Why we don’t use Aversives

by Emma Judson

This group is here to provide free dog training and behaviour advice that falls within the broad classification ‘positive reinforcement based, force free training’.

This means we do not use, nor recommend the use of, aversives – but sometimes it can be hard to tell what is aversive, and what isn’t.

The dictionary definition of aversive is this: “Causing avoidance of a thing, situation, or behaviour by using an unpleasant or punishing stimulus, as in techniques of behaviour modification.”

So the following devices/tools/products will fall under that definition:

  • Prong collars
  • Choke chains
  • Anti-pull harnesses that tighten under a dogs armpits
  • Spray collars (either citronella or just air)
  • Shock collars
  • Anti-chew sprays
  • Invisible e-fence systems
  • Pet corrector air spray
  • Rattle bottles/cans
  • Throw chains
  • Training Discs

All of these things work by causing fear, or pain, or fear of pain, or sensory discomfort, to the dog. Of course, anyone can mis-use any tool, even a flat collar and leash can be used to cause fear or pain, the point is that the above devices are specifically designed to achieve that.

Similarly, any method that works because it causes the dog to want to avoid something painful or scary is also inappropriate within this group. Some examples of that would be: Teaching a dog to heel by jerking on the collar if they pull. Teaching a dog not to jump up at people by kneeing the dog in the chest when they do.

There are many many more examples, that’s just two!

Then there are the things that may seem not to be intentionally aversive or unpleasant, but actually are.

One example would be leaving a new dog or puppy to cry himself to sleep at night in a room on his own. This is often recommended with the idea that we should ‘start as we mean to go on’, and while consistency is very important in training and living with a dog, this method tends to mean a new dog or pup spends the first days or weeks of his life in a new home being very tired, stressed and anxious.

In addition, ignoring a dog howling crying or barking for hours on end is almost impossible for most people to achieve, they will accidentally reward this behaviour because they simply have to return to the room the dog is in eventually, which the dog will take as ‘ah, howling works well…’ and of course will repeat.


Leaving a dog to howl or bark for hours on end is a very good way to create a separation anxiety problem, which is much much harder to fix than teaching a happy, confident dog to sleep somewhere else! In fact, separation anxiety is one of the top causes of dogs being rehomed or euthanised! Sleeping in people’s bedrooms or at the top of the stairs, isn’t!


There are several reasons why we are strongly against aversive methods or tools. One is that it is simply unkind, and damaging to the relationship with your dog, to use fear or pain or discomfort to get him to do what you want. More importantly perhaps, aversive methods produce very unpredictable results. You don’t know before you try them how your dog will react. Maybe a spray collar will stop him barking, but maybe it will make him fearful of things that make a similar sound; maybe it will cause him to redirect his frustration as aggression toward someone or some other dog stood near him; maybe it will cause him to be fearful and then aggressive toward whatever he was barking at!

Finally, using aversives in training means you are much less likely to be thinking about why your dog is doing something. The use of aversives is focused on removing or stopping a behaviour, but that behaviour will be a symptom of something else, and if you don’t treat the symptom, or the root cause of a behaviour, it will pop out somewhere else.

For example, the dog who was chewing up the carpet when left, now doesn’t chew the carpet because it has anti-chew spray on it. Now he chews the sofa, or the table legs. If you cover all those things, maybe he starts to howl or bark instead, because the chewing was a symptom of anxiety, and that anxiety over being left alone hasn’t gone away!

Hopefully you can now see why we don’t recommend aversives, and why we are pro positive, force free training.