Aversives: A Fancy Word for “Ouch”

A friend of mine sent me a link to the website of the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals.

Lots of big words on AABP’s site, but check out their general statement, which pertains mostly to dog trainers. I’ve bolded the parts that I thought were awe inspiring. How very cool would it be if we had something like this for horse trainers.

Before you read it, I needed to enlist the help of Merriam Webster with defining a word not commonly heard in the horse world:

Aversive: tending to avoid, or causing avoidance of a noxious or punishing stimulus.

Here’s their stance and their statement:

The AABP and its Members recognize the following two principles (the first, philosophical, the second, empirical):

1. The dignity and autonomy of the sentient learner, no matter what species they belong to, deserves respect.

2. Non-aversive methods are generally more effective than highly intrusive methods. Positive-reinforcement-based methods are the most effective and efficient, and least risky and harmful methods to use in animal training and behavior change programming, and most conducive to facilitating the human-animal bond. Aversive stimulation-based methods are generally inefficient, counterproductive, risk serious harm and are the most likely methods to deteriorate the human-animal bond.

Consequently, the AABP and its Members adopt the ethical stance that the Least Intrusive Effective Behavior Interventions (LIEBI) be utilized as a guiding principle in constructing behavior change programs.

Under all but the most rare and extreme circumstances, and only in adherence with the LIEBI model, AABP and its Members do not condone or endorse the use of aversive tools such as, but not limited to choke chains, prong collars, electronic invisible fencing or electronic shock-collars. Nor do we condone or endorse the use of aversive methods such as but not limited to leash corrections, helicoptering, hanging, alpha-rolling, scruff-shaking, spraying the animal in the face with fluid, throwing things at the animal, hitting in any way or otherwise creating fear or pain in animals in contravention of the LIEBI principle.

If guidelines like this exist for dogs, why can’t we establish something like this for horses? Horses are sentient learners, so don’t they also deserve respect? My major life question at this point is:

Why are horses the lucky creatures who get to be trained primarily with aversives?

Most every training tool in a horses environment is based on achieving the behavior through avoidance. In almost every interaction with a human, a horse is guided through pressure. Then the horse simply reacts to avoid the pressure. If the horse doesn’t react fast enough, you can bet the noxious or punishing stimulus is next.

I know, I know.  This is the way it’s always been done and it works. But does it make it right?

I have a sneaking suspicion that horses are unique creatures and that they speak two languages. They can speak force/aversion and they can speak attraction/non-aversion. I think the choice then becomes ours. What language do we want to speak?

I think I know which one the horse would vote for.



5 thoughts on “Aversives: A Fancy Word for “Ouch”

  1. very nice.

    The AVSAB has a decent statement on punishment, but it’s not nearly as strongly worded as that one (http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/images/stories/avsab%20postion%20s%8Ant210.15.07-1.pdf)

    However, AVSAB does have a really good statement explaining the use and misuse of dominance theory (mostly about dogs). (http://www.apdt.com.au/files/dominancestatement.pdf)

    The dog world was on a nice strong movement towards clicker training and positive reinforcement, but I fear that movement forward is struggling due to the popularity of trainers such as Cesar Millian.


    • Hi Mary,
      As always I look forward to your insight. Did you see that the aforementioned dog trainer and a popular natural horsemanship trainer were doing a TV appearance together?

      It’s my firm belief that because of the power of positive reinforcement training, it’s ease, and effectiveness, that it will gain momentum simply because it works and makes the recipients of it so happy.

      I think once folks start to get a taste of how wonderful it is to train in an atmosphere of attraction, there will be no turning back. I think it’s an exciting time.

      Thanks again!

      • I think change is happening, which is exciting. Many zoos and also much of the dog world (especially professionals) have embraced clicker training.

        I think the horse world is very slowly following.

        I think there are broad changes in philosophy and culture that need to occur before we can completely embrace positive training. The ways we as a culture look at concepts such as order and obedience influences how we train and why we train the way we do.

        You might also enjoy this article about oprah, Millian, cultural perception of training:


  2. You should be proud! Now can we establish something similar for all creatures, humans included?! I do think the world is hungry for alternative methods of treatment. Your group is leading the way. THANK YOU!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s