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Posts Tagged ‘electronic collar’

shock collar

Starting in July 2020, electronic collars will be banned in the Netherlands (that’s the country a lot of Americans call “Holland”).

My views on electronic collars have shifted. I have never been in favor of an electronic collar ban, but I have questioned why so many people in dog sports were eager to use one.

Reasonable people can disagree on training devices.  I have used a prong or pinch collar with very driven dog, but after she learned that she could release the pressure from the collar by walking closely, I switched to a fur-saver. Both of these tools are targeted for banning as well.

The thing about bans is that it takes away the right to disagree, and it places the law above experience and judgment, and I have to confess my own ignorance about modern e-collars. It wasn’t until I began looking at the work of competent e-collar trainers, especially Larry Krohn, who has a wonderful Youtube channel that teaches you how to use one these devices humanely.   The way he uses these devices is like having a lead on the dog while it’s off-leash, and using quite low level stimulation, he can get the same results as if the dog were wearing slip lead or a fur-saver.

The modern e-collar is an aversive.  It is used for positive punishment and negative reinforcement, but it can be used humanely and safely.

In a country like the Netherlands, there is a very strong tradition of walking dogs off-lead in the countryside.  The same goes for most of Western Europe. Most of Western Europe has banned e-collars, but it seems to me that this is setting up a real conflict between dog owners and wildlife and between dog owners and farmers.

Dogs will chase ungulates. It’s sort of what they evolved to do. If you let dogs go walking in the countryside off-leash, they stand a real risk of getting after deer or worrying sheep.

It is possible to train a dog a recall or a leave-it when it sees a sheep or deer without an e-collar. However, these tasks require quite a bit of skill, and with some dogs, it can be impossible to break their prey drive. Prey drive is intrinsically rewarding to cursorial predators like dogs, and it is often hard to find a reward that can exceed the internal reward a dog gets while chasing ungulates.

Yes, you can use the Premack’s principle to teach a dog very reliable recall.  There are many skilled trainers who can teach a dog a solid recall without an e-collar.

But that’s not what I am here to debate. What I am here to discuss is that we are allowing one side of the argument, often fueled by animal rights extremist logic and rhetoric, to ban a tool that others contend is essential in their trainer program.

And some dogs need a very strong aversive to proof their recalls and to punish bad behavior. E-collars, used properly, seem to be the aversive that would cause the least amount of harm and still do the job.

These dogs are not going to have good lives in much of Western Europe, where they can never be allowed off-lead. In most Western European countries, allowing the dog some off-leash running is considered vital for all dogs, so these dogs will have to be kept in a way that many would consider cruel.

And when it comes to breaking dogs off of chasing livestock and game, the aversive really doesn’t have to be used that often.  So the dog gets to feel a shock on its neck, but it gets a lifetime of running off-leash and coming when called.  The dog gets to engage in its innate running instincts, but it gets to do so with the highest levels of its safety and that of any potential quarry.

So whether you like e-collars or not, banning devices should cause quite a bit of alarm. Many people don’t like e-collars, but lots of people use choke chains and pinch and prong collars. Those can just as easily banned as well.

And while we’re in the business of banning things, we often aren’t thinking of the greater good or by nuance.  Bans do not do nuance. They are the end of a discussion, a discussion where people on both sides might have learned something.

These devices are getting more humane, not less. They have many lower level and even vibrate-only settings on them.

And yes, they can be abused. You can abuse a dog by feeding it too much, but no one seems to want to legislate how much one should feed a dog each day. You can abuse a dog with flat collar if you leave it on a pup and never take it off. The collar for a young pup can become embedded in the maturing dog, but no one wants to ban putting collars on growing pups.

So instead of accepting that different people will use different tools, we like to assume the worst of the corrections-based dog trainers. In Western European countries, those assumptions are leading to real folly.

I do plan on getting a decent e-collar, and I will be using it as humanely as possible. I see a use for them, and they can help me give my dogs a better quality of life.

But that choice has been taken out of the hands of Dutch dog owners, starting next year. I’m sure they will manage, but I think there are quite a few dogs in that country that will miss out on having a chance to run loose, simply because they cannot be trained to leave game or livestock alone without a clear aversive.

 

 

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