By Niki Tudge 

As a professional in the pet industry and one who is heavily invested in the promotion of force-free animal care, training and management I am always looking for new research and findings to help in the aged debate about dog training methods and their efficacy. 

Since its inception in 2012, PPG’s position has been that “the use of electronic stimulation, or ‘shock’ or ‘e-collars’ to care for, manage and train/modify the behavior of pet animals is simply not necessary. In 2017, can there really still be a debate over the issue of using pain as a “method” of animal training? Decades of peer-reviewed, scientific studies show, whether discussing dogs, humans, dolphins or elephants, that electric shock as a form of training to teach or correct a behavior is ineffective at best, and physically and psychologically damaging at worst. 

Well today a new research paper came across my desk titled “The Effects of Using Aversive Training Methods in Dogs” – A Review by Gal Ziv. The paper is published by the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. As a PPG member, I have access to this journal at a greatly discounted rate. In fact, the rate difference is so substantial it covers the cost of my annual guild membership.  However, today I wasted no time trying to determine when my subscription copy would arrive, I purchased the individual article. It certainly did not disappoint and for all of you interested in applied animal behavior and our profession of animal training I suggest you run not walk to grab a copy of this paper.  You can purchase it by clicking here . If you are a PPG member then check the member area for your journal discount code. 

The Highlights Are

  • Trainers should rely on positive reinforcement based methods when training dogs and aversive training methods should be avoided when training dogs

I look forward to getting out my clip board and more strategically reviewing the 37 page article armed with my large green and blue highlighter pens. Until then here are a few of my own ramblings

  1. Applying an electric shock provides no effective strategy for an animal to learn a new or alternative behavior; it simply inflicts pain and risks making him fearful, anxious and/or aggressive.
  2. Generally speaking, a pet owner’s main goals when shocking their pet are, firstly, to punish perceived misbehavior in the moment and, secondly, reduce future recurrences of the undesirable behavior.
  3. Shocking is a form of punishment and, as such, can only achieve the first goal, and harshly. In the absence of a constructional approach whereby new and more appropriate behaviors are built, most punishment outside a laboratory environment (where all components can be systematically manipulated) is extremely unreliable and encased by unintended consequences.
  4. We now have enough research to conclude that using fear or physical punishment in the name of training or care of our pets is ineffective and potentially harmful (in some cases, lethal). We also know that countless professional organizations and industry experts condemn physical punishment and urge pet owners to seek professionals who advocate for and, instead, practice positive behavior modification.  

 The bottom line is that it is entirely possible for pet industry representatives to support professional autonomy and the use of a humane hierarchy, while also taking a stand and position against the use and application of electric shock as a “training method.” 

As such, I call on fellow industry professionals and associations, animal welfare organizations, and professional animal training and behavior bodies worldwide to stand together, to collectively reach out to, engage and educate pet owners in the implementation and practice of humane, kind and effective training tools and techniques. Rather than rely on aversive means, I encourage all organizations to embrace the vast body of scientific research that details the many advantages of positive training methods, and publicly say “no” to any technique that causes pain or fear -- including those administered via equipment that delivers electric shocks.

Those of us who have the privilege and responsibility to represent pet professionals and, consequently, reach the wider audience comprised of pet owners and caretakers, are in the optimal position to make significant changes across our industry, within our representing bodies, and for the benefit of the pets we serve, the owners we service, and the professionals we represent. The time to achieve this is now, let’s shape the future!

 Article Details 

Ziv, G., The Effects of Using Aversive Training Methods in Dogs – A Review, Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2017), doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2017.02.004.