reactive dogs using non-aversive methods. She taught me so much and helped me understand why my dog was reacting and what to do about to.

    It is work but we have had very good results. It also improved my relationship with my dog as I learnt how to read and respect her emotions. I’m also better at figuring out we encounter which helps a lot.

    1. Always happy to elaborate on that. But I did meticulously document our process in the dog training experience series on my channel.

    2. @Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution TY for bringing this up you guys. I heard the name during the video but couldn’t catch it. I plan on checking that out as well.

    3. Can you give me some tips! I have a very leash reactive 5 month old puppy. If he sees a person or dog, even 100 feet away, he goes nuts! If I catch him before and distract him with commands, he just doesn’t notice them at all but I feel like that doesn’t do much for his learning bc he’s oblivious to the trigger. I can also refocus him in certain circumstances but that hasn’t seemed to improve the behavior at all.

    4. @Taylor H it sounds like he is still over threshold at 100 ft – find a way to create even more space, like a large field or something. You want him to be able to focus on you, which he can’t if he is over threshold as his mind will be flooded. Find his threshold, and be under it- he should be interested/alert but not reacting

  13. Obviously each dog is going to be different but I’ve limited my aversives to simply omitting a reward (which I understand sometimes reinforces undesired behaviors) or not granting progress for things like leash walking. Like I accept that I simply lucked out with a super easy dog and not everyone is going to have the same experience but it’s certainly possible to have a well-trained dog following Zak’s principles.

    1. Sounds like what you are doing is Negative Punishment – removing something the dog wants, to stop a behavior. It’s one of the four quadrants of operant conditioning. Not all “Punishment” is physical, harsh, or aversive, as many “Positive Reinforcement only” trainers lead you to believe.

    2. Please explain to me why omitting a reward sometimes reinforces undesirable behavior. I’m not sure I follow you there. I’m not trying to be ugly, I just don’t understand how that works. Could you explain, please?

    3. @Jan Hankins I am not sure as to your specific question and I did not take your comment as ugly. I was simply stating that when you remove something to stop a behavior, it is called Negative Punishment.

      I have learned that some behaviors, such as jumping or barking (for example), are self-rewarding, so removing something the dog wants might not work if the dog is still being allowed to jump or bark, because the action of jumping or barking is already a good enough reward for the dog.

      I am not saying aversives should be used to stop the dog, but that behavior needs to be stopped somehow, because the dog clearly enjoys it and will continue doing it if allowed. Zak would probably recommend redirection, if I’m not mistaken.

    4. @Jan Hankins What Cesar Vazquez said, but also the fact that inconsistent rewarding can sometimes reinforce a behavior even more than consistent rewarding – it’s a weird artifact in reinforcement response. The hypothesis is that the act of trying to figure out the ins and outs of why a dog is being rewarded is a curiosity, the exploration of which is rewarding for the dog.

  14. Zak, I really hope you’ll address this question. Upfront I want to be clear that I’m not asking this with any “spirit” of “what about-ism”. I’m asking about this specific use case, with no interest in generalizing it. I ask, because this is a very real concern for my dog and I. I’ve used positive reinforcement training exclusively, and it has worked great overall. My dog isn’t perfect, but who is? He’s great and has no serious behavior issues. Here’s the issue: We hike A LOT. In the warmer months, there are rattle snakes in our local parks. Now, many of the dangers that might be out there on a hike, have a high likelihood of being spotted by me first (e.g. coyotes, cattle). For these, I trust my dog’s recall. He’s shown over and over that I can trust him. The issue with rattle snakes, is that there is a good chance that he will encounter them first, in which case recall may be moot. As such, I’ve been seriously considering using a trainer, who uses shock collars, for this ONE, and ONLY ONE, purpose. Now, to be clear, I’m not seeking permission, clearly. I am however curious if there is any evidence that positive reinforcement works as well or better than aversive methods for this very specific case. Overwhelmingly, I don’t want my dog to be scared as we navigate the world. However, this is a situation where I do want him to have a strong aversion to something, particularly as there’s a good chance that events could unfold such that I cannot intervene in time. Please, I would greatly appreciate any input. Thanks

    1. I know I’m not Zak, but I am a positive trainer and I just took a course on non-aversive rattlesnake avoidance training! I’ll be putting a class plan together in the coming year. While this type of training is not a one and done, it’s a humane alternative to both dog AND snake (no real snakes used, it relies on scent, sight and sound). Look for a book called “Snake Avoidance Without Shock” by Jaimie Robinson and it’ll tell you all about this. It can be done and it works!

    2. @Heidi Perry Thanks for that info!! I’d be really interested in knowing effectiveness vs aversion, Though I’d prefer non-aversive, if aversion means a much higher chance of my dog not getting bitten…. But if the two are close with respect to results, the non aversion is a no brainer for me!

    3. @D R both ways of training rattlesnake avoidance as I understand them are relatively new, and positive is even newer. Neither of these are 100% effective and never will be, and unfortunately I don’t think there’s hard data comparing the effectiveness of both side by side out yet due to the novelty. I do know training with a shock collar can come with some serious side effects. Not every dog is going to experience this, but my dog was trained with a shock collar before I adopted him and he was afraid of electric pops and clicks for the rest of his life. He actually hid in my closet when he heard benign house settling noises.

      I’d get my hands on that book and take a look through it before you decide anything.

  15. Hard discussion to have as it is very emotive. Also it’s a tough claim to make that the burden of proof lies with the side that would use aversive when academic institutions do not allow studies on aversive methods due to their academic ethics panels. I know of at least one masters degree candidate that was refused a thesis on the positive use of the prong collar irrespective of their own ethics so how can you request a scientific burden of proof when something is unable to be scientifically studied and peer reviewed??
    Personally I don’t Mix training and behaviour modification, I’ve seen the judicial system request immediate change in dangerous dog behaviour from attacking live stock to attacking or biting other dogs/people and in the hands of positive only trainers the dog would be destroyed. Whether it’s efficacy or the time required to be rehabilitated or the skills of the owner in this process, as you say the education requirements are vast to only train without the use of aversives. Personally I’d rather not see a dog put down.
    Anyway the main point here is you won:t get a science backed evidence as you well know or should that academia will not allow the study. At least in the UK.

    1. There are many studies that have looked at aversion in dogs and other animals. Regarding using aversives to address aggression, throughout studies of various animals it is very well-established that aversion to curb aggression in any meaningful way is counterproductive.

  16. With our new puppy (our third dog) we have adopted your training techniques. Her name and the word “yes” seem to be doing the trick. We have used the word “no” at certain times too but are working really hard to solidify come when called, off, and hold more. Hold seems to be the most challenging so far, but I feel once we have these three mastered along with sit, down and settle the word “no” will be eliminated 🙂

  17. I was introduced to dog obedience training/competition in the 1970s and methods were pretty harsh. Reading books like “Play Training Your Dog” modified my approach. My first encounter with positive methods was agility training — the benefits were obvious: confidence, enthusiasm, learning and communication, problem-solving ability…. It is a lot easier to concentrate and learn if you know it is okay to make a mistake! I recommend Zac George videos to everyone I meet:-)

    1. Barbara Woodhouse, Training dogs the Woodhouse way. She wasn’t necessarily harsh, but it was different times. I rented her videos over and over from the library. “Walkies!”

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