It's a huge debate in the dog training world . . .
Call me optimistic, but I want to believe that, in general, dog trainers want to do what is best for the dogs they train. Which, ideally, translates to doing no harm. If this is the case, why is there such an uproar about "aversive" training methods. You may notice that I put quotations around the word aversive. This is because there are so many training methods and equipment that are considered humane by some and aversive by others. For example, many trainers classify things like shock collars and prong collars as aversive, while others argue that they are humane if used properly. How, if we can not come up with a common understanding of what is humane and what is aversive, can we find common ground for discussion?
So . . . what makes a training method or technique "aversive"?
Personally, I define aversive training using a very broad brush stroke. It is not just about inflicting pain or scaring the dog (although that is certainly aversive) . . . it is also about using any kind of interaction that is unpleasant to the dog. The key words here are "unpleasant to the dog". If your dog's body language indicates that they are not enjoying the interaction, then what you are doing can fall under the umbrella of "aversive" whether that is your intention or not.
For example, I have had clients that are very enthusiastic when they give their dog physical affection. They ruffle the ears roughly, pound on the chest, or any number of other actions that could easily be overwhelming to a dog, depending on their nature. Some of these clients have dogs that revel in this more "rough housing" kind of handling while others have dogs that want nothing to do with that kind of interaction. These dogs, instead of responding as desired to a recall, refuse to take those last few steps to bring them into reach of the handler. Usually, the handler misses the fact that the dog is trying to please by coming closer while simultaneously trying to avoid the physical "mauling" that takes place when they get within arm's reach of their handler.
Let's say you treat train. What would you say if I suggested that it is possible to be aversive when using treats for training? Well, what if your dog hates the treats you are using!? I have one dog that is crazy about ANY food . . . fruit, veggies, meat. I honestly do not know of anything that she has turned her nose up on. However, I have another girl who HATES carrots and most fruits. How effective do you think my training would be if I decided to treat train her using carrot pieces. Because she finds carrot unpleasant, using them as a reward when training would, in affect, be aversive! However, not actually inhumane, since carrots are good for her, but they would have the effect of applying something unpleasant causing a behavior to be suppressed. No wonder the whole debate can be both confusing and filled with emotions!
Bottom line. . . be careful when using training methods that are unpleasant for your dog . . . studies show that the results you get may not be the ones you want! For more information on potential results of aversive training click here.