In recent years, the dog training community has seen a surge in the use of a controversial method known as “Air Jail.”

As videos on social media platforms (like TikTok) make the rounds, dog owners and trainers alike are taking note of this trend, sparking a significant debate. But what exactly is “Air Jail”? At its core, this so called “training method” involves restraining a dog in the air to curb unwanted behavior, often related to aggression or non-compliance. The dog, (sometimes hoisted by a harness or leash, which is crazy dangerous), is suspended off the ground, theoretically to halt any negative actions immediately, or suspended until they stop the undesired behavior.

While some tout “Air Jail” as an effective way to manage particularly unruly dogs or to ensure the safety of others during training sessions, a growing chorus of dog trainers and animal welfare advocates are raising concerns. Critics argue that “Air Jail” can exacerbate a dog’s aggressive behavior or lead to serious behavioral problems, questioning the ethics and effectiveness of such a method. Given the wide spectrum of dog training philosophies, from positive reinforcement training to more punitive measures like shock collars, “Air Jail” sits at a contentious crossroads

This divide among professionals isn’t just about differing training methods; it’s a reflection of the broader discourse on what constitutes responsible and humane treatment of animals. As dog owners seek the best for their beloved canine companions, from labrador retrievers to pit bulls, understanding the nuances of “Air Jail” and its implications is crucial. This piece aims to dissect the layered controversy surrounding “Air Jail,” offering insights into why some professionals are urging dog owners to reconsider its use and explore alternative strategies for managing their dog’s unwanted behavior.

What is “Air Jail”?

“Air Jail” is a contentious dog training method that has gained attention, notably on platforms like TikTok, where “dog trainers”, daycare facilities and owners share their techniques for managing bad behavior. The method involves lifting a dog off the ground, usually in arms, to temporarily immobilize them. This suspension, or “jail” in the air, is intended to stop unwanted behaviors in their tracks by putting the dog in a position where they are unable to continue the behavior.

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Detailed Explanation of the “Air Jail” Method

The mechanics of “Air Jail” are relatively straightforward yet controversial. When a dog exhibits an undesirable action, such as aggressive behavior towards people or other dogs, jumping on guests, humping dogs at daycare, or being unruly at home or in public places like the dog park, the handler picks up their dog and holds them in the air until they’re calm. This can last for a few seconds to several minutes, depending on the dog’s response. The underlying idea is to remove their access to the ground, confuse them and essentially force them to comply because most dogs don’t like being picked up.

Purpose and Alleged Benefits

Proponents of “Air Jail” claim it serves multiple purposes. Primarily, it’s seen as an immediate method to stop dangerous behaviors, especially in situations that could compromise the safety of others or the dog itself. Supporters argue that its effectiveness lies in its ability to provide a clear and instant consequence for bad behavior, which, theoretically, helps the dog learn to avoid these actions in the future. It’s heralded for its potential to address serious behavioral problems without resorting to harsh physical punishment like shock collars or choke collars.

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Common Situations Where “Air Jail” is Used

“Air Jail” is reportedly used in a variety of scenarios, often as a last resort. It may be employed in training sessions or daycare environments where a dog becomes too aggressive or excited, posing a risk to other dogs, trainers, or itself.

Some dog owners might use it to manage an unruly dog that struggles with listening to commands, especially in high-stimulation environments such as the dog park or in presence of small children and young puppies. It’s also cited as a method for handling dogs that have not responded to other training methods, including extensive training techniques aimed at correcting aggressive behavior or ensuring good behavior in adult dogs and service animals.

While “Air Jail” is touted by some for its utility in certain tough training situations, the method is not without its controversy and criticism. As we delve deeper into the method’s implications and explore alternative approaches, it becomes clear that dog training is a complex field with the well-being of our canine friends at its heart.

Why Professionals Advise Against ‘Air Jail’

There’s a growing trend now… whilst previously it was initially done for comedic value on Tiktok, it is now tricking into canine care generally. 

While “Air Jail” has been adopted by some dog owners and trainers as a tactic for immediate behavior correction, a significant number of professionals in the animal welfare and vet behavioral fields strongly caution against its use. The crux of their concern lies not only in the immediate implications for the dog but also in the long-term effects on the animal’s physical and psychological well-being.

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1 – Aversion To Being Picked Up

Guess what? If you pick up your dog as a method of punishment, your dog is going to associate being picked up with a bad thing — which means (simply put) that your dog is going to create a strong negative association with being picked up. So when you’re at the vets? Or getting in a car? Or if they’re in pain and you have to pick them up — your dog is going to think that you’re punishing them, meaning they may develop fears and negative associations with cars, vets, or escalate to a bite. Which, when your dog’s head is at face level – that’s how we get bites “out of the blue”.

2 – Physical and Psychological Implications for Dogs

Experts argue that “Air Jail” can induce a spectrum of negative outcomes. Physically, the act of lifting a dog off the ground might pose a risk of injury, especially in large breeds like Labrador Retrievers or breeds with pre-existing conditions. More subtly, the psychological stress induced by such an act can be profound. Dogs, much like humans, can experience panic attacks and heightened stress levels when placed in positions of vulnerability – and freezing is one of their responses to fear which “air jail” takes advantage of. This stress can exacerbate aggressive behavior rather than mitigate it, potentially leading to a vicious cycle of bad behavior and punishment.

Moreover, the method’s focus on punishment can undermine the trust and bond between a dog and its owner or trainer, crucial elements for effective training and companionship. A dog subjected to “Air Jail” might associate their handler with fear and discomfort, complicating future training sessions and possibly leading to serious behavioral problems.

3 – Opinion and Findings from Veterinary Behaviorists and Dog Trainers

Many veterinary behaviorists and professional dog trainers champion methods that encourage good behavior through positive reinforcement rather than punishing the bad. They argue that understanding a dog’s body language and the underlying causes of behaviors like aggression is essential. For instance, what might be interpreted as a need for “Air Jail” could stem from improper long line corrections, lack of socialization, or the dog’s past experiences with animal abuse.

Their findings suggest that techniques focusing on positive reinforcement training not only yield long-term behavior modification but also promote a healthy relationship between the dog and its handler. These methods encourage cooperation rather than fear, enabling dogs to become well-adjusted pets and, in some cases, effective assistance animals or service dog teams.

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4 – Comparison with Other Controversial Training Methods

“Air Jail” is often grouped with other debated training methods such as the use of shock collars, choke collars, or electronic collars. The common thread among these techniques is the emphasis on aversive stimuli to curb unwanted behavior with the use of punishment.

However, an increasing body of evidence from animal welfare organizations and veterinary associations points to the adverse effects these methods can have on a dog’s mental health and the potential for exacerbating aggressive or unruly behavior. In contrast, dog training programs that rely on positive reinforcement, patience, and understanding are shown to foster good behavior, confidence, and a strong bond between dogs and their owners, offering a starkly different outcome from the divisive “Air Jail” method.

Understanding Dog Behavior and Effective Training

To fully comprehend why methods such as “Air Jail” are considered counterproductive and possibly detrimental, we must delve into the basic principles of dog behavior and how dogs learn. This knowledge will also shed light on alternative training methods that encourage good behavior without resorting to aversive techniques.

Basic Principles of Dog Behavior

A dog’s behavior can be influenced by various factors ranging from its breed and age to experiences, training, and socialization. For instance, young puppies are naturally more playful and may exhibit behaviors that might seem “aggressive,” such as nipping or jumping, but these are essential parts of their development. Moreover, a dog’s unwanted behavior could be a result of its environment, past traumatic experiences, or health conditions, which require understanding and tailored responses rather than punitive measures.

Body language plays a pivotal role in canine communication. By understanding signs like tail wagging, baring teeth, or raised hair, dog handlers can better comprehend their pets’ emotions, helping them manage situations more effectively without resorting to controversial tactics like “Air Jail.”

How Dogs Learn and the Effectiveness of Positive Reinforcement vs. Punishment

Dogs, similar to humans and other animals, learn through the cause-effect process (the scientific theories are the Pavlovian Classical conditioning and Skinner’s Operant conditioning) They associate actions with outcomes, frequently utilizing positive experiences and outcomes to govern future behavior. This is where the concept of positive reinforcement training emerges.

In positive reinforcement training, desired behaviors are rewarded, making the dog more likely to repeat them. This could include praises, treats, or a favorite toy. On the other end of the spectrum, punishing a dog can instill fear and anxiety, leading to a myriad of other issues such as increased aggression, fear-based reactions, and a breakdown in the trust between dog and owner.

Many animal behavior experts argue that positive reinforcement training sets a foundation for a more trusting and respectful relationship. This method promotes good behavior by ensuring that the dog perceives compliance and obedient actions as favorable activities that lead to good things. Compared to punishment-based training, positive reinforcement can lead to more confidence in dogs, better mutual understanding, and a stronger bond between pets and their owners.

While it can be challenging dealing with a beloved dog that displays serious behavioral problems, striving to understand why the dog is behaving in such a manner and opting for humane and evidence-based training strategies can pave the way for a more harmonious relationship – without resorting to hotly-debated and potentially harmful methods such as “Air Jail.”

Humane Alternatives to ‘Air Jail’

Despite the controversy surrounding “Air Jail,” dog owners seeking to manage their pet’s behavior have several effective, humane alternatives. Not only do these methods emphasize understanding and cooperation over punishment, but they also promote a positive relationship between dogs and their owners.

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Detailed Exploration of Alternative Training Methods

Positive Reinforcement Training: As touched on earlier, positive reinforcement training focuses on rewarding desired behaviors. For example, if a dog stays calm when a guest arrives, they could be rewarded with a treat or praise, thus incentivizing such behavior in the future.

Clicker Training: A method used frequently in positive reinforcement training, clicker training utilizes a small device that emits a distinct click sound. The click sound soon becomes a signal for the dog that they’ve done something good, eventually serving as a reward itself. Clicker training can be effective in teaching dogs new commands and curbing bad behaviors.

Use of Distractions: If a dog is particularly focused on something, which might result in jumping or excessive barking, using a distraction can help divert their attention. This might be a favourite toy, aromas, or even training puzzles with hidden treats.

Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT): This technique involves using controlled scenarios to lessen a dog’s reactiveness or aggression. Gradually, the dog is exposed to their trigger at a distance where they remain calm, then rewarded for their calm behavior.

Expert Tips for Addressing Specific Behaviors without Resorting to “Air Jail”

Managing aggression is often the common reason some resort to “Air Jail.” Instead, positive interaction strategies involving gradual desensitization and socialization can be more effective and build confidence in dogs over time.

For instance, if the dog appears aggressive toward strangers, incrementally introducing them to new people in a controlled environment can help them become more comfortable. It’s also essential to read your dog’s body language to identify any signs of discomfort and react accordingly. For dogs that get over-excited at meal times or during play, implementing periodical breaks and redirecting their attention onto calming activities might help manage this behavior.

Although a stubborn dog might be challenging to train, patience is key. Along with these training methods, it’s equally essential to provide a consistent schedule, adequate exercise, and socialization opportunities for your dog. Also, consulting with a certified dog trainer or animal behaviorist can provide further professional assistance, ensuring a healthy, happy relationship with your dog without resorting to trendy but harmful methods like “Air Jail.”

Conclusion

The method of “Air Jail,” despite gaining some traction among certain dog owners and trainers, comes with considerable drawbacks that can negatively impact a dog’s physical safety, psychological health, and the overall relationship between the dog and its handler. The physical risks of injury, compounded by the potential for increased anxiety and aggression, make “Air Jail” a contentious and harmful approach that’s simply been made “popular” by social media.

Understanding the nuances of dog behavior underscores the importance of fostering a positive and respectful relationship between dogs and their owners.

This understanding, combined with a commitment to humane training methods, highlights the efficacy of positive reinforcement, clicker training, behavior adjustment training, and other gentle approaches. These methods not only effectively address undesirable behaviors but also enrich the bond between you and your dog, making the training process a constructive and enjoyable experience.

As we move forward, the encouragement to explore alternative, humane methods of training cannot be overstated. The wellbeing of our canine companions depends significantly on our willingness to engage with responsible and informed dog training practices. Thus, the call to action for dog owners and the training community is clear: Prioritize methods that nurture and respect the animal’s psyche and physical condition. By doing so, we contribute to a more compassionate and understanding environment that recognizes dogs as sentient beings deserving of our patience, love, and guidance. Making the shift to positive, reward-based training methods reflects not only on our affection for our pets but also on our commitment to their long-term happiness and health.

Author, Ali Smith

Ali Smith is a professional, qualified, and multi-award winning trainer is the founder of rebarkable. She has always believed animals deserve kindness and champions force free methods. Believing that dog guardians will all choose the kindest options if proper information is provided, she aims to help all dog guardians who need it and make dog training as accessible as possible

Ali lives win Maryland, US with her husband and her three dogs.

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