Some members of the Facebook group Beyond Cesar Millan are honestly surprised when their post or comment gets deleted because of a particular suggestion they made. The group has a written rule as follows:
Suggesting or endorsing aversive training methods will get your post deleted. If you continue, you will be banned.
So I’m writing about what “suggesting or endorsing aversive training methods” actually means. Some people who post such things may be doing so on purpose, trying to sneak them in. But many honestly do not understand why the moderators (of whom I am one) object to their comment. They will firmly insist that they have not suggested or endorsed an aversive method.
Paul Chance, in Learning and Behavior, 7th edition, defines aversives as:
Stimuli the animal would avoid, given the option.
The stimuli can be as painful as shock or as mild as the breeze from a fan. They are not to be recommended in the group as training methods to increase or decrease behavior.
So here are several examples of types of comments that do suggest, endorse, or promote the use of aversive methods, whether the writer realizes it or not. At the end I’ll explain why we moderators do not let even the mildest suggestion of using an aversive stand.
I Don’t Do It Personally But It Works
“Although I’d never use them myself I don’t think prongs do that much damage.”
“I only used the ecollar a few times and I am not advocating for them since that’s against the rules.”
“I’m a positive trainer and I don’t use any kinds of tools but I don’t see the harm in using a spray bottle–at least it’s better than shocking the dog.”
Even if you don’t do it personally, these comments excuse and promote the use of aversives. (The last example also employs the fallacy of relative privation.)
Sometimes Aversives Are Necessary
“I’m a positive trainer but I was glad when they put a prong on that dog that was lunging at the other dogs at the training club.”
“Sometimes the only thing that will work with an aggressive dog is a shock collar.”
“If it’s a choice between the dog dying in traffic or having an ecollar, the ecollar isn’t so bad.”
Claiming aversives are sometimes necessary is clearly supporting them. Also there comes relative privation again.
That’s The [Insert Training Method] Culture
“But in IPO you can expect to see a shock collar on every dog; that’s the world they live in so I have to do it too.”
Saying that everyone in a certain milieu uses them gives other people tacit permission to do so as well.
It’s Not Really Aversive (Confusion about Learning Theory)
“Yes the rider has spurs on but it’s not aversive since she doesn’t use them.”
“My dog sees his chain/prong/shock collar as positive because he knows it means he is going out.”
“A properly fitted prong is not aversive.”
We understand that claiming something isn’t aversive when it is demonstrably so may be born out of confusion. But no matter the motive, it still encourages other people to try it.
The Dog Decides
“The prong is not an aversive tool, it is a tool that was designed to be aversive but the dog decides in the end whether or not a tool is aversive.”
“Because it’s force doesn’t mean it’s compulsion. The dog decides.”
The dog decides. Yes it does. And if the tool increases or decreases behavior in the way it was intended, the dog “decided” it WAS aversive. Here’s a whole post about what it means when we say “The Dog Decides.”
No Method Works for all Dogs
“This isn’t a one size fits all situation–I’m 98% positive but I go with what gives the best results.”
“Trying to ban training tools for all dogs because some people misuse them or don’t like them is stupid. Different dogs learn differently.”
Saying that no one method works for all dogs is an obfuscation and excuse to use aversives, plain and simple.
Veiled Flooding and Negative Reinforcement
“Hold the dog until he stops being naughty and then let him loose. There’s no pain or fear in that so it’s not aversive. ”
“Make the dog stay out in the rain until he pees. That’s not force.”
Using restraint to keep an animal in an unpleasant situation until it complies is aversive. It makes use of the animal’s desire to escape to get behavior.
What’s Wrong with Saying These Things?
When you tell a story about the supposed success of an aversive training method or otherwise condone the use of an aversive technique, you implicitly give other people permission to try it. We don’t give out that permission at Beyond Cesar Millan. These types of suggestions appear in threads where people are explicitly asking for training advice. The purpose of the group is to provide methods that go **beyond** pain, force, coercion, startling, flooding, and pressure. A secondary purpose is to teach people to recognize force-based techniques when they see them or hear them described. If a trainer who claims lots of experience claims that something is not really aversive (and it is), and we leave that comment standing, we have betrayed the purpose of the group.
We moderators are well aware that some aversive techniques are generally harder on animals than others. But no one can predict the effect of any technique on an individual dog, and there is no reason to condone aversive methods when positive reinforcement based methods are so obviously and widely successful. Hence there is no sensible place to draw the line on aversives except at “none.”
About the Group
In case some readers are not familiar with Beyond Cesar Millan, here is part of its official description:
Cesar Millan employs outdated and sometimes dangerous training methods; ones that have been long abandoned by the knowledgeable, educated animal behaviorists around the world.
This group is not a place to advance Cesar’s methods, it’s a group that wants to learn to go beyond punishment and try a gentler approach to dogs that is based upon current knowledge, not yesterday’s debunked theories. If you come here to troll, and tout the use of dominance theory, or choke, prong, or shock collars, act disrespectful towards members, and continually cause a nuisance, you will be removed from the group.
Copyright Eileen Anderson 2016