Shock Collars are for Lazy Trainers

Shock Collars are for Lazy Trainers

Here’s a question for you: are shock collars a great training tool, part of a “balanced” trainers toolbox or are they unnecessary articles of abuse?  Are they a easy way to teach proper behavior in the right hands or are they a method of forcing compliance?

I take my belief that shock collars are an unnecessary and horrifying training tool from some of the most amazing trainers I have ever had the good fortune to work with. The late great Pat Whitacre. The amazing Tamara Dormer. The talented Jen Sevrud. The incomparable Sherry Woodard. The excellent Keith Hightower. These people taught me goal of training is to help the dog figure out what you want and how to do things your way. That a dog who reasons things out and makes the choice to learn will always be a better companion than a dog who has been forced or coerced.

Pat Whitacre once told me, when I was working with Oscar the Vicktory dog, that dogs don’t know they’re doing it wrong.  Dogs are truly amoral and do not have a sense of “right” or “wrong”.  They just understand that something is rewarding or not rewarding.  It is our job to make doing things our way more rewarding than doing things their way. A dog who decides its worth more in treats or attention to listen to you will be more inclined to always listen to you.

 Let’s put it in human terms. Say you’re told by your employer that you have to learn computer coding and learn it now. You have no basis of knowledge to start from. And the trainer provided doesn’t speak your language, so you must try and guess what they are trying to teach you.   The trainer sits you down in front of a computer, gives you little or no direction, raises their voice and gestures aggressively when you hesitate. Demeans you and tells you you’re stupid. Every time you make the wrong choice a buzzer sounds and they pop you upside the back of the head. There are only a couple of ways you will react. You’ll either get angry, yelling back at the trainer, and ultimately might even lose it and pop them back. Or you’ll become too afraid to even try. You’ll hesitate from fear or uncertainty and your brain shuts down. You will become very quiet, very contained and just do the things you’re absolutely certain are right.  You lose your spark or any initiative. You have developed learned helplessness. This is what we do to our dogs when we use punitive training methods. 

On the other hand, your employer provides a trainer who expresses enthusiasm at the thought of working with you.  She provides you with excellent cues to help guide you in making the right choices. The times you make an error, either nothing is said or you are encouraged to try again. Every time you get something correct, she celebrates with you and rewards you in a manner that is meaningful for you. (Hello chocolate for me!)  Each success makes you feel more confident and eager to learn more.  It becomes a partnership and you are having the time of your life.  The days you work with this trainer become something you truly look forward to. 

Which training method is going to make you a better employee?  Which one prepares you to do the right thing when you are alone in front of the keyboard?

 Scientific studies have shown us that punitive training methods are reinforcing… for the trainer. It’s easier for the trainer. And because it’s easier they tend to lean on it more and more. The more they use a shock collar to train the more they will rely on a shock collar to train. It’s lazy. It’s not doing the homework to figure out what motivates the dog. It is not relationship-based training. And if that’s all you rely on to train, I really feel sorry for you, because you don’t understand dogs at all.

Want to learn more?  For the novice trainer or pet owner there is some incredible information available on Victoria Stilwell’s website Positively.com.   This is a great article: https://positively.com/dog-training/methods-equipment/training-equipment/shock-collars/

For professionals or those who do a lot of dog training, this article from the Pet Professional Guild has plenty of links to peer-reviewed papers:http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/shockcolla

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