The sad story of Boss, a dog who died while in the care of a boarding kennel, made the news recently. You can read details at http://www.southshorenow.ca/archives/2010/030910/news/index034.php but what apparently happened was that Boss had a choke collar on, another dog caught his paw in it and Boss suffocated.
The chain that loops around a dog’s neck is often called a “training collar”, but above sad event makes it clear that it is what it is: a tool that can cause a dog to choke to death. And many trainers and owners use it, or a variation of it, like the Illusion collar or Wade collar (www.johnwade.ca).
Despite its popularity, it is not even a good training tool, evidenced by the fact that most dogs still pull with it on, or pull when it’s not on, and that includes titled obedience dogs.
That the choke chain is only meant for corrections and training, and not for controlling pulling or depriving a dog of oxygen to soften him up to be pinned next, is irrelevant. What matters to the dog is not what the tool is designed to do by the manufacturer, but how his lay owner actually uses it – or rather misuses it.
Another tool that is regularly misused is the Halti and Gentle Leader; the device that goes around the dog’s nose and irritates the heck out of most of them. I find the name Gentle Leader quite ironic – what I see are dogs whose necks are twisted, who are constantly rubbing and pawing to get the thing off, and who are, by some trainers, hung and corrected with it.
Reactive behaviors almost always worsen with any type of nose-harness. The dog’s stress is increased by the uncomfortable and irritable sensation, and he is prevented from communicating freely because his, typically tense, owner at the other end of the leash manipulates his head.
The stress and conflict a dog feels often begins before the walk, because the appearance of the head halter is an associated cue that elicits both excitement and anxiety.
The worst of all tools, used for both corrections and basic training, is the shock collar. I don’t care under how many nicer sounding euphemisms (anti-bark collar, e-collar, remote training collar, precision training…) they are sold, the purpose of it is either to apply a painful shock to punish a “bad” behavior, or to elicit the wanted behavior. In either case, it is abuse, plain and simple, and in my ideal world its use would be illegal.
That an owner, or trainer, puts the device on himself before putting it on the dog means nothing. Dogs’ red blood cells have a higher sodium content than humans’ and sodium is a great electrical conductor. So just because a shock doesn’t hurt your arm, don’t conclude it won’t hurt your dog’s neck.
Worse than that, it is not just the pain that drives dogs to insanity and neuroticism, but the unpredictability of it. I challenge every person who uses a shock collar on a dog to put it on himself first, but have someone else control it. Whenever an order given in a language he doesn’t understand isn’t obeyed quickly enough: Zap. Whenever he does something the trigger person doesn’t like: Zap. I bet my best leather leash that by the end of the day the e-collar stimulated person is a basket case and won’t like the “trainer” very much; will want to get away from him as fast and far as possible.
And that’s the sad life sentence for many dogs, and it sometimes begins when they are puppies.
The Departments of Ethology and Clinical Sciences of Companion Animals in Utrecht, Netherlands did a study on shock collar training. The dogs were driven German shepherds with a high pain threshold. One group was trained with shock collars; the control group with “normal” punitive methods regularly applied in traditional dog training. The study showed that:
Shocked dogs are more stressed, and not only on the training grounds, but in general.
The shocked dogs connected the shock with the handler, even though 75% of the handlers believed that the dog did not understand who’s responsible for the zap.
So don’t kid yourself. Your dog knows that you’re the abuser.
The use of harsh, cruel or distressing equipment is justified by labeling the dog dominant, defiant and aggressive. They leave a lot of room for misapplication and abuse and dogs that have no choice, no escape, no way out, are suffering at the hands of their owner and “professional".
My advice is to be leery of anybody who guarantees a quick fix solution for complex and deep-seated problems. The use of a certain collar that suppresses the symptoms of fear, stress and occasionally yes, dominance, is not the same as rehabilitation. Even when the symptoms disappear, which is not a given, it comes at a price. A punishment, for it to be effective, has to impress the dog, and the fallout of that is that the dog will want to avoid you in the future, and that shuts the possibility for true companionship.
The only devices dogs should be trained and walked with are a flat collar, a body harness or, if one needs more physical control, the Sense-Ation harness. There is no room for misuse and misapplication even with the rookiest of dog owners. I’ve been using and recommending the Sense-Ation harness since 1997 or ’98 and it is still my favorite. You can find info at www.softouchconcepts.com and locally in Nova Scotia at www.sublimecanine.ca.