Time to ditch the shock collar for your dog?

As she often does, Kim Brophey wants to strike up a conversation.

A well-respected dog trainer in Asheville and author of the new book “Meet Your Dog,” Brophey tipped my ear to a topic I hadn’t really thought about, and I’m glad she did. We’re talking about those electronic shock collars you see on dogs, the ones that give them a buzz or zap if the dog misbehaves or wanders past a certain point in your yard.

Often times, the homeowner controls the zapping with a remote, although the devices can also be set to trigger at a certain point in a yard.

I know people who have used them on their dogs, and they seemed to be effective and not particularly cruel. So they weren’t on my radar as bothersome.

But Brophey’s mission is to educate people about the issues with these necklaces, and they are indeed problematic. She also notes that several prominent organizations have formally opposed the devices – and some countries have banned them.

Suffice it to say that there has been sufficient consideration and evidence for over a decade of the consequences, risks, dangers, behavioral implications and welfare issues associated with use. of electric collars for punitive purposes, ”said Brophey, who operates the Dog Door Behavior. Center & Outfitters in downtown Asheville.

In a progressive city like Asheville, Brophey says “it’s ridiculous” that we don’t have a serious discussion about the use of the devices.

She doesn’t blame well-meaning pet owners frustrated with their pet’s bad behavior. On the contrary, she is frustrated with the trainers who recommend the devices as an easy fix.

Often times, Brophey says, dog owners “mistreat animals without realizing it.

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“I’m going to bring in some very well-meaning people and say, ‘Why did he start biting us?'” Said Brophey. “It didn’t occur to them that it was the $ 2,000 they spent on an electric collar and edging – that they created a chronic atmosphere of fear and anxiety.”

For the record, many of these collars range from $ 25 to $ 200, but more elaborate systems and training can go higher.

Some necklaces can be set to emit a beep or a buzzing sensation, as well as an electric shock, the strength of which can vary widely. Often times, owners control beeps, buzzes, or shocks, and dogs sometimes associate them with discomfort.

This is a bad situation, which creates growing resentment and frustration in the dog.

Nancy Rice, a Buncombe County resident, is one of Brophey’s clients and has come to the conclusion that shock necklaces are not the solution. She works as a personal assistant and has been heavily involved in training her boss’s German Shepherd, a 5-year-old named Buddy.

As Brophey points out, shock collars have an emotional impact on dogs by inflicting pain or discomfort on them, and Rice agrees it’s unsettling. But Rice also raised practical issues with the devices, issues I had never thought of.

“They know if it’s on or not, and their behavior changes,” Price said. “If the collar isn’t snug enough, it won’t work, and if it’s too snug, it can cause skin problems. If it’s not charged overnight and you put it on in the morning , you don’t have the tool available And if you don’t always have the controller in your hand or pocket, it’s no use. “

Devices work, and that’s why so many pet owners choose them. But it comes at a price on the animal.

“Then there’s always the challenge of where to put it as it can be from one extreme to the other,” Price said of the electric shock. “And someone different who handles a dog may do it differently than someone else.”

Buddy had shown some signs of aggression in recent months, “brushing” his mouth with two people who had gotten too close. Price said she couldn’t tell if the collar contributed to the problem, but overall she said, “I just think the old conventional ways of training your dog are the best.”

By that she means what Brophey advocates: positive reinforcement and rewards for desired behaviors, and spending a lot of time with your dog training him to follow basic commands.

Of course, there is still a lot of debate about this in the dog world. Some dog owners swear by the devices, claiming it gives them control over otherwise uncontrollable pets, and it keeps them from stepping out of yards and endangering themselves on the busy streets. Honestly, if the only way someone can control their pit bull is with one of them, I’m not going to argue with them.

In a brief search online, I found several articles that addressed the issue.

One, in Canine Journal, described the pros and cons of the devices, noting that they have adjustable intensity, get quick results, are relatively affordable, and with fence devices or bark collars you don’t need to be present.

On the negative side, the article recognizes that you will be using “aversive behavior modification” on your animal instead of positive reinforcement, and you can instill fear in the animal. “With shock training, some dogs may learn to fear the people, objects or situations they associate with the collar,” the article notes. In addition, he notes that “automatic bark collars and electric fences can give shocks unintentionally or too often,” which can confuse the dog.

“So while a shock collar can effectively deter negative behaviors like jumping on visitors or chasing postmen, it does not reward positive behaviors like sitting patiently or obeying a ‘Stay! “,” Canine Journal said. “As with any workout, you should always reinforce positive behaviors with a reward of affection, playtime, or a little treat.”

Of course, there are plenty of companies and trainers selling these devices, and they’re going to cite quick results, especially for harassed dog owners who feel they don’t have enough time for training and convenience.

I spoke with a coworker who used one on her adopted pit bull mix, and she said it helped keep him alive by ending his penchant for street racing. She actually tested the shock of the collar on herself before putting it on the dog to make sure it wasn’t too bad.

“In three weeks the road was like lava for him,” she said. “He didn’t get on the road, even when other dogs were walking outside.”

So I understand that necklaces can work.

Fletcher resident Lexie Autrey used one on her Newfoundland, Ellie, an 18-month-old bear from a dog that had started testing limits around six or seven months old.

“I had to be able to control her,” Autrey said, noting that when people see a dog the size of a small black bear coming towards them, they may be surprised.

“It works, but I never felt completely comfortable with it,” Autrey said. “On the one hand, the setting on the portable part goes from zero to 100. I had it set to 6 or 7, so I didn’t need a lot of vibration or shock to get this to work.”

Newfoundlanders tend to be slow decision makers and like to think they are making their own decisions, Autrey said. So in the end, she ditched the collar and went for positive reinforcement.

Brophey emphasizes that knowing your breed is key to getting the best results.

She also points out that the real heavyweights of the canine world have lined up against shock devices, including the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, which released a position paper.

“AVSAB’s position is that punishment (eg choke chains, pinch collars, and electronic collars) should not be used as a first-line treatment or early use for behavior problems,” reads -on in part. “This is due to potential adverse effects which include, but are not limited to: inhibition of learning, increased fearful and aggressive behaviors, and injury to animals and people interacting with animals. “

I also checked with Tracey Elliott, executive director of the Asheville Humane Society.

“We are against the use of shock collars as well as hose clamps,” Elliott said. “We believe that they are unnecessarily harsh, that they are not necessary to train an animal, and that they can lead to behavior worse than trying to lead to unwanted behavior from them.”

In short, you don’t have to hurt your dog or cause him pain to get the result you want. Positive reinforcement, whether it’s mouth-watering freeze-dried chicken strips or affection and encouragement, will do the job, with enough patience.

“You cause a negative association with the coach, with the owner or anyone else (administering the shock), as opposed to a positive association,” Elliott said. “Dogs are intelligent enough to be trained for the right behavior with positive reinforcement.”

He hasn’t met my Basset Cooper, who keeps barking at the same neighbor’s cat every day, so much so that I have to put him on a leash and drag him around the house, but I digress. Hey, Cooper will be running over for a bone, so I get Elliott’s point.

At the end of the day, Brophey says it’s not about making homeowners feel bad or putting people out of business.

“It’s more like saying ‘There’s all this information and all this science out there,’ so let’s talk about it,” she said. “At the very least, if you’re going to use any of these tools, make an informed decision.

This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 828-232-5847 or [email protected]

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