Written by Niki Tudge and Susan Nilson 2016
PPG calls on pet industry professionals to take a stand on the use and application of shock in animal training, to work together to educate pet owners in humane, scientifically sound training methods, and to take shock off the table once and for all
The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) is greatly saddened not only by the release of Garmin’s Delta Smart™ Dog Training System, a device that delivers remote corrections to dogs when connected to a smartphone, but also the response from some professional pet industry groups and associations relating to this equipment.
Industry associations play a critical role in establishing and recommending best practices, education, leadership and technical standards in any given industry and, as such, PPG takes very seriously its obligation to fulfil this role by taking a transparent and consistent position on important and urgent issues such as training practices and equipment use, as stated in its Guiding Principles1.
In the 21st century, can there really still be a debate over the issue of using pain as a “method” of animal training? Decades of peer reviewed, scientific studies show, whether discussing dogs, humans, dolphins or elephants, that shock as a form of training to teach or correct a behavior is ineffective at best and physically and psychologically damaging at worst. Instead, humane and effective animal training procedures lay the foundation for any animal’s healthy socialization and training, and help avoid the onset of behavioral issues. The general pet-owning public must be better served by professional organizations and associations to ensure pets live in nurturing and stable environments where they are able to maintain a positive emotional state and feel safe which will, in turn, play a significant role in preventing behavior problems. Since its inception in 2012, it has been PPG’s position that “the use of electronic stimulation, or “shock” or “e-collars,” to train and/or modify the behavior of pet animals is simply not necessary. For the purposes of this statement, electronic stimulation devices include products often referred to as: e-collars, training collars, e-touch, stimulation, tingle, TENS unit collar and remote trainer.”2
Applying an electric shock to an animal via the Garmin Delta system - or any other pain inflicting device - provides no effective strategy for an animal to learn a new or alternative behavior; it simply inflicts pain and risks making the animal fearful, anxious and/or aggressive. This is one of the many reasons shock devices should be off the table when it comes to training pets. It is time that all pet professionals and associations collaborate on this central issue and start making real progress on education and advocacy to reach the end goal of eliminating the use of shock altogether.
Some of the recent open letters and position statements published by professional pet associations focus on criticism of the Garmin equipment and its function, for example, in terms of latency, i.e. the timing between the behavior and the punishment, rather than the much more deeply seated problem: its philosophy. Why focus on the poor design traits of a piece of equipment or wireless training mechanics that may be defective instead of taking a stance against shock collar training once and for all? Similarly, some organizations have released position statements recommending against using the collars without the guidance of an experienced trainer. In other words, they deem it acceptable to administer an electric shock to an animal in the guise of training, as long as there is a trainer present.
A common trend across professional animal training and behavior associations is the promotion and application of a so-called humane hierarchy and there are several versions of this available to guide dog trainers and behavior consultants and for them to implement in their behavior cases. Some of the models are accompanied by pages of explanation, detail and academic citations while others are wonderfully graphic and detail each level of the hierarchy, which generally progresses from positive reinforcement, i.e. rewarding a desirable behavior to increase the likelihood of that behavior being repeated, and eventually leads to positive punishment (which would include electric shocks) to stop an undesirable behavior via the use of force or pain or any other aversive (to the animal) means. Members of any given professional body are encouraged to work within the guidelines of these hierarchies, and they are promoted to members as a tool to utilize when initiating training and behavior change programs.
Under a humane hierarchy protocol, pet professionals are generally urged to begin their training and behavior change programs using the least invasive and aversive protocols available, and work up to the more aversive levels if deemed necessary. However, if these hierarchies work in isolation of any non-negotiable best practices, then they fail the pet, the pet owner, the professional and the entire industry. Progressing up the hierarchy to more invasive and aversive protocols is merely a matter of time for individuals who are not proficient in their craft, or do not have the requisite scientific knowledge or education to understand why this strategy is so problematic in the first place.
The central ideas of facilitating professionals to operate within a code of conduct and empowering them to maintain professional autonomy are not mutually exclusive. PPG’s Best Practices position statement asserts that a professional “must be allowed autonomy to work within the guidelines of his/her professional code of practice, members are encouraged to use their individual methods of choice from within governing principles and guidelines.”3
The referenced governing principles and guidelines are supported by a few simple and clear non-negotiable best practices and, as such, PPG members agree to not use shock, prong, choke, pain or fear to care for or train pets.
Call to Action
Ultimately, it is possible for the pet industry to support professional autonomy and the use of a humane hierarchy while also taking a stand and position on the use and application of shock. As such, PPG calls on fellow industry professionals and associations, animal welfare organizations and professional animal training and behavior bodies worldwide to stand together and collectively reach out and engage and educate pet owners in the implementation and practice of humane, kind and effective training methods rather than rely on aversive means, to embrace scientific training methods, and publicly say NO to methods that cause pain or fear administered via equipment that delivers electric shocks.
Note: PPG member and freelance writer Tracy Krulik has posted a blog, Shocking Dogs with Electricity Is Not a Game and initiated an online petition, Remove the electric shock feature from Garmin's new Delta Smart Dog System which has so far gathered over 6,000 signatures and is rapidly gaining momentum. Both the blog post and the petition contain further details regarding the use of aversives in animal training.
1 The Pet Professional Guild. (2012). Guiding Principles
2 The Pet Professional Guild. (2012). Position Statement on the Use of Shock in Animal Training
3 Pet Professional Guild. (2012). Defining, Determining and Maintaining Best Practices within Our Force Free Organization