Hundreds of years ago, when Christian Humanist and scholar, Desiderius Erasmus penned the phrase “Man’s mind is so formed that it is far more susceptible to falsehood than to truth,” I am sure he wasn’t contemplating the future opinions of dog owners, dog trainers, veterinarians, and all other so-called behavioral experts about the use of “shock” collars for training dogs. Instead, he knew at the time that the truth, with its inherent ability to expose human frailty and sin, was a much harder pill to swallow for most people than a lie. However, Desiderius’ wisdom still holds today in that at times, especially when it suits our personal needs, or presumably, that of our dogs, we would rather believe anything other than the truth. Moreover, thanks to mass - media - driven - hysteria regarding “shock” collars, we are doing exactly that; believing a lie. Nowadays, should you give some self-proclaimed expert who believes the life of a dog should be nothing but rainbows and unicorns, one inch of conversational daylight, you will be pummeled with one horrifying animal research result after another testifying to the cruelty of “shock” collars. The horror of it all!
However, what is intentionally omitted on the part of these so-called experts and their accompanying theories and research findings, is the fact that this “cruel” device has been utilized for decades to maintain control of dogs at a distance, suppress unwanted predatory behavior - including attacking valuable livestock, other animals, and people - and for the creation of reliable responses from hundreds of thousands of dogs whose reliable responses were necessary for the safety of their handlers and the common citizens they served and protected. Many of the dogs included service dogs, police dogs, explosive and narcotics detection dogs, personal and property protection dogs, and ordinary household pets. For instance, my police dog, Jagr, was trained to track people and his ability to reliably stay on their trail, even when their trail was contaminated with temptations such as animal scat, food waste, and the like, was responsible for saving four lives between 1995 and 1998. One of the lives was a three-year-old child who had become separated from her family during a hike in rugged and unforgiving terrain. One was an 89-year-old woman suffering from dementia who had wandered away from her home at 2 am in sub-freezing weather. Another was the life of a felon who had fled into the woods after crashing the vehicle he had stolen. Tracking the felon to the remote barn where he had chosen to hide and take shelter had taken Jagr and me over five hours in temperatures below five degrees Fahrenheit. When the felon was finally apprehended, he was near death from hypothermia. Lastly, one of the lives saved was that of an intoxicated driver who had also fled into the woods to avoid apprehension after crashing his car into a tree. The driver had suffered life-threatening injuries from the crash and would have died had he not been found by Jagr and me and received proper medical treatment. A couple of years after his arrest, it was the driver’s turn to track me down. After my initial surprise wore off, he proudly displayed a copy of his recently earned college degree and then, while grinning from ear to ear, he handed me a picture of his newborn daughter. As I was looking at the picture, he turned to Jagr and said, “you saved my life in more ways than one big fella.” Something tragic turned into something beautiful all the way around. And to think, Jagr’s tracking discipline had been accomplished utilizing a “shock” collar!
All that being said, I would like to share with you a few truths about the proper use of “shock” collars for training dogs. I do so in the hope these truths will serve as a reasonable guide, so our formed minds will allow us to swallow the harder pill instead of the one that has been lubricated for years with prejudice, fear, and willful ignorance. If it is possible for us to do this, perhaps some of the 670,000 dogs per year that are euthanized, might be saved because their intolerable behavior will be tempered by our newfound enlightenment and our willingness to give this incredible training tool a chance. Therefore, if you need to pause here and grab a beer or a glass of wine to help you swallow a few truths about “shock” collars, do so because here they come:
Truth #1 - You don’t have to SHOCK your dog for it to work! Electrical shock is defined as the physiological reaction, sensation, or injury caused by electric current passing through the body. It occurs upon contact of a body part with any source of electricity that produces a sufficient current through the skin, muscles, or hair. Unfortunately, the majority of the dog owning populous has no experience with the use of remote training collars and therefore, their perception of the stimulus their dog could receive from using such a device is more in line with the definition of electrical shock than with haptic communication which refers to the way in which people and animals communicate and interact via the sense of touch. Touch or haptics, from the ancient Greek word haptikos, is crucial for communication; it is vital for survival. Haptic signals, among other things, teach us what and whom we can touch and what and who we can’t. Such as the case with a kiss versus a slap, or a lick from a dog versus a bite. Aside from visual input, the sense of touch facilitates the greater part of learning for dogs.
Remote training collars provide dog owners with the ability to touch their dog at a distance and without having to be physically tethered to it. This ability is accomplished through the use of a wide range of electronic haptic signals communicated to the dog through radio transmission. In addition, most of these devices available for purchase today come with over 100 levels of stimulus that vary significantly in their intensity and use. For instance, the vibration mode that is available with most remote training collars can be paired with a treat to serve as a long distance, “good dog” signal, or as an attention getter for dogs that are hearing impaired, while the non-vibration modes can provide signals that can serve as gentle reminders to those that teach “don’t ever do that again!” Consequently, dog owners who utilize remote training collars to touch their dog for whatever the reason, have many options they can choose from to achieve their training goals aside from SHOCKING their dog!
In my 40 years of experience utilizing remote training collars to help my clients train the dog that lowered their blood pressure and didn’t raise it, I have never had to use any level of electrical stimulus that even remotely resembled a “shock.” The vast majority of the dogs all responded to levels that when felt by human fingers that could read braille or detect minute changes in texture and temperature, were less than those associated with silent cell phone announcements. This capability, one which allows dog owners to adjust the electrical stimulus their dog receives to serve the purpose of its training, was the intent of the manufacturers of remote training collars when designing a product with so many different levels. This makes sense, and it appeals to the reasoning ability of the average dog owner to arrive at their conclusion that not all of those levels were engineered to “shock” a dog. Nevertheless, those that are adamantly opposed to the use of remote collars will have you disregard your common sense and believe that the real intent of remote collar manufacturers was to create 100 layers of HELL to torture your dog! Oh my, the horror of it all!
Truth #2 - Only Idiots “shock” dogs. A friend of mine once told me, “the mother of idiots is always pregnant,” and boy, was he right! Idiots are born every day. That’s why I am grateful the architects of our legal system based their standard for determining liability off of a hypothetical person known as the Reasonable or Prudent man and not off of a deranged idiot. “This hypothetical person exercises average care, skill, and judgment in conduct that society requires of its members for the protection of their own and of others' interests.” Why did the architects of our legal system choose to create a hypothetical person to serve as their standard? Because their hypothetical person was a closer match to the ordinary person their legal system would come to govern than an idiot. Dogs, who fall into the category of “other’s,” should be thankful that most of their owners are ordinary people who will exercise the average care, skill, and judgment in conduct required of the Reasonable and Prudent man when operating remote training collars. Still, idiots dwell among us and remote training collars will invariably find their way into their hands. As a result, some dogs will become the recipients of excessive electrical stimuli because the stupid human operating the remote training collar is the very reason for which the Reasonable and Prudent man liability standard was created; to protect us all from the negligence of idiots! However, not all idiots are the creation of their birth. Sometimes, people of average intelligence become idiots because they don’t take the necessary precautions to avoid doing something stupid like “shocking” a dog. Avoiding this predicament leads me to the next truth.
Truth #3 - Reasonable and Prudent people don’t “shock” dogs. Every time someone presses any button on any remote training device that sends forth any level of electrical stimulus to any dog he or she are training, they must hold themselves to the Reasonable and Prudent man standard if they wish to avoid “shocking” a dog. To do so, each operator of a remote training collar must use care so as not to apply corrective levels of electrical stimuli until the dog has properly paired the unnatural haptic signal provided by the remote training collar with learned behavior and its requirements. Thereby, affording the dog the ability to avoid correction when the known behavior is elicited in the future. Failure to meet this prerequisite will result in miscommunication, misassociation, and misinterpretation of all remote training collar signals by the canine-recipient. As a result, the dog ends up getting “shocked” because it fails to adequately respond to the frustrated operator’s commands at lower levels.
In holding with the Reasonable and Prudent man standard, operators of remote training collars must also make it a point to gain the skills necessary to become proficient in the use of the device. Its mechanical workings to include how to turn it on or off, changing stimulus levels, evoking safety features, and correctly fitting the collar, must be learned and practiced before it is used. Even then, the remote training collar should only be used by those dog owners or professional trainers that have gained enough training experience to know the importance of timing associated with rewards and corrections, how to assess their dog’s behavioral responses to a variety of visual, auditory, and haptic inputs, and have previously established realistic training expectations for their dog.
Lastly, users of remote training collars must command the good judgment of conduct that is called for by the Reasonable and Prudent man standard. This requirement, in and of itself, due to the fact there are idiots inhabiting the same space as dogs, is enough to pave the way for the potential for misuse of the device by frustrated, irate, or malicious operators who fail to exercise the necessary “average” care and skill required for its use. Fortunately, most dog owners are not idiots. Even if they are not skilled dog trainers or lack conceptual knowledge concerning basic canine behavior, they instinctively know what level of electrical stimulus is humane and effective compared to which teeters on the edge of abuse. Without any guidance from a professional trainer, most learn this through their self-discovery and quickly make the necessary adjustments to the device’s settings to create desired behaviors in their dog while at the same time, eliminating its undesired behaviors without “shocking” their dog.
Truth #4 - You need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Everywhere you turn, people are tuned into their smartphones, or their smart TVs, or their incredibly smart computers. On these devices, people can be seen sending texts, emails, streaming TV shows or movies, or surfing the internet, while in total oblivion of the world around them. We have become very comfortable with technology, and it’s this love affair with technology that makes me wonder why we are so uncomfortable with remote training collars? After all, they provide some of the same benefits as most of the other expensive gadgets that we can’t seem to live without. For instance, if my family or friends wish to contact me, they can send a signal to my phone. Their message will be announced with an auditory ring or a haptic vibration depending upon my phone’s setting. Remote collars allow us to do the same with our dogs. In the wee hours of the morning, the annoying alarm emanating from my phone forces me to get out of bed to turn it off. With remote collars, we can annoy our dogs enough to make them stop doing what they want and start doing what we want! By utilizing an app on her phone, my wife can instantly know of my whereabouts (sorry, fellas). By purchasing a remote training collar with a GPS, you can immediately know your dog’s location should he or she wander off. Having this capability could ultimately save your dog’s life.
When all of this abounding technology that threatens to turn us all into sloth-like idiots first arrived on the scene, I was not comfortable with it. I grew up in the Alaskan wild reading books, not surfing the internet. I learned how to navigate rugged terrain using a Silva compass and a topo map, not google maps. I learned by doing, not watching videos. I climbed trees, fell down mountains, and tracked wolves. I did not stay in my room and binge on Netflix. Lastly, I trained my sled dogs with leather leashes and harnesses, not with push buttons and digital displays. Therefore, I was not too fond of the advancement of any technology that went against my upbringing, to include the invention of remote training collars. However, like we used to say in my military days, I “embraced the suck” and got with the program and overrode the nostalgic governor that threatened to trap me in the “has been” realm. I got comfortable being uncomfortable and embraced the concept of utilizing technology to help me train dogs to levels that were seemingly impossible before the arrival of modern technology. As a result, I got comfortable watching a wheelchair-borne thirteen-year-old girl with advanced muscular dystrophy control the service dog I had trained for her with the same ease as I did and she did so by pushing a button on a remote training collar with the only finger she could still move. I got comfortable running behind Jagr as he raced through a pitch black forest searching for a lost a man who was freezing to death and didn’t even know it. Although the man’s trail wound through thorns and nearly frozen creeks, I knew from Jagr’s training he would stay on the trail until he found the man and not be deterred by anything along the way. Finally, I got comfortable watching an American hero who has PTSD after serving four tours in Afghanistan regain the control of his dog and his life that he thought he was no longer capable of by pressing a button instead of pulling a trigger.
In summary, if you should ever find yourself in the company of a dog owner, dog trainer, veterinarian, or so-called expert, who refers to a remote training collar as a “shock” collar, quickly gather your belongings and your dog and scurry away before they can infect you further with their narrow-minded ignorance. As I have pointed out in these four truths, remote training collars have served as a valuable training asset for decades for the Reasonable and Prudent user, and thousands of dogs and people have benefited in countless ways from their use. However, this device does not have buying restrictions like those placed on the sale of guns, and therefore, it is not immune to being operated by idiots who set about “shocking” dogs whether they do so intentionally or not. However, to blatantly proclaim a remote training collar to be a universal instrument of torture by calling it a “shock” collar, only serves to announce to the whole world your lack of both conceptual and experiential knowledge as it pertains to the operation of the device and its utilization in training. It also does nothing to further the enhancement of dog ownership control so desperately needed in this country, but so easily obtained by using this device. Sadly, it’s this lack of control that is the number one cause of dog abandonment in the United States, and that’s truth #5 - the real horror of it all.
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