I used to spend a good amount of time debating method choices in dog training on social media. I was very impassioned. I viewed punitive collars and training techniques as abusive and unethical. And I never missed an opportunity to “speak” for the dogs who were subjected to these confrontational practices. Often bordering on the line of self-righteous indignation, my diatribes were littered with as much techy speak, scientific jargon and condescension as I could pack in.
On the subject of aversive collars, there were several slogans used over and over again by proponents of such devices that really got my blood boiling:
“When used properly, these tools are not abusive.”
“We should spend more time teaching people how to use these tools correctly.”
“It’s all about what works best for the individual dog.”
“There are no intrinsically ‘bad’ or ‘good’ tools; it’s all about the handler’s intent.”
Catchy sound bites, right? Sure. But here’s the problem: they obfuscate one very important fact:
Prong, choke and shock collars were specifically designed to instill pain. That is the principle upon which they work – the addition of discomfort in order to stop unwanted behavior. This isn’t my opinion. This is simply a matter of fact. There isn’t room for disagreement or debate. It’s reality. It’s truth.
Still, folks want to debate this. Science aside, take a look at this thing. Does this look like it feels good? Can’t we be honest with ourselves? This hurts. Period.
Let’s stop cloaking the issue in euphemisms like “gentle pressure” and “self correction,” okay? If you’re going to use them, fine. While they are still legal in the US, that’s your choice. But be frank. Explain how they work in the real, physical world. Disclose the risks that are associated.
The other issue is one of ethics. Obviously, that isn’t up for debate. My ethics are mine and yours are yours. But for those who continue to defend the use of such devices, I do have a question: What is the “proper” way to inflict pain upon your companion?
Do it higher up on the neck?
Throw your friend a cookie in between bouts of restricting his breathing?
Only hurt your friend when you’re up against “distractions” (more aptly known as competing motivators)?
I can’t think of a single scenario, outside of a training context, in which any decent human being would knowingly inflict pain on his or her dog. So why do we make excuses when it’s “in the name of training”? Abuse is abuse, right?
I don’t spend any time debating this on social media threads these days. Now, I put 90% of my energy into being the best trainer that I can be. I teach seven classes a week and work with loads of private clients. I’ve shifted my focus to training dog after dog and demonstrating the power of reward-based methods through my competence.
But there’s still that 10% of me that can be a naysayer. Because historically, it’s been the impassioned individuals who don’t mince their words when they’re speaking out against injustices who have affected social change. And there’s still work to be done.