Fallout from the Use of Aversives

Here are two reference lists for the side effects of the use of aversives in punishment, negative reinforcement, and without behavioral change.

  • The first section lists nine types of fallout that are documented and includes references for each.
  • The second section lists studies that found negative effects of the use of aversives specifically on dogs. Many include a link to a user-friendly and clear discussion of the article (click on “See commentary” at the end of many entries.)

Types of Fallout and the Classic References Demonstrating Them

  1. Danger sign homemadeEscape/Avoidance: A punished organism becomes avoidant of the person who delivered the punishment,  the location in which it was delivered, and/or other elements of the environment associated with the punishment. The avoidance is negatively reinforced, which can cause a cascade of other undesirable behaviors. –Azrin, N.H, Holz, W.C., “Punishment” from Honig, W. (1966) Operant Behavior: Areas of Research and Application, 380-447.
  2. Operant Aggression: An organism attempts to eliminate the punishment contingency by seeking to destroy or immobilize the individual who is delivering the punishing stimulus.–Ibid.
  3. Elicited Aggression: (Also called redirected aggression.) An organism can be expected to aggress against nearby individuals who were not responsible for the punishment.–Ibid
  4. Generalization (related to #1 and #2 above): Fearful and aggressive responses evoked by punishment can spread to other entities. “When a stimulus shares properties with those present during punishment, it may evoke the same sorts of reactions as those that happened during the punishment. …The [subject] may respond with aggression toward or withdrawal from the punishing agents.” Sulzer-Azaroff, Beth, and G. Roy Mayer. Behavior analysis for lasting change. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1991, 486-7.
  5. Generalized Apathy: “If aversives are a common consequence of many kinds of behavior, the result may be a suppression not only of the punished behavior, but of behavior in general.”–Chance, P., 2008, Learning and Behavior, 5th Edition, 208.  The reduction in activity also reduces the organism’s chances for positive reinforcement. Chance cites the following original source– Warden, Carl J., and Mercy Aylesworth. “The relative value of reward and punishment in the formation of a visual discrimination habit in the white rat.”Journal of Comparative Psychology 7.2 (1927): 117.
  6. Conditioned Suppression/Learned Helplessness: An organism repeatedly exposed to a non-contingent aversive stimulus (that is, not under the organism’s control) will exhibit a fear response to the conditioned predictor of the aversive stimulus and a general reduction in the rate of ongoing behavior. –Estes, William K., and Burrhus F. Skinner. “Some quantitative properties of anxiety.” Journal of Experimental Psychology 29.5 (1941): 390.    When an organism is exposed to an uncontrollable (non-contingent) and inescapable aversive there is a general shutdown referred to as learned helplessness.  Maier, Steven F., and Martin E. Seligman. “Learned helplessness: Theory and evidence.” Journal of experimental psychology: general 105.1 (1976): 3.
  7. Injury: An organism can be injured from the application of an aversive in punishment or negative reinforcement.Grohmann, Kristina, Mark J. Dickomeit, Martin J. Schmidt, and Martin Kramer. “Severe brain damage after punitive training technique with a choke chain collar in a German shepherd dog.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 8, no. 3 (2013): 180-184.
  8. Reinforcement of the Punisher: The person who applies the aversive is strongly reinforced (negative reinforcement) when it succeeds. Applying punishment easily becomes habitual, and easily escalates. Powell, Russell A., P. Lynne Honey, and Diane G. Symbaluk. Introduction to learning and behavior. Cengage Learning, 2016, 358. Sulzer-Azaroff, Beth, and G. Roy Mayer. Also: Behavior analysis for lasting change. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1991, 489.
  9. Modeling: People who observe someone making use of punishment may be more likely to use punishment themselves. Miltenberger, Raymond G. Behavior modification: Principles and procedures. Cengage Learning, 2011, 134. Sulzer-Azaroff, Beth, and G. Roy Mayer. Also: Behavior analysis for lasting change. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1991, 487-8.

For a “plain English” version of the above, go to: 9 Effects of Punishment.

Studies of Dogs Showing the Detrimental Effects of Aversives
These studies demonstrate negative effects of using aversive methods on dogs. They are listed in chronological order of publication. The sections in bold are synopses.

  • Dogs give up and become passive (learned helplessness) when exposed to inescapable shock. Overmier, J. Bruce, and Martin E. Seligman. “Effects of inescapable shock upon subsequent escape and avoidance responding.” Journal of comparative and physiological psychology 63, no. 1 (1967): 28. 
  • Pet dogs trained with punishment are no more obedient and  exhibit increased numbers of potentially problematic behaviors than dogs trained by other means. Hiby, E. F., N. J. Rooney, and J. W. S. Bradshaw. “Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare.” Animal Welfare 13, no. 1 (2004): 63-70.  See commentary.
  • Shocked dogs exhibited more stress than dogs trained by other methods, even outside of training sessions. Schilder, Matthijs BH, and Joanne AM Van der Borg. “Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 85, no. 3-4 (2004): 319-334. 
  • Dogs trained with positive reinforcement demonstrate fewer behavior problems. Blackwell, Emily J., Caroline Twells, Anne Seawright, and Rachel A. Casey. “The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 3, no. 5 (2008): 207-217. See commentary.
  • Confrontational dog training methods can elicit aggressive responses: Herron, Meghan E., Frances S. Shofer, and Ilana R. Reisner. “Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117, no. 1-2 (2009): 47-54. See commentary. 
  • High levels of punishment may have adverse effects upon a dog’s behaviour. Reward-based training may improve a dog’s ability to learn. Rooney, Nicola Jane, and Sarah Cowan. “Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 132, no. 3-4 (2011): 169-177. See commentary. 
  • Shock collars are unnecessary and detrimental to animal welfare. Cooper, Jonathan, Nina Cracknell, Jessica Hardiman, and Daniel Mills. “Studies to assess the effect of pet training aids, specifically remote static pulse systems, on the welfare of domestic dogs: field study of dogs in training.” (2013). Government report: DEFRA AW1402a.  See commentary. 
  • Positive reinforcement training methods are less stressful and potentially better for dogs’ welfare. Deldalle, Stéphanie, and Florence Gaunet. “Effects of 2 training methods on stress-related behaviors of the dog (Canis familiaris) and on the dog–owner relationship.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 9, no. 2 (2014): 58-65. See commentary. 
  • Punitive training techniques increase the risk of aggression in dogs. Casey et al.Casey, Rachel A., Bethany Loftus, Christine Bolster, Gemma J. Richards, and Emily J. Blackwell. “Human directed aggression in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): Occurrence in different contexts and risk factors.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 152 (2014): 52-63. See commentary. 
  • Shock collars are unnecessary and detrimental to animal welfare.  J. J. Cooper, N. Cracknell, J. Hardiman, H. Wright, D. Mills. Open Source version of the DEFRA studies above. 2014. Full text available here.
  • Below average success rates were reported significantly more often by respondents who use e-collars on stock herding dogs. Arnott, Elizabeth R., Jonathan B. Early, Claire M. Wade, and Paul D. McGreevy. “Environmental factors associated with success rates of Australian stock herding dogs.” PloS one 9, no. 8 (2014): e104457.
  • (Review article) Using aversive training methods (e.g., positive punishment and negative reinforcement) can jeopardize both the physical and mental health of dogs. Ziv, Gal. “The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs—A review.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 19 (2017): 50-60. See commentary.
  • European Society of Clinical Animal Ethology strongly opposes the use of e-collars in dog training. Masson, Sylvia, Silvia de la Vega, Angelo Gazzano, Chiara Mariti, Gonçalo Da Graça Pereira, Christine Halsberghe, Anneli Muser Leyvraz, Kevin McPeake, and Barbara Schoening. “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).” Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2018). See commentary.

Other Important Resources

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Position Statement on Punishment

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Position Statement on Humane Training Methods for Dogs

Todd, Zazie. “Barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 25, 28-34. (2018). See commentary by author.
Why, given all the evidence for positive reinforcement-based training, is it not more commonly used?

Sidman, Murray. Coercion and its fallout. Boston: Authors Cooperative, 1989.
This book does not have bibliographical references but Dr. Sidman is a behavioral scientist with impeccable experimental credentials and an expert on the effects of aversive control.

© Eileen Anderson 2015                 

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