Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The Pet Expert: AVSAB Changes Stance on Dog Training

As an outspoken supporter of force-free, positive reinforcement dog training methods, to learn that one of the largest globally-recognized animal behaviour institutes has changed their official stance on canine behaviour techniques is exciting and encouraging to say the least.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, or AVSAB, has long been regarded as the epicentre for science-based education and information regarding animal behaviour and welfare in North America.

Until recently, AVSAB supported the notion of ‘balanced’ dog training; blending a combination of reward-based techniques with certain negative reinforcement components. Negative, or ‘aversive’, training utilizes punishments to modify a dog’s behaviour.

Examples of aversive training range from forcefully telling a dog “no”, to using water spray bottles, to using corrective collars (prong collars, choke chains, electronic shock collars, etc.), and more.

While many trainers believe aversive techniques can be an effective means of dog training, studies (Hiby et al, 2004) show these methods can result in long-lasting detrimental effects on a dog’s mental health, as well as the delicate human/animal bond.

Recently, the AVSAB has taken a strong position in favour of positive reinforcement dog training, also known as the ‘reward-based’ method. This style of training promotes positive interactions with dogs, and is based on a foundation of compassion, respect, and science. The AVSAB states that reward-based training offers “…the most advantages and least harm to the learner’s welfare.”

Meaford-based positive reinforcement dog trainer and owner of Happy Paws Canine Solutions, Jodie Hawker, has passionately advocated for reward-based training for many years. “Dogs are individuals, they thrive on love and respect,” said Jodie. “Using positive training techniques will not only give your dog the best possible outcome, but will also strengthen your shared, mutual bond.”

What Is Positive Reinforcement Dog Training?

This gentle method of dog training uses cues to request behaviours, and rewarding the dog using food, and/or positive praise. Many dogs are highly food motivated, thus respond favourably to the use of training treats as a means of sustaining attention and motivation during training. Aside from food as a motivator, other dogs may feel rewarded with praise, attention, or time spent playing with a favourite toy.

These positive cues can be verbal, such as “sit”, or visual, such as simple hand gestures.

Reward-based dog training is highly effective for teaching basic everyday commands, however it is also a powerful tool for correcting unwanted behaviours. These techniques encompass a compassionate and gentle model of training; resultantly, dogs are unlikely to develop negative fear-based emotions, which is far more common when aversive methods are used. Fear-based emotions like anxiety and aggression are harmful to a dog’s long-term well-being, and are likely to limit the people, pets, and environments your dog can be safely exposed to.

What Is Not Considered Positive Reinforcement?

Any training techniques that use negative (aversive) reinforcement, even just a little bit, are not considered positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement techniques use punishment, pain, intimidation, domination, and more. This can include the use of choke collars, shock collars, squirt bottles, shouting, leash jerking, and more.

It was previously believed that these were the best methods to train a dog; by establishing yourself as the ‘alpha’ of the pack, especially with dogs that are behaviourally challenging. However, science has shown this is not the case, and reward-based techniques are unequivocally the most effective, and the most humane.

In fact, the AVSAB states, “There is no evidence that aversive methods are more effective than reward-based methods in any context.” Their recent statement concludes, “AVSAB therefore advises that aversive methods should not be used in animal training or for the treatment of behaviour disorders.”

As a global influencer in canine behaviour and welfare, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s change in stance towards dog training is colossal news for the forward-thinking animal training community, and is a massive step towards promoting animal welfare in North America.

Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon is certified in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years’ experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit


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