Wednesday October 7th

So, this week has been a pretty BIG week in the dog training world.  Maybe you have heard, Petco, an American pet retailer in the United States had taken a stance against using pain to train dogs. Specifically, they are banning the sale of shock collars in their stores in an effort to rebrand to focus on health and wellness!  Way to go PetCo! Such excellent news!

You would think that everyone who trains dogs would be excited about this, right?  Unbelievably many trainers are working to create a boycott of Petco of due to their stance of removal the shock collars from their inventory.  Wait! What? Why?

This is a pretty bold statement……but I will say it anyway.  The trainers wanting to boycott Petco, the trainers who advocate for the use of aversive methods, pain, fear, and intimidation are the people who rely on using pain to “train” dogs.  They have not studied the science behind how dogs learn nor have they taken the time to learn how to motivate a dog without hurting them.   It gets worse.  These are the trainers taking money for services that includes hurting dogs. So sad.

I really feel for dog owners who are trying to the best they can for their dog.  They want to change their dogs’ behavior but they don’t know how.   They look for answers on online, where just about every crazy suggestion is passed off as a proven theory.  Dog training is an unregulated field, anyone can say anything, be on tv, write an “educational” book without the requirement of proving their claims or worse yes discuss the side effects of methods.  There are actually more regulations around the flowers sold at the local market then there are around the field of dog training.  

It is a fact that pain can stop behaviors in dogs.  However, the dog has not learned   WHAT to do!!     A dog that is shocked for peeing inside has learned that is not safe to pee inside, but they still have NO idea where to pee…so they starting hiding when they pee inside.   

There are side effects to all training methods. The side effects to pain based training are varied and not a single one is good.   The dog learns people are not safe.  The world scary.  It can also create additional unintentional side effects.  Perfect example, a dog who barks at other dogs on walks.  The dog could be barking for a variety of reasons, fear, excitement, frustration.

Think about this from the perspective of a dog wearing a shock collar who barks at other dogs when out for walk.  Shock collar dog sees another dog, and their person who happens to be wearing a hat.  The dog with the shock collar barks and is shocked. YES! It hurts! This scenario is repeated multiple times.    So now when out on a walk the shock collar dog sees another dog and immediately begins to feel fear. Other dogs are the predictors of pain, the sign that the shock is coming.  The dog that has been shocked repeatedly starts to think, I REALLY don’t like seeing other dogs and you know what else? I don’t like people approaching me, or I don’t like people who wear hats, all of these things are the predictors of oncoming pain. They tell the dog pain is coming.   A dog who was just barking while out on a walk now not only does not like other dogs, but doesn’t like people approaching or people wearing hats and any number of other fear that could have been installed in that dog.  The dog is now terrified of a variety of things.

Take this one step further.  The family with the dog who has been shocked while out on walks is hosting a Sunday dinner.  In walks uncle Jessee who lives out of town – he is wearing a hat, walking into the house, approaching the dog.  The dog loses it, freaks out, barks aggressively at uncle Jesse.  The family is shocked stunned, their dog has never acted like that before, they can’t imagine what is suddenly wrong with their dog.    Quite simply, the dog has learned that men approaching him, wearing hats are the predictors of pain. 

The families dog who’s only challenge was barking at other dogs while out on walks is now frightened of a variety of different scenarios.   The dog being shocked had no idea exactly what was the precipitator to the shocks.  In their view was a man wearing a hat, and a dog, and 100 other environmental cues for the dogs to attribute the pain he was feeling. 

Here is how the situation would have looked if the dog had been trained by a competent rewards based trainer.  A comprehensive assessment would have been completed to gain an understanding of WHY the dog was barking.  If it was fear based a well thought out plan utilizing desensitization and counter conditioning would have been devised.  When the dog saw the thing that scared him, wonderful things would have happened to the dog, delicious treats.  The rewards bases trainer would work to change the dogs feelings about the scary stimulus so eventually the dog would start to think, I love it when I see that scary thing, it means delicious treats to me.  And I love everything else I am seeing too, they all mean good things to me.  So many wonderful side effects to rewards based training. Instead of developing a generalized fear of the world the dogs has developed a generalized feeling of many wonderful many things they see.  

So let’s continue our focus on the positive -WAY TO GO PETCO!!!  Way to be an industry leader in removing the shock collars from the training world.  Hey, Chewy, Pet Smart – where are you???  You’re late to the party but still invited to get on board and take a stance on this.  The dogs are counting on you.

Kathleen McClure is a Certified Trainer and Counselor and  Fear Free Trainer.  She lives with her husband and the large menagerie of foster and rescue dogs and cats.