Yesterday, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers revealed the electronic collar survey it spent the whole summer developing.

It boasts a total of 16 questions, mainly geared toward gauging opinions on electronic collar training.

A brief letter accompanying the survey described its purpose thusly:

The board of directors is in the process of reviewing the Dog Training and Behavior Practices Policy and investigating a motion prohibiting the use of Electronic Training Collars by our certificants.

In an effort to develop a stronger position on this sensitive topic, the CCPDT has issued a survey, and will be holding a call for supplementary materials through October 20, 2013.

Measuring Perceptions v. Measuring Facts

The push to develop a “stronger position” on electronic collars apparently came together at the CCPDT’s May Board meeting, spurring the creation of a task force chaired by Vice President Shawn Smith and announced in the July 1st issue of CCPDT’s newsletter.

One might ask how an uncontrolled, anonymous survey will effect the policies of an organization nominally committed to science-based practices.

Or why more legitimate steps to gather information about current electronic collar equipment and training practices are not being taken.

Of course, the CCPDT is not merely soliciting random anonymous opinions. They are also looking at science, including all available literature on electronic collar training.

And that would be entirely sufficient if the goal of the task force were to determine whether graduate students should be allowed to use electronic training collars in pursuit of their behavior science degrees.

But that’s not the question under consideration.

It’s whether certified professional trainers should be allowed to use them, which would seem to call for an investigation of how certified professional trainers do use them (or at least might, if they weren’t continually discouraged from educating themselves beyond the most politically correct tools and quadrants).

Why has there been no call for case studies over the several months since it was decided that the CCPDT should “develop a stronger position” on electronic collars?

If the goal is to assess whether, or under what circumstances, pro trainers are using these tools humanely and effectively, you need to examine their methods and results, not just those of a tiny handful of graduate students.

Like it or not, the entire known body of scientific literature on electronic collar training is meager in volume, myopic in scope, and mainly outdated. In addition, most studies have inarguable (and widely acknowledged) methodological weaknesses.

Science begins with observation, not opinion polls. If the CCPDT intends its policies to have any weight or legitimacy beyond that faction of trainers who want electronic collars banned no matter what, it needs to make a good-faith effort to collect relevant information on current electronic collar protocols and practices.

Instead, we see the CCPDT focusing its energies on measuring perceptions.

So, in the context of developing a stronger position on electronic collars, does ”stronger” mean better informed or simply more radical?

Take the survey and decide for yourself.

NOTE: The below survey is intended exclusively for dog training and behavior professionals. If you do not work professionally with dogs, either as a trainer or behavior consultant, please do not take the survey.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2013.

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As you might imagine, dog trainers are not known for their love of humanity.

They love dogs, or even animals generally. They love the challenge. They love the craft. But they do not necessarily love you, the client. And if it helps at all, they don’t love each other any better.

Add to this a decade of dog training “reality” shows that tend to mislead the general public as to what it is we really do, how long it really takes, and what the result should finally look like.

Should it come as any surprise to us when a client confidently orders up a side of spaghetti with her risotto? [Yes, another cooking analogy.]

Still, dog trainers stew endlessly over having to cope with such random and occasionally distasteful expectations, and frequently suffer offense when our labor or advice goes unappreciated. Meanwhile, our clients wind up feeling underserved or disappointed, because at the end of the day, either their personal wishes were not honored or their needs were simply not met.

Recently, a question was raised on several trainer lists regarding the ethics of squaring a client’s perceived needs with what the trainer deems appropriate to offer, including whether it’s somehow harmful to our profession to discount our usual services in order to meet a client’s stated budget.

Various strategies for resolving this conflict were offered up, some of which will appear in an upcoming feature on Professional Ethics in the APDT Chronicle (part 4 of series by Marjie Alonso).

The discussion brought to mind what an architect client once told me. In his negotiations with clients, he explains that every project has three major variables. These are cost, quality, and scope. He then explains that one may control any two of those, as long as one sacrifices control over the third.

This encourages an honest and practical discussion of priorities, as you can imagine. And of course, the architect reserves the right to pass on any job that offends his personal sensibilities.

I think in an ideal world, a trainer’s negotiations with his clients would run along similar lines. There would be transparency regarding different options, and the opportunity to engage in a frank discussion of priorities and costs.

Maybe we end up substituting crab for lobster or serving up a smaller portion; maybe we convince the client to splurge after pointing his attention to the bliss being enjoyed at surrounding tables; maybe we even pour a free cocktail to make up for not serving the Cesar salad.

And if despite our best efforts to cajole or educate, the client insists on a side of french fries and a bottle of ketchup with his seafood risotto, we can always send him along to the nearest MacDonalds.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2013.

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Ever noticed something, then convinced yourself you must be imagining it?

That was my situation early on with regard to this dog’s eyeball, which began its mysterious and disturbing evolution from normal size to twice normal size some time last year.

Once I came to grips with the fact Sparta’s right eye was bigger than his left, I entered the next phase of denial, pretending I wasn’t totally sure of this. This was followed by a smooth transition into telling myself it might just go away.

Mind you, Sparta had been receiving treatment for eye irritation for a couple of years by this time, ever since he’d begun waking up squinty here and there. An ongoing regimen of eyedrops had apparently relieved the irritation, but meanwhile, that right eye was steadily becoming enlarged.

Last month, I bit the bullet and took him in to have it looked at (vet exams have historically been non-trivial ordeals for this dog, so the notion of even a relatively casual eye exam was somewhat off-putting).

As it happened, he was surprisingly cooperative, and my vet seemed impressed, partly by his behavior and mainly, of course, by his crazy giant eye. He confirmed it was not glaucomic, and took a good-natured stab at persuading me to let an ophthalmologist examine him, just because it would be more intellectually satisfying to know what the hell was going on in there.

In the end, I passed on the visit to a specialist (not inexpensive, and not gonna fix the problem). I opted instead to remove the eye, which should alleviate any discomfort connected with the swelling, and eliminate the needs for drops going forward.

Still, I thought it worth documenting Sparta’s buphthalmic eye. I understand it’s a rare condition, or at least that such a striking expression of it is unusual.

Sparta pre-surgery

Buphthalmic eye

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2013.


For decades, killer whales have been held up as poster children for the power of positive reinforcement and applied operant conditioning generally to produce reliable behavior without the use of force. Yet they suffer lives of abject deprivation, if not actual psychosis.

The maiden post to this blog was in response to the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau at Sea World’s Orlando park. It was the third death associated with the bull orca Tilikum, known to tourists as Shamu.

The newly released documentary Blackfish tells Tilikum’s story, and sheds light on the atrocities behind all those uplifting and profitable Sea World performances. For the record, I have not yet seen the film, but I’d hazard a guess that the message is that the magical relationship humans have achieved with these majestic creatures only seems magical to us.

To them, it is a tour of captivity, isolation, and abuse, no matter how many buckets of fish get tossed down their throats. Click here to listen to Jean-Michel Cousteau’s statement on keeping orcas for fun and profit.

Positive reinforcement based operant conditioning has proven utility both within and without the confines of zoos and amusement parks. I don’t deny that. Neither would I suggest that positive reinforcement was itself unethical. But I deny the legitimacy of extending the analogy between dogs and killer whales to the point of suggesting the best tools for engaging the latter must also be the best choice for training the former. And in so far as the management involved in captive marine mammal training is in fact abusive, there is real danger associated with modeling dog training after their example.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2013.

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When Worlds Collide


Not making this up. It’s a remote electronic collar with a clicker built in.

It’s the latest addition to Dogtra’s iQ Pet line, which includes the iQ Remote Trainer and the iQ No Bark collar.

iQ CliQ

Madness, I know. Or is it?

I’m in favor of anything that breaks down barriers between nominally opposing methodologies, and like the idea of giving pet owners a tool with which to lay a positive foundation before beginning remote collar work.

Dogtra also asked me to contribute training advice to be included in the product manual and online, a great opportunity but also a challenge, given space constraints.

On the one hand, the chance to influence how pet owners use this product was impossible to refuse. On the other, condensing nominally thorough introductions to clicker work and remote collar training into a pair of very brief articles meant to constitute a simple and cohesive system of training– well, my head did actually explode at one point.

Happily, I was able to reach out to a few trainers I trust for editorial support (pretty key, as I’m not well known for my brevity). You know who you are and I owe you one.

So, what did I consider the most critical information for someone purchasing this equipment? You’ll have to buy an iQ CliQ to find out!


You’ll be able to find the CliQ manual online once the product is officially released.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2013.

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