For Consideration - It isn't about Pain
By Dr. Robert M. Andrysco
Editorís Note:† This article, as all others not written by the editor, do not indicate that such training techniques are advocated; this is an educational site and it is believed that the average person can make their own determination about the validity of any training device, method or theory when given appropriate information by both sides of a conflicting debate.†† Those who do not understand that this is an educational site may do better reading sites where they are told what to believe.† If you have a differing opinion about any topic on this site, you are encouraged to present that opposing opinion in a non-confrontational manner.
First, let me state that I have the utmost respect for those pet professionals that believe that a dog can be trained with reward based methods only. However, I must disagree with some of them on the use of electronic training equipment.
What many of them do, essentially, is to reject -- out-of-hand and with no clinical research or unbiased field experience -- a proven, effective and humane training methodology.
Still, I know how they feel. I used to feel the same way myself. But once I begrudgingly agreed to try one of these products, I found that they do much more good than harm.
Today's electronic training aids are designed so that they do not have the power to inflict pain under any circumstances. Also, most have an "over-correction protection" or time-out feature that doesn't allow misguided owners, or trainers, to provide continuous correction for an extended period of time.
While it is true that there is some misuse of electronic training equipment, I have found these examples to be few and very, very far between. Further, the people who do misuse the equipment fall into two categories:
1) Those who have absolutely no knowledge on how to use the equipment, and
2) Those who would be inclined to hurt their dogs whether it is with traditional training methodologies, like the chain link training collar or a gentle leader.
In fact, for every bad example that is described, I can list hundreds of documented positive results. In reality, most of the minority which condemn these devices have never tried the devices.
Reward based trainers advocate an admirable ideal. While I do agree that their preferred methodology can be effective, I must state clearly that -- in my experience -- this is rare when it is the only methodology used.
All you have to do is look at the social structure of the dog in its natural environment to understand why. Pack behavior is hierarchical. It is based around a leader; usually the strongest and smartest of the group. But this position is ever-changing as the group evolves because there are physical challenges to this leader all the time.
Now, take the dog out of its natural environment and put it into an alien human social structure. It can only be expected to understand the pack mentality, so there will be frequent challenges to that leadership: the dog's owner or trainer.
I, and millions of other loving, caring pet owners and trainers are realists. Yes, we believe in the concept of reward, but as a part of a larger behavior management plan that accounts for the challenges to the limitations we must set. This means that "correction" is a necessity of training.
I recommend traditional techniques -- like a gentle leader -- as a proper starting point. (Bare in mind that the ending point -- or degree of training -- will vary widely from owner to owner, and from sporting dog to house pet.) But I have found that basic obedience training will aid in the adjustment of any dog, gun dog or domestic pet, to the unnaturalness of the human environment.
Nonetheless, there are some dogs for which these traditional training techniques may not work. Others may not have been trained properly. For still others, unusual circumstances may have caused inconsistent, or (to a human) inappropriate behaviors that traditional techniques have not corrected -- or cannot correct.
Under these circumstances, electronic training equipment can be an excellent alternative. But as with many other relatively new concepts or technologies, electronic trainers are misunderstood. This confusion is centered on the correction methodology, which most people assume is painful.
But pain is not the active ingredient in electronic training. Again, you only have to look back to the pack to find out what makes remote trainers so effective. When challenges are made to the leadership of a pack, they are resolved the old-fashioned way, they earn it, by winning a dogfight. The confrontation is over when one dog puts itself in a position to mouth, or grab, the other's throat or trachea.
But in the vast majority of cases, this is not a fight to the death. These dogs recognize that they need each other in order to survive. The tracheal grab or "collapse" is only temporary, just enough for one dog to send the other a simple message of domination.
So what does this have to do with electronic training? Everything. The correction is applied in the same area. The one that dogs use on each other from the time they're pups - the throat. This same correction -- applied to any other area -- would not have the same effect, at any intensity of correction.
These corrections are not harmful. They do result in a "feeling", similar to the static "shock" you receive after rubbing your feet on a carpet, and then touching the wall. This may be uncomfortable, but it is not harmful.
The true purpose of the correction is to startle - to get the animals' attention so training can commence or continue. These products enable you to gain, or regain, control of a situation. And to establish, or re-establish, your position as the "leader." In fact, not all electronic trainers use electronic correction. Some startle using an ultrasonic tone, which canines exclusively hear, while others use a "spray" technology, that emits a quick startling mist -- usually citronella -- to dissuade the dog. All can be very effective.
They are all relatively affordable --
most are in the price range of $100.00 to $350.00 - but they do differ in
quality, and some features can add cost. Just make sure you choose products
that have safety built right in. Look for those that are UL approved, and have
the Humane Society of the
Also, make sure the product you selected includes very good training materials such as manuals, videotapes, and customer service representatives, all of which instruct owners about the proper use of their equipment.
It's unfortunate all this confusion has kept the discourse focused on correction. That's only part of the story. An electronic trainer is nothing more than a tool. It needs to be used with common sense, and as a part of a broader plan that uses generous amounts of praise and petting.
Actually, the training programs suggested by most of the reputable manufacturers place a heavy emphasis on redirection and reward. And, in almost all cases, these products also feature a warning tone that enables owners or trainers to send the right signals to a dog before it gets itself into trouble. The ultimate goal of using a remote training collar is to eliminate the improper behavior and then, through reward and redirection, create or expand on proper behavior.
These devices are not right for every dog, every owner, or every trainer. But they can be helpful when used properly and in the right context.
In 1998 alone, over 300,000 remote
control electronic trainers were purchased in the
Finally, it gives those few dogs with misbehaving owners (frustrated as they may be) a chance at all.
Copyright 2002.† Dr. Robert M. Andrysco.† All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Robert M. Andrysco is a Pet Behavior Specialist with 18 years of experience in the
field. He holds a doctoral degree from The