*Dog comes in for straight up attacking his owner several times. I’m told it’s always over food and he’s a severe guarder.*
* I cautiously meet this dog and begin caring for him. He’s super weird around food alright…but he’s definitely not guarding
*get suspicious and comb through the paperwork….sure enough. Buried deep is a shock collar history. He’s terrified when food is present.
His owners loved him and trusted a “trainer” who told them to use this method for previous mild guarding. Please trust your gut when hiring a trainer, if it feels wrong it probably is. (tip: Cesar Millan is aversive as fuuck. If they use the word dominance a lot or mention him as someone they like…personally I’d be running in the other direction.) Aversive methods are like playing with fire. If you shock your dog/use other aversive methods…even if you have perfect timing 100% of the time (which few average pet owners understand and even those who do are inevitably going to mess up sometimes) you have zero control over what your dog is associating the punishment with. Even in well meaning situations:take rattlesnake aversion training. Trainers wanted to use shock collars to train dogs to avoid rattlesnakes on hikes. Potentially life or death situation…so it seems legit to use any means necessary to protect your dog, no? So they had classes where they shocked the dog for looking at the rattlesnake. Straight forward operant conditioning. Problem is that training never happens in a vacuum. Dogs in the class started getting reactive towards other dogs and people….because when the shock happened they were thinking about that person over there or that dog on the other side even though their head was turned toward the snake. So they started to think “dog=pain, person=pain”. So we can think “oh I’ll shock my dog for growling at me over food and he’ll realize he shouldn’t do that” but two things often happen as is the case with the dog above 1.) he associates pain with food and with you…not his guarding 2.) dogs are not being taught to not guard, they simply learn that if they give a warning something bad will happen, so they stop signalling and go straight for the bite. It’s very natural for dogs to signal. If a dog isn’t signaling he’s going to bite I know I’ve either 1.) missed a signal 2.) his fear threshold is so low he cannot offer many signals before feeling the need to bite. Or 3.) He’s been punished for signalling. Another thing that often comes up with aversive methods is you hear “he was doing so well and then he just…exploded!!”. Dogs when confronted with aversives often just suppress themselves to avoid the pain, which is what’s called “learned helplessness.” But they can only suppress themselves for so long and then you’ll see the behavior return with more intensity than before.
CAN aversive methods get the result you want? On the right dog, sure. But even if I wasn’t against using pain/force to control our pets (which make no mistakes, I am) clicker training and rewards with pain free consequence training is pretty much the bomb and believe me…if someone gave me a buck every time I did what they asked I’d do it with a smile on my face…and I’d probably think they were pretty cool too.