Why Prong Collars Hurt

 

14 inch prong collar

Prong collars, also called pinch collars, are metal chain collars for dogs that include links of prongs whose ends press into the dog’s neck.

When a dog pulls on leash, moves out of position, or is “corrected” with a quick snap of the leash, force is exerted on the dog’s neck through the points of contact of the prongs.

Force is also exerted in these situations when the dog is wearing a flat collar. A correction applied to a dog on a flat collar can also be uncomfortable or even harm the dog.

But when we look at the physics, we can see why the prong collar is more uncomfortable, painful, and potentially damaging.

The differences between the pressure effects of a prong collar and a flat collar on a dog’s neck are due to the different surface areas. The prongs convey the same amount of force from pulling or a correction as the flat collar does, but the force is focused into a much smaller area.

We are aware of this intuitively every day. If you are walking barefoot through your house, would you rather step squarely on a Lego piece or a paperback book? Putting a good portion of your weight on a Lego piece hurts, even if the piece is not sharp enough to cut you. Why can you walk on top of the snow in snowshoes, but if you try it in spike heels they will punch through the snow and the rest of you will probably follow? Your weight is the same, but the force is concentrated.

Here’s why a prong collar works more like stiletto heels than like the webbing of a snowshoe.

Detail of prong on a prong collar

Pressure is All About Surface Area

The prong collar I used to use has 18 prongs. 18 tiny round surfaces combined have a lot less surface area than a flat strip, but how much less?

Force applied to a surface is mathematically computed as pressure.  A common way it is measured in the U.S. is in pounds per square inch, or PSI.  (Technically the force unit is the pound-force or lbf, but people shorten it to pound for convenience.)

Example

I have a flat collar that is 14 inches long and 1 inch wide. Its area is 14.00″ x 1.00″ = 14.00 square inches.

The prong collar that I used on my dog in the past is also about 14 inches long, including 5 inches of chain that has no prongs but can be used to tighten the collar (see the top photo). The collar has 9 pairs of 2 prongs. They are placed over 8 inches of the collar. The ends of the prongs are about 0.08 inches in diameter (See the photo immediately above). They are smoothed in the manufacturing process so they aren’t sharp.

For a first approximation to compare the two, let’s compare the total surface areas of the two collars. We already know that the surface area of the flat collar is 14.00 in². (The abbreviation in² is read as “square inches.” The exponent doesn’t apply to the number preceding it.) To compute the combined surface area of the prongs we use the formula for the area of a circle (the end of each prong) and multiply that answer by 18 for the 18 prongs.

The area of a circle formula is πr².  The radius is half the diameter of the end of the prong or 0.04 inches. So that’s

pi x (.04) x (.04) ≈ 0.005 in²

Multiply that by 18 to get the combined area of the 18 prongs and you get about 0.09 in².

Surface area of flat collar: 14.00 in²
Combined surface area of 18 prongs: 0.09 in²

Here’s an image that shows those areas in proportion. I drew it at half scale, making the flat collar 7 inches, but how big it renders on your computer will depend on all sorts of factors. The important thing is that the collar and the prongs are in proportion to each other at any size of the image.

chart comparing surface area of prong collars and flat collarsThe respective surface areas mean that the flat collar has about 155 times the area of the prong collar.

The corollary is that the same force applied to both collars causes 155 times more pressure on the prongs than on the flat collar.

In order to plug in a number for the force, I put harnesses on my dogs and experimented with an in-line scale. (They couldn’t believe I was asking them to pull!) Clara, 44 lbs, easily pulled up to 12 lbf and I know she can pull a lot harder, even on a flat collar rather than a harness. So let’s say a small-to-medium dog pulls at a force of 5 lbf.  The force of 5 lbf spread over the 14 square inches of the flat collar yields 0.36 lbs per square inch (PSI). If you instead apply 5 lbf to the prong collar, you get 56 PSI.

Pressure on flat collar under 5 pounds of force: 0.36 pounds per square inch
Pressure on prong collar under 5 pounds of force: 56 pounds per square inch

This is a first approximation, but it’s pretty realistic. You can stop right here if you’d rather not get into the complexities. In most cases, the prong collar has about 155 times the pressure of the flat collar. In one situation described the disparity can be less, but the prong still has 50 times the pressure.

Two Scenarios

In our first approximation, I assumed that the force was applied equally to the entire area of the flat collar and equally to all 18 prongs. But this is not necessarily the case, depending on how the collar is fitted.

Loose Collar

If a flat collar or a prong collar is loose, the force will not distribute over the whole collar.

diagram of the force on a loosely fitted collarYou can see the unequal distribution of the force on a loose collar when a dog pulls. If the dog is pulling forward, most of the force is on the front of the collar, caused by the leash pulling backward. You may even see an area at the back of the dog’s neck where the collar is not touching the neck at all. Obviously, there is zero force from the collar applied there. This affects our pressure calculation since there is less surface area distributing the force over the dog’s neck. For purposes of a working estimate, let’s say that the actual area of the collar on which there is pressure when the dog pulls is the front quarter of the collar.

This is an approximation for several reasons, one among them being that only in one spot of the dog’s neck is the force exactly normal to the arc of the neck. I have represented the differing force in part by the length of the arrows in the image. The force has the largest magnitude in the front and diminishes on the sides of the neck, finally going to zero. There are also smaller forces on the sides of the neck that I am not including. They are present on both collars.

For the 14-inch flat collar, let’s assume that for this approximation the force is distributed over the front 3.5 square inches of the collar. With one-quarter the area, you have four times the pressure. So the flat collar pressure in our example goes up to 1.44 PSI. But guess what? It’s the same situation on the prong collar. The force is distributed over fewer prongs. On my prong collar, it appears that the force would be distributed over 14 prongs rather than 18. (This is a generous estimate. Some of those prongs are barely touching the neck.) That raises the pressure on the prong, but not as large a raise as for the flat collar. But the pressure on the prong collar at 71.40 PSI is still 50 times that of the flat collar.

stuffed dog modeling a loosely fitted prong collar

 

Tight Collar with Slip Chain/Martingale

Professional trainers who use prong collars do not fit them loosely around the neck. In the photo below, I have followed a professional’s instructions and fitted the prong in the closest approximation I can achieve on a stuffed toy. On a real dog, it would probably be even a bit higher and closer to the ears. (Also, some trainers put the leash attachment on the right side of the dog’s neck instead of the back so it is next to them when the dog is in heel position.)

stuffed dog modeling a tightly fitted prong collar

diagram of the force on a tightly fitted collar

First, note that the prongs are putting pressure on the neck without  a force being applied by the leash. The force from the tight fit is roughly equivalent on all the prongs. We can emulate this setup with a tightly fitted flat collar. The comparison would be equivalent to our first example, with the pressure being about 155 times more per square inch on the prong collar.

In addition, the prong collar includes a slip chain. (You can see it in the top photo.) Depending on how the leash is connected to the chain, the handler can apply a snap of the leash—a “correction”—that can pull the ends of the collar together and further tighten the prongs. This force is also distributed over all the prongs. For a comparison, we could add a martingale to our tight flat collar. So for corrections as well, the pressure comparison would be the same as our first example: 155 times more pressure on the prong collar than on the flat martingale collar.

The tightly fitted prong collar is not an improvement for the dog, even though more of the prongs are touching the neck and the pressure is being distributed over more area. This is because the distribution adds another source of pressure, and also because the distribution still does not mitigate the disparities in contact areas between the two collars.

Because of the tight fit and the slip chain, there are three potential forces on the collar.

  1.  The force applied by the tightness of the collar itself. Imagine tying a length of the cord around the calf of your leg, tightening it, and fastening it there. Without having to pull the leg in any direction, you’re exerting force.
  2. The directional force applied if the dog and trainer do not move similarly.
  3. The sudden, high magnitude force from corrections.

Please note that I am not advocating attaching a leash to a flat collar either. Harnesses are much safer. Even if the dog pulls, the force is distributed over an even larger area than a collar, and in less vulnerable places than the neck.

Conclusion

The math shown on this page includes approximations. The forces involved are actually vectors, and the pressures are not evenly distributed. However, both of these factors affect both types of collars. If you want to read more about these additional considerations, check out the prong collar appendix page. The page also has photos of the difference between placing an inert weight on my forearm and placing the same weight on a prong collar on my forearm, and a brief discussion of the spurious “proper fit of a prong collar” argument.

In all cases—even considering the complexities of the math— the pressure on the dog’s neck from by the prong collar is much, much greater than that created by the flat collar. The disparity in the surface areas makes that fact inescapable. The pressure on the prong collar is concentrated into multiple small areas (like spike heels) instead of being dispersed. And in my example, with blunted prongs of a medium size (you can obtain prongs that are smaller and sharper), the pressure is 155 times that caused by a flat collar.

That’s why prong collars hurt.

Thank you to my three pre-readers, who read for comprehensibility, for clear communication, and for the math. All errors and inaccuracies are my own.

Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

Halloween Hazards for Pets

Captain Jake Sparrow (Happy Buddha Dog Training)

Captain Jake Sparrow (Happy Buddha Dog Training)

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. A bag full of treats and scary costumes make me happy, but these things can be a real terror for some pets. Hazards come in two flavors: environmental and edibles.

I once trained a Dachshund puppy named Sparky* and he was a happy little guy, until he entered adolescence and a developmental fear stage. Then he became alarmed at every person passing by his home. He often stood guard at the window waiting for scary things to bark at.

For Sparky, environmental things threatened him.

His owners called me to help Sparky a few weeks before Halloween. We agreed since Sparky was already frightened by passersby the prospect of dozens of strangers wearing costumes parading up to the front door and entering the home would likely terrify him.

Some intensive training and behavior modification enabled Sparky to develop confidence and he coped very well with the 70 or so Trick-or-Treat visitors the family hosted Halloween evening. Had the owners not planned ahead then poor Sparky would have been spooked.

Greeting Halloween visitors repeatedly through the afternoon or evening could easily allow frightened dogs or cats to rush out the door and become lost. Any holiday or special event in which people are coming and going can expose pets to risk, and July 4th is the single busiest day of the year at pet shelters due to frightened animals getting lost.
Preparing a pet safe haven, as Sparky’s owners did, gives pets a secure and comfortable place to go, preferably with a companion and toys to play with.

A safe haven is a space set aside for a pet to be away from guests and visitors, secured by a door. Locking the door prevents accidental release. If a family member can remain with the pet during the activity then engaging in play or training games provides companionship and distraction.

A professional pet sitter may also be engaged to fill that role. If nobody is available to help consider placing your pet in the safe zone with food-filled toys to play with, such as a Kong, Wobble Kong or Magic Mushroom.  Food-filled toys give a dog a joyful activity to engage in over a length of time.

Calming music such as iCalmDog or Through A Dog’s Ear reduce stress. Lavender essential oil has calming effect, as does an Adaptil diffuser for dogs, and Feliway for cats. Zylkene is a safe canine calming product derived from cow’s milk and comes in powder or capsules.

(Source: unknown, internet)

(Source: unknown, internet)

To prevent the alarming repetition of knocking and doorbell ringing, you may station yourself outside the front door wearing a costume, offering treats before children startle your pet.  Enjoy yourself greeting Halloween spooksters and spare your pet the distress.

Your veterinarian may also prescribe fast acting anti-anxiety medication for the event. Many of these options have been suggested to me by several board-certified veterinary behaviorists to reduce anxiety and fear.

While the noises and interruptions of Trick-or-Treaters are obvious problems, less well known are the dangers posed by treats

Some fruits and candies can sicken pets and should be kept away from curious animals through strict management. Keeping a dish full of treats by the door may be convenient for humans to hand out, but may also be snatched by hungry dogs when nobody is looking.

Most people know chocolate is harmful to dogs, but it is also bad for cats. Solid chocolate is worse than a thin coating, and dark chocolate is more dangerous than milk chocolate.  The danger of chocolates depends upon the type and quantity consumed, and the body weight of the dog.

Theobromine and caffeine in chocolate are to blame for toxicity, according to Scott Fausel, medical director of VCA Sinking Spring in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania.

Grapes and raisins are even worse, and eating a single one could kill a dog.  Justine Lee, D.V.M, DACVECC, DABT board-certified veterinary specialist in emergency care and toxicology warns “When ingested by dogs, grapes and raisins can cause acute and irreversible kidney injury.”

Many years ago I fed my Labrador, Samantha, grapes as a treat.  She survived my stupidity, but that was just dumb luck.  Now I know better.

Those who prefer sugar-free treats should know that xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in hundreds of products including gum and candies. Eating even a little may cause severe liver damage or death.  Fortunately a list of products containing xylitol is available.

The safest strategy is using careful management keeping treats and pets away from one another, and carefully inspecting each treat your child brings home. Children may enjoy offering their treats to pets so careful supervision is critical.

If you suspect your dog has eaten something harmful you may call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) or Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) 24 hours a day, year-round. Also identify in advance the emergency veterinary clinic nearest your home and post that information on your refrigerator beside the poison hotline numbers.

You may also consult your veterinarian prior to the holiday and seek emergency advice for “What if” scenarios. It is hard to think clearly and remember things during a crisis so written notes will help you do what is most beneficial and in a timely manner.

"Hail Charlie!" (Happy Buddha Dog Training)

“Hail Charlie!” (Happy Buddha Dog Training)

Planning ahead can keep your kids and pets safe to enjoy the creepiest holiday of the year.  Happy Halloween!

* A fictitious name

(Please be careful about dressing dogs up in costumes.  My dogs, Jake and Charlie, were very comfortable with all forms of handling and enjoyed the Halloween costume contests pictured here.  At 15 years Jake had a grey beard and wore his pirate outfit with grace, while Charlie enjoyed all the attention of playing Emperor for a day.

Other dogs would be uncomfortable or frightened as they are restrained to put on a costume, which could even provoke a bite.  Know your dogs, be aware of stress signs, and respect what your pet is telling you.)

An Open Letter To Pet Owners About The Pet Professional Guild’s Shock-Free Coalition

PPG Pledge Document_001 PPG Pledge Document_002 PPG Pledge Document_003 PPG Pledge Document_004 According to the American Pet Products Association (2017), 68 percent of Americans return home to a pet (or pets) each day.  An estimated 48 percent of US residents are dog owners while 38 percent share their home with a cat (or cats). In spite of this, for many people, more time is spent planning the family vacation than on bringing a pet into the home.

Compounded by the fact that many of us not only work full time and raise children, we are also swamped with family commitments and countless other activities, it is not difficult to understand that when we face problems with pet care, behavior or management, many of us are tempted to seek quick and easy solutions (Tudge, 2009).

Unfortunately, the pet training industry is entirely unregulated at present, meaning that anyone can say they are an animal trainer or behavior consultant regardless of knowledge, skills or education, or lack thereof. As a result, those who call themselves dog trainers, or even “dog whisperers,” may still be utilizing outdated punitive methods, such as disc throwing, loud correctional “no’s” and, in some cases, more extreme tools such as electric shock collars, choke chains and prong collars. All of these are, sadly, still at large. They are training tools that, by design, have one purpose: to reduce or stop behavior through pain and fear. This, as opposed to a more humane approach where new behaviors are built, and problematic emotional reactions are changed via positive reinforcement and counterconditioning protocols (Pet Professional Guild, 2016). It is just not possible to “train out” fear or anxiety. In “behavior speak,” we need to change the fear eliciting stimulus so the pet no longer associates it with fear or pain, but with pleasure and joy. Only then will he be able to learn new behaviors.

Humane, modern animal training relies on science-based protocols. According to renowned psychology professor Dr. Susan Friedman (2010), who has pioneered the application of applied behavior analysis to captive and companion animals: “Within the field of applied behavior analysis, there is a 40-year-old standard that promotes the most positive, least intrusive behavior reduction procedures.” And yet, there are still plenty of trainers and behavior consultants who elect not to move forward into this arena, resorting instead to more negative, intrusive, aversive and, indeed, punitive methods while offering misleading information about how they train, and the potential fallout of such methods (of which they may even be unaware). Consequently, it is easy to be fooled when searching for a training or behavior professional (Pet Professional Guild, 2016).

“Positive relationship,” “natural methods,” “relationship building,” “positive only,” and “no food necessary” are all taglines regularly used by dog training organizations and individuals in their marketing literature. These expressions appeal to pet owners who may not always understand the various training methods available to them, and the unintended consequences of making the wrong choice. Unfortunately, they often find out the hard way when their pet becomes shut down from fear, or aggressive towards people and/or other animals, as a result of the electric shock. Fear is incredibly easy to instill in any animal, and exceptionally difficult to eliminate. Pet owners in such situations may end up facing a long road of hard work that can require a tremendous amount of patience, time and money to help their pet overcome this newly — and unnecessarily — created fear. Indeed, in all too many cases, a pet may end up being abandoned in a shelter, inaccurately labeled as “aggressive,” or euthanized.

The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) is the one US-based, international member association for pet professionals who use force-free training methods only. PPG holds its members to a very high standard in terms of ethics, protocols and transparency. Members are committed to humane, scientific and effective training, care and management protocols and never use aversive training devices and techniques. The foundation of their work is always to do no harm.

Numerous respected scientific studies confirm the efficacy of positive, reward-based training, as does the collective experience of PPG’s highly skilled and qualified membership worldwide. PPG members understand force-free to mean that shock, pain, choke, fear, physical force, and compulsion-based methods are never employed to train or care for a pet. PPG’s official position is that the use of electronic stimulation to train and/or modify the behavior of pets is completely unnecessary for effective behavior modification and has no place in ethical animal training.

The Force-Free Method

PPG promotes the use of positive operant and respondent training methods, both personally and professionally, and holds that all training should be conducted in a manner that encourages pets to enjoy the learning process, which will, in turn, lead them to become more confident and well-adjusted. PPG members optimize the use of applied behavior analysis to systematically identify and resolve problem behaviors using the least aversive and intrusive methods, tools and equipment. Further, both PPG and its members actively recommend against the use of any training tools and equipment whose purpose and/or intent is to interrupt or redirect behavior using fear, force or pain.

One of PPG’s key goals since its inception in 2011 has been to build an international coalition of competent, ethical pet professional service providers that are readily available to support owners seeking pet care, training and behavior services. This goal is underpinned by the ethics of delivering widespread industry transparency regarding the use and purpose of commercially available pet training equipment, tools, training methods and service philosophies.  In September 2017, this was supported and strengthened by the rollout of PPG’s Shock-Free Coalition, an initiative that aims to build an international movement committed to eliminating shock devices once and for all in the care, training and management of pets.

Recognizing that many well-meaning pet owners sincerely love their animals and want the best possible outcome for them may already be using electronic stimulation devices with realizing the potential fallout or that they are hurting and scaring their pets, PPG launched its Project Trade program in March, 2016. Project Trade promotes the use of force-free training methods and equipment by asking pet guardians to swap aversive gear, such as electric shock collars, for service discounts. The program is an important tool in supporting the Shock-Free Coalition and a key international advocacy program.

As PPG continues to invite recognized professional experts in training and behavior to join the Shock-Free Coalition, we extend a welcoming hand to all pet stewards around the globe to join us. Working together, we can remove electronic stimulation devices from the marketplace, not by heavy-handed tactics or legislation, but by empowering pet owners through education, information and knowledge. Let’s all work together to make a kinder world for pets.

(Note: For more detailed explanations of italicized terms, please see How Our Pets Learn: https://petprofessionalguild.com/The-Science-of-Force-Free-Learning).

For more information, please see https://petprofessionalguild.com/Advocacy-Resources.

Join the Shock-FreeCoalition to make the use of electric shock in animal training a thing of the past.

References

American Pet Products Association. (2017). Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics. Retrieved August 22, 2017, from www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp

Pet Professional Guild. (2012). Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Animal Training. Retrieved August 22, 2017, from http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/DominanceTheoryPositionStatement

Pet Professional Guild. (2012). Position Statement on the Use of Shock in Animal Training. Retrieved August 22, 2017, from http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/shockcollars

Pet Professional Guild. (2016). Open Letter to veterinarians on referrals to training and behavior professionals. Retrieved August 22, 2017, from

https://petprofessionalguild.com/Open-letter-to-veterinarians-on-referrals-to-training-and-behavior-professionals

Tudge. N. J. (2009) Choosing a Dog for Life. Retrieved August 22, 2017, from

https://www.dogsmith.com/choosing-a-dog-is-for-life/

Resources

Project Trade: http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Project-Trade

Shock-Free Coalition: http://www.shockfree.org

Just Say No to Saying “NO!”

No No

It’s almost a reflex. There goes Rover, in hot pursuit of the cat, or gnawing on the sofa, or slurping at your dinner plate, or barking threats at squirrels…and we just need it to STOP, so we shout “NO!”

Then one of several things happens: The behavior pauses for a split second, then resumes. Or, if you have a “soft” dog whose feelings are easily bruised, he’ll hang his head and beg for forgiveness–knowing you’re displeased but not necessarily knowing why. An independent and tenacious dog like mine will assume you’re talking to someone else and keep right on going.

sachy winsomeWhat does “NO” mean to our dogs? Do they think, uh-oh, she’s mad about something…better appease her with my pleading Bambi eyes? Maybe they guess you don’t want them doing this behavior in front of you, so they should do it when you’re not around? Possibly, they know you mean “Knock it off!!” but they don’t know of another outlet for their energy or another behavior to fulfill the function of the annoying one.

To us, “NO!” means “Stop doing that right now AND stop doing it forever!” But “NO” isn’t a trained cue, like “sit” or “down,” that relays information about what to do. It’s a loud, startling noise. It’s a release of tension that brings brief relief to the yeller. But it almost never teaches our dog to cut it out for good.

And if I shout my dog’s name, too–as in “HUCKLEBERRY, NO!”–that’s a double whammy of counterproductive training. For one thing, the unwanted behavior is reinforcing (rewarding) to Huckleberry; otherwise she wouldn’t do it. And since “NO!” doesn’t prevent her from doing it in the future, this behavior just gets stronger with every repetition. Then there’s the added problem that I’ve taken Huckleberry’s name in vain.

We know we’re always supposed to say our dogs’ names with sing-song-y enthusiasm, so they associate their name with joy and joyful things. When I bellow at Huckleberry with rancor in my voice, I tarnish the luster of her name a little, sully it a bit with unpleasant associations. Too much of that, and she may decide the sound of her name is something to tune out rather than welcome.

So…if we want a permanent solution to a problem behavior, rather than a fleeting cessation of our dogs’ annoying shenanigans, we need a better way.

Photo by Bryce Bradford. Creative Commons license.https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

Photo by Bryce Bradford. Creative Commons license.

What if, every time you’re ready to scold with a “NO!”, you cheerfully call his name instead? If you’ve trained him to react instantly and eagerly to the sound of his name, he’ll wonder what you want and tune in excitedly to find out. Once you’ve got his attention, redirect him to something else: “ Rover …instead of rooting around in the trash can, why don’t you come play tug with me, or chase your ball down the stairs?”

The simplest, most rudimentary remedy is “interrupt and redirect.” But instead of interrupting with a harsh “NO!” you interrupt with your dog’s favorite word–his own name–and then engage him in something even better than trash, or at least just as fun. (And then put the trash can out of his reach.)

Now let’s take it to the next level: Identify your dog’s most vexing behaviors, and consider what you want him to do instead. Then practice, practice, practice and reinforce, reinforce, reinforce with high value treats (or whatever he loves–toys, belly rubs, etc.) until it becomes more rewarding to do the alternative behavior than the original, exasperating (to you) behavior.

photo by ktk17028. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

Photo by ktk17028, Creative Commons license

Do you hate it when your dog jumps up on people? Saying “NO!” won’t tell him what to do instead of jumping. Teach him a rock solid “sit,” and sitting will (with plenty of practice and rewards) replace jumping. Is your puppy scarring you with his savage little shark teeth? Train him to bring you a toy. Sick and tired of your dog begging at the table? Teach him to go to his bed and stay there, and let him lick the plates when you’re done.

It’ll take time, effort, patience, and a whole mess of hot dogs. Start easy, do short sessions, and make things harder one baby step at a time. Be understanding. We’re asking our dog to quit a habit that’s almost certainly a natural canine behavior, just because we don’t like it. That demands a lot of self-control. Did you ever try to quit smoking, go on a diet, control your temper, or stop yourself from buying something you couldn’t afford? Then you can sort of empathize.

Here are a couple personal examples, starting with my cat Cato, an incorrigible door dasher. He foiled every attempt to block him. Finally I realized he needed an alternative behavior. What did I want him to do instead of bolting out the door? How about go to the bottom of the stairs of our split foyer entrance. Now when I go to the door, Cato runs down the stairs and waits. I toss him a palmful of kibbles and he scrabbles around searching for them. This buys me plenty of time to slip out.

huck and bunHere’s another. In the past, Huckleberry could hardly resist my rabbits. If she got into their pen, she’d chase them. If they took cover in one of their many Amazon boxes, she’d get frustrated and bark like mad. Scary for them, super irritating for me.

What should she do instead? Lie down quietly. I trained her to settle on a mat outside the pen, and then inside the pen but still at a good distance from the rabbits, and then gradually decreased the distance until she could be right next to them and still stay put on her mat.

I need to keep her in practice, because the biological imperative to chase bunnies is so nearly irresistible. When I slack off, the chasing and barking resume. Most of the time I just keep Huckleberry out, so it’s not an issue. When we’ve been working on this a lot, she’ll sometimes lie down right outside the pen (or inside, if the gate’s been left ajar) and wait for me to notice what an angel she is.

What does your dog do that drives you crazy? What’s your strategy for curtailing those unwanted behaviors? What alternative behaviors have you trained your dog to do? Let me know what solutions you’ve come up with.

"Stop saying NO to your dog!"  from pexels.com

“Stop saying NO to your dog!”
from pexels.com

 

 

How Cats Play

By Beth Adelman

Some cats may prefer prey that flies through the air and owners who are aware of this can select toys accordingly. © Can Stock Photo Inc./funix

Some cats may prefer prey that flies through the air and owners who are aware of this can select toys accordingly. © Can Stock Photo Inc./funix

Playing with your cat is not just fun and games. Play relieves boredom and stress, and can even help control behavior problems. In fact, a wide variety of feline behavior problems, from aggression to destructiveness to self-mutilation to inappropriate elimination to obsessive chewing, can be helped or managed by adding regular interactive play to a cat’s day.

All Play Is Hunting
The most important thing to remember is that for cats, play is always a form of hunting. Real prey is clever enough to make the hunt interesting. Mice, spiders, and other creatures are unpredictable. They run at different speeds. They change their direction. They scurry under the couch or behind the curtains. They play dead and then suddenly jump up and make a break for it.

There is no substitute for interactive play, because only interactive play can simulate the hunt. All those wind-up, hang-on-the-door, and automatic motion-detector toys don’t act like prey. Most follow a simple pattern when they move. But cats are extremely intelligent hunters and can quickly figure out these patterns. And then the toys are just no fun.
Even the automatic toys that are a little bit unpredictable are not at all like prey, because they’re so big and hard (have you ever seen a lion pounce on a plastic garbage can?) and so loud (mice do not roar). Cats like things that are small and furry and make just the slightest rustle and squeak. That’s because cats locate their prey either by sound, visually, or both. Small movements and small sounds best simulate prey.

Watching and planning are important aspects of hunting, and owners can incorporate these stages into play sessions for a more realistic, satisfying experience  for their cat. © Can Stock Photo Inc./FotoFoto

Watching and planning are important aspects of hunting, and owners can incorporate these stages into play sessions for a more realistic, satisfying experience for their cat. © Can Stock Photo Inc./FotoFoto

Cats stalk their prey before pouncing. They don’t have the stamina to do a lot of chasing, so they have to make every pounce count. They stealthily move closer while they plan the attack. Eventually, there is a pounce, a catch and a kill bite. That means watching and planning are part of the hunt, so a cat who is not moving but is locked on visually to a toy is still engaged in the game. Watching and planning are aspects of play for a cat. The cat may even run away from the toy to stalk from across the room or crouch behind a piece of furniture for a better pounce.

This also explains why cats love to hunt from a hiding place and burst out onto their prey. Throwing an old towel over a low coffee table or draping a coat on the back of a dining room chair will give your cat a perfect place from which to hunt. Often, making a “tent” is enough to get a reluctant hunter going.

If the cat is sufficiently stealthy, the prey never notices the cat and simply goes about its business. When the prey does eventually become aware of the cat, it usually moves away rather than toward the cat. It may try to hide under or behind something, but will keep making small movements and small sounds. Understanding this gives you clues about how to make a toy enticing to your cat. Make the toy move away, cleverly changing direction, dashing for cover and popping out again.

If the cat doesn’t show interest, you are not likely to get a response by touching the cat with the toy. That is not what prey would do. You will get a much better response by slowly moving the toy under a door and out of reach. Or you can move a toy around behind you and out of sight, and your cat will respond by following to see where it went.

 

Cats will often demonstrate a preference for certain type of toy depending on their style of play.  © Can Stock Photo Inc./nataly0288

Cats will often demonstrate a preference for certain type of toy depending on their style of play. © Can Stock Photo Inc./nataly0288

While some cats like to leap into the air, grabbing for a toy, many do not. From the cat’s point of view, leaping into the air is a last-ditch attempt at a catch. If your cat is jumping for the toy, she is not hunting it. See what your cats prefer but for many (especially older cats), prey should remain on the floor.

When caught, prey struggles a bit, then stops. If it escapes, the cat may chase it for a short while but quickly will give up. That is why you must make sure your cat catches the prey many times during a play session. In a 10-minute play session, the cat should catch the prey at least 10 times. A toy that can be caught and chewed or even torn limb from limb is the most satisfying. The toys your cat destroys are the best toys. Keep buying or making more of those. Let your cat catch the toy and then make it struggle a bit. That makes the cat feel like a very successful hunter.

­­­­­­Toy Preferences
Individual cats have individual prey preferences. For example, some cats hunt at night because their preferred prey is nocturnal. For these cats the sound of the prey is what causes them to switch from stalking mode to killing mode, and toys and games that make scratchy, rustling sounds are particularly exciting. Cats who hunt animals that are active under conditions where there is more light will be more stimulated by the prey’s movement.

Cats may also prefer prey that flies through the air, that wiggles on the ground, that hides and disappears, or that moves in plain sight; prey that is light feathery, small and furry, long and snaky, easy to carry in their mouth, easy to bat with their paws, fun to chew, or several of the above.

These prey preferences dictate their toy preferences. Some cats like big things and some like small things. Some like hard things they can bat with their paws. Some like soft things they can pick up and walk around with in their mouth. Often, knowing which toy is a favorite will tell you how the cat likes to play. Some cats will prefer one play style over another, just as some cats like fast-moving prey and others prefer it to move more slowly.

To understand your cat’s play style, start by thinking about the four feline food groups: bugs, mice, snakes, and birds. Bugs fly in circles close to the ground, so a toy that goes in spirals and just touches the ground at each go-round is a bug. They fly in erratic patterns and land on things a little bit off the ground. Mice alternate walking and running, so the toy will move fast, then stop for a bit, then inch along, then run again. Mice also like to hide behind and under things. Going under a door or hiding behind a couch leg is what a mouse would do. Snakes crawl slowly under blankets and towels. They often stay still or move only slightly. Birds fly around and land on chairs and tables then stand still for long periods before taking flight to land somewhere else.

This video African Wildcat – Healthy Predatory Hunting Behavior in the Wild will give you clues about how your cat may like to play. Note: the African Wildcat is the ancestor of our domestic cats.

You Are Not Prey
You want to encourage your cat to play wholeheartedly and to really think of the play session as a hunt. That means the cat has to be able to bite down—hard, so use toys that are away from your body. There are plenty of cat toys that come on a string, stick or wire, or try something small that you can toss. This discourages the cat from thinking of human body parts as toys. Cats who are in play/prey drive are totally in the moment and are completely unable to inhibit their bite, so keep your body parts to yourself. Also, you, the large person, are too big to be prey and can even be intimidating. Something remote and far from your body is more like what the cat would hunt.

Two safety reminders: Always make sure the toys you choose have no easily removable parts that might be swallowed by your cat or otherwise cause harm. And anything with a string or wire should be put away when you are not playing with your cat because cats have been known to swallow string.

Winding It Down
Most cats can only play for 10 to 15 minutes at a time (although young, healthy cats can go for longer) so make the play sessions short and active. Don’t just walk away from a play session, leaving the cat wound up, however, as that will just lead to frustration. Remember, play is like hunting. Think about a wounded prey animal: It will start to move more slowly and erratically. It may be still for long periods of time and then move just a little. It will be easier and easier to catch. Let the cat catch the toy more and more often. Make sure the prey is thoroughly “killed.” Eventually, let the cat catch the prey and it will move no more. Drop the toy on the floor. The cat may bop it a few more times, along with a few more bites and shakes, to be sure it is really “dead.” Don’t put the toy away until the cat has walked away; if you pick it up while the cat is still interested, the “prey” has been resurrected.

Finally, end every play/hunting session with a small treat. This cues the end of play, and also ends it in a very natural way: The cat has stalked the prey, pounced on it, bit it, killed it, and finally, will eat it. Very satisfying!

References

Conscious Companion. (2016, October 7). African Wildcat – Healthy Predatory Hunting Behavior in the Wild [Video File]. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from www.bit.ly/2sHrSfm

About the Author

Beth Adelman is a feline behavior consultant based in New York, New York, and is a member of PPG’s Cat Committee. She is a frequent speaker on feline behavior topics at industry conferences and public events.

Pet Professional Guild celebrates launch of Shock-Free Coalition with week of events, summit ticket giveaway

Successful first week for global initiative that seeks elimination of electric shock devices in animal training, consumer transparency for pet guardians seeking professional advice

BFTG Sign the Pledge FINAL-page-0TAMPA, Fla.Oct. 2, 2017PRLog — The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) has celebrated the launch of its Shock-Free Coalition (www.shockfree.org) with a week of special events that included interviews with several canine behavior experts, a host of interactive social media activities, and culminated in the giveaway of 10 tickets to its annual educational summit (https://petprofessionalguild.com /2017-Orlando), taking place in Orlando, Florida on November 16-20, 2017.

The Shock-Free Coalition has received a warm response from pet owners and force-free pet professionals worldwide, with hundreds already signing the Shock-Free Pledge (https://petprofessionalguild.com/Sign-The-Pledge) to show their support for the global advocacy campaign, which aims to end the use of electric shock in pet training, management, and care. Other major goals include building a movement dedicated to the elimination of shock devices from the supply and demand chain, and creating consumer transparency by helping pet owners become more aware of the differences between training methods and equipment, whether they are based on the most up-to-date scientific research that advocates for positive reinforcement and highlights the pitfalls of aversive methods, outdated and punitive based on pain and fear, or a mixture of the two.

Educational and promotional activities during Shock-Free Coalition launch week included an “Ask the Expert” Facebook chat with well-known dog trainer and author, Jean Donaldson, and three special “Shock-Free” editions of the PPG World Service live podcast (www.petprofessionalguild.com/Videos-To-Share). Guests included best-selling author and ethologist, Dr. Marc Bekoff, Red Bank, New Jersey-based trainer, Drayton Michaels, who participated in an “Uncensored Chat about Training and Shock” with PPG president, Niki Tudge, and several Project Trade (www.projecttrade.org) ambassadors who actively participate in PPG’s international advocacy program where pet owners swap aversive equipment for discounts on scientifically sound, force-free training services. Finally, at the end of the first week, to celebrate a successful launch and to further promote the Coalition’s drive to create greater awareness of the pitfalls of using pain and fear in pet training and behavior modification, PPG hosted a live competition on its Facebook page where 10 free tickets to its annual educational summit were up for grabs. All enthusiastic participants had to do was be the first to correctly answer an event-based question – amidst stiff competition. The eventual winners of a summit ticket plus hotel accommodation were Jennifer Blackman, Jacqueline Drake, Marie Macher, Judy Luther and Kate Godfrey, while Jenn Stanley, Ursa Major, Mandy Burger, Elise McKenna Jones and Natalie Bridger Watson all won summit attendee tickets.

22095875_10212334312625973_7333152079108064879_o“We are thrilled to offer free tickets to 10 lucky people and give them the incredible opportunity to attend our annual summit and learn more about animal behavior and up-to-date training methods from scientists and experts who are at the forefront of their field,” said Niki Tudge, president and founder of PPG. “We are also delighted with the response to the rollout of the Shock-Free Coalition and its educational message. ‘Positive relationship,’ ‘natural methods,’ ‘relationship building,’ ‘positive only,’ and ‘no food necessary’ are all taglines regularly used by dog training organizations in their marketing literature and these expressions appeal to pet owners who may not always understand the various training methods available to them, and the fallout and unintended consequences of making the wrong choice. It is important not be fooled by the many deceptive marketing terms, which, for shock collars, include ‘vibrating,’ ‘e-touch,’ ‘stimulation,’ ‘tingle,’ and ‘static.’ The fact is that the primary reason shock collars are effective in stopping behavior is because they are painful, and it is time for pet professionals to stop inflicting pain and evoking fear under the guise of training, and take shock off the table once and for all. Rather, by focusing on education and advocacy to ensure a better-informed pet owner who seeks out humane alternatives, consumer demand will automatically be reduced, and real progress can be made in reaching the end goal of ending the use of shock devices in animal training and removing them from the marketplace altogether.”

About The Pet Professional Guild

The Pet Professional Guild (www.petprofessionalguild.com)is a 501(c)6 a member organization founded on the principles of force-free training and pet care. Its membership represents pet industry professionals who are committed to force-free training, pet care philosophies, practices and methods. Pet Professional Guild members understand force-free to mean that shock, pain, choke, fear, physical force, and/or compulsion-based methods are never employed to train or care for a pet.

About the Shock-Free Coalition

The key purpose of the Shock-Free Coalition (www.shockfree.org) is to build a strong and broad movement committed to eliminating shock devices from the supply and demand chain. This goal will be reached when shock tools and equipment are universally unavailable and not permitted for the training, management and care of pets.The Shock-Free Coalition believes that pets have an intrinsic right to be treated humanely, to have each of their individual needs met, and to live in a safe, enriched environment free from force, pain and fear. The initiative has been developed purposely to bring together parties that have mutual business interests and a personal investment in the welfare of pets and embraces stakeholders of similar values and interests, enabling all parties to combine their resources and become more successful in achieving the stated goals. Members of the Shock-Free Coalition consider it to be their responsibility and utmost obligation to be vigilant, to educate, to remain engaged and work toward eliminating shock as a permissible tool so it is never considered a viable option in the training, management and care of pets.

About Project Trade

Project Trade (www.projecttrade.org) is the Pet Professional Guild’s international advocacy program that promotes the use of force-free pet training equipment by asking pet guardians to relinquish choke, prong and shock collars (and any other devices that are designed to change behavior through pain or fear). Project Trade is designed to give pet owners incentives to seek pet professionals who will exchange aversive training and pet care equipment for alternative, more appropriate tools and educational support at reduced cost. It is the Pet Professional Guild’s position that effective humane animal training and pet care procedures lay the foundation for an animal’s healthy socialization and training and helps prevent behavior problems. The Pet Professional Guild believes that the general pet-owning public deserves affordable access to transparent, competent and accountable pet behavior and care professionals, and that pets deserve to be cared for, managed and trained in a nurturing and stable environment.

Key Pet Professional Guild Position Statements

The Use of Shock in Animal Training: http://petprofessionalguild.com/shockcollars

The Use of Remote Electric Shock: https://petprofessionalguild.com/The-Use-of-Remote-Electric-Shock/

The Use of Pet Correction Devices: https://petprofessionalguild.com/Equipment-Used-for-the-Management-Training-and-Care-of-Pets/

No Magic Bullet

A fake hand is pushed into a dog's food bowl during a temperament test

From Great Dog Productions

A recent New York Times article discussed growing skepticism of a common test that supposedly assesses dogs’ aggressive tendencies. The test uses a fake hand, called an Assess-A-Hand, to “determine” whether a dog will be aggressive in protecting his food bowl. The idea is to identify dangerously aggressive dogs in shelters.

In many cases, this is done so that aggressive dogs could be “euthanized,” leaving scarce resources for the more adoptable, non-aggressive dogs. However, the concept of culling dangerously aggressive dogs is tough to put into practice. The Assess-A-Hand test, like any test, is only as good as the person who administers it. And even in the most skilled hands, it only offers a single snapshot of a dog’s behavior, not a definitive assessment of his temperament.

I’ve watched a lot of people administer this and other temperament tests. I’ve always thought that this particular test was poorly designed because so much depends on the person holding the Hand. The idea behind it is fine: If a dog reacts aggressively when he sees a hand reaching toward his food or a favorite toy, that dog could be dangerous around unpredictable children; therefore that dog should not be placed in a family with children.

So what’s the problem?

Temperament testing is often done on intake, so within a day or two of the dog arriving at the shelter. That dog is hardly at his best. Shelters are stressful places. Many dogs, even the least aggressive sweethearts, become defensive of their food when there are other dogs nearby. They might eat faster, they might curl a lip or growl at another dog who approaches, and they might even growl at a person who approaches. The same dogs, in environments where there are no other dogs, or where they feel relaxed and comfortable, might not care who approaches their food.

An even bigger problem is that people administer the test very differently.

When I trained service dog puppies, my volunteer helpers and I often did what we called “food bowl exercises.” The idea was to get the puppies used to the idea that people might be around when they were eating and that was OK. Better than OK. It meant that they got tasty surprises. The goal was to ensure that these (nonaggressive) puppies would react to hands near their food bowls with joy and excitement. What we did was add special treats, like small pieces of chicken or other highly desirable foods, to the dog’s bowl. To do so, we’d put our hand in or near the bowl. To be fair, I very rarely do this with my own dogs, and I don’t really see many reasons to bother a dog while he’s eating. But in a household with children, well, anything can happen, so it’s good to know how the dog might react.

If I were doing an Assess-A-Hand test, I might behave similarly to how I worked with the puppies. I might put the hand at the edge of the dog’s bowl or poke it into the bowl. I might let it bump the dog gently. I might try to put a piece of food in the hand and drop the food into the dog’s bowl. That might give me some insight into how reactive the dog is while eating. (Notice all the “might”s? No guarantees …)

I’ve seen people administer the test that way. I’ve also see people use the hand to harass the dog, including people who kept escalating the pushing, poking, and bumping, including moving the bowl out of the dog’s reach, until they got a reaction. If the tester is persistent and mean enough, she can get a reaction from even the sweetest dog. Then, the instant they provoked a reaction, they labeled the dog dangerously aggressive. That’s not fair. It’s also not accurate.

The flip side of this problem is the dog who does not react during the food bowl test but who actually is aggressive — around other things, perhaps, not around food. The dog’s indifference to the hand at testing can (and has) given shelter personnel a false sense of confidence in the dog’s even temperament … until something else provokes the dog into a rage reaction (possibly after the dog has been adopted).

The article quotes one staff person as saying they’d thought of the test as a “magic bullet.” When it comes to dogs, there’s no such thing. Another staffer talks about how “anxious adopters” need to “know what they’re getting.” They want assurance that this shelter dog of mysterious background and poor socialization will be the perfect, gentle companion, no matter what they do to it.

That is absurd. No test can tell you that.

It cannot be over-emphasized: Dogs are individuals. Like many of us, their reactions to specific situations vary. Even within the same individual, the response might be different in the morning, at night, in different places, when the dog is well rested and comfortable versus starving, tired, achy, scared … One test can never definitively tell you whether a dog is aggressive or safe around children. While I fully understand the desire to be able to know that, quickly and inexpensively, the truth is: That is not possible.

The hard truth is that people need to spend time with a dog to know what he’s like. Even then, it’s a guessing game. There will never be a way to guarantee that any dog you adopt from a shelter will never bite anyone. There are no guarantees with well-socialized purebred puppies either. The best way to be safe around dogs is to use common sense and not provoke them. Learn to read their body language. Teach children how to treat dogs and when to leave them alone.

The Assess-A-Hand has its place, but expecting it, or any other test, to be that elusive magic bullet is unrealistic, unfair, and unsafe.

Pet Professional Guild launches Shock-Free Coalition to end use of electric shock as training tool for pets

Initiative calls for the worldwide elimination of shock devices in animal training, care, management, and behavior modification; seeks consumer transparency for pet owners seeking professional advice

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The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) has launched the Shock-Free Coalition, a global advocacy campaign which aims to end the practice of using electric shock to train, manage, and care for pets, build a strong and broad movement committed to eliminating shock devices from the supply chain, and create transparency on the methods used for consumers seeking professional advice on pet behavior or training issues.

Developed through PPG’s Advocacy Committee, the Shock-Free Coalition launches with a week-long campaign featuring a wide-ranging series of educational and promotional activities, including an “Ask the Expert” Facebook chat with well-known dog trainer and author, Jean Donaldson, on September 27, 2017 at 3 p.m. E.T., a special “Shock-Free” edition of the PPG World Service live podcast with best-selling author and ethologist, Dr. Marc Bekoff, on October 1, 2017 at 4 p.m. E.T., and the opportunity to win a free ticket to PPG’s November Summit in Orlando, Florida via a live competition on PPG’s Facebook page. The initiative will also host a Shock-Free Pledge on its website (www.shockfree.org) for supporters to sign, a signature drive, and the rollout of a variety of educational tools and resources to help pet professionals promote the movement and encourage participation across their communities. The Shock-Free Coalition will also be promoted across social media using the hashtag #ShockFreeCoalition throughout campaign week and beyond, while the website will be a clearinghouse of position statements, scientific studies, articles, videos and research on the dangers of electric shock. The site will also provide guidance on humane training practices and how to find educated pet care professionals who use scientifically-informed, humane, force-free practices.

Win a Ticket Summit GSPart of the Shock-Free Coalition’s remit is to educate pet owners and shelter/rescue workers to help them provide the pets under their charge the best care and training, and to help owners find competent, professional industry service providers they can trust to use only humane practices. Global leaders in the animal welfare, veterinary, behavior and training worlds — such as celebrity dog trainer, Victoria Stillwell, the aforementioned Dr. Bekoff, and renowned author, veterinarian and certified applied veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Karen Overall — have all lent their voices to the Shock-Free Coalition, which comes at a time when animal behavior and emotions, based on the growing body of research, are understood better than ever before. Numerous studies, conducted by veterinary scientists and canine behavior specialists worldwide, indicate that the use of pain and fear to train animals risks causing physical injury, as well as a host of psychological issues that may include a pet becoming fearful of other animals and people — and potentially aggressive towards them as a result.

Although electric shock in animal training is currently banned in some countries, it is still legal in many others, including the United States. While it is not unusual and, in many cases, is mandated, that providers and manufacturers of potentially dangerous services and products provide warnings so that information regarding any risk from use, including potentially injurious side effects, are transparent for end users, professional dog trainers and behavior consultants currently have no legal responsibility whatsoever to disclose their methods. This can be and, indeed, is very misleading to unsuspecting pet owners who have no knowledge of the pet industry’s lack of standards and regulation, or the differences between training methods and equipment. In many cases, pet owners only find out about these differences — and the fallout associated with them — when they find themselves encountering behavior problems caused by the use of aversive techniques and equipment.

“As the pet training industry is entirely unregulated at present, anyone can say they are an animal trainer or behavior consultant,” said Niki Tudge, president and founder of PPG and the Shock-Free Coalition. “As a result, those who call themselves dog trainers, or perhaps “dog whisperers,” may still be utilizing outdated punitive methods, such as disc throwing, loud correctional “no’s” and, in some cases, more extreme tools such as electric shock collars, choke chains and prong collars. All of these are, sadly, still at large. They are training tools that, by design, have one purpose: to reduce or stop behavior through pain and fear.

“What is especially sad is that many people do not realize that they are hurting and scaring their pets by using such devices. Unfortunately, they often find out the hard way when their pet becomes shut down from fear or aggressive towards people and/or other animals as fallout from the electric shock. Fear is incredibly easy to instill in any animal, and exceptionally difficult to get rid of. These pet owners usually end up facing a long road of hard work that can require a tremendous amount of patience, time and money to help their pet overcome this newly — and unnecessarily — created fear. Indeed, in all too many cases, a pet may end up being abandoned in a shelter, inaccurately labeled as “aggressive,” or euthanized. The key purpose of the Shock-Free Coalition is to prevent this from occurring, and to build an international movement dedicated to the elimination of shock devices from the supply and demand chain once and for all, a goal which will be reached when such tools are completely unavailable and not permitted in pet care, training, and management.”

Shock Free Coalition Social Media Graphics_001

About The Pet Professional Guild

The Pet Professional Guild is a 501(c)6 a member organization founded on the principles of force-free training and pet care. Its membership represents pet industry professionals who are committed to force-free training, pet care philosophies, practices and methods. Pet Professional Guild members understand force-free to mean that shock, pain, choke, fear, physical force, and/or compulsion-based methods are never employed to train or care for a pet.

About the Shock-Free Coalition

The key purpose of the Shock-Free Coalition is to build a strong and broad movement committed to eliminating shock devices from the supply and demand chain. This goal will be reached when shock tools and equipment are universally unavailable and not permitted for the training, management and care of pets.The Shock-Free Coalition believes that pets have an intrinsic right to be treated humanely, to have each of their individual needs met, and to live in a safe, enriched environment free from force, pain and fear. The initiative has been developed purposely to bring together parties that have mutual business interests and a personal investment in the welfare of pets and embraces stakeholders of similar values and interests, enabling all parties to combine their resources and become more successful in achieving the stated goals. Members of the Shock-Free Coalition consider it to be their responsibility and utmost obligation to be vigilant, to educate, to remain engaged and work toward eliminating shock as a permissible tool so it is never considered a viable option in the training, management and care of pets.

Key Pet Professional Guild Position Statements

The Use of Shock in Animal Training: http://petprofessionalguild.com/shockcollars

The Use of Remote Electric Shock: https://petprofessionalguild.com/The-Use-of-Remote-Electric-Shock/

The Use of Pet Correction Devices: https://petprofessionalguild.com/Equipment-Used-for-the-Management-Training-and-Care-of-Pets/

Ping Pong Recalls

To maximize chances of success with recall, it's always best to start young

To maximize chances of success with recall, it’s always best to start young

When I ask new puppy owners ‘what are the most important objectives for you and your new pup?’ you can bet that right at the very top of that list is ‘I want to be able to let my dog off lead and for her to come back when called!’ I think that’s pretty reasonable – most of us have at some time experienced those palpitations when you’re calling and calling AND calling and there’s no response – isn’t that the best relief when that little head pops up?

So, what can we do to maximize our chances of keeping our little pup by our side and ‘pinging’ back to us throughout adulthood?

Start Young

Don’t waste your chances when your new puppy comes home and can’t yet go outside due to an incomplete vaccination course.  These formative weeks are a time of great insecurity and bonding and most puppies will have a close desire to stay with you.  This is great because you will have multiple chances per day to try out recall.  The key here is to make everything FUN.    During this time you will also be carrying out the process of puppy name association. Every time puppy follows you somewhere, to the other side of the room, to get a toy (you can of course lure her with a toy), to get cuddles or food, for absolutely any reason, slot in puppy’s name + your cue word (come/here etc.)  Make sure you call puppy in a really friendly voice.  Ensure that you positively reward puppy somehow, a little game or maybe a very small, easily digestible puppy treat. Be aware that too many treats may upset a delicate tummy.

Generalizing Behaviour

When puppy is carrying out the above well, start generalizing the behaviour to slightly more distracting environments – obviously within the remits of puppy’s vaccination status.  You may be limited to your garden/yard to begin with.

Eventually, think about progressing outside the confines of your property.  Grade areas in terms of distraction 1-5.  1 being no distraction or very little (your home/garden), 5 being maximum level distraction.  Start recall training in each of these gradients 1-5.  You must progress through each rung on the ladder, making sure that your dog is successful at one stage before progressing to the next.  Remember that if she struggles to attend to you at say gradient 3, she is not being naughty, it is simply that the level of distraction is competing for your training cue and you must drop down a gradient for a while.  You may also need to increase your reward level (higher value food or toy value or select a motivation that really suits your individual dog).  Remember also that competing distractions include smells, noises and audible cues as well as visible ones and also individual factors specific to your dog e.g. stress levels. Always listen to your dog.

On/Off Lead

It’s scary! The sooner you can let your dog off lead, the better in my opinion.  Obviously the location and individual circumstances have to be right, but in some cases the lead can become a kind of security tie which becomes incredibly hard to sever.  Dogs that are kept on lead can develop social interaction and frustration issues and problems with recall eventually because they are simply a coiled spring. Furthermore when dogs hit adolescence, they receive a surge of hormones which gives them confidence.  This added confidence then counters the insecurity of that little puppy of 9 weeks, making it much harder to train an initial recall.

Building Confidence

My advice is always to ‘bite the bullet’ and go off-lead where safe.  I appreciate that this is scary, especially for first time owners.  In order to build confidence, it can help to practice with another puppy or to use a long line, either held or trailed on the ground and progressively made shorter.

Ping Pong Recall Points

  • Always ensure that you actually have a cue word!  So many people actually do not and simply call the dog back by her name.  You need to use the name + cue word
  • Be consistent.  Each person calling the dog should use the same cue word
  • Don’t use variants, have clarity.  Try not to use variants of the cue word.  It is easy to use ‘come’, then ‘come here’, then ‘here’ – have clarity
  • Be at your dog’s level. If you stand upright, all your dog sees is your legs.  In order to maximize you chances of success.  Your dog will see all distractions around you, other dogs, people, cyclists, joggers etc. and more likely go to them.  If you engage with her however by crouching to her level, you have more chance of communication and success
  • Choose a motivation which is appropriate to your individual dog.  Not all dogs like treats.  It might be a particular game, activity, toy, scent or high value treat.  Be guided by the breed of dog you have and their innate instincts.
  • Keep your selected motivation obvious.  It’s no good having your treat in your pocket or toy by your side.  Make sure it’s ready and obvious and outstretched in front of you so your dog can actually see what she’s returning to.
  • Guide your dog right to your feet. Some dogs recall great, but only to 3ft away, then run off again!  Stop this by insisting she recalls right to you, take hold of her collar and then reward.
  • Train at the right gradient of distraction for your dog.  Listen to your dog.  If she’s not responding as you hoped, think ‘why’ and lower the distraction level.

I hear from so many owners that their dog is poor at recall.  I also hear from breeders or other ‘doggy professionals’ that it is impossible to have a certain breed come back or that breed will never be able to be let off lead.  In my opinion this is completely inaccurate and simply breed stereotype. A little formative work, listening to and working with the innate characteristics of each breed will bring success and make for a much happier dog.

Using Annoying or Scary Sounds for Dog Training

Let’s pretend you saw an ad for a new dog training product. It read something like this:

Introducing the Noise-Aided Obedience Device (NOD)! Never have trouble with your dog again. When you jerk or flap the lead attached to your dog’s collar or harness to punish him or to force him into the correct position, the device adds a noise that makes the leash jerking or flapping extra unpleasant. You can get instant compliance! That is, for some dogs. Some won’t be bothered by the noise or will get used to it. Some noise-sensitive dogs will be so traumatized you may never get them out from under the bed again. But for the majority of dogs, the “NOD” makes the leash correction just a bit worse. And for you as the trainer it feels great! You are actually DOING something about your dog’s naughty behavior.

Add an auditory aversive to the physical one! Buy the NOD (along with my DVD and special gear) today!

Actual Products on the Market

The ad is fake but unfortunately, the products are real. A reader introduced me to two different products that operate as I described above. Both attach to or are part of the dog’s gear. These are mechanical, not electronic. (There are electronic devices that work similarly as well.) One makes a zipping noise and one rings like a bell. They make these noises when the handler shakes, pulls, or jerks the leash. But the creators of these products don’t describe them the way I did above. Instead, they use words and phrases like the following:

  • Gentle method
  • Sound-based training
  • Gets the dog’s attention
  • Strengthens your dog’s concentration abilities
  • Technologically superior
  • Helps dogs understand cause and effect
  • Kind training method
  • Helps the dog focus
  • Helps you guide your dog to the correct position
  • Dog learns to pay attention to you
  • Enables communication with the dog
  • Hastens the learning process

The soft marketing language for both products strongly implies that there is something intrinsic to the sound that causes the dog to become obedient. It supposedly allows some kind of special communication between the owner and dog. Also, they don’t explain exactly what you do to operate the product. This neatly skirts the real consequences being used: the trainer is performing actions that cause physical pressure, commotion, and noise. When these devices work, they work by helping to annoy, startle, or scare the dog into compliance.

Word cloud

No Free Lunch

This type of product marketing, common in the dog training world, masks the actual consequences used to attempt to change dogs’ behavior. The focus is on the “special” sound. This draws attention away from the leash jerking or flapping and the commotion close to the dog’s ears. Even though the noises are probably unpleasant for most dogs, they are not necessarily the main source of discomfort. And make no mistake: it is discomfort that is driving the behavior change. The sound isn’t magically making the dog feel great for correct choices.

Even though it is a favorite marketing claim, a neutral stimulus can’t be used (without conditioning) to change a dog’s behavior. Here’s a previous post on that: “It’s Not Painful. It’s Not Scary. It Just Gets the Dog’s Attention!” To change behavior you generally need either an appetitive stimulus (for example, food) or an aversive stimulus (for example, shock). You can also use stimuli that have been conditioned to predict these things. An example of a typical predictor of an appetitive stimulus would be a clicker.  An example of a predictor of an aversive stimulus would be the warning beep used on some shock collars.

The odd thing is that the noises these particular products make do not fit neatly into a category. The sounds and sensations they make may be intrinsically aversive or not, depending on the dog. The one thing that is certain is that they are not used as predictors. Thus, the claims about their special communication functions are off the mark.

The noise happens at the same time as the leash motion. Not before. The sounds can’t be used as warnings. They are about as communicative as throwing sand at someone you are already yelling at.

Turn Off the Sound

It can be hard to find a video that shows the methods. Makers of these types of products generally display “before and after” type videos. To see the device in action, you often need to buy a DVD. But if you look hard enough, you can usually find a couple of short examples of the actual process.

If you have a question about such a product, try to find a video of it in use. (If you can’t find one, that tells you something as well.)  If you do find such a video, watch with the sound turned off. In general, that will show you the actions and actual consequences being used to train the dog. Watch the body language of the dog as well, and heed the edits. It’s pretty common to edit or switch the camera angle immediately after a “correction” is made so the dog’s response is not visible.

Transparency

IMG_3331I’ve written before about trainer Jean Donaldson’s idea of encouraging dog owners to ask for transparency from prospective trainers. My fabricated “ad” above was an example of what transparency could look like regarding one of these sound annoyance devices. To continue in that vein, here is how an honest trainer who used such a device might answer Ms. Donaldson’s questions.

  • What exactly will happen to my dog when she gets it right? I will stop the annoying movements and sounds. Sometimes I will also praise her, and in some cases I will give her food.
  • What exactly will happen to my dog when she gets it wrong? I will flap or jerk the leash, and my product will additionally make a noise close to her head.
  • Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose? Yes. Leash walking and other behaviors can be taught using food, toys, play, or other things the dog likes and wants. These are less invasive since there is little chance of scaring or hurting the dog. That type of training is generally enjoyable for the dog when done well. I should also note that using an irritating stimulus such as my product can cause redirected aggression towards the handler, i.e., the dog could bite you.  Also, the use of my product could be permanently damaging to a sound-sensitive dog. Finally, the responses to sound by individual dogs vary. So some dogs will habituate to the noise and stop responding.

The above answers depend on very basic behavior analysis and what we know about the negative effects of aversive use. If you actually ask these questions and get non-specific answers about communication and focus and getting the dog’s attention instead, that should tell you what you need to know.

The devices I saw were not magically communicative or innovative in any way. It’s sad that such things are still being marketed and that their producers do not describe how they really work.

A big thanks to Vicky Carne, publisher of Dog Coach Videos, who brought these types of products to my attention.

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2016