Please click on the tabs to go to a subject

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pitfalls of Physical Manipulation in Dog Training

When we use luring, capturing, or shaping ( all hands off), followed by a treat to teach a behavior like sit, we are using positive reinforcement - much more pleasurable for the dog than using something aversive.

In his Handbook of Applied Behavior Steven Lindsay writes that when we use physical manipulation to get a dog to sit, the dog is sitting to avoid being pushed on  - less pleasurable for the dog.

In his book, Before and After Getting Your New Puppy, Ian Dunbar suggests that all training be "hands off"

In her book Reaching the Animal Mind, Karen Pryor writes about a study where volunteers used very gentle physical manipulation but they couldn't complete the study because the volunteers felt so bad for the dogs. The volunteers noticed a lot of calming signals from the dogs.

In her book, Scardey Dog, author Ali Brown writes “The more you help your dog, the stupider you teach him to be. That means let him figure it out.” The dog learns better when he/she has to figure out what you want.

1. If the training is positive (like with lures and treats) the dog will maintain those positive associations. Which comes in handy when you ask your dog to perform around other dogs. If your dog gets tense around other dogs, you might ask your dog for a sit. If sit was taught using aversive means, the dog might associate aversion with the other dog and get more tense rather than less tense. If sit was taught using positive means, asking your dog for a sit might distract your dog and easily diffuse a tense situation.  

2. Pushing or pulling on a dog invokes the dog’s opposition reflex. It’s natural for the dog to push against any force that is pushing on him/her. So as the dog resists, the human has to push and/or pull harder and harder.

3. A dog could be injured when physical manipulation is used. Pushing or tugging on a dog could cause knee, hip or spinal injury in a normal dog. Not to mention a dog who might already have some physical issues.
a. If a dog won’t sit or lay down for you, it might be because it is painful or difficult for him/her. Or it might be because he/she is nervous and feeling vulnerable.

4. Pushing, pulling on a nervous dog or a dog in pain might cause the dog to bite. 

More references:

From Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out: Training Crazy Dogs from Over the Top to Under Control by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

"Many humans think physical manipulation of a dog is probably no big deal, compared to pinch collars or electric shock — but to many dogs, particularly anxious dogs, it can be very aversive. Quite often handlers are surprised to learn their cues are poisoned, but the difference in response tells the tale!"

From The Culture Clash: A Revolutionary New Way to Understanding the Relationship Between Humans and Domestic Dogs by Jean Donaldson
"Not only is it aversive to squish dogs into sits and downs, strangle them into heeling, and jerk them towards you with leashes to obtain approaches, the dog is made a passive victim of the training rather than an active participant, and so learning is slower."

From The Thinking Dog: Crossover to Clicker Training (Dogwise Training Manual) by Gail Tamases Fisher
"From a learning perspective, even gentle physical handling of your dog is unhelpful. Since there's no advantage to physical manipulation for training behaviors, I can't think of a reason to use it."

"Physical touch masks learning and prolongs the process, making molding an inefficient approach for teaching behavior. Methods that employ molding generally require dozens of repetitions for the dog to recognize the behavior being trained. Further, any role the trainer plays in physically achieving a behavior will have to be faded-a process of gradually and progressively weaning the dog off the help."

From Behavior Problems in Dogs by William E. Campbell
"Pushing down on its rump, holding, or otherwise manipulating the pet must be avoided. Physical force is at the root of most submissive behavior and interferes with effective learning."

Email general questions or comments to
Replies might be shared on this blog but names will be changed or left out.

Follow us on Facebook at or

No comments:

Post a Comment