The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research scientists dedicated to improving the lives of animals and people through an understanding of animal behavior. – AVSAB website
“An understanding of animal behavior…” One of the frustrations of every positive reinforcement trainer, vet, or behaviorist, is the lack of understanding about animal behavior that guides and mis-informs animal professionals as well as the general public. Additionally, many people do not understand the many differences between positive reinforcement and punishment based training methods and their respective consequences. I have written about the repercussions of punishment/aggressive training methods, but it bears repeating that punishment will, in the vast majority of cases, make the situation worse, not better, and will likely add another layer of issues to the existing problem.
According to the AVSAB’s position paper, Guidelines on the Use of Punishment for Dealing with Behavior Problems in Animals:
The adverse effects of punishment and the difficulties in administering punishment effectively have been well documented…For instance, electronic anti-bark collars can cause burn marks on dogs. Choke chains can damage the trachea, increase intraocular pressure in dogs thus potentially worsening or contributing to glaucoma in susceptible breeds, cause sudden collapse from non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema (water in the lungs) due to temporary upper airway obstruction, and cause nerve damage. The risk of damage is greater when the choke chain sits high on the dog’s neck.
Problems can arise behaviorally as well when punishment is used to curb or correct an undesirable behavior:
Punishment can suppress aggressive and fearful behavior when used effectively, but it may not change the underlying cause of the behavior…As a result, if the animal faces a situation where it is extremely fearful, it may suddenly act with heightened aggression and with fewer warning signs. In other words, it may now attack more aggressively or with no warning, making it much more dangerous.
This position paper on punishment based methods not only clarifies the consequences associated with punishment but provides clear definitions of terms, cites several studies, and provides further reading. It is only one of several well written and informative position papers. The other papers are:
All of these position statements serve to explain and inform the reader about the issue in understandable terms. Where needed, they also provide clear explanations of terms and resources for further reading. The AVSAB website also has a search for “Behavior Consults Near You” so you can find an AVSAB member who is “an AVSAB member veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, or PhD behaviorist who accepts animal behavior cases in your area.”
The purpose of AVSAB is to educate animal professionals and lay people alike, to provide the resources necessary to promote humane treatment, as well as being “committed to improving the quality of life of all animals and strengthening the bond between animals and their owners.” (AVSAB website).
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