Remote Control

The Welsh Assembly announced a ban on electronic training collars last week, making Wales the first part of the United Kingdom to impose a ban on the devices. Caroline Kisko of the Kennel Club had this to say:

This is a historic day for animal welfare in Wales….it is truly leading the way and we hope that the rest of the UK will follow by example to outlaw these cruel and unnecessary devices.

There have been calls for similar bans on this side of the pond, where electronic training collars have been in use since the 1960′s. The collars certainly inspire a fair amount of vitriol both here and in Canada. To get a feel for the rhetoric involved, let’s visit a Canadian “anti-shock” website. Perusing the home page, one encounters a number of provocative statements, such as

The animal has no escape. Shock devices are used to control unwanted barking, jumping, running, socializing etc. Sadly, these are normal behaviours that healthy dogs will exhibit and that contribute to a dog’s well being and happiness.

The argument seems to be that the very idea of curtailing any of a dog’s natural behaviors is wrongheaded. Bad news for pretty much all of us.

As for how the collars “work”, the site explains,

The dog is…expected to respond out of fear of further punishment. The problem is many dogs don’t know why they are being shocked and consequently don’t know how to respond. Therefore, when the punishing shock is delivered it causes further confusion.

I need to interject here that fear and confusion do not play a role in any sound or effective training methodology.

Add to this, the potential for defective collars, the unstable vindictive nature of an operator and you’ve set the stage for serious animal abuse.

Personally, I’d tend to think that once “the unstable vindictive nature of an operator” was added to nearly anything, you’d have set the stage for abuse, but maybe I’m setting the bar too low.

Just in case the reader hasn’t caught on to the idea that people who use electronic collars are mean sons-of-bitches, or that perhaps human beings generally do not deserve to own dogs, the author of the site goes on to lament,

Watching their dog wince in pain doesn’t seem to deter them. They seem blind to the flood of information given by credible sources that shock is harmful. Ultimately, it is their degree of respect for living beings that determines if they can stomach hurting animals.

All human beings are volatile creatures. Consider the daily display of road rage for example. Is there a driver who hasn’t been given the finger or flashed one at someone else? Domestic violence, family squabbles, schoolyard bullying and hate crimes are all everyday occurrences. You are deceiving yourself if you believe that people in control of a weapon like a shock collar would not use it out of anger and frustration. After all, it is the frustrated dog owner who seeks out these devices. Most shock users agree that abuse is possible but each one feels they are the “responsible” one. The plain fact is, some people are not cut out to be pet owners.

Some people aren’t cut out to craft logical arguments, either. But we still allow them to set up their very own websites.

What civilized person would allow a painful tool to be used on their animal that they would not allow to be used on their child?

If I’m understanding that last bit correctly, I shouldn’t do anything to a dog I wouldn’t do to a child, begging the question of what if any training aids a civilized person might use, or even where one might house a dog or how one might lead it about (I don’t care what anyone says, those leashes they sell for kids are seriously creepy).

Worst of all, even the most civilized and responsible among us need be concerned about “unintentional rogue shocks caused by device malfunction”, of which the site states,

The outcome will be a dog with a broken spirit and a fear of expression. A dog transformed from joyful and loving to paranoid and unpredictable.

No sir, the decent folks of Canada wouldn’t want that.

I admit it is a bit unfair to poke fun at such baseless hyperbole, so let me explain why I picked this website (which incidentally has a photo insert of baby dolls with shock collars strapped around their necks on its home page) as a representation of “anti-shock” rhetoric. I chose it because a very well known dog trainer, the author of several books in fact (one of which I not only own but refer to occasionally), and an otherwise intelligent woman so far as I can tell, recommended it as a “good anti-shock website”.

For the record, I fully appreciate the revulsion people feel when contemplating animal abuse, and am not wholly unsympathetic to the discomfort many people have with the popularity of these devices. Nor do I deny their significant potential for misuse. Personally, I wince a little each time I pass by the electronic collar display at Pet Smart. But then, I wince at the display of retractable leashes and formaldehyde laden rawhides as well.

I likewise respect the desire to keep them out of the hands of bad people, or even well-intentioned but unknowledgeable people, on the basis of their capacity to do real harm when used unethically or unskillfully. And I will go so far as saying that there are legitimate arguments (not to say I am in agreement) to be made for restricting or regulating their sale, or at minimum discouraging their widespread and casual use.

But, I believe there are far more compelling arguments to be made for holding ourselves to a high level of discourse when discussing subjects as important as animal welfare and the rights of animal owners. Passion, even outrage, is understandable. But neither gives one license to make false claims and specious arguments. Failing, whether deliberately or not, to distinguish between abuse and responsible use is misleading; fear-mongering is never called for.

Perhaps it would be helpful to look to a more ‘credible’ source for solid information regarding electronic collars, perhaps an authority on animal behavior, one with impressive credentials. After all, a website is one thing, a PhD is another.

An individual whose opinions on animal welfare, behavior, training, and electronic training collars are frequently cited is Dr. Karen Overall, VMD, PhD, Diplomate ACVB. By the way, she is also a certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. Gee, isn’t that the gold standard? I bet someone as famous and learned as Dr. Overall would have nothing but highly intelligent and erudite things to say on the subject of electronic training collars. Let’s see…

In An Open Letter from Dr Karen Overall regarding the use of shock collars, published in December of 2005, the esteemed Dr. Overall opens with her long held opinion that

there is never any reason for pets to be shocked as a part of therapy or treatment.

I’m not sure whether she classifies training in her mind under therapy or treatment, but then, she isn’t actually a dog trainer, so I suppose it’s understandable if her language when referring to training is less than perfectly natural or crisp. Nonetheless, her opinion is crystaline:

Let me make my opinion perfectly clear: Shock is not training– in the vast majority of cases it meets the criteria for abuse.

Gosh, that’s a bold statement. Of course, on the one hand, I’d have to agree: Shock is not in fact training any more than tossing a piece of steak at a dog is training, unless some meaning is attached to it (this is where being a dog trainer helps one to analyze these matters). On the other, I have to wonder how Dr. Overall, who presumably eschews “shock” collars herself, has achieved enough familiarity with electronic collar training methods and protocols to declare that in the vast majority of cases such training rates as abuse, particularly when many trainers use very low levels of electronic stimulation nearly exclusively.

Certainly, Dr. Overall would not fashion such a strident opinion out of whole cloth: she must have a great deal of science to back it up. And indeed she does. In her words,

There are now terrific scientific and research data that show the harm that shock collars can do behaviorally.

Hold on a moment–the harm that shock collars can do, or the harm (nay, abuse) that they do do in the vast majority of cases? Which is it?

Dr. Overall cites a pair of studies, one by Schilder and van der Borg (2003) and another, new at the time, by Schalke, Stichnoth, Ott and Jones-Baade (2006). There are both older and newer studies, but let’s look at those two, since presumably they represent a good portion of the “terrific scientific and research data” that informs Dr. Overall’s expert opinion.

According to a paper produced for 2007 publication by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants titled Electronic Training Devices: A Review of Current Literature (Jo Jacques, CPDT, CPCT and Myers, CDBC), the goal of the Schilder and van der Borg study was

to determine the behavioral changes in dogs during training using electronic training collars.

According to Jacques and Myers, the study comprised thirty-two dogs divided into two groups. Each received general obedience and protection training. One group was trained using electronic collars, the other without. They state,

The authors concluded that shock-collar training is stressful; that receiving shocks is a painful experience to dogs; and the shock group of dogs evidently learned that the presence of their owner (or his commands) announced the reception of shocks, even outside of the normal training context. They suggest that the welfare of these shocked dogs is at stake….

Yikes. But there is one small problem. According to Electronic Training Devices: A Review of Current Literature,

This study has come under considerable fire because the experience of the handlers and dogs is not clear, and the level of shock is not stated.

Are you kidding me?! I found this a little hard to believe, so had a look-see at the study itself. From the section titled Materials and Methods:

All of these dogs were adult German Shepherds. Sixteen dogs (2 females, 14 males) had received shocks during training and 15 dogs (3 females, 12 males), that never had received shocks, were control dogs. Some control dogs were trained on the same training grounds and with the same trainer as some shocked dogs. These 31 dogs, their handlers and their trainers belonged to five different training groups, spread over the Netherlands. The group of 31 dogs was used not only to study direct behavioural effects of shocks, but also to compare the behaviour of shocked versus control dogs. We had no influence upon the methods and aids the trainers used during the training sessions we observed.

But this is my favorite part of that section:

To assess direct effects, we filmed training sessions on videotape using a Canon UC-X30 Hi-8 camera with 40digital zoom, and analysed these tapes later on, using standard video equipment.

That’s right, the authors take pains to detail what camera equipment they employed, while saying not one word about the electronic training collars, stimulation levels, or methods that were used. Very scientific, scientist guys. In fact, no information is given regarding training methods until the Discussion section. That is where we discover the following assertions regarding police and guard dog training generally:

First, this type of training is typically and traditionally work by and for men: it is mostly men, that do these trainings and they have been doing it their way and successfully for many years. Men mostly are harder on animals than women, men may be perceived as more threatening than females (Wells and Hepper, 1999; Hennesy et al., 1997). Secondly, training time is too short. Thirdly, prestige is an important factor: championships or high rankings count heavily. All this promotes severe punishment in order to get quick results.

And, to the question of electronic collars and animal welfare, that the

effects of the electric collar, at least when used in a harsh way, may be visible outside the training area. The most likely factor here is the presence of the handler.

In other words, dogs trained by brutal men overly concerned with prestige in too short of a time using shocks of unknown (and presumably unlimited) strength and duration, at least in a harsh way, can suffer visible fallout, and in fact appear to have suffered more fallout in this case than dogs trained with other methods or equipment.

That is about all I am personally able to draw from the study, but let’s see what the authors themselves were able to glean:

To the question of whether shocks are painful or merely annoying, they argue,

All in all these responses show that shocks elicit fear and pain responses.

And under Conclusions and Recommendations they confidently state,

We concluded that shocks received during training are not only unpleasant but also painful and frightening.

I am not a scientist, which may be why I have so much trouble wrapping my brain around how one could presume to ask the question of whether shocks are painful or merely annoying, much less answer it, without any discussion of what level or duration of electronic stimulation caused the behaviors documented.

According to the often cited Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training: Procedures and Protocols, Vol. 3 (Lindsay 2005), high-level electronic shock causes a neurological response and a perception of pain (although no physical damage), but low-level electric shock causes tapping, tickling, and/or tingling sensations. And Schindler and van der Borg themselves point out that shocks may last anywhere between 1/1000 of a second to 30 seconds. Do they not imagine a dog might perceive a low-level shock lasting 1/1000 of a second somewhat differently from a high-level shock lasting up to 30 seconds? If they do, they certainly keep that to themselves.

Well, let’s look at that other study. Maybe it’s the terrific one.

The title certainly gets my attention: Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars in everyday situations. And I am excited to see that the authors took the trouble to outline the training equipment they used, which in all cases was the Teletakt micro 3000 (ohm levels of 500 to 2.2 kohm). The Abstract states,

The aim of this study was to investigate whether any stress is caused by the use of electric shock collars or not and in this way to contribute to their evaluation with respect to animal welfare.

Three applications of electronic stimulation were included in the experiment:

  1. The elimination of hunting behavior
  2. Punishment of a dog disobeying a verbal recall from prey
  3. Random shocks (to simulate inappropriate owner use)

Now, I can buy those as examples of real life situations, but they are hardly representative. None of the above situations involves negative reinforcement, which certainly accounts for a huge portion of all electronic collar training and very possibly comprises the majority of it.

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The subjects of the experiment were fourteen laboratory bred beagles (a frightening concept in and of itself), who prior to the study

only had contact with humans during the daily feeding and grooming routines. They were not accustomed to being separated from their kennel mates.

Hmm. This is sounding less and less like an “everyday situation” to me.

Returning to equipment, the authors note that the Teletekt collars have five stimulation levels. As far as what levels of stimulation were actually used in their reconstruction of “situations that often occur in dog training”, the following line of impenetrable reasoning is offered:

In this investigation the device was run at level 5 in all of the experiments. This level was chosen in order to investigate the dogs’ reactions under the highest electric pulse and as such the worst condition possible.

Funny how they didn’t mention that in the beginning. And also, are these people sadistic?!

I feel compelled to note that in the years I have trained dogs professionally, attended seminars, read journals and books, worked alongside other trainers, and participated in public and professional forums, I have yet to encounter anyone who felt it acceptable to subject a dog to nothing but the highest setting on an electronic collar right out of the box and in every context. At least, I had not before now.

Coincidentally, the authors of Electronic Training Devices: A Review of Current Literature did not think this worth mentioning either. They are, however, careful to include the following statement from the researchers:

This study indicates that the general use of electronic shock collars is not consistent with animal welfare.

Strange, I missed that sentence, because it does not appear anywhere in the actual study. What is stated is this:

The results of this study suggest that poor timing in the application of high level electric pulses, such as those used in this study, means there is a high risk that dogs will show severe and  persistent stress symptoms.

And that is indeed all that the study shows. Even when subjected to the highest level of shock first time out of the box (no collar conditioning whatsoever), neither of the groups in which shocks were doled out in association with some identifiable behavior demonstrated remarkable stress symptoms. And in fact, those beagles shocked in conjunction with touching prey (the scenario in which the way to avoid punishment would have been the most obvious) showed entirely negligible stress symptoms.

I’m not sure Schalke et al. contributed very much to the evaluation of electronic collars with regard to animal welfare, but they for sure demonstrated that beagles would be better off if there were four fewer behavior scientists. Which reminds me, I’ve always wondered how it is that using shock to train a dog is widely considered inhumane, while using shock to earn a degree raises very few eyebrows.

So, are these two studies outliers in a field of otherwise impressive research? Afraid not. Even the authors of Electronic Training Devices: A Review of Current Literature, in contemplating the body of relevant scientific research, admit that

most studies involving dogs have discernible methodological weaknesses.

As you may have guessed, I use electronic training collars in my own training practice with some regularity, although they have never been my mainstay. I actually prefer the term “remote collar”, not so much because it sounds more friendly, but because the fact that the collars operate remotely, allowing hands-off and off-leash communication, is more essential to their utility than the fact that they operate electronically or produce electronic stimulation.

I could launch into a fair discussion of that utility, recounting true stories of the effectiveness of gentle remote communication. I will do at some point. But right now I am less interested in making that argument as in making a simple, straightforward plea to all of us to raise the standard of discourse regarding electronic collars beyond the intellectually sloppy, overly politicized language that currently prevails.

In the words of Dr. Karen Overall,

It’s time we replaced everyone’s personal mythologies and opinions with data and scientific thinking.

There is no longer a reason for people to be misinformed.

My thoughts exactly.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2010.

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  1. SmartDogs’s avatar

    Thank you for this.

    I have so much to say about it that I’m going to post my response on my blog.

    I’ve had a post on “shock collar” research in the works for a while now, and I think that this is the kick I needed to finish it. I believe that mine will tie in nicely with yours.

    Also – did you know that I own/moderate a list for remote collar trainers? PM me if you’re interested.

    Reply

    1. metisrebel’s avatar

      SmartDogs–I’D like that info!

      Reply

  2. ruthcrisler’s avatar

    I will certainly look forward to that post, as well as to the “shock collar” piece you have in store. No doubt, there’s a lot more to be said.

    And I would be interested in getting on that list, but am too unhip to recognize the abbreviation “PM”. Help a luddite out?

    Reply

  3. Curtis Johnson’s avatar

    Ruth,

    Thanks for a humorous and thoughtful analysis. I too use remote collars on occasion and find the hysteria and “studies” inconsistent with my experience working with dogs who are excited to go to work with their remote collars. Like any training tool in the wrong hands of course it can be misused. No one would ever suggest banning leashes or flat collars yet I see them misused every day.

    “PM” = Private Message.

    Thanks again for a really well reasoned post!

    Curtis Johnson

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      Actually, PETA might. I haven’t checked their current platform. Anyhow, glad you liked the piece and thank you for your comment!

      Reply

  4. stone soup diaries’s avatar

    Smartdogs and I have the same idea. I have been tumbling an idea around for a time as well and hopefully it will be up before the whole Welsh debacle is ‘old news’.

    Thank you for this post. Well done!

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      I will watch for it!
      Thank you for your comment.

      Reply

  5. retrieverman’s avatar

    People wrongly think that I am positive reinforcement only in my dog “philosophy.”

    Of course, this is wrong.

    I see a use for e-collars.

    But when I see someone using one stupidly, I cringe.

    Stupid e-collar use will lead to a ban.

    I highly suspect Cesar’s visit to the UK had something to do with this ban.

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      I agree about the misuse of e-collars. Trainers and especially manufacturers should take more pains to guarantee an educated end-user.

      But I read the Wales ban has been in the works since 2006. I don’t know that for a fact, nor do I know when Cesar visited. But I suspect there were other forces at work.

      Reply

  6. Sarah’s avatar

    Thanks for putting together such a thoughtful piece–I really enjoyed the analysis and humor!

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I had fun writing it. Stay tuned for future posts deconstructing the “science” of dog training.

      Reply

  7. SmartDogs’s avatar

    For some very interesting information on the Teletekt collars search the archives of the elist you joined recently. A friend in Europe posted some research on these collars and it is very interesting that this particular model was chosen for the study.

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      Thanks for the tip. I’d always wondered, but my low-to-middling efforts to suss out the story on them never turned up anything.

      By the way, I’m not “lurking” on that list, I’ve just been busy . But I’ll definitely check those archives!

      Reply

  8. Melissa Jo Peltier’s avatar

    As executive producer of the Dog Whisperer show, I can attest to the fact that, in 317 individual cases covered during the first five seasons of Dog Whisperer, electronic collars were used only 10 times. In 6 out of these ten cases, the dogs’ owners were already using the devices and Cesar instructed them in the correct usage. Cesar himself only introduced the electronic collar to solve a behavior issue in four out of 317 cases. Most if not all of those cases involved prey drive, which Temple Grandin herself says is a legitimate use for an e-collar.

    Four cases out of 317. The facts are a far cry from the headlines in the UK that proclaimed Cesar as the “Trainer who Shocks Dogs.”

    Reply

  9. Janeen’s avatar

    OMG! You mean people actually lie and misrepresent Cesar’s work – I’m shocked (pun intended).

    If we could collect and bottle up the mis-spent hysteria over Cesar Millan and “shock collars” we’d have an energy resource that could rival wind power. Most of it’s just hot air anyway ;-)

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      That’s an energy plan I could get behind.

      Reply

  10. ruthcrisler’s avatar

    Thank you for supplying real numbers. Facts are often hard to come by.

    I’ve never personally associated Cesar much with remote collars, or any specific type of equipment for that matter. In fact, I’d always taken an essential part of his message to be something along the lines of “Training is about framing the right relationship more than fitting the right equipment.” You could perhaps speak to that better than I.

    As far as the reaction Cesar generated on his trip to the UK, or his contribution generally to remote collar awareness, I don’t claim to have any special insight.

    No question, overuse of remote collars harms the cause of keeping them on the market, undermines their social acceptance, and frankly doesn’t do the cause of balanced training any favors. But so does the image of the remote collar as a tool-of-last-resort.

    Ultimately, I do not believe the primary driving force behind most calls to ban or restrict them to be legitimate concerns over their potential or actual misuse, so much as deliberate propagation of misinformation and specious “scientific” studies.

    Reply

  11. Kim’s avatar

    First, after reading this:

    “I’m not sure Schalke et al. contributed very much to the evaluation of electronic collars with regard to animal welfare, but they for sure demonstrated that beagles would be better off if there were four fewer behavior scientists.”

    I could barely contain myself long enough to finish the post. Too funny.

    Secondly, the issue with Cesar and the shock collar arose from a particular incident during which he was using a collar an an obviously high setting to persuade a GSD that the cat was not, in fact, an appetizer. The resulting corrections caused the dog to redirect his aggression more than once, and at one point the dog actually tried to hide under a piece of furniture trying to escape the corrections.

    The issue with Cesar is not that he uses the collars, but that he obviously does not have a full grasp on their proper use.

    Let me just say that I have no issues with Cesar Millan or his show. I do, however, have issues with improper handling techniques being televised to an international audience of John Doe DogOwners who will associate the use of e-collars with the behaviours shown on the program.

    I use e-collars quite frequently. I have yet to experience a situation that caused me to use what could be classified as a “high” setting. Our e-collars have dozens of settings, and proper levels are adjusted for each dog. The dog is sitting, free from distraction, and the e-collar is activated on its lowest setting. From there we try each subsequent setting until we get a reaction from the dog – generally in the form of an ear twitch. We then use one setting below that one. Hardly what you would call animal cruelty, and certainly less stressful than a vocal reprimand.

    Thanks for this brilliant article!

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      I have seen some of the footage you refer to, and agree with your assessment.

      In general, I find that trainers who skip over foundation work in favor of short-cuts often need to take an unnecessarily confrontational approach, and frequently elicit redirected aggression, confusion, frustration, and/or fear. None of those things is a basic ingredient in correct e-collar use. Nor does such an approach tend to produce good training results.

      Reply

  12. Dale McCluskey’s avatar

    I have started a petition to remove all remote collar bans in North America and the United Kingdom based on flawed science and misinformation. I will be presenting a package to all governing authorities which challenges behaviorist studies used to promote these bans. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Petition-to-Remove-Remote-Collar-Ban/199783670064266

    Reply

  13. rocksolidk9’s avatar

    Nice article – thank you for this. While I rarely use it and only for very specific issues, I do believe, it is a very useful tool in the right hands.

    Reply

  14. metisrebel’s avatar

    Argh, it’s garbage studies like this that make me want to eat my leash.

    Good on you Ruth for pointing out the fallacies.

    The same fools who weep and moan over remote collars, prongs, check chains, martingales [name that training tool] are the same fools who can’t figure out why 90% of shelter dogs aren’t abused–they’re spoiled rotten brats and dumped by families who can’t manage them and are afraid for the safety of the children, neighbours and other pets.

    What’s worse? Some momentary discomfort like your cell phone vibrating to remind you, or getting run over by a car?

    Most of these people don’t do the obvious. Want to learn how to use a tool? PUT IT ON YOURSELF and check it out. That’s what I tell people. Heck, I’ve even put my prong on somebody to prove the point. They were surprised at how little pressure was actually there.

    Why is it when *hard science* proves an assertion [and a lot of research and hard science has gone into the modifying of remote collars and other expensive tools] it has to contend with junk science propagated by people who, for the most part, seem to own brat dogs–if they own a dog at all?

    What is *wrong* with people that they refuse to see the difference?

    Really, I think MANY of them come into this not with an agenda to understand a tool pro and con–but with the agenda that they will prove something is “mean”.

    How do you tell if a dog is “stressed” anyway?

    Most of these people are full of it.

    One told me my dog look “scared” when he was *sleeping* on the bus. I guess she figured if his ears weren’t perky and his tail wagging, he wasn’t happy.

    I know dogs fairly well and do you know what I know? It’s either doing what it’s told or it’s not. Anything else depends on context and an understanding of THAT particular dog.

    So nice to know there are so many JoJo psychics out there who can read canine minds.

    Reply

  15. metisrebel’s avatar

    The one criteria that seems to be missing in ALL these “aggression by training” studies is the obvious “How many of these dogs were acting out BEFORE anyone DID anything to actually train the dog?”

    The bottom line is this.

    If someone is going to botch something, they’re going to botch it. I just watched a guy whose dog laid down while heeling [inciting a play response with my dog] and he walked back and kicked it in the head. Literally. That’s a dog abuser.

    Making an e-collar error in judgment doesn’t even rate the same page and possibly not even in the same book.

    There are very few mistakes one can make training a dog that can’t be undone. Positive trainers trolling forums have paralyzed people with their big drama that “somewhere, some day, in a land far away, if you do that–something AWFUL will happen to your dog because it’s traumatized.”

    I call it the “use a flat collar and your dog will get fleas someday”, debating tactic.

    From what I saw asking dog owners how they had good recall dogs–most of them used an e-collar and we’re talking here about *average* dog owners who watched the DVD that came with it, or went on YouTube or asked at Pet Smart or read the instruction booklet.

    I’m not even talking about dog trainers who can do wonders with it.

    So, the anti-remote hysteria is just that. Unfounded hysteria. It’s based on the *seizures* that are caused by *real* shock treatment which is another story altogether and has nothing to do with the low levels of stimulation from the newer remote collars.

    I say the same thing about prongs and remotes. Until you PUT ONE ON YOURSELF and try it out properly–you’re in no position to make a judgment call.

    This is about catering to people’s guilt and fear about “ruining” their dog instead of objective analysis of what works to create a well-trained, socially acceptable animal.

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      The deliberately misleading references to electronic collar training as shock “treatment” are truly indefensible. And you’re correct, most of those wailing the loudest over shock collars have little to no familiarity with current models or current training practices.

      Reply

  16. metisrebel’s avatar

    Well and I think you brought up another good point I’d like to add to.

    And that is, not assuming pressure must be the “last resort”–which makes it sound like there is some kind of failure going on rather than using the most effective tool for the situation at hand.

    IMO, the purpose of being a professional dog trainer [which I haven't been in 20 years] is to *provide the instructions and tools so that Average Dog Owner can train their dog to an acceptable and safe standard* in a reasonable time frame.

    I’ve had a number of dogs, some of them protection trained. All recalled through traditional training, no sweat and not an e-collar or ham sandwich in sight.

    I was also young enough and fast enough to dash across a park and “catch” a dog.

    However, NONE were sled breeds/mixes–they were Bouviers, GSD’s and “trainable” mixes. Obviously, the protection dogs were hand picked for their reliability, too.

    I also lived in places where I could increase distraction factors over time, rather than living in a location where distractions are often unavoidable and unsolicited. Many times, dogs come flying out from around corners and through trees, catching one unawares.

    For many urban owners, this is the reality of training.

    One old-fashioned trainer told me “Oh, you can’t let him off lead for at least two years.” Are you kidding me? A sled dog, who I worked with to heal a broken leg and hind-end shakiness from a bout of parvo before I got him–who doesn’t get to run anywhere for two years because he can’t handle other dogs as distractions because he has a huge run-with-pack, drive?

    Obviously he can’t pull a sled for any extended time with that history.

    So, the most *sensible* tool to learn to use, would be an e-collar in this case because the obvious ramification to NOT using one would be a dog that either never gets off lead [and lacks exercise as a result] or learning to use a new tool to get the results that will increase safety for the dog as well as helping him to learn even more complex behaviours.

    Out of the 13/100 dogs I met that recalled decently–*most* of them were done with e-collars.

    Reply

  17. Maverick’s avatar

    I use to feel the way you do, however after taking a deeper look at the tool I have changed my mind. I have seen dogs de-barked accidentally with a flat collar simply because they pulled so hard they damaged their vocal cords. So let’s be straight if you use anything on your dog it can be used in appropriately. That said not all “shock collars” are the same. Just as not all dogs are the same and not every tool is for every dog in every scenario. I don’t agree with bark collars. There is not control over when the collar is going off.

    Now I own a dogtra collar which allows me a level of control which I would not otherwise have. For example I am able to control the level of stimulation from 0-200 most people cannot feel the collar under 20.
    What did I use the collar for?
    When I was pregnant I would take my three dogs to the park and play fetch. Two beagles and a malinois. However the mal would come up behind the dog who had the ball in their mouth and bite/hit them really hard in the back of the head when they were returning to me with the ball. This was happening a good fifty yards away from me. So I used an e-collar.
    First I conditioned an appropriate escape response.
    I am very good at reading my dogs and I don’t have to turn the collar over 20. I also have really good timing which allowed me to teach the mal not to touch the beagle in pursuit. I taught her the beagle was electric. Please tell me in that situation was there a better way to manage that behaviour!
    I don’t think so. The problem was just that she was just in such a high state of arousal that she was just letting her instincts take over.

    Now I don’t condone every trainers use of the collar but I am just saying it’s a tool which can be used effectively with some thought and knowledge. I am very familiar with scientific training principles and generally opt for positive reinforcement techniques but that said I like to keep an open mind and have a full set of tools at my disposal.

    Reply

  18. Karen Laws’s avatar

    Well said Ruth. As usual, you inject your factual humour to make a point in a way that is engaging, accurate and indisputable. I look forward to reading more of your articles. . . Love the comment to support the ‘lab Beagles, by having four fewer scientists’. Well done!

    Reply

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