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Ethical Approaches to Dog Training: Promises, Guarantees, and the Fallout of Aversive Methods

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

As a credentialed, educated, and experienced dog trainer, my primary goal is to foster a positive and healthy relationship between you and your canine companion. While I understand the desire for guaranteed behavioral outcomes, as well as quick fixes, it is crucial to acknowledge the limitations of such promises. Like all reputable trainers and behavior professionals, I cannot guarantee the behavior of another sentient being. No creature on Earth is without error – and this includes our dogs as well. For my very credentials I am held to a code of ethics and therefore refuse to engage in forceful training methods that may lead to potential long-term, harmful consequences for your dog.

Limitations of Promised Behavioral Outcomes:

  • Individual Differences: Every dog is a unique and wonderful being, possessing their own temperament, history, and learning capabilities. The factors that play into who a dog is are plentiful and these factors greatly influence their response to training as well. Despite my expertise, it is impossible to predict with certainty how an individual dog will react and progress in their training journey. Every single case and every single dog is different.

  • Owner Involvement: Effective dog training is a collaborative effort between the trainer, the owner, and the dog. It is teamwork, with the owner and dog at the forefront and the trainer coaching both. While I can provide guidance, support, and knowledge, the ultimate responsibility always lies with the owner in implementing and reinforcing the training techniques consistently. A lack of owner involvement can hinder the desired behavioral outcomes. If an owner is not able or willing to dedicate the time and effort, there is little I can do as a dog trainer.

  • External Factors: The environment in which a dog lives plays a significant role in their behavior. Various stimuli, such as other animals, people, and noises, can affect a dog's response and progress in training. For example, if a dog is exposed to chaos continually, teaching the dog calm, while vital, is going to be a lot more difficult than if they are in a quiet and non-distractive environment. Since these external factors are beyond my control, guaranteeing specific behavioral outcomes would be unrealistic.

Ethical Stances on Forceful Training Methods:

  • Emotional and Physical Well-being: As a responsible and ethical dog trainer, I prioritize the emotional and physical well-being of the dogs in my care. Forceful methods that involve punishment, coercion, or intimidation can have severe negative consequences. Dogs subjected to such techniques may experience fear, anxiety, and aggression, which can ultimately worsen their behavior and damage the bond between the dog and their owner. In addition, while you may see what appears like almost immediate compliance when looking at hip trainers on social media in battle with unruly dogs – this is more likely the dog tiring out and giving up in that moment. This does not guarantee change or that a behavior is suddenly fixed. This is a moment in time with zero follow up. Please don’t look to fad trainers on social media as an example of any kind of behavior work. These are simply shows for clicks – do not fall victim to believing this – or worse, subjecting your dog to that kind of treatment.

  • Trust and Relationship Building: Building a strong bond based on trust and mutual respect is essential for effective training. Forceful methods erode trust and can lead to a breakdown in communication between the dog and their owner. Many dogs that are struggling with behavioral issues may have underlying fear issues. Those kinds of dogs need to know that their owners are there for them and that they do not need to overreact to certain stimuli. By avoiding force and focusing on positive reinforcement techniques, we can create a safe and nurturing environment for the dog to learn and thrive. Beautiful changes can occur when they trust that we are here for them and we have their backs.

  • Long-term Impact: As mentioned previously, punishment-based training methods can appear to produce immediate compliance, but they fail to address the underlying causes of undesirable behavior. Instead, they suppress behaviors without providing the dog with alternative, more appropriate outlets. This can result in the development of new behavioral issues or exacerbation of existing ones in the long run. All behavior is driven by emotion and when people try to shut down the behavioral displays without addressing the emotional cause, they can cause a lot of conflict for the dog. This conflict can be seen in different behavioral issues or the increase in severity of the original problematic behaviors.

As a dedicated dog trainer and behavior consultant, I always prioritize the welfare of the dogs in my care, far above blind compliance, and strive to promote positive, ethical training methods. While I cannot guarantee specific behavioral outcomes due to individual differences as well as external factors, I can assure you that I will provide you with the necessary knowledge, tools, and support to guide you on your training journey. By focusing on positive reinforcement and avoiding fear-inducing, forceful techniques, together we can create a harmonious and rewarding partnership between you and your beloved canine companion. Don’t be afraid to be your dog’s friend as well as their guardian.

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