I read heartbreaking stories about dogs who had been trained with an invisible fence system who were terrified to leave the house, about a pair of dogs wearing remote training collars whose owner mixed up the controllers and was unknowingly shocking the crated dog instead of the dog in the field. Arguments are made that in the hands of experienced trainers and with well-adjusted dogs, these tools can be used effectively and without undue distress for the dogs. These arguments do not address the numbers of inexperienced people reaching for these tools for fearful or anxious dogs with behavior problems ranging from jumping on visitors to barking, using them without precision of timing or clarity of association, and potentially creating lasting psychological damage.
I also read some articles by "balanced trainers," those that are not opposed to using physical correction if the situation warrants it, just to see if I could be at all swayed. Whatever justification is used, I still could not imagine a scenario where I would willingly and deliberately cause pain or the fear of pain to my dog today. The science of positive reinforcement training is undeniable and its message is becoming more and more widespread. Here is an excellent explanation of why balanced training can create a spiritless or shut-down dog from the Smart Dog Blog. If you have the stomach for it, Eileen and Dogs has collected side by side video examples of dogs being trained using shock collars vs. dogs being trained using positive reinforcement. It doesn't take an expert to determine which dogs are enjoying the training sessions.
I asked my local force-free trainer - Laura McGaughey from Delightful Doggies - who has been a wonderful resource in outlining a plan for Ruby's reactivity, to provide a statement about aversive training tools, and here is what she had to say:
Electronic collars, prong collars and choke chains are tools that work using positive punishment and negative reinforcement methods. In my professional opinion, they are more harmful than helpful in training. A dog's throat is a very sensitive space, and I believe that anything strapped to a throat shouldn't be used for administering punishment or corrections. The trachea and thyroid gland can be affected, and harsh corrections can yield even worse damage; e-collars have also been shown to have a lasting psychological effect on dogs, causing them to be more anxious and fearful. Is this what we really want, when we have better options?
It is extremely important to always keep the perspective of the dog in mind, and to use the most humane tool possible for training. I believe that we should always weigh our choices carefully and put humane treatment at the forefront of how we interact with our animals. When we work with our dogs to help them make the right decisions and be reinforced, rather than coerced, we can lead happy, full lives together built on trust. And that's what makes training awesome and fun for both dog and human!
Another quote from Plenty in Life is Free by Kathy Sdao, resonates deeply with me:
Imagine if our primary goal for each dog-training lesson, class or consultation was to increase the comfort and joy of every creature in the room: dogs, human students and trainers.Comfort and joy. This is what training and communication means to me, from starting my own horse to teaching a new trick to Ruby, and the heart of why I have embraced positive reinforcement training. It will come as no surprise that I am strongly opposed to the use of aversive training tools such as choke, pinch and shock collars. I don't need articles like this one to convince me. Having a sensitive dog like Ruby has made me even more aware of every training decision I make, and I would much rather exchange a currency of treats than one of threats. This puts me firmly on one side of the spectrum, and there are of course many on the opposite side who have no problem with incorporating fear, discomfort and pain into their training regimen, justifying the means to the end. Results-oriented trainers with guarantees, people who believe dogs are merely property or workers who must earn their keep. These are not the minds I set out to change, but rather those of dog owners somewhere in the middle, the new owners, the desperate owners, the ones who simply don't know and reach for a pinch collar because a big-box pet store employee suggests it (like I did years ago with my first dog), or because that's the first thing they see on the 'Training' page of an online retailer.
Jessica and I have begun compiling a Pinterest board of retailers that do not carry harsh aversive training tools, and her post details the steps you can take as a consumer to vote with your shopping habits and the communications she's had with some retailers. Pet-related spending hit a record high of $56 billion in 2013 - that's billions of dollars of influence. I urge you to examine your training values and your shopping options and determine if they are in harmony. Let those retailers who choose to carry choke, pinch and shock collars know that you'll be taking your business elsewhere and why. Take the time to thank the stores that highlight treat bags and clickers in their training aisle - shop with the power of positive reinforcement.
Every day I am learning more about my own training philosophy and how to articulate it, and ultimately I would hope that every person asks themselves how they can do better by their dog. Choosing where to spend my pet budget and spreading the word about these choices is just one small way that I can be the change for animals. If you'd like to join us, please grab a badge, share the #forcefreeshopping hash-tag, and help say no to aversive training tools.
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