Remote training collars: The question of abuse?
In the professional dog trainers world, there is often conversation that the average pet owner should not be allowed to use a remote collar to train their dog.
There is concern that without a high level of expertise and perfect timing JQ Public will use the tool abusively and thus harm dogs through application of *pain and fear*. Some trainers and behaviorists support the idea of banning e-collars because of the abuse possibilities. The thought process seems to be that dog owners purchase the remote collar, strap it on their dog and go about randomly *shocking* the dog every time Fido does something *bad*.
If that scenario truly were the case, I’d say I’d support limitations on remote collar use as well. However, I don’t believe it is the case. I’m not suggesting their isn’t the occasional circumstance where someone might use the tool abusively but it is certainly not the norm. An abusive person is going to take out frustration with the dog one way or the other. Some people do cruel things. They do them with their hands, feet, a broom, a stick, rope, leashes, rocks, or a whole host of other things. If we are going to start banning stuff based on the “possibility of abuse” we have a whole lot of banning to do.
However, my main argument to the concept that the average Joe abuses this tool is based on my experience meeting so many people that have purchased a remote collar, took it home and then barely to never used it. Shortly after purchasing these folks realized that they didn’t understand the tool so they didn’t get much farther than charging it up or putting it on. Actually pushing the button was too far outside their comfort zone so the remote collar is gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere.
I clarified this point at a recent speaking engagement at the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers. During opening comments I invited the trainers to use a collar on me. Since this is a frequent comment on my work (“Someone should put a collar on your neck and see how you like it!) I thought it only fair to demonstrate my commitment to the belief that the remote collar can be used as an interruption, a way to gain attention.
I placed a live collar on my neck and had my assistant, Kelly make sure anyone who wanted to ask me a question push the remote collar transmitter button a few times to interrupt me. This was done rather than the traditional raising of their hand. If someone wanted my attention they had to tap me to get it.
From my perspective it was a really cool experience. I got the dog’s eye view of how the remote collar can interrupt focus and redirect to alternative behavior. I’d be chatting away, focused on doing my presentation and would then become aware of the tap, tap, tap sensation on my neck at which point I’d stop presenting and say “someone have a question?” I’d scan the room trying to find the source of the interruption, and the controller of the transmitter would identify them self and ask what ever it was they wanted clarification on.
From the audience perspective it was another story. The audience was more stressed about it than I….can you guess how much my assistant had to convince these folks to just push the button?
She had to WORK at it and some people flat out refused. They wanted to ask a question but were “afraid to hurt me”. (of course it didn’t hurt at all because we use the Just Right level….but that is another blog) Near the end of the presentation I asked how many people had questions that didn’t get asked cause they didn’t want to tap me or how many had to be convinced by Kelly to push the button….. a lot of hands shot up.
So the food for thought was… “if it took that much convincing to tap me, even when I willing agreed to the entire process, how hard is it to tap the button with a dog, the animal that you have a bond with, the pet that is part of your family?”
In reality most people don’t want to push the button, they are afraid too because they don’t really understand what does and doesn’t happen when they tap (and of course we need to fix that gap in knowledge about this tool)
But, bottom line people aren’t that slap happy to just strap a remote collar on their dog and start *zapping them*. The perceived rampant cases of abuse don’t exist. If they did, chew on this fact: In 2010 there were over 3 Million receivers sold in North America alone. That is JUST in 2010 and that only counts the collars sold by the three manufacturers who shared their numbers with me (Dogtra, Radio Systems & Tri-tronics) If we say that electronic collar use has been fairly prevalent for the last 10 years in North America and you do some extrapolating about how many units have probably been sold……where is the evidence of all these dogs living in fear and pain? Where are all the abuse cases?
People that purchase a remote collar actually care enough to try to train their dog or attempt to solve the problems they are having with their dog. They do so because they LOVE their dog. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t bother spending the money or waste their time trying to improve things.
I suggest we professionals devote our time and attention to creating more effective education and stop assuming that the average pet owner is not capable of using a remote collar or any tool for that matter.