Why You Don’t Want to Use Scary Tactics To Train Your Dog

Sue and Pete just can’t figure it out. Their once housetrained, calm dog has become psychotic. Dear Suzie is now peeing all over the house, cowers and shakes when the phone rings and goes into an absolute panic when the smoke detector starts tweeting when the battery is getting low.

Sharon’s dog Max used to love kids but now growls and lunges when he sees them in the distance.

Fritz the Labrador retriever used to love to play with other dogs. His owner can’t figure out why he almost killed at dog at the dog park the last time he was there.

My dog Reggie winces and screams when I throw a ball for him. He cringes when I pour his kibble into his metal food bowl.

Can you guess what these dogs have in common?


Quick fixes are so alluring when you’re training your dog. Perhaps you’ve seen the displays of shock collars and electric fencing systems in your local pet store. Maybe you read a dog training book that suggests that you throw a can of noisy rocks near your dog or spray him with a water to get him to stop jumping up and grabbing things off your counter.

The fact is, when you use scare tactics to attempt to train your dog, you can create problems you may never be able to remedy.

Let’s look at dear Suzie, the once-sweet dog who is now acting psychotic. In recent months, her family decided to install an electric fencing system. They followed the training protocol and taught her that the beep of her collar predicted that she’d get shocked if she proceeded across the property line. That made a big impression on Suzie. She only got shocked a couple of times but, now, has learned to stay within the boundaries of the yard. The problem is that other sounds are now reminding her of the beeping sound of the collar: the cell phone, the smoke detector, the buzzer on the dryer that signals the clothes are dry. Suzie no longer feels safe in the yard either. Last week, she was busy sniffing the trail of a neighbor’s dog that wandered through her yard (remember, the electronic fencing doesn’t keep the other dog out) and didn’t notice she was near the shock zone of the fence. As she trotted over to scent mark on the other dog’s urine mark, she got a whopping big shock. She no longer feels safe peeing outside.

You can guess what happened in the other scenarios. Fritz the Lab visited the dog park that is run by the lady who sells shock collars as a training device to teach a perfect recall. Dear Fritz had been shocked a whole year ago while playing with a dog at the park while the owner thought he was training him to come. Instead, Fritz associated the pain of the shock with the presence of the other dog. Now he becomes so anxious and aroused when he sees another dog that he’s ready to attack and bite to protect himself from another “shock attack.”

Sharon was worried that Max might overpower kids when she was walking him on a leash, so she’d tighten the leash and jerk Max into a sit position every time a child approached. Now Max gets nervous and defensive even when he sees a kid in the distance.

Reggie’s former owners probably followed the advice of one of their friends and rattled or threw a shake can, a can with a few stones in it, to stop behaviors they didn’t like when he was a pup. He still gets anxious and scared by sounds and movements that remind him of the scary can.

Aversive training methods, things that are scary to your dog and attempt to suppress his behavior, can always have fallout that you may never be able to reverse. Not only that, your dog may generalize his fear to other situations that you never imagined. Is it worth it to you to risk making your dog psychotic in your attempts to train him? Commit to positive reward-based training and management and you’ll foster a relationship that is built on caring and respect rather than fear and suppression.

Finding a Positive Trainer

Either you can get great advice on positive training methods by devouring the many great training books on the subject (www.dogwise.com ), or you can hire a training professional to give you guidance. If you’re looking for a trainer who is proven to be experienced and has done continuing education to stay versed in the field, you can check out these links:

For a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer (Have you seen her great show “it’s Me or the Dog”


Certified Professional Trainer:


Certified Clicker trainer:


Remember, you want to work as a partner with your dog. Training him using scary methods may suppress him into doing your will. Training him using positive methods will help him become a cooperative friend!

Beth Duman, CPDT-KA is a Victoria Stilwell Positively Trainer in Michigan. She’s one of the core trainers for Dog Scouts of America (www.dogscouts.org). Check out her web site @ www.EarthVoices.net . Watch for her training book, The Evolution of Charlie Darwin, to be released in about two months.