Training: Are you (unintentionally) hurting your dog?

The equipment you use should never cause your dog pain or discomfort

Some of the tools and equipment used in dog training vary widely due to various opinions and experiences by people who work with dogs. In the past, and unfortunately still today, aversive equipment is used to ‘force’, ‘correct’ or ‘punish’ dogs into doing what is required. These include (but are not limited to) the shock collar, choke chain, prong collar and citronella collar.

To understand the effect of the equipment on the animal, it is important that we understand how the equipment works. One very important question to start off with is: have you ever tried any of these pieces of equipment on your own neck?

The shock collar (also known as the electronic collar or e-collar)

Shock collars are widely advertised to serve as a deterrent, for example to stop barking or to keep your dog inside your property. Most have settings where you can set the intensity of the electric shock, and some may deliver a high-pitched sound or vibration as warning signal. The intensity can be set from a mild shock to an intense shock.

This equipment is said to be used to train dogs to refrain from unwanted behaviour; thus, if the unwanted behaviour

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is offered, a shock is delivered after the unwanted behaviour is performed and the unwanted behaviour will stop. Although it is stated that no physical/lasting damage is caused to the dog, have you ever wondered what is happening with regard to the emotional state of the dog? However this equipment is viewed, it stays a method of reprimand and does NOT teach the dog how to behave differently, only to stop what he is doing. In many cases the dog may find some other behaviour to replace the unwanted behaviour with, in order to not receive the shock.

Shock and spray collars are mostly justified by people using them with the following statements:

  • It will not do any lasting harm.
  • The adjustable levels allow you to control the intensity of the shock.
  • These kinds of collars are especially successful on ‘stubborn’ dogs.
  • Fast results.
  • The owner need not be present when using the shock collar to stop the dog from barking.
  • The electric current causes pain and discomfort to the dog, yes, but otherwise it would not be effective in conditioning the dog.

The statements above need to be carefully considered, as they have NO place in the training or handling of dogs. To explain, let’s use the example of using a shock collar to stop a dog from barking. By giving a shock to the dog’s neck when he barks, the natural method of communication used by the dog is altered. When a natural behaviour is withheld, the dog may become aggressive, confused, anxious, may show distress, become depressed or can even go into a total emotional shutdown – it all depends on the personality of the dog. It will require a mindset change for human handlers to be able to handle their dogs in a respectful and positive manner and without punishment.

In the January issue we also take a look at the use of choke chains and prong collars. Don’t miss out!

Article by Anle Allison, internationally qualified animal behaviour practitioner

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