Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The end for shock collars?

Something puzzles me about the arguments made by shock collar advocates. On the one hand they claim the e-collar doesn’t hurt, and on the other they say it’s a last resort to prevent ‘dead dogs’ due to recall and chasing problems. Surely the second justification casts doubt on the first? Two new scientific studies funded by the UK’s DEFRA address both arguments, and conclude that e-collars are unnecessary and detrimental to animal welfare.

Shock collars (including invisible fences) are already banned in many countries because of welfare concerns. The DEFRA studies aimed to investigate the welfare of dogs trained using e-collars. The results will surely add to calls for shock collars to be banned in England and Scotland (they have been illegal in Wales since 2010), and elsewhere. 

A border collie on its hind legs with its paws on its nose
The first study (Defra AW1402) included extensive pilot work, an investigation of the electrical resistance of wet and dry dogs (conclusion: wet dogs get zapped more), and a comparison of the features of several purchased shock collars. 

Only a handful of instruction manuals stated that vocalizations indicate the shock is too high. They did not explain all features well, particularly the warning tone or vibration which is meant to precede a shock (not all models had a warning tone). Most manuals suggested use of the continuous shock option that is stopped when the dog does the required behaviour, rather than a momentary stimulus (for quadrant enthusiasts, this is using the collar as R- rather than P+). One of the collars, bought over the internet, turned out to be a counterfeit with no cut-off for the continuous shock, and two of the genuine collars had faults.

The manuals assumed people were using the collars to teach general obedience, but some also mentioned particular problem behaviours. The scientists conducted a survey that found almost all dog owners who use shock collars use it for problem behaviours, particularly recall and/or chasing. Owners were not able to explain properly how they had used the collar in training. Particularly worrisome is that “some end-users either fail to read the instructions, misunderstand or deliberately disregard the advice in the manuals.” (p25)

Owners reported that 36% of the dogs vocalized (e.g. yelped) the first time the e-collar was used, and 26% of dogs vocalized on later use(s) of the e-collar. Six per cent of owners said they started at the highest shock level the first time they used the collar, and either stayed at this level or adjusted down from there. The scientists say that “some of the reported use was clearly inconsistent with advice in e-collar manuals and potentially a threat to the dog’s welfare.” (p25)

The scientists collected saliva and urine samples from the dogs that had been trained using e-collars and a matched sample that had not, plus an extra set of controls. The samples allowed them to check for physiological signs of stress at various points in data collection. They also did behavioural and training tests on the dogs, including to the fitting of a dummy (inactive) e-collar and having both owner and researcher conduct training sessions. 

They tested whether there were differences between when the dogs were not wearing the dummy collar compared to when they were were, with an extra control group of dogs who never wore the dummy collar.

In the e-collar-trained dogs, salivary cortisol increased significantly when they were wearing a collar, compared to dogs trained only using positive reinforcement. The researchers say this “suggests a negative association with anticipation of stimulus application.” (p28). The e-collar-trained dogs also had a significant increase in tense behaviour, compared to the other dogs. They were very attentive to their owner whilst wearing the collar, to the extent that the researchers could not do the training task with some of these dogs. During training, the control group (including those trained using positive reinforcement only) were significantly more attentive to their trainer than the e-collar dogs. 

The first study concluded that “for a subset of dogs tested, the previous use of e-collars in training are associated with behavioural and physiological responses that are consistent with significant negative emotional states; this was not seen to the same extent in the control population. It is therefore suggested that the use of e-collars in training pet dogs can lead to a negative impact on welfare, at least in a proportion of animals trained using this technique.” (p4).

"...dogs have learned that the presence of their owner (or his commands) announces reception of shocks"
Because so many owners used the shock collars in a way that was not consistent with the manuals, the second study (DEFRA1402DWa) was designed to investigate what happens when a shock collar is used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This includes a warning cue prior to the shock, so that it can be cancelled if the dog responds to the warning, and checking the level of shock to use for each dog. The Electronic Collar Manufacturer’s Association assisted with the design of the training protocol, and suggested the trainers who used the e-collar, who were also experienced in using other methods of training such as rewards.

Three groups of dogs were tested, with 21 dogs in each group. All of the dogs were referred because the owner said they had problems with recall and chasing (e.g. of sheep, cars, bicycles). This issue was chosen because it is one for which those trainers who use shock collars often recommend them.

Group A were trained using e-collars by dog trainers who had completed industry training. Group B were trained by the same trainers, but not using any shock and using lots of positive reinforcement. Group C were trained by members of the UK’s APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) using no shock and lots of positive reinforcement. 

The APDT (UK) has a code of conduct which states that “coercive or punitive techniques and/or equipment should not be used, recommended, advertised or sold by members” and this includes the shock collar which they describe as an “abusive device”. (N.B. APDTs in other countries have different policies).

Groups B and C were both control groups, as neither was trained using shock collars. The reason for two controls? Group B is a useful control because they are the same trainers as Group A, but they are not blind to the purposes of the study, so it is possible they could unintentionally affect the results. Also, since they usually rely on shock collars they may not be as experienced in using reward-based methods as the trainers in Group C, who never use shock collars. 

All of the dogs were evaluated on a number of standardized tests prior to the start of training, and the dogs in each group were closely matched. Of course, researchers can’t shock people’s dogs without their permission, so for Groups A and B the dog owners were allowed to express a preference. Only two owners did this, one wanting their dog to be in the shock collar group and one wanting it not to be. It’s to the credit of the experimenters that they did not just swap these two dogs; in fact each one was swapped with another well-matched dog, to ensure matching between the groups.

Each dog was trained over a period of five days, although occasionally the trainers declared training complete after four days. The training took place in a field with a livestock pen in it; although the field used for Group C was different than for Groups A and B, the set-up was closely matched. At the end of the training, owners were brought in to have the training explained to them, so that they could continue as necessary at home. All of the training sessions were video-recorded, and various other measures (such as salivary cortisol) were taken during and after the training.

Stills from the videos were assessed by reviewers who were blind to the aims of the study, and to which group the dogs were in. You are probably thinking it will have been obvious which dogs were in the shock group, as the collars are visible, but the researchers thought of that: they had some e-collars de-activated, so that dogs in all three groups wore a collar (and therefore looked the same), but only Group A had the active collar.

So as you can see the design of the study was very careful to make sure that any results would be due only to the method of training. The dogs also returned to the training centre for further tests and observations three months after the training period, to assess any longer-term effects.

When examining the results, the researchers had to combine variables (where appropriate) and adjust the statistics to take account of the fact that they were conducting a large number of tests.  They also double-checked that the groups of dogs were matched on physiological variables; here the only difference was that dogs in Group C (APDT trainers) had higher levels of salivary cortisol at the start of the study, potentially indicating that they were more stressed before the study began.

Some of the results showed differences in training style. The dogs spent more time sitting, interacted less with the environment, and the trainers issued more commands, for Groups A (e-collar) and B compared to Group C (APDT rewards-based). Lip licking associated with food was higher in Group C than for Groups A and B (this makes me wonder if fewer treats were delivered to Group B although this is not reported on).

The results also showed some welfare concerns. The dogs in Group A (e-collar) were more tense, yawned more (a sign of stress) and spent less time interacting with the environment than the dogs in Group C (APDT rewards-based). For dogs in Group A, the number of yelps and other vocalizations increased with higher levels of shock. 

At three months after the training, dogs in Group A had higher salivary cortisol levels than dogs in Groups B and C when they arrived at the training centre, which may suggest the anticipation of e-collar use. Most owners from all groups were satisfied with the results of the training. 

The report says “the study did find behavioural evidence that use of e-collars negatively impacted on the welfare of some dogs during training even when training was conducted by professional trainers using relatively benign training programmes advised by e-collar advocates.” (p4) They also found that the e-collar was not more effective than rewards-based training for recall and chasing, even though this is the scenario that e-collar advocates particularly recommend it for.

Unfortunately we can’t say that no dogs were harmed during the course of this research, as the findings are clearly that e-collars can have negative welfare consequences. However the research was conducted following ethical guidelines, dogs were monitored carefully, and for ethical reasons intentional misuse of the e-collar was not studied. While the owners who used e-collars did not follow manufacturer’s guidelines, it is worth noting that the three dog trainers who took part in pilot work on sheep chasing did not follow the guidelines either. 

Previous studies have also found welfare issues with the use of e-collars (e.g. Schilder and van der Borg 2004; Schalke et al 2007; Herron et al 2009). A large survey of 3,897 dog owners in the UK (Blackwell et al 2012) found that 3.3% reported using an e-collar in training. Amongst the owners of dogs who had had recall and chasing problems, those who had used e-collars reported significantly less success than those who had used rewards-based methods. 

The first Defra study found wide variability in how e-collars were used, and showed that owners either did not read or did not follow the advice given in the manuals. There were significant negative welfare findings in some dogs trained using the e-collar. The second study, designed to use the e-collars by trained professionals, according to industry standards, and for only a short period of time, also found a negative effect on animal welfare.  

In addition, excellent results were achieved by using rewards-based training, which shows the e-collar is unnecessary. Of course, the many people who have already trained a strong recall using positive reinforcement will not be surprised by this. However, it will surprise some shock collar advocates, and they should be encouraged and supported to learn modern dog training techniques.

These studies will increase the pressure on governments to ban the use of e-collars, particularly in the UK where taxpayers funded this research. Since dog training is an unlicensed profession, owners should check the credentials of dog trainers carefully, especially since trainers who use shock collars may not make this clear on their website. In the UK, the APDT is against aversive methods (see here for their statement on this research), and around the world (including the USA) the Pet Professional Guild is committed to force-free training.

What do you think about these results? Do you think shock collars should have warning labels? Or do you think they should be banned?

References
ResearchBlogging.org Blackwell, E., Bolster, C., Richards, G., Loftus, B., & Casey, R. (2012). The use of electronic collars for training domestic dogs: estimated prevalence, reasons and risk factors for use, and owner perceived success as compared to other training methods BMC Veterinary Research, 8 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1746-6148-8-93  
Defra AW1402 (2013) Studies to assess the effect of pet training aids, specifically remote static pulse systems, on the welfare of domestic dogs. University of Lincoln / University of Bristol / Food and Environment Research Agency.  Final report prepared by Prof. Jonathan Cooper, Dr. Hannah Wright, Prof. Daniel Mills (University of Lincoln); Dr. Rachel Casey, Dr. Emily Blackwell (University of Bristol); Katja van Driel (Food and Environment Research Agency); Dr. Jeff Lines (Silsoe Livestock System).
Defra AW1402a (2013) Studies to assess the effect of pet training aids, specifically remote static pulse systems, on the welfare of domestic dogs; field study of dogs in training. Final report prepared by Prof. Jonathan Cooper, Dr. Nina Cracknell, Jessica Hardiman and Prof. Daniel Mills (University of Lincoln).
Herron, M., Shofer, F., & Reisner, I. (2009). Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 117 (1-2), 47-54 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.12.011  
Schalke, E., Stichnoth, J., Ott, S., & Jones-Baade, R. (2007). Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situations Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 105 (4), 369-380 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2006.11.002  
Schilder, M., & van der Borg, J. (2004). Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 85 (3-4), 319-334 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2003.10.004

67 comments:

  1. I really want to agree with this. i use the ecollar "for emergencies." she freaks out whenever she sees another REALLY big dog because she wants to play and wrestle with it, even when that dog wants nothing to do with her and will fight her to get her to leave them alone. we spent 8 months doing impulse control and focus exercises she's excellent with it, except for in this situation. we built up to the biggest distractions and we're down to everything but this. if we are off-leash and another big dog shows up before i can get to her to leash her, she's gone and i cant get her back - until the ecollar. we trained on it carefully and now i can finally trust her to be offleash. i want to use only pos reinforcement and ditch the ecollar, and i've tried, but its the only way she can be offleash without risk. and if i have to choose between her never being allowed offleash or being offleash with a few training shocks, i feel the few training shocks are then worth it. i dont want to, but nothing else works.

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    1. You should google the premack principle and try controlled training sessions where she is allowed to see the other dogs when she comes when called, and is not allowed to see the dog when she doesn't. Then she will come when called because she thinks it gets her what she wants.

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    2. How on earth do you think people trained dogs before these dreadful things were invented? I have owned and bred and trained GSD, Border Collies and a few Shelties since 1960 and NEVER used one - this is from the person who started the ban that exists in Wales.

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    3. If the only time she gets shocked is when she is running towards a big dog, there's a HUGE risk that she is going to begin associating the shock with the presence of big dogs. That will very easily flip her over excitement into aggression, as she tries to get rid of what she perceives as the source of (or cue for) the shock. You'll then have a MUCH bigger problem to address, and it'll be much harder to undo.

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    4. Anonymous, before these things were invented? They beat the dogs physically. I've talked to trainers who learned from trainers 50+ years ago. Training used to be HARSH. R+ training is a recent development. Not saying beating is right, but that is what they did.

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    5. The proper use of low level stimulation accompanied by higher levels in rare situations is the easiest and most effective way for the average dog owner to control their dog. I had a similar situation with my female GSD who wanted to kill our neighbors cat. Without the use of an e-collar the cat would be dead and my neighbor would hate my dog. Used properly and smartly it is a tool without a rival.

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    6. If your dog is not trained to ignore large dogs and recall, she should not be off-leash. The shock may very well teach her to attack large dogs rather than play. If you cannot handle positively teaching your dog not to chase, get a trainer's help or do NOT go walking around off-leash. Sheesh. It rather have my dog on some para-cord I can grab or step on than ruin their time out by having them expecting to be shocked all the time.

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  2. is there a tool that is more effective to use on a pit bull that bites and holds (if in a scuffle with another dog)? obviously it doesnt happen all the time, but even once is too much obviously.

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    1. There is no 'tool' for this - you need to prevent it happening to begin with, and teach the dog that other dogs are not a threat (grabbing and holding like this is typically a panic response to a perceived threat - grab on and disable the other dog before it can disable me).

      This can be done through desensitisation (reducing your dog's reactivity to the other dog); counterconditioning (pairing other dogs with rewarding things so that they become sources/predictors of good, rather than stress) and rewarding any and all good responses - including ignoring the other dog. Basically anything that isn't negative, from posturing at the other dog up to grabbing them. This must be started at a distance the dog is happy at. Have a look at BAT (behavior adjustment training, Grisha Stewart) and LAT (look at that game). BAT is an excellent method for teaching a dog to make good choices rather than bad.

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    2. Yes, it's called the "don't own a dog you cannot handle" method. Just because you really like to dog does not mean you are being a good handler. Sometimes you need to work your way up to the more "strong-headed" breeds and until then, you are putting your pet, other people and their pets, and yourself in harms way. If you need to physically shock an animal around it's neck to get it to do what you want it to do, you are not ready for that animal.

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    3. I posted a reply to these responses, but apparently it's not being approved. I'm not sure why, unless there is a desire to keep the bias that's raring here. I posted this original question, and of course, there are lots of automatic assumptions that I'm an incompetent owner that can't handle a bully breed and I love to let my raging pit bull run around and attack everyone else's dogs because I'm lazy and don't love my dog enough. So I hope the admin will allow this clarification - my dog is NOT the aggressor. I live in a congested area, and some other dog owners choose not to properly train or neuter THEIR dogs. Some dogs, when seeing another powerful dog, will aggress out of insecurity. My dog will NOT sit idly by while being attacked. Even though my dog is not the one at initial fault, as a responsible owner I feel the need to be prepared for any situation, and should a bite and hold occur, I want to limit the damage as much as I can. So, is there a more effective tool? Like it or not, this is a situation many owners face - no matter what "iron clad management" you instill for yourself, you are still only as safe as your environment and should know how to deal with the worst situations.

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    4. If you read "Fight!" by Jean Donaldson and get a trainer versed in it, you can teach a game dog to learn how to let go. Telling people to not get a dog they can't handle after the fact is a slippery slope for the dog... the dog gets given up, and maybe gets rehomed... maybe not because it's a pitty with a problem.

      At any rate, Jean has some very good suggestions and protocols for this type of problem. it will be a lot of work, but in the end, good for the dog and any future playmates.

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    5. I'm not a fan of ecollars, but reading this thread, I have to say that an otherwise untrained dog knows when he's in a Fight, vs. when he's in a Game. I would think that upping the ante, to the point where the Game approaches the same kind of stimulus as a Fight, might be a job for a Schutzhund trainer, not a typical pet owner.

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    6. Try B.A.T.....google it....

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    7. Is there a more effective tool? Yes: a muzzle.

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    8. I walk dogs and always carry Spray Shield. Even a loose friendly dog approaching a group of leashed dogs can cause issues. Although it is not a brick wall, it has done the trick for me on more than one occasion. Sometimes tossing yummy treats at the loose dog can help too, but probably not if they are highly aroused. I also agree with muzzling and staying away from the e-collar, being situationally aware and avoiding areas where loose or inappropriate dogs frequent.

      Also, I don't think "game" means play in this context, but rather an adjective for a dog willing to fight with "unyielding spirit".

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  3. Wow, these comments are a little bit scary...

    For the one about 'using training shocks because otherwise she can't be off leash'... One of these studies described showed, "Most owners from all groups were satisfied with the results of the training." That is, Group C (positive reinforcement group) got successful results. Sounds like you need to find a better trainer, not resort to a shock collar.

    For the second anonymous, who says that they have to use a shock collar to get dogs to let go of other dogs in a fight... Um, don't let the dogs fight in the first place. It's not okay to have a dog that bites and holds interacting with other dogs, especially without a muzzle. If you're allowing dogs to bite and hold, then your management needs to change. You don't need a shock collar, you need fences, leads, and muzzles.


    I was actually going to comment about how well laid out these two studies are and how interesting the results are. Thank-you for reporting on these studies. While I consider myself a mostly-positive-reinforcement trainer, chasing behaviour is one thing I was under the impression you 'almost have to' (depending on the dog and its history) use positive punishments for. It's interesting that all groups got good results with the chasing behaviour, which has made me reconsider this position. Thank-you for making me think. :)

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    1. You think the comments are scary, but of course you provide absolutely nothing productive. For the 1st comment, your point makes no sense. Yes, of course the + group is mostly happy with the results. Of course they would be. But none of the groups have anything at all to do with the 1st comment. If you want to be critical, it should be because there is a better, working solution that you can provide.

      For the 2nd comment, yes it's pretty obvious that dogs shouldn't get into fights in the 1st place. But sometimes it happens. So how would you solve that problem? Speaking theoretically doesn't help - yes dogs can jump or dig out of fences and they can sometimes slip out of leads held by the most careful of trainers.

      And for the record, of course shock collars are awful. How could you electrocute your best friend?

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    2. From a different 'anonymous'

      Well, YOU are shocking your best friend so answer your own question of "how could you electrocute your best friend?"

      If shocking her is the only way that she can be off leash, then perhaps you need to change your training style....or don't let her off leash in an area that she has access to these big dogs you describe. It is OUR RESPONSIBILITY as owners to put the dog in safe situations. If she can't be safe in a situation then she shouldn't be IN the situation.

      As to the reply about using a shock collar on a dog that won't let go of other dogs, this is absolutely the most wrong time to use a shock collar. If a dog is already so aroused that it is not letting go of another dog, adding pain to the dog in the form of a shock is going to arouse the dog even further and also associate the pain from the shock with the dog it is currently biting. It is not going to understand the pain is coming from an owner with a remote control. Therefore, you will likely cause the pit bull to severely injure if not kill the dog it is biting.

      And not speaking theoretically, the previous poster was absolutely correct in stating that you need fencing, leashes and potentially a muzzle. What was left out was IRON CLAD MANAGEMENT. There can be no 'escaping from fences or leashes' if you have a dangerous dog. It is THE OWNERS responsibility to make sure the fence is secure, the leash is secure etc....

      That is not hypothetical.

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    3. Wait, so you are a different person that makes no sense? If I find it implausible to shock my best friend, why would I shock him? What are you talking about?

      In the first situation, the person says if they have to choose between letting a dog have a lifetime of offleash experiences with some training shocks or a lifetime with no offleash time, they choose a few training shocks. It's a tough call, but I can at least see the rationale and I think many could argue that your decision to deny the dog a lifetime of offleash experiences is far worse for the dog.

      In the second situation, you're probably correct in most cases, with idiots who want to use the shock collar but don't care enough to train their dog responsibly on it. But when a dog is properly trained on a shock collar, the situation you describe is completely false and you are completely incorrect. If someone is trying to be responsible and have a method for dealing with horrible situations in the unlikely event they occur and you prevent them from doing so, who is the irresponsible one there?

      And my goodness, there is no such thing as IRON CLAD MANAGEMENT. There is no such thing as foolproof. YOU are being a fool if you think there is. If people are trying to understand how to deal with worst case scenarios, how irresponsible to tell them "just don't get in them." Accidents happen. You have made mistakes, I guarantee it. You are not iron clad. No one is. Acting like that exists is just plain irresponsible.

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  4. My 2 cents

    http://www.funpawcare.com/2012/11/09/how-to-use-a-shock-collar-correctly/

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  5. Thank you for conducting this study and publishing the results. The more information based upon studies we have, the more we can push to ban the use of these devices, especially since they are unnecessary. Do I support a ban or warning? Yes I support a ban! But at the very least a good warning... although as your study shows...no one reads. Thank you again.

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    1. Just to clarify, we did not conduct the research; we are reporting on the Defra final reports. The names of the scientists & their institutions are all given in the references section.

      Thanks for your comment!

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  6. Anonymous, if you use an e-collar for aggression your chances of success are grim. More than likely your dog will associate the shock wrongly and you might end up with a severely aggressive dog. Please research BAT,Behavior Adjustment Training, Grisha Stewart,or talk to a behaviorist before that happens. Take Tegan's advice and muzzle.

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  7. I use an ecollar to control barking in my dog. He is a flighty dog, scared of everything (despite socialization and positive reinforcement) He barks at things he is scared of (everything except for dogs he knows very well, ie. has met at least 5 times on a regular basis. He is even scared of people that he doesn't see frequently)

    I originally had a static one and I didn't like that sometimes it would give a shock if he shook (friction between his fur and the collar) so I changed to a remote controlled one. I started on the LOWEST setting and tried it on myself too (I mean really, why would you put something on the highest setting to try it out???? Espically when it is on a fur baby that in purchasing/adopting you have consented to love and care for).

    The good thing about this collar is that you can send a sound only which my dog responds to. It is very very rare that I use the shock side of the collar these days.
    I have tried having treats for him to give him when he stops barking when he is told and give him heaps of praise when he does what he is told. I have tried so many things to try and rectify his behavior and this is the one thing that has worked. Also, he loves his collar (weird perhaps?) He gets so excited when I put it on him.

    But then I have used this product as it is supposed to be used. I totally understand why there should be restrictions on them, in the wrong hands they can be very harmful. Maybe a way to work it would be that only veterinarians could sell them and only after careful evaluation of the dog and owner as well as providing education

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    1. Veterinarians are not behaviorists, and too many people believe they are the best resource when they really aren't.

      I have a dog who sounds fairly similar to yours. I adopted her when she was six and she was very sensitive-- flighty, dog reactive, etc. I'll admit, it took time, but she's improved so significantly, and I never resorted to hurting or scaring her to "fix" a behavior. Forcing a dog to stop a behavior using these techniques is harmful and doesn't help with the root of the issue. Positive, science based techniques do.

      Talk to a certified trainer or behaviorist who uses positive methods, and be consistent with what they recommend. There is a better way for both you and your dog.

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    2. Uhm.. You make your dog, that's already insecure and scared, do what you want by scaring it even more? You punish your dog for being fearful towards unfamiliar people and situations? I don't think that's going to work. Yes, your dog might "behave" beter because he's scared to get a shock. But he'll still be scared. Probably even more scared than he was to begin with.

      It makes me sad when people want a "quick fix". There is no quick fix with fearful dogs. It takes time. Patience. Devotion. Love and friendship. And eventually, maybe, he'll start trusting that you will handle any situation that he might be weary about. It sounds to me like he's barking to get the scary person/situation to go away. Hopefully one day he'll trust you enough to let you handle it.

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  8. "I was actually going to comment about how well laid out these two studies are and how interesting the results are." Now that's a joke they make no mention of the type of collar use what levels were used. This is not research it is a group of folks opinio n. This research study is pure rubbish and it always comes from folks who have no real in depth knowledge of e-collars.

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    1. Are you capable of following the links in the references to the full DEFRA reports? There's 70 pages of details there!

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    2. The 1st study showed that the average dog owner was incapable of following the manufacturer's instructions on how to use the e-collar, with bad consequences - so that seems to argue that the general public shouldn't be using them, and that they should be restricted for use only by fully trained professionals.

      The 2nd study used e-collar trainers who were specifically cherry picked by the e-collar manufacturer's association to represent best practice, so you'd hope they had some in depth knowledge of e-collars... and despite this it was found that "the e-collar was not more effective than rewards-based training for recall and chasing, even though this is the scenario that e-collar advocates particularly recommend it for"
      So it seems that the main reason e-collars users must use e-collars is that they aren't proficient at using reward based training - and maybe they could just improve those skills.

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  9. Ban the ecollars.

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  10. A shock collar is a tool. (and in my opinion, one of last resort). It should not actively be needed for a 3 month period. It should produce the result- then should be weaned. Sounds like the study is trying to emphasize the bad. Not everyone learns the same. And some situations require more drastic measures (if safety of the animal is at stake). I have several friends- who primarily train positive- who have used them successful to fix behavioral problems. (accessive barking, lack of recall, fence running). With multiple dogs in a house and jealous/competition involved, positive does not always get desired results.

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    1. Ecollars are often misused and that's what I object to. I used one once with an Irish Setter who would run for miles. He had plenty of positive training but it wouldn't hold up to his need to run. After some training I could take him to a big field and he would run his heart out and come back when I whistled. After that, I never had to use the collar. The alternative would have been to have him constantly tied up.

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    2. I used e- collar once, on one dog. I have had more than 2 dozen and did not need it with any other dog. This one had learned that if out of arm's reach, there were no rules. (18 mo old male rescue). I worked with three nationally acclaimed trainers, all positive (which is my preferred and usual training method) for 5 YEARS. Yet this hard headed, intelligent dog still would escape and run for hours. He could tell the difference if even fish line were attached and behave perfectly. Yes, he should not have been able to vault over a person blocking the partially open car door but he accomplished it, running in 4 lanes of traffic for an hour. He looked like a black wolf and risked being shot. He earned obedience titles and agility titles and was a therapy dog. But without the e- collar he would have died. When he was 7, I worked with a trainer and the collar. The trainer said he could not believe how intelligent the dog was. In less than two months, we weaned off the active collar, and totally removed it in 3 months. He never needed it again...perfect recall, off leash runs in woods and no more escapes. He lived to be 18 years old tho he was 55 lbs. Worth it in a huge way. Warning, yes. Banned, no. It has it's uses. This dog had 11 more years to live, not squashed by traffic or shot by animal control because we had this available to teach him how great the rewards were when he came back.

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    3. Animals including humans learn from positive and negative influences in life.

      The e-collar is a negative influence, it is a great tool to reinforce commands at a distance.
      The best positive reinforcement comes from you.. the trainer.
      Most "treat trained" dogs are only motivated by one thing, food.

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  11. Thanks for the article! I agree that untrained, uneducated owners probably shouldn't be trying to use an e-collar at all. I've heard of one or two instances where its use made sense to me, given the danger otherwise posed to the dog. One of those instances was rattlesnake aversion training in the American Southwest. This was a clinic using live rattlesnakes (with the mouth taped shut for safety) and an e-collar handled by an experienced trainer who started with vibrations and, if necessary, an increasing stimulus. The friend who took her Brittany dogs to the clinic reported that the softer dog wouldn't even look at the snake and needed no stimulus at all.

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    1. a bad carpenter blames his tools!!

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  12. Ban them, and thank you for the careful study.
    It's so distressing to read too that:
    "One of the collars, bought over the internet, turned out to be a counterfeit with no cut-off for the continuous shock, and two of the genuine collars had faults."

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    1. Regarding your statement.. "two of the genuine collars had faults." Where do you see this in the study??
      I can't find it.

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    2. The quote is from the text above. See p11 of the Defra report (link is in the references section) for more information.

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    3. To Anon 13:17

      You have provided another demonstration, backing up the findings about shock-collar instructions, of how people don't read information properly.

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  13. When a *pet* dog responds to a particular stimulation they can in most instances more easily be trained away from that response. The reason being they have not been for many generation aggressively selected for that or any particular response. That ease of redirecting is not the case for a dog that has been aggressively selected for a/that particular response to a given stimulation. For example stopping a working retriever while retrieving in order to get instructions from its handler. Moreover I don't think e-collars should not be sold to any handler that wants to use them as a shortcut in order to get a certain response.

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  14. Thank you for this article. Studies like these contribute to shed an objective light on the pitfalls of using e-collars. The overall relationship with our dogs should always be considered when choosing one method of education over another. That relationship is much more fulfilling for both the dog and the owner when based on trust rather than fear. When stressed, dogs are also more likely to display problematic behaviors so the long term effects of using e-collars, especially in the hands of owners who don't really know what they're doing, is likely to backfire.

    Today there are many methods to both educate and treat behavior issues that do not involve the use of discomfort for the dog, at any level. Spending a little more time understanding how to apply those methods is definitely worth it.
    http://blog.smartanimaltraining.com/2013/05/23/e-collars-why-i-never-want-to-use-them-again/

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  15. No mention is made of type of collars used, levels used or how the level was determined, there is stress involved in all learning so cortisol levels are not helpful, nor do you identify the authors of the "study" nor yourself as the blog writer. What a joke.

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    1. I agree.
      Seems like lots of missing information from the study.
      I personally do not use an e-collar, but have seen many trainers and have been impressed with
      the results.

      UK Labs

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    2. The references section includes links to all of the references cited, as well as listing the authors. The levels used were set individually for each dog, according to the manufacturers guidelines. You will find full details, including the makes of collar chosen by the trainers, in the Defra reports, which give very detailed information.

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  16. I would like to know what all of you shock collar trainers do with your children.

    If you were to put a shock collar on your toddler, you'd have CPS at your door. Why is it OK to do this to a dog. A dog that has the same reasoning capacity as a TODDLER.

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    1. That is really a stupid question. How about this analogy.. if you eat meat, fish or poultry, do you eat your children?

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  17. I fully support a ban. Using shock therapy on any sentient being is cruel, and shock collars are too often misused to the extent that the dog is burned. Warning labels may sound like a reasonable compromise but in my experience the people who are the worst offenders (oblivious to distress signs, unable or unwilling to give any real effort to using positive methods, inconsistent in their training, wanting quick fixes to problems they created through lack of appropriate socialization and training early on, etc) tend to be the least likely to even bother reading the instruction manual. Sadly, they are too often also the least likely to be willing to spend the time money for a professional trainer or behaviourist to help them resolve the problem behaviour using more humane methods.

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  18. Where is the common sense in many of these posts? If your dog "attacks" other dogs off-lead, why in the world would you let your dog off leash in the presence of other dogs? An ecollar is not going to solve your problem.
    And if you carefully read this article and know how ecollars are used in everyday training, how could anyone even have the tiniest thought that training their dog everyday behaviors by using continuous shock on their neck until the dog performs the right command - we're talking sit, down, stay, come, etc - is an okay thing to do?
    And to those other owners whose dogs have behavior problem, go to www.apdt.com and find a certified behaviorist in your area. Even at $100/hr, it is cheaper, more effective and humane than shocking your dog.
    I am a dog trainer and in my studio I use DAP diffusers and neuropneumonic (sp)music as well as positive reinforcement and close observation of my dog client's body language to keep stress down and positive learning a priority. We also have fun! Dogs love coming to training and 95% of my business is through client referrals. I am proud of my success rate and the calm and happiness of my clients.

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  19. Well my dog in his old age went deaf -and having an ecollar allowed me to communicate at distance- up to a kilometer away. So at the beach on the farm a quick vibrate and he would look around for me and come to my hand signal-- I called it his Freedom collar... Yay for technology.. It's come a long way since the first ecollars

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    1. this is great news, i am very pleased your dog is still enjoying life, because if it was up to some, they would say if he can't hear you keep him on the lead all the time. What kind of a life is that for a dog, that lives to run.

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    2. A vibrating collar to get the attention of a deaf dog, or one giving to give a loud enough close-up beep for dogs with poor hearing, are both fine with everyone...
      BUT these studies are about use of e-collars to give the dog an electronic shock with a high voltage between two 'spark-plugs' on the inside of the dog collar.

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  20. There are so many positive aspects to using an ecollar correctly. as all things go....why judge and punish the responsible people for what the, sorry, morons do? I live in remote Alaska and my dog MUST stay on our property to be safe, MUST have a perfect recall to be safe. We accomplished this with only a vibrate setting on the collar for recall and only three electrical stims on a low setting....one I could easily tolerate myself. He does not leave our property and comes instantly when called. I challenge anyone to bring their perfectly "positive" trained dog here and have them confronted with all the animals they will want to get after and see if they stay or come back when you call them. Ecollars are a wonderful safety tool and a great tool to allow a dog to be free as well. Mine has never reacted in fear and is the happiest most well adjusted dog I've ever had...and gets to be free! I have had dogs for over thirty years and highly recommend ecollar training....BUT for those who will read, study and research the proper way to use them.

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    1. Well said Lin, They are a great tool when used correctly. I am glad someone on here speaks some sense. I also use one with my dog and he is very happy and full of drive. My dog shows no signs of stress at all.

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  21. I love these studies. Well-meaning people actually believe the data here, don't understand what they're reading, and are convinced that e-collars are bad and evil.

    In the meantime, at my company we'll continue to use e-collars with every dog. Help these dogs become more confident and happy, and in many cases actually save the dog from injury, euthanasia.

    The more bogus articles and studies like this the more contrast there will be for trainers that actually get results every day with real dogs. The argument is always hilarious to me; the purely positive crowd points to studies, research, and a bunch of smart men and women in lab coats.

    The balanced group simply points to the sweeping up they do after the purely positive crowd can't get it done, video proof, and cumulative decades of anecdotal and eye witness experience that balanced training even marginally done will always outperform purely positive expertly done. You keep your studies and theory. I'll keep what we've been shown to work and will continue to work.

    (By the way, start showing some video proof with your style up against balanced trainer styles and see if you can get as many converts. Best of luck :)

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  22. I'm sorry to hear that people feel that they can't work on obedience around distractions without feeling the need to use an e-collar. I have taught my dogs an emergency recall word and works perfect...they could be in midflight towards chasing a rabbit and boom they come flying back to me. Yes people, it can be done. I even had my one dog slip his collar and went to go chase another dog, and boom came right back. All thanks to positive reinforcement and consistency..no shocks needed...amazing! My question to everyone who uses shocks....if trainers can control whales who are much larger and stronger than dogs using positive reinforcement, then why can't we control our dogs the same way? It can be done, people just don't want to put in the time or effort. And anyone who is using a shock on an aggressive dog....aggression is fear based. Ask yourself..what is your worst fear? Being placed in a room with spiders? Let me give you this scenario....you see spiders and what happens..do you squeal? do you stomp the spiders? Now let me throw a shock collar on you and shove you into a room with spiders...and if you squeal I shock you...do you really think that would help your anxiety and fear? Now take that same scenario and apply that to your dog....your dog's aggression is the fight or flight mode kicking in...and he's choosing fight, but still a fear based reaction....I'm going to beat you up before you beat me up...how is adding a shock going to help with fear??

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  23. a complete farce.
    a shock collar is called a shock collar because it administers a shock. proper use of it will definitely shock a dog at some point. no arguments there. BUT! it is a tool that requires extensive handler training to be used properly. if done properly, none of the negative effects described in the article, or in the plethora of comments would be present. no anxiety, no pain, no fearful yelping, no "shutting down". if this ever happens while you are using an e-collar, you're plain-and-simple using it wrong, you have the wrong device, or you have been instructed badly. being shocked can feel like pain, like burning, like tingling, like tickling. it can even feel like a shoulder tap. unless you can make it a "shoulder-tap", you are either wasting time or torturing your dog.

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  24. In my own opinion, I feel the e-collar is a poor example of how to train your pet. As a handler you have a responsibility to the animal to train it correctly, to train it efficiently, and to train the animal positively. If you have to revert to shock treatment then you obviously cannot handle the animal to begin with. Just because you think you “like a dog”, it does not mean you are able to correctly train, provide, and protect that animal. When triggering neurotransmitters in the brains of dogs, you should focus on the dopamine receptors (pleasure and positivity) and not the endorphins (pain). With positive reinforcement the dog is more likely to do what you say because they will get what they want. Using shock treatment can mess with the dog’s sensory perception (serotonin), which can eventually lead to depression. You should really consider the negative effects on the dog, and stop worrying about your petty behavior issues coming from the dog that you are not qualified to handle.

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  25. Clearly, the proponents of shock collars don't understand basic science. If they did, they'd realize that all quadrants of operant conditioning work to modify behavior. The distinction only comes as the result of an ethical choice. Do I choose to use P+ and R-, which shock collars represent. Or, do I resist training with pain, and use R+ and P-? I choose the latter, because both methods ARE effective, so why choose the one that causes pain to my dog?????? Sadly, if you cannot effect behavior change with positive training, and you can do it with punishment, that just means that your positive training technique sucks, not that the method doesn't work. What you need to do is dump the shock collar and find someone who knows what they're doing to help you learn how to train properly.

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  26. Would people here ban the follow items:

    Prong Collar?
    Check Chain? (Used by the Police to train there dogs) So does this make it ok?
    Halti Head Collar? (Put one on the dog and see how much stress it causes the dog)
    Slip Lead?
    What about the good old flat collar? (Puts constant pressure on a pulling dog, choking them for the full walk) and yes i know you need to train the dog to walk on a loose lead, but plenty on owners don't know how to achieve this.

    I am interested to here your responses.

    Many Thanks

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  27. Please post more research if you find it.
    I cannot find evidence that the control groups and ecollar groups both involved yelling or not. It may be the case that yelling caused the chemically indicated stress response.

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  28. I have recently worked with two severely damaged dogs due to shock collars. The first one was quickly confirmed by the owner of a Golden Retriever who was proud to be using it. The 2nd was only a 2-yr-old Frenchie who 'suddenly' became rabid and bit someone recently. After a pricey 2-hour consult and seeing signs of a dog who had been shocked, I thought perhaps I was off the mark. Turns out, they had sent the dog to rattlesnake aversion training and had been also using a shock collar to control barking as recently as 2 days before I came to help them. They said the shock collar was no longer working--she was attacking straight through the pain. Discovered they were too embarrassed to tell me about the use because the person who referred them to me told them not to tell thinking I would get upset.

    I told them to remove any morality aspect and let's take a look at just the results. To answer Brian's question, I have formed my current opinion that anything in the P+ realm (that is, something that delivers high pain at the extreme--shock, prong, choke, pulling on a flat collar, head halti and any other device yet to be invented) has as unpredictable of results as they would with a human.

    For example, if a teacher told you to "Shut up and sit down." You didn't and they came over and slapped you in the face. I think every person will have a different response. Person A might say, "I'm sorry. It won't happen again." and sits down. Person B: Might shut down completely -- possibly sit down? Person C: Might slap or punch the person next to them out of frustration. Person D: Might slap the teacher right back. In all of the scenarios, I don't think any of the responses goes toward the betterment of the animal/person, nor does it foster a good will toward the trainer or the environment. Very risky, in my opinion.

    Worse, with a shock collar, the animal probably does not know that the owner is causing the pain. The dog could just as likely conclude that whatever it was focusing on is responsible for its pain and so, back to the reactions of the individual animal.

    On a personal level, I grew up on the wrong side of a belt for punishment as a child. It is an understatement to say that I do not respond well to threats or heavy handed treatment toward myself, others, and especially animals. I am the one who feels a natural instinct to fight, not flight. I probably do suffer PTSD even though I have long ago understood and forgiven for this. To undue this knee-jerk response is complicated because it is so deeply rooted that I have to wonder if part of my brain has been somehow physically affected. ? This would be the next study I'm interested in. If it is hard for me as a reasoning, communicating, reading, studying human, I can only imagine what it is for animals that don't have more resources than they do.

    I go out of my way to have patience, strategize, manipulate environments for maximum control and then concentrate mightily on finding ways to reward while keeping myself safe. I'm also not entirely sure that every animal can be rehabilitated. I suppose I would rather a very dangerous animal be euthanized than subject it to more distressing treatment in the name of hopeful rehabilitation. I tend to believe those types of treatments suppress crucial informational behavior that provide us with warnings about what an animal has in mind...the dogs I am working with now seem conflicted - normal one moment and out of their minds rabid the next. So, no thank you for me.
    Something to consider.

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  29. What about shock collars used to keep dogs within the back yard (especially in neighborhoods that don't allow fences), or to prevent them from approaching 'forbidden' areas like the garbage? In these cases the collar is programmed to activate only if the dog comes within range.

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  30. Interesting research, sounds like they did much to keep bias out of the actual research. The next step I think would be to conduct an experiment with "Balanced" trainers, or "Precision" trainers. Similarly to their "A" and "B" groups, using the same trainers (trainers that use primarily R+ with small amounts of P+) both with and without e-collars, and then a secondary control, like group "C." Would love to see this done!

    As for the idea of banning shock collars, I feel that they should be available *only* through experienced, preferably certified in some way, trainers, who would evaluate a dog and handler team before selling, and/or only selling with lessons.

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  31. Wonderful study. Wish they would ban beating and shock collars in the USA.

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