IMPORTANT TALKING POINTS REGARDING SHOCK COLLAR TRAINING.
These are compiled from a collection of PPG Position Statements. If any of these bullet points are used, then please also include the link back to the corresponding PPG Position Statement. Copyright 2023 The Pet Professional Guild.
- Any stimulus not paired with a positive stimulus is, at best, neutral and, at worst, frightening and/or painful to the pet. Pets who learn to exhibit behaviors to escape or avoid fear or pain are by definition being subjected to an aversive stimulus. (Aversive means something unpleasant or frightening that the pet seeks to avoid or escape, as opposed to a pleasant stimulus that a pet seeks out voluntarily.)
- If a change in behavior is not seen immediately, users of aversive tools may opt to increase the frequency, duration or intensity of the application. Unfortunately, this can only result in the pet attempting to escape or avoid the stimulus with even greater intensity. This creates a counterproductive paradigm whereby the pet simply learns to fear the stimulus, the context, and/or the person delivering it. In addition, some pets tend to be “stoic” and may fail to show any kind of fear response, irrespective of increased levels of anxiety or frustration. There is also the risk that pets may become habituated to the sense of fear or anxiety, once again causing the trainer or owner to increase the level and/or frequency of the aversive stimulus. It has been scientifically proven that fear and stress caused in such situations can have a significant effect on a pet’s well-being due to increasing cortisol levels and heart rate, not to mention the psychological impact. (O’Heare, 2005).
- The use of aversive stimuli is counter-indicated in pets with aggression. This is because the behavior may only be suppressed rather than extinguished, and may thus resurface at any time without warning, generally in a more severe display. Using aversive stimuli to reduce behaviors such as barking, lunging and growling may suppress signals that warn of a more serious, and potentially imminent behavior, such as biting. Without ritualized aggression behaviors, people and other pets will receive no warning before the pet subjected to punishment feels forced to resort to biting. Rather, PPG holds that desensitization and counterconditioning are the only ethical and effective paradigms in which to treat aggression in pets. Protocols such as these help positively impact the pet’s emotional state from one of fear and/or anxiety to one that is more happy and relaxed, and thus able to learn new behaviors.
- PPG does not recommend any “pet correction devices” or aversive stimuli intended for pet care, management, or training by eliciting a “startle response,” and/or an alarm reaction to prevent, barking, jumping up, growling or any other problematic behavior. Ramirez-Moreno and Sejnowski (2012) define the startle response as a “largely unconscious defensive response to sudden or threatening stimuli, such as sudden noise or sharp movement” that is “associated with negative affect.” According to Lang, Bradley, and Cuthbert (1990), the startle response (or aversive reflex) is “enhanced during a fear state and is diminished in a pleasant emotional context.” As such, PPG considers the use of the startle response to be a management technique that uses fear as the motivation. Direct consequences can include:
- For punishment to be effective as a means to training a dog, or any other animal for that matter, there are three critical elements that must be met: consistency, timing and intensity. First, the punishment must occur every time the unwanted behavior occurs. Second, it must be administered within, at most, a second or two of the behavior. Third, it must be unpleasant enough to stop the behavior. In the real world, outside science laboratories, meeting these three criteria is virtually impossible for a dog training professional, and most certainly for a dog owner.
- All animals are motivated by food. Food is necessary for survival. It is therefore a powerful primary reinforcer and a critical component when used correctly as part of a strategic training or management plan. For behavior consultants who engage in behavior change programs where it is necessary to change a pet’s emotional reaction to a problematic stimulus, food is essential. When modifying observable behaviors such as growling, lunging and biting that are often manifestations of a fearful and/or anxious emotional state, the goal must be to change the underlying emotional response, thus enabling the dog to learn a new, more appropriate behavior. It is frequently misunderstood that fear is a behavior when in fact it is an emotion. You cannot simply “train it out.” Indeed, fear is often the underlying emotional state to aggressive behavior, and requires the implementation of a different set of scientific protocols and a greater understanding of emotional learning and animal behavior. A review of the scientific literature recommends the use of food as a reinforcer in desensitization and counter conditioning protocols that are specifically aimed at addressing the underlying emotions of fear and/or anxiety. In reality, using food to countercondition emotional responses is the most widely accepted method for treating fear-based behaviors (Overall, 2013).
- Devices and methods that work through eliciting a “startle response,” and/or an alarm reaction to prevent, barking, jumping up, growling or any other problematic behavior are inhumane and just not necessary.
- Ramirez-Moreno and Sejnowski (2012) define the startle response as a “largely unconscious defensive response to sudden or threatening stimuli, such as sudden noise or sharp movement” that is “associated with negative affect.” Lang, Bradley and Cuthbert (1990) state that the startle response (or aversive reflex) is “enhanced during a fear state and is diminished in a pleasant emotional context.” These, and many other canine behavior experts consider the use of the startle response to be a management or training technique that uses fear as the motivation. The direct consequences of this can include the (intended or unintended) infliction of stress and pain on an animal by an owner or trainer, and, as mentioned above, generalized fear, suppression of behavior, learned helplessness and/or redirected aggression in the animal him- or herself.
Position on shock collars
- Since its inception in 2012, PPG’s has never wavered from its position that “the use of electronic stimulation, or ‘shock’ or ‘e-collars’ to care for, manage and train/modify the behavior of pet animals is completely unnecessary.” According to The Kennel Club (2017), “electric training collars are already banned in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, Germany and in some states in Australia,” as well as Finland and parts of Canada (Stilwell, n.d.), and Wales (Welsh Government, 2016). Nevertheless, shocking pet dogs remains a common, if controversial, training practice in many other countries.
- Depending on an individual dog’s genetics, environment and early learning experiences, behavior problems may still occur, in spite of an owner’s best efforts. Pet owners need to be aware that such issues can be consistently, reliably and effectively resolved — or at the very least successfully managed — with the implementation of humane, modern, science-based training methods based on positive reinforcement, and without the use of any form of so-called electronic stimulation. (Note: For the purposes of this document, electronic stimulation devices include –but are not limited to — products often referred to as e-collars, training collars, shock collars, e-touch, stimulation, tingle, TENS unit collar, remote trainers, and e-prods.) A positive reinforcer is a stimulus such as food, games, treats, toys (i.e. anything that the dog considers to be a reward) that, when presented following a behavior, makes it more likely that the same behavior will be repeated (Burch & Bailey, 1999).
- Decades of peer-reviewed, scientific studies show, whether discussing dogs, humans, dolphins or elephants, that electric shock as a form of training to teach or correct a behavior is ineffective at best, and physically and psychologically damaging at worst. Renowned board certified animal behaviorist and veterinarian, Dr. Karen Overall (2005) states: “There are now terrific scientific and research data that show the harm that shock collars can do behaviorally. At the July 2005, International Veterinary Behavior Meeting, held in conjunction with the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and American College of Veterinary Behaviorists research meetings, data were presented by E. Schalke, J. Stichnoth, and R. Jones-Baade that documented these damaging effects…There is no longer a reason for people to remain misinformed. Let me make my opinion perfectly clear: Shock is not training – in the vast majority of cases it meets the criteria for abuse.” Ziv (2017) condenses a number of studies and surveys to review the data on the relationship between the use of electronic collars and dogs’ behavior and concludes that, “given the available data and in order to avoid risking the dogs’ welfare, trainers should avoid using electronic collars when training dogs.”
- There can be no doubt that electric shock is a punisher, and for punishment to be effective as a means to training a dog — or any other animal — there are three critical elements that must be fulfilled: consistency, timing and intensity. First, the punishment must occur every time the unwanted behavior occurs. Second, it must be administered within, at most, a second or two of the behavior. Third, it must be unpleasant enough to stop the behavior. To reiterate, in the real world outside science laboratories, meeting these three criteria is virtually impossible for a dog training professional, and most certainly for a dog owner. Citing a variety of studies, Ziv (2017) concludes that “even when experienced trainers operate [shock] collars, the welfare of the dogs could be compromised,” and states it to be “likely that the threat to dogs’ welfare would be even greater in the hands of unskilled dog owners, who might lack the timing and consistency needed for this type of training to be successful…due to the aversive nature of these devices and the likelihood of training ineffectiveness, their use can be abusive.
- According to psychology professor, Dr. Susan Friedman, who has pioneered the application of ABA to captive and companion animals: “Punishment doesn’t teach learners what to do instead of the problem behavior. Punishment doesn’t teach caregivers how to teach alternative behaviors. Punishment is really two aversive events – the onset of a punishing stimulus and the forfeiture of the reinforcer that has maintained the problem behavior in the past.” (Friedman, 2010). Especially troubling for pet professionals is that punishment requires an increase in the intensity of the aversive stimulus for it to have any have any hope of maintaining behavior reduction.
- For new, more appropriate behaviors to become reliable in random environments, they must be accessed, reinforced and then practiced so a pet is able to transfer them to any context or situation (known as “generalization”). When using shock to train or manage a pet, the pet must be repeatedly subjected to the aversive stimulus for the behavior to appear resolved, when it is, in fact, only suppressed. In such cases, the pet still has not learned a more appropriate alternative behavior. In addition, as the pet is most likely still experiencing a negative emotional state, such as fear or anxiety, he is susceptible to even more problematic behavior fallout.
- Many shock collar trainers market themselves under verbiage and marketing slogans such as “force-free,” “positive relationship,” “natural methods,” “relationship building,” “positive only,” “no food necessary,” and so on. These are all taglines that are bandied around the industry, but mislead unsuspecting owners looking for humane ways to train their pets. They are carefully crafted to appeal to pet guardians who may not always understand the various training methods available, or the fallout and unintended consequences of making the wrong choice. They thus do not provide consumers the autonomy to make ethical decisions on behalf of their pets. This, compounded with the inability of a pet to offer informed consent, further questions the ethics of such training practices. The foundation of anyone working in behavioral sciences must always be to do no harm, and, wherever possible “practitioners should base their choices of training methods on scientific data.” (Ziv, 2017).