We hear a great deal of information and a great many widely varied opinions of what, exactly, ‘aversive’ and ‘non-aversive’ mean when applied to training a puppy. So, we asked Cathy Madson to clarify. After all, part of our Maple Hill Doodles application process is directly concerned with just how willing a family will be to align with our position on training. It’s so important to recognize and remember that adopting one of our puppies, as a pet or as a Guardian dog, means that your family is whole-heartedly accepting that little fuzzball as a full-fledged Family Member, to be treated as such.

Cathy Madson training expert


Cathy Madson

Certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant


Click on this button to read Cathy’s entire original post, which triggered our idea to present her analysis of the differences (and similarities) between ‘aversive’ and ‘non-aversive’ training. Which is better to use in trainng your new family pet? Is there any reason to draw blood or break bones in training a war dog? There are so many opinions floating around that we wanted to ask an expert!

In successive newsletters, we’ll first provide a link to Cathy’s full blog post so you can read it as background (there’s a LOT of information there). Then we have some specific questions that we’ve asked Cathy to expand upon, presented as an interview-type situation.

But first: Here’s your therapeutic dose of ‘Awwww’ for the week. PUPPIES!

We don’t mean for you to be totally brain-stretched and stressed out ALL the time.

Are you doing the right thing for your new puppy? What about the destructive little things she does when your back is turned, like chewing your phone charging cord in half? Or having her play-biting misunderstood by the neighbor’s baby?  Be prepared. A new puppy is no different than a new child in your family. And she doesn’t know what to do or how to act yet, but you have to first show her. And that’s just the beginning.

So, enjoy these puppy baby pictures!

adorable Benny CavaDoodle

What does ‘aversive’ really mean? What about ‘non-aversive’? Is the difference really as clear cut as we’ve been led to believe?

The term ‘non-aversive’ requires careful consideration and understanding, especially in dog training. There’s a noticeable gap between what ‘non-aversive’ truly means and what some people, including some dog trainers, believe it to mean.

‘Non-aversive’ training fundamentally means employing methods that do not cause the dog fear, pain, or discomfort. It’s about using positive reinforcement strategies that encourage the dog to learn and exhibit desired behaviors by rewarding them rather than punishing them for undesirable behaviors. The goal is to create a learning environment that’s based on trust and respect, fostering a stronger bond between the dog and its handler.

Daisy Cavapoo guardian puppy Annie n Kirby 032724

However, there’s a pervasive misconception that as long as physical harm isn’t inflicted—such as drawing blood or breaking bones—the method doesn’t qualify as aversive. This is a concerning and fundamentally flawed perspective. Aversive training is not limited to extreme physical punishment. It includes any technique that uses intimidation, fear, or pain as motivators for behavior change.  This can range from yelling, leash jerking, to the use of shock collars. These methods might not leave a physical mark, but they can result in anxiety, fearfulness, and a breakdown in the relationship between the dog and its handler.

By definition, aversive training is using the addition of something the dog works to avoid or the removal of something the dog doesn’t like or finds unpleasant or painful through positive punishment or negative reinforcement. The dog is the one who decides what they find aversive. Some dogs may find the sound of a clicker unpleasant and startling, which can make that tool aversive. However, when deciding on what methods and tools to use, it’s important to identify those that are inherently aversive or made to cause discomfort or pain. While a clicker may be aversive to some dogs (and then easily replaced with a marker word), a prong collar is made to be aversive to all dogs simply by design.

use a harness instead of collar

The distinction you brought up between training a family dog and a war dog should not be as distinctive as we make it. Military or police dogs may undergo specialized training that prepares them for specific, high-stakes environments. And even then, the most effective training is the positive reinforcement method. Unfortunately, the culture of training military or police dogs is far behind what science has shown is most effective. Amazing trainers such as Steve White are working to change the methods used in training these dogs.

When it comes to family dogs, who are primarily companions, employing harsh, aversive methods is not just unnecessary; it’s counterproductive. Just as it is for military or police working dogs. Our goal should be to enhance our dogs’ lives with us, building their confidence and ensuring they’re well-adjusted members of our families and society. This is achieved through understanding, patience, and positive reinforcement techniques.

hidden dangers of invisible fencing

The debate isn’t about aversive versus non-aversive in the context of physical harm alone but rather about understanding dogs’ psychology and recognizing that they learn better in a positive, supportive environment. As trainers and dog guardians, we should be committed to methods that respect dogs’ physical and emotional well-being, avoiding those that may inflict harm, whether visible or not. Non-aversive training isn’t just an alternative approach; it’s a foundational principle that guides effective, humane, and ethical dog training.