One of my twitter friends, Catherine Toft (www.twitter.com/gone_to_dogs) is, like me, a “crossover trainer.”
As “crossover trainers,” Catherine and I have both used traditional training methods (incorporating the use of physical corrections) in the past and have since transitioned to force-free training methods (clicker training). My experience was using prong and choke collars, and I admit I have never put a shock collar on a dog. Catherine, however, had experience using prongs and mentoring under an accomplished shock collar trainer successfully for some time.
As with any training tool, there are skilled and unskilled applications for the use of electric shock collars. Skilled applications can be extremely effective and produce quick training results, unskilled applications can be downright abusive. Even with skilled applications, there are documented side effects and fallout to the use of punishment in behavior modification – you may get the behaviors you want, and you may get a variety of undesirable behaviors along with the desired training results.
As a cross over trainer myself, I know it is sometimes hard to reflect on the training decisions we’ve made in the past. I don’t think people that use these tools are abusive or that the majority of them intend to cause fear and pain in the animals they work with. I do, now that I have increased understanding and skills, believe that these tools are unnecessary and that there are better, kinder ways to achieve those training goals without the use of coercion or intimidation.
Catherine has a great Shock Collar Position Statement on her website. On this page, Catherine tells of an experiment she did, trying the shock collar on herself to better understand what a dog might feel when wearing such a training tool.
I wanted to share with my readers the results of her self-test and encourage you all to read the rest of the article as well. Here is Catherine’s experience testing the various stimulation levels on a modern shock collar:
A report of my shock collar self-test:
I used a Dogtra 200 NCP Gold. It has a rheostat dial. I used the back of my arm so that the skin wouldn’t be too sensitive, such as a dog’s skin might not be. I could feel nothing when the dial was at zero, which makes sense as one way to turn it “off”. I had to work my courage up for a long time to do this test. I considered the statement that the shock collar at low levels feels like a tickle or a tap, so I first tried about a 5 out of 100 (max). I felt nothing. I then set the dial higher in small increments.
I could feel nothing until the setting of 20. Then I felt a sharp pain, like being stuck with a hot needle. There was a definite feeling of heat. The pain was sharp, a point sensation. It did not feel pleasant, and it did not feel neutral. It felt absolutely nothing like a “tap” as in a tap on the shoulder, which would be a blunt, non-painful sensation. Importantly, at the lowest level that I could detect the stimulus, I perceived the feeling as pain and not as another kind of physical sensation.
I went higher on the rheostat and got up to 40 before I couldn’t make myself go any higher. At that point, the sharpness of the feeling was greater and the sense of heat was greater. But by 40 there was also a feeling of electrical current. I got the familiar buzzing feeling that you might remember if you’ve ever touched a live wire. In other words, I definitely perceived the feeling as shock, not tap or a tickle. My skin started to tingle between the live electrode point and the ground point. Clearly a current was traveling between the two points on the shock collar, and it seemed to be traveling not only on the skin but in the muscle. I suspect it radiates out in an electromagnetic field pattern between the two points. Interestingly, I did not know which point was which on the Dogtra, as the two points appear the same, until I applied the shock to myself. In the Tritronics model, the ground point is black and the live point is colored according to the level of intensity of the shock each point type (5 in all) delivers.
Great article, Catherine. Interesting food for thought to trainers who advocate the use of shock collars as well as to those of us who advocate the restriction or banning of their use.
For more great training information from Catherine, visit her website at http://r-plusdogtraining.info/!