A response to Gizmodo’s attack on ‘shock collars’ for dog training


It seems that Garmin’s purchase of Tri-Tronics has sent shockwaves not only through the dog training world, but other mainstream media are asking questions as well. Jesus Diaz, Technical Writer at Gizmodo, and Anna Jane Grossman, a graduate of Karen Pryor Academy and one pet level trainer as New York City residents have turned their contempt toward electronic collars — and in doing so, espoused their ignorance of the devices and the training that surrounds them. It seems that a lack of knowledge is truly happiness.

In the Gizmodo blog, Diaz makes statements that undeniably prove his ignorance of electronic collars, or shock collars as he calls them. Here’s a taste:

“[Shock collars,] You know these things: press the button, the electrical charge makes your dog suffer, the dog does something.

“With positive reinforcement training, dogs can learn any behavior you can imagine…”

“I know shocking collars are a bad idea no matter how they’re applied.”

His only source is Anna Jane Grossman, whom he cites three times, including two links to his independent site. Grossman and Diaz both endorse a scruffy black dog named Amos as evidence of the effectiveness of positive-only training, which of course, they argue, somehow delegitimizes balanced training, including the proper use of electronic collars. Here are some of Ms. Grossman’s statements:

“As a positive reinforcement dog trainer, I encourage the behaviors I enjoy by creating positive consequences that will motivate my dog ​​to do what I want him to do. It works so well that it eliminates the need to use negative reinforcement or any type of punishment.

“If my dog ​​doesn’t understand what I’m saying or what I want, I’d rather the consequence be that I give him a treat he doesn’t deserve than give him a shock he’ll never forget. “

“Shock collar advocates like to claim that the shocks are minimal and cause no real pain to animals. Seeing the expression of terror on the faces of the dogs I saw shocked, I doubt it a bit. Unfortunately, dogs can’t verbally describe the feeling of having electricity zapped through your neck. But YouTube is full of quite a few humans who have experimented with shock collars on themselves.

All of these statements are riddled with misinformation, falsehoods and ignorance. Let’s get to some facts:
They are tools: ** If inanimate objects are bad, as Mr. Diaz claims, electronic collars, then pencils misspell words, guns jump off shelves and randomly shoot people and cars force drunks to drive.

E-collars, like pencils, cars, guns, or any other man-made tool or device, can be used correctly or incorrectly. It is the education, skill, experience and intent of the person handling the instrument that must be questioned.

More dogs have been and continue to be abused worldwide by boots, riding crops and rolled up hands or newspapers than by educated and knowledgeable electronic collar users. Even a person’s voice and posture can sound inhuman and cause stress reactions in a dog.

Dumb Pet Tricks: As I said, both Diaz and Grossman hold up their dog Amos as a positive training example only. They cite his “Sponge Bob Square Pants” repertoire of tricks and excitement at workout time. Diaz also offers a music video featuring performing dogs as further evidence.

What the two don’t acknowledge is that Tri-Tronics didn’t develop electronic collars to teach dogs to do silly tricks. Electronic collars have been developed and are used to train very advanced hunting dog concepts at extreme ranges for the purpose of teaching better hunting dogs and conserving game. Used correctly, they make learning easier and faster, for the exact reason that Ms. Grossman misrepresents in her blog; because the dog can instantly understand his transgression.

For the record, when I take my Tri-Tronics Pro 100 G3 out of the loader, Kona comes running in, wagging her tail and sits down, excited and ready to get out and work.

Treats are not enough: Positive training works and is necessary for teaching a dog new skills and maintaining them, as well as keeping morale up during repetitive or complex exercises. Once these skills have been learned, however, the dog must be held accountable for its decision to deliberately disregard this training.

Withholding an award because Amos didn’t ‘bow like a 16th-century knight’ might work when an audience of wine-sipping New Yorkers take a commercial break at an Oscars party, but it won’t be enough. not when a pointer is 300 yards away and has a large company of quail prancing off the tip of its nose.

Even the most positive gun dog trainers I know still make physical corrections for inappropriate skill behavior. This is because at some point that cookie or verbal or physical praise no longer has enough power; the immediate gratification of willful disobedience becomes greater than the delayed reward.

This pointer with company dancing on the tip of its nose won’t mind receiving a deferred hot dog when 150 years of selective breeding geared towards bird hunting tells it to hunt. Simply ignoring the behavior will not turn it off as the hunt and the bird are everything to it; it’s a self-rewarding action that starts to get worse with repetition.
Positive is not universal:** Contrary to what Mr. Diaz says, positive reinforcement is not the holy grail of training. It has its place, but not “just anywhere” and all behaviors can be learned with it.

Some forms of aggression will not be resolved with a cookie. Punishment-based training won’t do it either, and in most cases will make it worse. Aggression issues are difficult and require a much deeper psychological understanding of the canine mind and the flexibility to resolve these issues with any means necessary. A single, inflexible mind is the surest sign of a bad coach, regardless of the ideology used.

A positive-only approach will not work for many advanced hunting dog concepts. If the positive-only method is so superior to all other training, why hasn’t a dog trained with them won a field championship title, or heck, an advanced title? Come on, Mr. Diaz and Mrs. Grossman, put your money where your mouth is and start competing. There are a lot of events in the Northeast.
Work of Karen Pryor:** Ms. Grossman has a good understanding of dog training. She is just ignorant about electronic collars, hunting dogs and the standards they are held to and the need for those standards. His mentor, Karen Pryor, is a highly skilled animal behaviorist whose work needs to be examined and incorporated into the world of hunting dog training in one form or another.

Mike Stewart at Wildrose kennels successfully uses many similar concepts in his hunting dog training while Georges Hickox incorporated clicker training into her puppy diet. The positive side of training is something hunting dog trainers need to explore with an open mind and find what works well and adopt it in some form into their routine. It will make us all better coaches.

That said, without a good balance in all phases of training, you only use half or a quarter of your training tools while simultaneously reducing their effectiveness.

Mere coincidence? What was once the highest peak in hunting dog competition is now almost commonplace. The evolution of electronic collars, training and testing are linked. You may wonder whether or not this is good for hunting, but the fact remains: dogs and trainers are accomplishing feats that would have been inconceivable in the past.

This is due to the advent and development of the electronic collar and related training programs. It is not a coincidence.

Ignorance is truly bliss: Mr. Diaz and Mrs. Grossman have no idea how an electronic collar is used, or what level it can be tuned to, and they say so, but they still feel qualified to condemn it. Their sum total of education is watching people misuse the tools on themselves in YouTube videos – America’s anthology of silly behavior. Talk about positive reinforcement!

The truth is, when used correctly, e-collars can be the fastest, most humane way to teach advanced concepts to a hunting dog from a distance. With varying levels of stimulation, the lowest of which really are almost undetectable, the amount of stimulation, yes that’s a nice way of saying “shock”, can be adjusted to each dog and the degree to which the individual situation the required. .

Contrary to popular belief, pressing a button on a transmitter does not require pain and does not make a dog do something like magic. And, as all electronic collar trainers know, making a dog overreact to a correction is not conducive to training.

Please Mr. Diaz stick to reviewing iPhone apps because you are clearly reproducing an ideological point of view without understanding the intricacies of dog training, or even the technological tools of the trade – this which is sad since it’s your job as a blogger for a tech site like Gizmodo.


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