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There is a Better Way! An Article Discussing the Cons of Electronic Training Collars – By Debbie Kendrick, ABCDT and VP of ABC

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  Angela Peña, Director of Media and Public Relations
  888-338-7778 (direct)
Wednesday, December 03, 2008 : 4:42:51 PM
As professional dog trainers, we have many training tools at our disposal. Food treats, toys, pinch collars, head collars, leash pops, choke chains and clickers are just a few. However, almost no other training tool ignites a more zealous debate than the use of an electronic training collar or e-collar as they are sometimes called. For better or worse, I have opted to debate the cons of this very controversial topic.

My humble beginnings in this industry as an "old school" dog trainer which dates back to 1975, to my current position as a "trainer of trainers" has given me first-hand experience on the ever-evolving training tools and specifically the disadvantages to using electronic training collars.

For many years, I trained with the philosophy, "do it, or else!" with impressive results and accepted the occasional traumatized dog as a casualty of the job. I remember even labeling some dogs as weak or damaged when they would shut down after receiving a strong correction from me. My past training techniques and my quest for a less aversive training approach have helped form my opinions regarding the use of electronic training collars in dog training. I now strongly advocate the use of primarily positive reinforcement and negative punishment techniques. I believe all beginning dog trainers and dog owners should be taught to use positive reinforcement and negative punishment techniques as their primary training tools because they are more forgiving than those which involve physical aversives, such as an e-collar correction.

That being said, it is my position that most experienced dog trainers could benefit from a cursory education in electronic training collars to aid in the treatment of dogs negatively affected by their misuse. However, as a training tool in general, I strongly believe the cons for their use far outweigh the pros. I am writing this article to identify the reasons for my conclusions.

1. I personally do not feel that novice dog trainers or dog owners should use electronic training collars. An inexperienced person lacks the timing necessary to effectively use this tool. While I understand and agree that timing is critical when using any training tool, an e-collar is arguably the most powerful correction tool which makes it the most dangerous, in my opinion. I have seen first-hand how negative associations are created unintentionally through poor timing, using this tool. I have also seen the inability of a dog to recover from these one-time learning events just because of the sheer strength of the correction.

2. In order to effectively and humanely use this tool, a person must be able to determine the appropriate level of stimulation to use. This is done by taking into consideration the individual dog’s drives, sensitivities and motivations. This can be a challenge even for a skilled, seasoned dog trainer. I do not believe that novice dog trainers and dog owners possess the skills to identify these characteristics accurately and setting an improper stimulation level can easily inflict unplanned pain on a dog and cause physical, as well as, mental breakdown.

3. I believe the use of electronic training collars do not promote the human-animal bond and do little to enhance the relationship between the dog and dog owner. This tool relies heavily on negative training – remotely delivering a correction when the dog does something wrong and remotely stopping the correction when the dog responds appropriately. I believe better results are achieved when direct interaction is given to the dog by the handler when the dog responds correctly (i.e. petting, special treat, going for a walk, etc.) and direct interaction is removed when the dog responds incorrectly (i.e. ignore the dog, no treat available, walk ends, etc.).

4. It is my opinion that the intensity of both the reinforcement tool and the punishment tool for any behavior should be based on the dog's desire to perform the behavior. Since e-collars are one of the most powerful tools, they should only be considered for behaviors where the dog's desire to perform or not perform said behavior is extreme. As such, I do not believe in the use of electronic collars to teach or to proof basic obedience (i.e. sit, come, etc.) or basic problem solving (jumping, chewing, etc.) as they are not extreme behaviors.

However, if a skilled, experienced dog trainer is working with a dog that is a confirmed cat killer, an electronic collar might be considered as this is an extreme behavior.

5. Dogs that have been trained with primarily positive reinforcement techniques will more readily offer behaviors that have been rewarding to them in the past. In my experience, the use of electronic training collar corrections greatly inhibits a dog’s desire to offer behaviors. The "how about this?" or "is this what you want?" attitude makes training faster, easier and more enjoyable for both the dog and dog owner.

6. As a whole, I believe we are an instant gratification society. We take a pill to lose weight, get frustrated because fast food is never fast enough, and expect to instantly look years younger after a Botox injection. I believe electronic collars are an attractive option for many people because they are viewed as an instant or quick fix tool as well. Because of this mentality, the general public neglects to do the necessary prep work to humanely operate this tool, such as desensitizing the dog to the collar and teaching the dog how to turn off the collar by offering the appropriate default behavior. It is just easier to push a button and expect results; unfortunately, that is one of the reasons this tool is often misused with damaging results.

In closing, please understand that my bias should not be interpreted as a condemnation of dog trainers or dog owners who advocate the use of electronic training collars. I am merely expressing my opinion on this subject. To synopsize my position, I believe electronic training collars are a viable training tool for only skilled, experienced dog trainers and dog owners, and only in limited situations. While I understand that any corrective tool can cause trauma if used incorrectly, electronic collars are one of the most powerful corrective tools available, and in my experience, the more powerful the tool the greater the chance of trauma. It is my position that there are other more "reward based" training tools available, which can deliver the same or even a better result, promote the human-animal bond by encouraging personal interaction between the dog and dog owner, while minimizing the likelihood of distress. Thank you for allowing me to share my views with you on this very contentious subject.