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Get A Grip! Does An Electronic Collar Count As A Leash Under The Leash Laws? Should It?

40 Comments

Last Saturday was a gorgeous fall day, one of the last of the year here in the DC metro area nice enough to sit outside.   So I decided to celebrate by spending part of the afternoon sitting outside a coffee shop in Old Town Alexandria with Boomer.

Along came a resident with a gorgeous German Shepherd.  She placed her dog in a down stay, which he held remarkably well, while she ducked into the store for a cup of coffee.  When she came out, I saw her showing the remote control for her Shepherd’s electronic collar to the women at the table next to me, explaining that the electronic collar “counted” as physical restraint under Alexandria’s leash laws.  [Sidenote:  Boomer was being a very good little pup (on leash of course), getting lots and lots of treats while he sat calmly between the Shepherd and two other large dogs.]

My curiosity was peaked.  I’ve never used electronic collars or invisible fences, and I’ve heard too much regarding the downsides of both to care to try them.  I made a mental note to check Alexandria’s leash law to see if an electronic collar would really “count.”

Fast forward to this weekend, when I had the pleasure of attending Dr. Sophia Yin’s Seminar, The Many Faces of Fear and Aggression, sponsored by Dream Dog Productions.  [Sidenote:  Very appropriate topics for me and Sophie, who of course did not come with me to the coffee shop!]

Dr. Yin has done a remarkable job putting together hundreds of photos and videos to make various training concepts like counter-conditioning, desensitization, negative punishment and positive punishment really come alive.  One of the most fascinating parts to watch was Dr. Yin using an electronic collar and a prong collar.  She explained the many pitfalls of punishment, which can occur even if you use punishment the way you are supposed to, by using (1) perfect timing, (2) a correct and continuous rate (catching the bad behavior each and every time it occurs), and (3) a high enough amount of force that the dog doesn’t just become habituated.

At one point, Dr. Yin showed videos of her with a leash attached to a chain link fence, demonstrating the force needed to use a prong collar effectively.  When she lets owners considering a prong collar try to pull on the leash, it is remarkable how far off they are with their amount of force.  When Dr. Yin tries an electronic collar, even with her perfect sense of timing, rate and amount of force, it has the unintended consequence of only serving to confuse the dog.  No wonder she and many others have abandoned the use of forceful, punishment-based training long ago.

With all of Dr. Yin’s experience, even she was unable to communicate what she wanted the dog to learn using an electronic collar.  Part of this is that punishment methods do nothing to tell the dog what kind of good behavior he could do instead of the bad behavior.  Considering all of this, how is the average dog owner supposed to use an electronic collar effectively?

Even if the average dog owner could master the electronic collar with no ill side effects on the dog, would the law allow it?  What has muddied these waters is the fact that Blacksburg, Virginia has recently passed a leash law specifically allowing “remote control collar systems” to be added to the leash options.  So what about Alexandria?

To start, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6539 allows each locality to adopt its own ordinance requiring dogs to “be kept on a leash or otherwise restrained.”   Alexandria has chosen to institute its own leash law, Section 5-7-35 of the City of Alexandria Code.  With very limited exceptions for being on private property or in dog parks, Alexandria requires a dog to be

“…secured by a leash, lead or other means of physical restraint which leash, lead or other means of physical restraint is not harmful or injurious to the dog and which is held by a responsible person capable of physically restraining the dog.”

I doubt that the remote control for the electronic collar would qualify as a “leash, lead or other means of physical restraint” being “held” by the owner.   Even if you make it over that hurdle, after seeing Dr. Yin’s presentation, I have to ask whether an electronic collar is “harmful or injurious to the dog.”  Also, the Alexandria ordinance says nothing about remote collar control systems, whereas Blacksburg felt the need to include that explicitly in its leash law.

Taking all of this into consideration, I would think an electronic collar does not “count” as a leash under Alexandria’s leash laws.  Even if it did, owners should think long and hard about the well-being of their dogs and the relationship between them and the dogs before using electronic collars, and other equipment such as invisible fences and prong collars.

FYI, Alexandria recently adopted an anti-tethering ordinance (Section 5-7-36.1), which will hopefully inspire other jurisdictions to do the same.  For more on the anti-tethering ordinance and requirements of dog owners, take a look at my earlier post, So What Are My Responsibilities As  A Dog Owner?

UPDATE (11/17/2011):  The question of whether an electronic collar would count under Alexandria’s leash law has been determined once and for all.  Congratulations to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria and Alexandria’s Animal Control Officers for taking up the charge and successfully introducing a law clarifying that shock collars will not qualify as leashes or “physical restraint!”  

Author: Heidi Meinzer

Attorney and Animal Lover, not necessarily in that order

40 thoughts on “Get A Grip! Does An Electronic Collar Count As A Leash Under The Leash Laws? Should It?

  1. my opinion?
    e-collars are used by lazy,disconneted “owners”.
    I have never heard of them being used in a public area instead of a leash.
    not my kind of people

    • Well Martha you are an uneducated person, they are a great tool for people who care for their animals. Owners that like to see their dogs have the freedom to roam, run and have fun with the family.
      If I am ever given a ticket for the use of my shock collars instead of a leash, I will fight it in court an win, guaranteed.

      • A dog trained with positive reinforcement can also run free off leash very dependably. Check out these videos as examples: http://www.cooperativepaws.com/videos.html

        But just because a dog is reliable off leash — no matter how trained — doesn’t mean they should be off leash in an urban environment such as Alexandria. Hence the reason that Animal Control is trying to amend the leash law to require a physical leash.

  2. The woman I saw clearly had taught the Shepherd a beautiful down stay in as distracting a setting as you could have. Even so, I just don’t know why you would take such a chance, particularly in an urban setting. Far too often, I have heard of incidents caused by dogs off leash — sometimes the dog off leash and sometimes another dog — when owners think they have their dogs under “perfect” “voice command” or think their dogs are friendly and everything will be “just fine.”

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  4. I find it appalling that Google has placed an ad for e-collars on this page!

  5. Dr. Yin is has taken you for a fool by presenting her training information in the way that she has. You’ve all seen people with total lack of control over their pet with traditional collars and leads. Why is this? Its because of the level of training given to the pet. A dog trained on an ecollar is controlled far more humanely than a dog that is so poorly trained that they strain, pull, and choke themselves against their physical lead.

    There is a perception of control and then there is real control. I walk my dog at heel everyday through the streets of Brooklyn NY. I trained my dog from an early age with a physical lead, an ecollar, verbal commands, and a reward system. Now that my dog understands and knows the commands he is far better behaved and controlled than so many other peoples dogs on leashes. Under the impulse of a tone or electric stimulation equivalent to a double A battery a dog can easily be reminded to obey a command to ignore those other fool dogs and their fool owners who let them lurch and thrust themselves at other people and other dogs.

    From the written description of Dr. Yin’s seminar material she has in a very biased way presented a use of the ecollar as a punishment system. If you present any dog with a new command without having taught them the behavior first, you will get exactly what is described – a confused dog.

    By teaching the dog first the behavior, then the command, whether it is verbal or delivered via ecollar, you get what you desire from our pet. A tick of stimulation reminds him of a verbally delivered command. This is no different from a tug on the leash. Arguing otherwise is taking a position that is uninformed and inexperienced.

    As far as a restraint system, I would argue that an e-collar when used properly is far better at controlling a pet over any distance than someone who has let go of the leash out of fear or surprise – reactions you’ve no doubt seen from people when two dogs decide to get into a scrap and leashes become entangled.

    I hope my response causes some of you to think more critically about this topic – its certainly one worth debating in a fact based way.

    • Chris,

      I appreciate your thoughts. I agree with you on the ineffectiveness of choke collars, and that a using physical leash does not excuse a person from training their dog. However, I still think electronic collars are not worth the results. I found Dr. Yin to be incredibly knowledgeable, with photos and videos to demonstrate exactly what she was discussing. She was quite clear about the amount of force needed — whether with a choke collar or a shock collar much more than a “tick of stimulation” is needed. Pat Miller has also discussed the pitfalls of punishment — a link to which can be found here: http://www.dogster.com/forums/Behavior_and_Training/thread/492122

      I’m not a certified dog trainer, but I have had to work very hard with my Shepherd mix, Sophie. She is such a sensitive dog that there is no way I could consider choke or electronic collars with her.

      As a final note, I also have to say as a lawyer that even setting aside whether you want to use an electronic collar, I do not see legally how an electronic collar meets the definition of a physical leash — at least the way Alexandria’s ordinance is written.

      There is no doubt that a very heated debate rages about the use of electronic collars, and I appreciate having both sides aired on the blog. I hope we can agree to disagree on this topic.

      Thanks for stopping in and commenting, Chris!

      • Hi Heidi, This is a healthy discussion!

        Is the force you’re describing the force need to disable an out-of-control dog, or is it the force needed to be remind a dog of a heel, sit, or stay command?

        As we know most dogs have a short attention span and often need to be reminded of the command and be brought back to attention. The tick of stimulation, or even tone that I’m referring to is equivalent to a nudge or tap on the shoulder. This is measured at somewhere around 5-9 milliamps at 500 volts. At the low levels I’m describing, the effect on a person barely reaches the threshold of perception. I know this to be true because I tried the collar on myself up to maximum discharge. While I personally found the effects at maximum, startling and causing me to jump, they were not painful. It sounds as though Dr. Yin doesn’t know how to use an e-collar and should be brought up to speed by a trainer. I think the saying goes, you shouldn’t use a sledge hammer to crack a peanut.

        The IASP – International Association of the Study of Pain defines pain as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage. IASP makes a clear distinction about stimuli producing momentary discomfort, but which are physiologically harmless, and other states of pain. It specifically calls out that experiences which resemble pain, but are not unpleasant – e.g. prickling or numbness sensations, should not be called pain (IASP 2003).

        I think we can both agree that in the situation when force is needed to disable an animal that is attacking a person or another animal (through any means of exerting control) that force would be extra-ordinary. In this circumstance, a leash with a slip collar, choke collar, regular collar, or an e-collar would all require you to exert a force that the animal will find unappealing and disruptive, whether that is yanking and pulling, choking and strangling, physical intervention, or electrical stimulation. The method and delivery of force in this circumstance should be up to the pet owner but shouldn’t physically harm the animal unnecessarily.

        I think what is needed here is a healthier discussion about the intent and reasoning behind leash laws.

        I would offer that the laws at the time they were written, were written with the mind that collars, leashes, and leads were the only means to restrain dogs and to keep them from being “at large” while the pet owner and their pet were in public spaces in order to prevent unwanted interactions between animals and between animals and people.

        Heidi, as a lawyer, I challenge you help challenge our legal system adapt to the pace and direction of technological, economic, and cultural change. No doubt we are changing faster than any other generation of Americans because of technology.

        So, what in your opinion is the intent and goals of pet restraint laws?

        With kind regards…

      • Chris,

        I will let Dr. Yin speak for herself regarding situations and the amounts of force, but she was certainly not just talking about disabling a dog mid-attack. Dr. Yin has done several recent articles on the topic of shock collars. Take a look at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sophia-yin/electronic-dog-collar_b_810037.html and http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/are-electronic-shock-collars-painful-or-just-annoying-to-dogs-a-new-study-r.

        It takes an incredibly skilled trainer to use an electronic collar correctly, if it can be done, and there are dogs — like my Sophie — who should just never be subjected to a shock collar. I only need to look at her sideways, say her name in a low voice, or lean towards her to get her to respond. An electronic collar would do so much more harm than good with her. The average dog owner will simply not be able to read a dog and be able to implement a shock collar correctly.

        I’m all for the law keeping up with technology and science — and that said, the science is showing more and more that positive reinforcement is simply the most effective way to train. Victoria Stilwell has pulled together many links to many studies in support of the assertion that science shows positive reinforcement is the most effective means of dog training: http://positively.com/positive-reinforcement/the-science-behind-the-philosophy/ I’ll certainly advocate for laws embracing science and technology, but that does not lead me to jump on the electronic collar bus. But I welcome your comments to show the other side!

        Heidi

    • Chris I love your comments! The ecollar is the only reason my vicious English Springer Spaniel has not been put down yet. When he was on a leash my wife could not control him at all, pulled her down twice, although he was a good dog when I walked him.
      Since the ecollar being used now my wife can walk him and have NO worries at all about our vicous spaniel.

      • Positive punishment methods are incredibly risky for dogs who show aggression or other behavior issues. In fact, you may only be suppressing behavior with positive punishment methods. I have seen positive reinforcement methods, classical conditioning and counter conditioning work incredibly well.

  6. I emphatically agree with you that positive reinforcement is the best tool we have to induce the behavior we’re looking for. Again, I think the critical questions are 1) What is the intent behind the leash law, and 2) How well do various restraint systems meet the goals and intent of the legislation? Its seems we’ve mixed up the topics of training tools and restraint tools. That said, I don’t believe the leash laws are there to help determine the best method of training and reinforcing behaviors in a dog – simply to provide reasonable assurance that the dog can be restrained to prevent unwanted interactions.

    While the average dog owner may not be able to implement a shock collar correctly, should leash laws preclude those of us who choose to use the device and in particular use it properly, from using it as the primary means of restraint in a public setting?

    Best, Chris

    • Chris,

      Thanks again for great comments and questions!

      On the intent behind leash laws, they are primarily to restrain a dog and keep them from running at large. Interestingly, Alexandria’s ordinance sits in the section for Transportation and Environmental Services, and alongside sections regarding dogs running at large and restraint of dogs. Virginia’s overall ordinance has two statutes side by side about restraint of dogs by leash and dogs running at large.

      I agree that we could be mixing up training tools and restraint tools, but they do go hand in hand in a way. The one thing you mentioned early on that cannot be underestimated and that I could not agree more with is that, no matter what you choose to restrain your dog with, you are still 100% responsible for training your dog. Any kind of leash cannot substitute for that training. This is the whole reason why the one tag for my blog posts that is used most frequently is “owner responsibility.”

      Great final question, too. Although I may legally conclude an electronic leash doesn’t cut it unless it’s explicit in the statute, there is the question of what an animal control officer will do in reality. I imagine that, even if an animal control officer agrees with my legal conclusion, if a dog on an electronic collar isn’t causing any kind of disturbance, they are not going to act on it. The problem with changing the law for a small handful of people is the age-old “floodgates” issue. There is also the problem of trying to determine who would be qualified to use a shock collar and who wouldn’t. This brings up the issue of whether the laws are headed towards more regulation of trainers — something that could be bad or good!

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  9. I use an ecollar and have had an incredible amount of success with it. Yes, they can be used as corrective tools, but they don’t have to be and with the proper training (for the trainer) they are one of the most efficient dog training methods which is why numerous competitive dog trainers use them in practice.

    I have read a bit of the information on Dr. Yin’s website and found it very interesting. I personnaly feel owners should not use an ecollar without proper education. As far as timing is concerned, I’m not sure why the Dr. would have had difficulties with it. Many advocates of clickers have stated, I’m sorry I’m not taking the time to quote but I’m hoping to write this quickly and continue with my day, that the clicker allows them to quickly time the behavior wanted. I see no difference in marking an appropriate behavior with the word “good”, helping the dog to focus using the ecollar on the appropriate setting for the particular dog in a certain setting, and then rewarding the dog upon release. This seems very similar to clicker training to me minus the fact that I can accomplish this at a great distance from my dog.

    The thing about ecollars is that in order to use it properly the trainer needs to adjust to every situation. My dog’s range is very different when we are in the backyard or when we are on a busy street or in a crowd; it is up to me to adjust the settings by observing my dog carefully and noting the subtle behavior changes. I assure you, using an ecollar properly is absolutely the opposite of being LAZY. It would be far lazier to use another method that does not require me to know my dog as well as I do and be observant of its behavior. I do not use the ecollar to punish my dog. Much like a clicker trainer, I don’t pay for the behavior I don’t want. In fact, in the case of my dog, not giving him his reward is actually more stressful then any corrections as he is a high drive animal. I’ve also spent a very large amount of time teaching my dog why I use the collar and how they can turn it off as he finds it annoying more than anything else. My dog is focused and truly loves to work as he finds it mentally stimulating. The ecollar is used to perfect the wanted behavior not to punish during learning!

    When an ecollar is used properly, it works as well if not better than other technics. I say if not better because their seems to be a lack of scientific studies that compare the use of ecollars with other “non-punishment” technics (non-punishment is in brackets since for my dog not paying – in other words, giving him his treat, is punishment). I hope that such a study, following proper scientific method, will be available in the near future. Unfortunately, many people quote studies that do not follow scientific method and have actually come under review by researchers in order to get their personal opinion across, I know, I’ve spent numerous hours reading the studies available.

    • Thanks for your comments, Nancy. I don’t think that there’s a serious debate that — if used correctly — an ecollar does work. But there are many pitfalls — accurate timing, accurate intensity, consistency, just to name a few. As well as focusing on what the dog should not do,, or encouraging the dog to make choices and offer behavior. If an inexperience owner messes up with a shock collar, it can be tragic and destroy the bond between dog and human. If an inexperienced owner messes up with clicker training, the dog might just get a lot of treats and the training will go slower! These are just a few reasons that I choose positive reinforcement and clicker training — also proven by science to be very effective!

      • Thank you for your response Heidi. I would like to add to your comment about what could happen if … I completely agree that an inexperienced owner can mess a dog up with an ecollar as I believe that they should not be available to purchase in “chain” store (don’t want to name names but image the big W store). They should be available to the public through trainers that have and are having success with the tool which is where I purchased my first unit two years ago. Since then, I have taken considerable amounts of time to educate myself on the subject, much like I did before obtaining my dog or my driver’s licence. I worked very hard with a very good trainer guiding me every step of the way. In fact, my training is ongoing as my dog is in the training “for life” not just a 6 week course. I have also seen a number of handler aggressive dogs that have been rehabilited wth the use of an ecollar. Following proper training and education of the owners, the bond between the animal and the dogs was repaired and is now much stronger.

        As for what could happen with an inexperienced owner training their dog with a clicker and doing it unsuccessfully, I have to disagree with your worst case scenario. If not done properly, the owner will not be able to control their dog and it may go off when it finds something more appealing. Although that may not seem like a big deal, if their is a major road, frozen water or wild animal involved, the results can and are tragic and often perminent. I can also add from personal experience that if the training is not done properly, a dog may find itself in any number of dangerous situation.

        The bond between the dog and human can also be damaged by this type of owner just as you stated it can be in the case of ecollars. If I was to use a clicker and be inconsistant with my Belgian Malinois he could permanently ruin our relationship as this is a very smart animal with a very high food drive making him very motivated. If I did not “pay” him at the appropriate times, regardless of the method used, I would have a very strong uncontrolled dog on my hands.

        When training an animal, regardless of the method used, it must be done properly with sufficient education. I have very well trained ecollar dogs that accompany me almost everywhere I go. I also know dogs that have been clicker trained and fit in the same category as my own. It is my belief that we must all take the time to see how it can be done properly by someone that is an expert in the training method before passing judgement on any of the methods. I sincerely hope you have the oppertunity to meet a properly trained dog on an ecollar, not to change your mind, but to allow yourself a fair an unbiased comparison.

        As for my dogs being on leash, which was the original topic of your posting, they honestly don’t need to be. When I give the heel command, my dog responds even when the collar is not on. They are released when I give them the release command. When they wear a leash because of specific rules stating leashes, I hold it losely. I have confidence in the training I do because my dogs work at it everyday – every walk is a training opportunity. I am not a professional trainer just a responsible owner.

        By the way, my own municipal bylaw states that a dog must not be “unleashed”. There are numerous definitions to the word unleashed; one being to “released from a leash”, another to “turn loose or free”. Since my dogs are under control when I give them the heel command, not loose or free to run as they wish, are they unleashed?

  10. It’s another case of ‘does one size fit all? . Being of age I must stand up in defence of the ecollar. Without the ecollar, I would no longer be able to walk my dog around the block, let alone allow her to run and play in my yard. By HOA rule, I cannot put up a physical fence, and due to my health, I cannot manage my dog with physical strength. So I use an ecollar and a leash for walks and an invisible fence to allow her to play in the yard. I never allow her to be in the yard alone, since the invisable fence does nothing to keep other dogs or people from comming onto my property. As for walking, the ecollar only activates in a situation where physical strength would be required to control her, such as when another dog taunts us. I’m not saying the ecollar is right for everyone, but it should not be banned. Some of us really need them.

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  13. I know I am late to this discussion (found it in a search on leash laws) but wanted to add to the discussion for those who come after me and might benefit from my experience. Some of the discussion has focused on the e-collar as being an ineffective punishment and being a lazy person’s tool. I find the e-collar can be used very productively and humanely. My particular e-collar has a vibration feature in addition to the shock feature (which I will refer to as “e” from here on). I specifically bought the collar for the vibration feature as I take no pleasure in using the “e” aspect – though I have it if needed. I wanted my dogs to have the ability to go “all out” on runs when the situation was appropriate – something a leash makes difficult. I am by no means an expert at dog training, but I can effectively control my dogs with the vibration feature and verbal commands 99.9% of the time. I must admit the “e” feature was used in the initial learning / training phase of the collar (maybe 2-3 days – though the dogs were already relatively well trained for voice commands prior to getting the collar). Additionally, maybe once or twice a YEAR after that initial training (the 0.1%, and that is only for one of my two dogs). For me and my dogs, the e-collar allows us some freedoms while still being respectful of others. I am sure my dogs do not mind the collars as evidenced by their joyous reactions whenever I pick the collars up. Despite my confidence that I can control my dogs with the ecollar, I still use a leash when I am am in close proximity of other people. I do this not because of a concern of controlling my dogs, but out of respect for the other person.

    • Thanks for your comments, Steve. It sounds like you classically conditioned the collars and realize one of the fundamentals if someone is going to use positive punishment — that it should not be used over and over again, but with sufficient intensity and perfect timing so that it makes an immediate impression. It also sounds like you and your dogs are experienced enough with training that positive reinforcement (my preferred training type) would have gotten the results for you also. I greatly appreciate the fact that you still condone using a leash when around other people. We are battling a group of citizens here in Alexandria, Virginia (a very urban area just outside of DC) who stubbornly think they have the absolute right to show off how well their dogs are trained and that there is no reason to ever have to leash their dogs.

  14. There are a lot of good posts here. I share some of these views as well. I don’t think that there is any thing wrong with the e-collar, so long as it’s in the right hands. That being said majority of them aren’t. Many people would prefer to have it banned, but I think education is the answer. Just as any training collar, it is a tool, and has a proper function. An analogy I enjoy is that it is like a knife. It can cause havoc in the wrong hands, and be horribly misused; though in the hands of a knowlegable person, it can be used with great effectiveness and purpose. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to stop arguing over it’s use and think of a logical solution to avoiding it’s misuse. If the collar were to be regulated, and only be obtained by those with a license to use it (wich would be obtained by taking a course in it’s use) this would greatly reduce the chance of fallout occuring. Sure it is not a perfect solution, and may not solve all the issues, but it would be a step in the right direction in my opinion. Though your average owner has no need for an e collar, and does attempt to use it as a short cut that does not mean everyone does. An e-collar is used most effectively, when used in conjunction with proper leash training. Escape method of training with an e-collar I must say, I dont like; but I see nothing wrong with applying the avoidance method if you have the experience. Every tool has a proper purpose, as does the e-collar. I’m sure anyone who works with dogs in the real world would agree 95% of dogs need some form of compulsion. Positive reinforcement operant conditioning is great for behaviour shaping, but will never have the same level of reliability as a balanced approach. There are afterall four quadrants of operant conditioning, wich can be used with great effectiveness, and in a humane manner. Abuse does not stem from a tool, but from the one using it. Though to be fair, from my experience it is those in the “positive camp” that are the first to bash other trainers for there methods. They feel the need to take the moral high ground, and look down there nose at any one who trains differently. I personally think positive trainers bash other trainers, and call them “cruelty trainers”, or “pain trainers”, to emotionally black mail clients into going with there training styles, regarless of it not being nearly as effective. “Pure positive training” to me seems like just a marketing gimmick. They would have the general public believe fallout is something that can so easily occur. Truth of the matter, it doesn’t occur easily under guidance of a pro. If it does occur, it is usually due to many contributing factors, such as a dog that has anxiety issues having grew up in a puppy mill, getting rescued, then having some inexperienced moron slap a prong collar on him and cranking him repeatedly. I believe in an individual approach/training system for each dog according to temperment. I dont believe we should be demonising the e-collar, but instead educating to minimize misuse.

    • Michael,

      Thanks for stopping and commenting! You make a very good point that there should be focus on making sure the collars do not fall into the hands of someone who does not know how to use them.

      I have heard the term “balanced approach” for dog training. I find that term misleading. Dog training is — rightfully so, in my opinion — shifting away from force based and punishment based methods, and many trainers now feel that positive punishment, if it is to be used at all, should be an absolute last resort. As you point out, most people do not have the training chops, timing and expertise to use positive punishment effectively in any event. It may (not always — but may) take longer to get the results with positive reinforcement, but in the meantime, handler and dog are also building a bond. Worth the extra time (if it does take longer than punishment methods) in my mind.

      Thanks again for your comments!

      Heidi

  15. I respect your opinion, and appreciate the calm mannerism you deliver it with. However, positive reinforcement does not yield the same results. A dog can suffer no mental damage when these techniques are delivered correctly. In the same way to much positive reinforcement can be bad, as there do need to be a set of rules, and rules need to be enforced. I would not say either that it is shifting away from aversives either. There have been many junk science studies that support positive only, but as I said this is all junk science. Such as the survery study from the University of Pensylvania. Sure your average pet owner may be best sticking to a more positive approach, but this is not true for all. If you were to go to a reputable obedience competition, and seek out the top competitors, and ask them how they trained their dogs, they would no doubt tell you they used all four quadrants of operant conditioning, not one. There is afterall no such thing as “positive only” training, even clipping a dog to a leash is a punishment (negative punishment). So while some may get by with “positive only” training, realistically, majority of dogs are going to need compulsion, and not as a last resort. Sit must mean sit. Any trainer who repeats a command, and claims to understand how to condition certain behaviours is lying to themselves. This is because repeating commands conditions the dog into thinking that they do not have to listen the first time. So yes we give a command, and if the command is know, we enforce it. When many picture a correction, they visualize a harmful, and forceful one. In reality corrections like this are frowned upon by those who properly use positive punishment. If you were to see me correct my dog for forging, you would be quite suprised how gentle the leash flick I do is; and it is all that is required to remind him not to do that. When it comes down to it, you will never achieve the same results without punishing inappropriate behaviours. We live in a world of consequence, both good and bad. As do dogs. There are many who understand this, the positive movement is not the end all. As long as there are positive trainers, there will always be trainers who use all forms of operant conditioning. To ignore punishment ignores operant conditioning itself. It is defined as a learning process through both good and bad consequences. All can be applied, safely, humanely, and highly effectively. I have seen the products of positive training. Sure they may make great house pets. Yet they would get laughed out of an obedience ring. Balanced is a subjective term, and yes can be misleading, as can positive training. So I think if you don’t know what your doing, stick to reward training. As for the rest of us who know properly how to apply aversives, there is no harm in us doing so. We have obedient, happy, and well adjusted dogs. There is no one true way to trian. Every dog is not the same, and as such needs a different approach. There has been a study done, that shows negative punishment (with holding a reward, or to be technical the removal of a pleasant stimulus from the dogs enviornment to decrease a behaviour) to cause a dog more stress then an e collar. The dogs trained with negative punishment had higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormore, in there saliva. Much more research needs to be done. Though as it stands, there is no indefinate proof as to wich method is better. None the less, no one will argue that they both work, and have there merrit. So I still stand on the point that people should be educated in the proper use of training tools, and the benefits AND downsides of punishment techniques, as well as how to safely apply them. This would benefit them, and their pets, as this would reduce misuse. So to each there own, and I would like to thank you for responding in a kind, calm way, while not looking down your nose at me for thinking different. All the best.

    Mike

  16. Michael,

    I also very much appreciate your ability to discuss various views in such a professional manner. Where I help with dog training classes, our focus is on building the bond with the family dog and helping rescue and shelter dogs off to the best start possible. We simply do not use force based methods, and have found that positive reinforcement is definitely the best way to go.

    I’ll look for some videos to see if I can come up with some examples of dogs who were trained with positive reinforcement methods only and have reached incredible and precise results!

    Once again, thanks for the discussion!

    Heidi

  17. If clicker and treat/marker and treat training (ie, training not using ecollars or pinch collars) is so amazing and impressive, why does no military or law enforcement agency in the world use this method to train their police dogs?

    Ecollars: Las Vegas PD, LAPD, US Secret Service (I know, former USSS), and the list goes on and on.

    Almost all police/military dogs are trained using ecollars or pinch collars nowadays. Why? Because they need highly confident and obedient dogs, and you will not get that using your methods.

    As I always say, I have yet to see a dog that has amazed me in obedience that has done it with clicker and treat training.

    Ecollars are not bad at all, it’s the ignorant people who use them that are. ;)

    If your dog is not HAPPY to see the ecollar, that means they weren’t trained the proper way with it.

    It’s people who have no idea how to properly use them that give them a bad name (oh, and uneducated people on the subject of their useage). :)

    Nick White
    Owner
    Highest Rated Dog Training Business in the DMV and Trainer for Celebrities
    http://www.offleashk9training.com
    *Former US Marine/US Secret Service*

  18. If marker and treat or clicker and treat (the clicker its’ self is a complete scam, but that’s a whole different story) is so amazing, why is it that NO military or law enforcement agency in the world use these methods to train their police/military dogs?

    Why? Because they need RELIABLE/INSTANT obedience, outside, off-leash, with distractions.

    Just a “few” ecollar users: Las Vegas PD, LAPD, US Secret Service (and the list goes on and on).

    As I always say, “I have never in my life seen a dog that completely amazed me in obedience that did it through clicker and treat training.”

    The e-collar is an amazing tool, it’s incompetent people who give it a bad name. There are two type of people when it comes to using an e-collar a) experts or b)people who know nothing at all. There is NO middle ground.

    As my 500+ clients per year can tell you, when properly trained, your dog will be HAPPY to see the e-collar.

    Again, e-collars have a bad name because people do not use them properly and then the people who know absolutely nothing about their PROPER usage but come off as though they are experts on them (will not point any fingers, no worries). ;)

    As far as them counting as a leash? I will put my dog and many of my clients dogs OFF-LEASH, with distractions in a heel, down, sit, place, through, stand (the list of commands goes on) against your dog on a leash and can guarantee they will perform 100% better. So, if my dog is better off-leash than yours is ON a leash, why shouldn’t he be able to be off?

    Something to think about. ;)

    Nick White
    Owner
    Off-Leash K9 Training
    Highest Rated Dog Training business in the DMV/Trainer for Celebrities

    • Is is incorrect that no law enforcement or military uses positive reinforcement. Although they may still be using positive punishment, many also use positive reinforcement, and there is a growing trend with law enforcement and military dogs to use a greater percentage of positive reinforcement. Seattle and Phoenix are leaders in this area, as is Halifax in Canada.

      The CCPDT (which is not a clicker-based organization, but rather a national and independent certification council for all types of trainers and training methods) has released a position statement outlining its humane hierarchy, listing positive punishment as a last resort. The AVMA and the AVSAB have both come out against positive punishment methods and shock collars.

      Regarding the comment about allowing dogs off leash, Alexandria is a very dense urban area. I do not blame Animal Control and the City in the least for wanting to amend the leash law to clarify that the law requires a physical leash. Electronic collars are training tools, not leashes. I certainly do not advocate, even though my dog will stay at my side, that I should be able to use my clicker as a “leash.” It is merely a matter of common courtesy for the hardworking animal control officers, the public (some of whom may be afraid of dogs) and DINOS (dogs in need of space) to put a physical leash on your dog. Especially if your dog really is well trained and will be right by your side anyway.

      • Yes, those are great videos of dogs listening in a vacuum with NO distractions whatsoever! :)

        Everyone says e-collars are punishment (well, people who have NO idea what they are talking about when it comes to e-collars do anyways). When a dog is properly trained with an e-collar they are and will be excited to see it. Would be more than happy to give you a free demo. ;)

        You are correct, we (military/leo) also DO use positive reinforcement (but never treat based: ball or tug based). All of the top police and military agencies in the world use e-collars or prong. Why? Because we need RELIABLE obedience. Not, “I will do it if I’m not distracted and nothing more important is going on” obedience. :)

        Again, I will put our dogs confidence and obedience in any populated area, outside, off-leash, with distractions against any dog you can find who has used marker and treat/clicker and treat training.

        If anyone is interested, feel free to contact me. :)

        Nick White
        Owner
        Off-Leash K9 Training

      • If you do something in order to decrease repetition of an unwanted behavior (could be delivering a shock, withholding attention, etc.), you are delivering punishment in the context of operant learning, and as defined by behaviorists. And there are very scientifically sound and humane reasons why scientists, behaviorists, vets and other professionals put positive punishment methods at the very bottom of the list of training methods to be used solely as a last resort. Sure, positive punishment can produce results. But at what costs?

        I agree completely that not all positive reinforcement is treat-based. In fact, if a dog doesn’t like treats, that is not reinforcing to that particular dog, and anything such as play or toys that is rewarding to the particular dog is appropriate reinforcement. That’s part of the fun of positive reinforcement training — getting to know and bond with your dog so you know best how to reward and reinforce.

        Lastly, if you are encouraging your clients to walk around off leash, you are doing a huge disservice to law enforcement and animal control officers. Leash laws are in place for a reason and deserve to be obeyed, no matter how well trained your dog is.

      • Yes, those are great videos of dogs listening in a vacuum with NO distractions whatsoever! :)

        Everyone says e-collars are punishment (well, people who have NO idea what they are talking about when it comes to e-collars do anyways). When a dog is properly trained with an e-collar they are and will be excited to see it. Would be more than happy to give you a free demo. ;)

        You are correct, we (military/leo) also DO use positive reinforcement (but never treat based: ball or tug based). All of the top police and military agencies in the world use e-collars or prong. Why? Because we need RELIABLE obedience. Not, “I will do it if I’m not distracted and nothing more important is going on” obedience. :)

        Again, I will put our dogs confidence and obedience in any populated area, outside, off-leash, with distractions against any dog you can find who has used marker and treat/clicker and treat training.

        If anyone is interested, feel free to contact me. :)

        Nick White

      • If you do something in order to decrease repetition of an unwanted behavior (could be delivering a shock, withholding attention, etc.), you are delivering punishment in the context of operant learning, and as defined by behaviorists. And there are very scientifically sound and humane reasons why scientists, behaviorists, vets and other professionals put positive punishment methods at the very bottom of the list of training methods to be used solely as a last resort. Sure, positive punishment can produce results. But at what costs?

        I agree completely that not all positive reinforcement is treat-based. In fact, if a dog doesn’t like treats, that is not reinforcing to that particular dog, and anything such as play or toys that is rewarding to the particular dog is appropriate reinforcement. That’s part of the fun of positive reinforcement training — getting to know and bond with your dog so you know best how to reward and reinforce.

        Lastly, if you are encouraging your clients to walk around off leash, you are doing a huge disservice to law enforcement and animal control officers. Leash laws are in place for a reason and deserve to be obeyed, no matter how well trained your dog is. Please respect the laws.

  19. Again, regardless of how you feel about e-collars, they are amazing tools when PROPERLY use, which is why we use them to train the vast majority of police and military dogs (aka, the best dogs in the world).

    It’s funny you mention those civilian run agencies as speaking out against e-collars, I quote,

    On e-collars:
    “We recognize that older products were often unreliable and difficult to use humanely. But we feel that new technology employed by responsible manufacturers has led to products that can be and are being used safely and effectively to preserve the safety and well-being of many dogs and strengthen the bond with their human companions.”

    – Randall Lockwood, PhD Vice President for Research and Educational Outreach The Humane Society of the United States”

    It’s amazing what you know when you are ACTUALLY an “expert” on the subject matter to which you are speaking about. :)

    • The literature and science are replete with information against shock collars, whether used correctly or incorrectly. And you admit that they have to be used correctly.

      The Humane Society has said this about aversive shock, prong and choke collars:

      Aversive collars
      Some trainers use aversive collars to train “difficult” dogs with correction or punishment. These collars rely on physical discomfort or even pain to teach the dog what not to do. They suppress the unwanted behavior but don’t teach him what the proper one is. At best, they are unpleasant for your dog, and at worst, they may cause your dog to act aggressively and even bite you. Positive training methods should always be your first choice.

      Choke chain
      As the name implies, this collar is made of metal links and is designed to control your dog by tightening around your dog’s neck. It is supposed to sit high up on the dog’s neck just behind his ears.

      Unlike the martingale collar, there is no way to control how much the choke chain tightens so it’s possible to choke or strangle your dog. It can also cause other problems, too, such as injuries to the trachea and esophagus, blood vessels in the eyes, neck sprains, nerve damage, fainting, transient paralysis, and even death.

      It is best for your dog to avoid using a choke chain. More humane collars and good obedience training should make it unnecessary to resort to this aversive collar.

      If you insist on using one, consult an experienced trainer to learn how to properly size, fit, and use it. And never leave a choke chain on your dog as his regular collar; the chain could catch on something and choke your dog!

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