Humane Training of Dogs
September 17, 2021
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) supports the use of training methods for dogs that are humane and based on current scientific knowledge of canine learning theory. Reward-based methods are highly recommended. Aversive methods are strongly discouraged as they do not address the underlying cause of the undesired behaviour and may cause fear, distress, anxiety, pain or physical injury to the dog. The CVMA supports the development of a national certifying body to establish acceptable and consistent standards for the training of dogs using non aversive methods.
- Problematic behaviour is a leading cause of relinquishment and euthanasia of otherwise healthy dogs.
- Prevention is best achieved through appropriate socialization and training.
- The critical period for socialization of puppies occurs prior to 16-20 weeks of age therefore veterinarians must encourage puppy owners to socialize puppies with other dogs prior to completion of their initial vaccine series.
- Aversive training techniques are strongly discouraged.
- The CVMA asserts that remote controlled shock collars are not considered a necessary method of training or behaviour modification.
- Training methods that reward desired behaviour (i.e. positive reinforcement) are strongly recommended.
- The CVMA supports the use of pharmaceuticals, where appropriate, to reduce fear and anxiety and improve learning.
- The CVMA supports the development of a national dog training certification body that incorporates non-aversive training principles.
- Veterinarians recognize that problematic behaviour has a detrimental effect on both the human-animal bond and animal welfare and is a leading cause of relinquishment and euthanasia of otherwise healthy dogs (1,2).
- Prevention of problematic canine behaviours should be a primary goal of pet owners, veterinary professionals, shelters, trainers and breeders. Prevention is best achieved through appropriate socialization and training. Education on what constitutes normal and appropriate behaviour, and setting realistic expectations is key.
- 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. Employing positive and humane training methods helps to enhance and maintain the human-animal bond (3,4).
- Veterinarians typically see owners 1-3 times after acquisition of a puppy and at least once after adoption of an adult dog. They are therefore well placed to discuss behavioural health and make recommendations for prevention of problems or to address behaviour concerns. A behavioural history should be taken for every new puppy or dog, and as part of the annual health exam. Reputable educational material should be provided including referral to a trainer, behaviour program or Veterinary Behaviourist as appropriate.
- The critical period for socialization of puppies occurs prior to 16-20 weeks of age (5). During this time, the puppy must be exposed in a positive manner to as many dogs, other animals, people and environments as possible to help avoid fearfulness as an adult. After this time period, learning continues but true socialization is not possible. Therefore, veterinarians must encourage new puppy owners to socialize puppies with other healthy, vaccinated, non-aggressive dogs prior to finishing their initial vaccine series. Dog parks should be discouraged for the purposes of socialization, as the risk of environmental contamination as well as exposure to dogs that do not meet the above criteria is high. Negative experiences during this time period can lead to fear in the adult dog.
- Training methods that reward desired behaviour (i.e. positive reinforcement) are strongly recommended. The use of positive reinforcement improves a dog’s ability to learn (6). It is associated with fewer undesirable behaviours, such as attention seeking, aggression and fear (5-8). Examples of humane training methods include clicker training and the use of food, toys, play and praise as motivators. Humane methods for increased control on leash walks include head collars and front-clip harnesses. For remote training such as in fieldwork, whistles and hand signals visible at a distance are recommended.
- Aversive training techniques are strongly discouraged. These include physical methods (striking, scruffing, jowling, ”alpha rolls”) and confrontational methods such as staring dogs down, verbal reprimands and loud noises. Such techniques do not address the underlying cause of a behaviour and create fear, therefore increasing the likelihood of a fear-induced aggressive response and risk of injury to the handler (9). They also do not offer the dog an appropriate alternate behaviour, and may actually inhibit learning (6). Similarly, the use of aversive devices such as choke, pinch, spray, prong or shock collars are strongly discouraged in favour of more humane alternatives. Removing unintentional reinforcers for undesired behaviours, and addressing both the emotional state and environmental factors that contribute to undesired behaviours are recommended. Behaviour modification is recommended but needs to be performed below the threshold that would induce distress, anxiety or fear.
- Multiple studies have shown that shock collars have a negative impact on a dog’s welfare and long-term behaviour (10-15). Their use is banned in the United Kingdom, several countries in the European Union, parts of Australia, and the province of Quebec. By their very nature they are aversive devices and cannot be used below the threshold which would induce distress, anxiety or fear and as such cannot be considered a humane method. Humane alternatives should always be used. For example, collars which vibrate or produce a sound can be effective training tools, provided that the feature is never paired with an aversive stimulus.
- Non-remote shock collars associated with electronic fencing systems, are provisionally acceptable under some circumstances. They 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, and only when the dog is properly trained. The level of applied stimulus must be only just enough to produce the desired effect, and the system must be regularly monitored to ensure it is functioning correctly. 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, therefore it is not appropriate for all dogs.
- The CVMA supports the use of pharmaceuticals, where appropriate, to reduce fear and anxiety and improve learning. Pharmaceuticals must only be recommended and prescribed by veterinary professionals. Pharmaceuticals are rarely the sole method of treatment of behaviour problems and, in most cases, must be used in conjunction with appropriate behaviour modification techniques.
- The CVMA supports the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists position statement Humane, Effective and Evidence Based Training, which can be found in the resources.
- The CVMA supports the development of a national certifying body to establish acceptable standards for accreditation of all dog trainers. The standards should be based on humane training methods that are evidence-based and reward-based. Currently, qualifications are highly variable, and are not required to advertise oneself as a dog trainer or canine behaviourist. This inconsistency leads to difficulty with assessment of trainers and their methods.
- When considering hiring a dog trainer, in the absence of national certification, owners should ensure that their methods are based on positive reinforcement and that aversive methods or devices are never used.
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- Humane Canada. Cats in Canada (2017). Available from: https://humanecanada.ca/our-work/focus-areas/companionanimals/cats-in-canada-2017-a-five-year-review-of-cat-overpopulation/.
- Clark GI, Boyer WN. The effects of dog obedience training and behavioural counselling upon the human-canine relationship. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 1993;37(2):147-159. Available from: https://habricentral.org/resources/10113.
- Bennett PC, Rohlf VI. Owner-companion dog interactions: Relationships between demographic variables, potentially problematic behaviours, training engagement and shared activities. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2007;102(1-2):65-84. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Vanessa_Rohlf/publication/240622558_Owner-companion_dog_interactions_Relationship_between_demographic_variables_potentially_problematic_behaviours_training_engagement_and_shared_activities/links/02e7e528eb9d2cdcd2000000/Owner-companion-dog-interactions-Relationship-between-demographic-variables-potentially-problematic-behaviours-training-engagement-and-shared-activities.pdf.
- Overall K. Normal canine behaviour and ontogeny: neurological and social development, signaling and normal canine behaviors. In: Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. Mosby-Year Book Inc. 2013;122-161.
- 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. Available from: https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/publications/training-methods-and-owner-dog-interactions-links-with-dog-behavi.
- 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. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1558787807002766?via%3Dihub.
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- Cooper J, Cracknell N, Hardiman J, Wright H and Mills D. The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training. PLoS ONE 9(9): e102722. Available from: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0102722.
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