CVMA | Documents | Humane Training Methods for Dogs – Position Statement

Humane Training Methods for Dogs – Position Statement

October 16, 2015


The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) supports the use of humane training methods for dogs that are based on current scientific knowledge of learning theory. Reward-based methods are highly recommended.  Aversive methods are strongly discouraged as they may cause fear, distress, anxiety, pain or physical injury to the dog.


  1. Owners are responsible for humanely and effectively training and socializing their dogs to optimize positive interactions with humans and other animals, to ensure public safety, and to protect animal welfare.
  2. Veterinarians recognize that problematic canine behaviour has a detrimental effect on both the human-animal bond and animal welfare, and is the leading cause of relinquishment and euthanasia of otherwise healthy dogs (1).
  3. Prevention of problematic canine behaviours should be the primary goal of pet owners, veterinarians, shelters, trainers and breeders. Prevention is best achieved through education and the setting of realistic expectations for what constitutes context-specific normal and appropriate behaviour. Reputable educational material and information should be obtained by owners prior to or at the time of obtaining a puppy or adult dog. Such material should include breed and age-specific information on appropriate behaviour and development, sensitive developmental stages influencing socialization, and strategies for minimizing fear and distress through the appropriate management of environmental and social exposures (2).
  4. Training methods that reward desired behaviour (i.e. positive reinforcement) such as clicker training and the use of food, toys, play and praise as motivators are strongly recommended (3). The use of positive reinforcement alone has been found to be significantly associated with a lower number of undesirable behaviors (4,5) and reduced attention-seeking, aggression and fear (avoidance) scores (4). In addition, there is evidence that it may improve a dog’s subsequent ability to learn (6). Similarly, removing reinforcers for undesired behaviours, and addressing both the emotional state and environmental factors that contribute to undesired behaviours also are recommended (7). Behaviour modification through classical conditioning and/or desensitization and counter-conditioning should be performed below the threshold that would cause distress, anxiety or fear in the dog.
  5. Aversive training techniques are strongly discouraged. These methods may include confrontational and/or physical methods of training such as the use of force, rolling dogs, scruffing, growling, muzzling, jowling, shaking, or staring dogs down. Such techniques create fear and therefore may increase the likelihood of fear-induced aggressive responses in dogs (8). Similarly, the use of aversive devices such as choke, pinch, or prong collars are strongly discouraged in favour of more humane alternatives such as head halters. Devices such as electronic collars should only be used by a certified and/or experienced trainer or behaviourist, and only after all other training and/or behaviour modification methods have failed (9-11).
  6. The use of non-remote electronic collars (i.e. wherein the human handler is not in direct control of the device via remote control, such as with electronic fencing systems) should be used with caution and are only acceptable as an alternative to tethering if there is otherwise risk to both the dog and the public and the property is not amenable to traditional fencing. However, the dog must be properly trained and the device monitored to ensure that the applied stimulus is only just enough to produce the desired effect. Owners should be aware that such electronic systems are not secure as some dogs will bolt through the electronic fence and will avoid re-entering the fenced space since the stimulus would recur. Some dogs become very agitated from the stimulus however minimal, and may become fearful of their environment.


  1. Salman MD, Hutchison J, Ruch-Gallie R, Kogan L, New JC, Kass PH, Scarlett, JM. Behavioral reasons for relinquishment of dogs and cats to 12 shelters. J  Appl Anim Welfe Sci. 2000:3(2):93-106.
  2. Overall K L. Canine housetraining, Part 1: Humane and age-appropriate strategies: Better outcomes are achieved when clients are knowledgeable and have realistic expectations. DVM Newsmagazine Aug. 2011: 14S+. Available from: Last accessed October 6, 2015.
  3. Anonymous. How to hire a dog a trainer. American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Available from  Last accessed July 30, 2015.
  4. Blackwell EJ, Twells C, Seawright A, Casey RA. The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs. J  Vet Behav Clin Appl Res. 2008;3(5):207-217.
  5. Hiby EF, Rooney NJ, Bradshaw JWS. Dog training methods: their usefulness, effectiveness, and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Anim Welf 2004;13:63-69.
  6. Rooney NJ, Cowan S. Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2011;132(3-4):169-177.
  7. Anonymous. AVSAB Position Statement: The use of punishment for behavior modification in animals. 2007 AVSAB American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. Available from:  Last accessed July 30, 2015.
  8. Herron ME, Shofer FS, and IR Reisner. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviours. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2009;117:47-54.
  9. Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Position Statement: Electronic Training Collars. Available from: and the Humane Hierarchy. Amended 5/23/2014 Available from:  Last accessed October 6, 2015.
  10. Schalke E, Stichnoth J, Ott S, Jones-Baade R. Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situations. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2007;105(4):369-380.
  11. Schilder, Matthijs BH, van der Borg JAM. Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2004;85(3):319-334.


  1. American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
  2. Animal Behavior Society
  3. American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Horwitz, DF Ed. Decoding your dog:  The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones. 2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Boston, MA, USA
  4. Overall K. Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. 2013, Mosby-Year Book Inc., Missouri, USA.
  5. Overall K. Humane Behavioral Care for Dogs: Problem Prevention and Treatment. Mosby-Elsevier, Maryland Heights, Missouri, USA. Dvd edition (July 2 2013)
  6. Yin S. Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats: Techniques for Developing Patients Who Love Their Visits. Cattle Dog Publishing, Davis, California, USA. 2009
  7. Yin S. How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves. 2nd Edition TFH Publications Inc. Neptune, New Jersey, USA. 2010
  8. Certification council for professional dog trainers.

(Revised October 2015)