Certified Professional Trainer
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Training and Behavior
Ecollars in today's age are a very gentle and diverse training tool, which I suggest with about 25% of my clients. Last week I discussed owners who were conflicted about using an Ecollar with their dog based on advice of several friends who were Veterinarians (Vets). Most of their concerns revolved around 3 opinions: Ecollars make dogs aggressive, Ecollars stress dogs, and positive training is stress free and gets equal results. Today I'd like to discuss these concerns in more detail, remembering my clients saw profound and stress free results using an Ecollar, while their Vet recommended techniques were failing.
To anyone advising that an Ecollar causes dogs to become aggressive, I have to say that is patently absurd. Yes, while any tool could make (some) dogs aggressive, its how a tool is used - not the tool itself. I have some educational background in protection training, and during that type of training dogs are intentionally agitated to become more aggressive. This is accomplished to a large degree using the human voice. So anyone claiming a particular tool causes aggression is missing the big picture.
So now to the questions of whether Ecollar training causes stress, and quality of results. For this I'd like to offer a brand new new study (found here) that discusses these exact points. I hope you take some time to carefully read through this study as I did. It was conducted and offered by academics. While the study affirms the opinions of my client's Vet friends (Ecollars cause stress and do not provide advantages over rewards based training), like most things in life the devil is in the details. I would hope any Vets reading this study actually read all of it, not just the conclusion, as it is more subjective opinion than science. I submitted a response here.
The study said it was assessing training based on recalls (the ability to have a dog "COME" to an owner when distracted). Trainers in Group 1 used Ecollars, Group 2 used training with "similar methods" but without Ecollars. and Group 3 used rewards based training. When described in greater detail, the trainers using Ecollars were actually using high, non adjusting stimulation levels to teach the dogs AVOIDANCE of sheep and livestock (not recalls). No details were offered on what exactly the reward based trainers were teaching. Avoidance? A recall? Stay with the handler? The study never offered ANY measurable assessments of whether the dogs were reliably trained to recall after their training.
This study spent a great deal of time discussing testing and assessment methodology (good), then analyzed collected data which showed no statistical differences in stress levels in the 3 groups. This was based on measured cortisol levels (a stress hormone that was actually highest in the rewards only group) and observations of video for the dogs by assessors. The study also included having owners complete a questionnaire after 5 days of training to assess training reliability. While there were no statistical differences in results between the 3 groups from these questionnaires, I will point out they only received 40 (out of 63 sent out), and that the information collected by these questionnaires was entirely subjective.
In the end, the authors conclude that Ecollars are stressful and unnecessary for training based on the feeling a few dogs "seemed anxious" (even though their own statistics didn't support that conclusion). And their claims of equal reliability were based solely on a subjective questionnaire. Where's the objective scientific measurements that offer validity? Unfortunately, Veterinarians might read studies like this, and miss these critical details. They might then form opinions that Ecollars must be bad, having no practical experience with them, and citing studies such as this as scientific proof. To me, this study is an example of a pre-formulated conclusion looking for scientific validation - which they couldn't produce.
I find it very noteworthy that this study had trainers using high and aversive Ecollar levels. Most trainers using Ecollars use much lower levels for training objectives (as I do) than were used in this study. They still were unable to provide any statistically significant measurements that dogs were stressed more than the control groups. Almost all learning does involve some stress, after all. Even if a trainer uses higher levels (which might stress an unconditioned dog), is that worse than putting a dog's health or welfare in jeopardy? I'd much rather teach a dog (quickly) to stop eating stones, chewing electric wires, or going into an area with hazards, than see a dog sustain a life threatening illness or injury. The study opined that Ecollar stress was bad for an animal's welfare. Well, so too is needin surgery for eating rocks.
I'm confident the authors would argue that Ecollar are still unnecessary, since they provide no better reliability, Good science should use something more objective than a handful of questionnaires to evaluate effectiveness IMO. Why not have the handlers recall the dogs off a chase of sheep or livestock? This is something the study claimed the trainers were supposed to be teaching anyway. I'm sure there would be some variation across all groups, but I'd be VERY surprised if the rewards based training could demonstrate statistically equal measures of reliability. I believe the authors of this study actually missed the most critical piece of assessment here, and a golden opportunity to actually support their conclusion. If they are confident Ecollars offer no better training reliability, why not test this with some real world assessments. Trainers do this every day - it's called "proofing" a dog's training.
So I hope readers here will consider that dog training and Veterinary medicine are 2 distinct professions. Studies are very academic, but simply watching the dogs of those offering advice will offer more practical information. Are an adviser's dogs calm and well behaved? Do they hold stays around distractions? Can they be walked without a leash? Do they come when called even while chasing something? Any solid training approach will be working toward these goals, and will demonstrate clear progress quickly. Dogs that are obedient rarely have behavioral issues because they have learned to live and work under the guidance of humans. Let's be an advocate of effective training if we want to talk seriously about animal welfare.
A few weeks ago I published an article complimenting those Veterinarians (Vets) that understand they are not trainers, appreciate the importance of effective training, and refer to trainers who can help their clients develop well behaved dogs. Today I'd like to share a contrasting story regarding Vets who feel compelled to offer training advice,
Not very long ago I was called out to help owners with a young puppy. This dog was VERY energetic, and had many aggravating behaviors including intense play-biting, jumping, chewing, and eating things off the ground. The owners also wanted to assure the dog would come when called, as they lived near a busy street. On my arrival, they were very close to getting rid of their pup because of these many annoyances. After a thorough evaluation, we began training the dog using an Ecollar. The pup showed very nice (and typical) progress during our initial appointment, and the owners were left homework until a follow up visit 4 weeks later.
On arrival for my 2nd visit, the dog was not wearing its Ecollar, still jumping, biting, and displaying all the problem behaviors I saw at the initial visit. The owners explained they had been chastised by several friends of theirs who happened to be Vets - one with impressive credentials as a Veterinarian Behaviorist. These "friends" had convinced the owners to stop using the Ecollar immediately as it would make their dog aggressive. Instead, they recommended "positive only" training with more mental stimulation for the pup (play at daycare). I advised that mental challenges come through obedience (not play), and expressed my concerns regarding criticism of a tool that showed clear, stress free improvements for their dog. Following 3 weeks of Vet recommended methods this dog was showing no observable improvement from where we started, and its owners were again contemplating getting rid of the dog.
At the owner's request, we worked for about 1 hour using a martingale collar recommended by their friends. The dog walked poorly, sits and downs were poor. Play-biting was non-stop for this hour, the dog was chewing on its leash, on the owner's feet, eating rocks outdoors, and it would roll and snap when being handled. In short, we worked really hard for 1 hour with minimal gains. Everyone was tired except the dog, which found all of this very entertaining.
I then convinced the owners to let me demonstrate the Ecollar again. After a few soft stimulations for jumping and biting, the dog immediately began settling. The dog was never stressed, or in any way harshly corrected, but within 5 mins it was dramatically better behaved and walking with me down the street - NO leash tension, jumping, or acrobatics, The biting, rolling, and clawing up the leash all abated, and sits and downs began improving quickly. This was a smart dog that was simply pushing its own "play" agenda. The owners, even after witnessing this rapid improvement, were still conflicted on whether to use the Ecollar due to the social pressure they were experiencing.
In the end, theses clients will need to make choices regarding what tools and methods they wish to use for training their dog. After all, they're the ones who will have to live with the dog, or live with the choice to surrender it. This dog is a fairly typical pup who responds predictably and quickly to effective training and leadership. These are tools used in practice every day by good trainers, not skills or knowledge used daily by Veterinarian's.
Next week I'll offer some discussion points regarding Veterinarian concerns with Ecollars and training methods.
Greetings September 2014;
A good while back I authored an article regarding breeders and dog pedigrees. If you're thinking about a pure bred dog at some point in the future, you might wish to read over some things I feel are important things to look for in a responsible breeder. Read more about the topic here.
September 2014 CALENDAR
Month: AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Month / National Guide Dogs Month
Weeks: Deaf Dogs Awareness Week Sept 21 / National Dog Week Sept 21
Days: Hug Your Hound Sept 14 / National Pet Memorial Day Sept 14 / Puppy Mill Awareness Day Sept 20 / Responsible Dog Ownership Day Sept 20 / Dogs in Politics Day Sept 23 / World Rabies Day Sept 28 /
CHA Pets at Gallery Hop 09-06 / Cols Mingle with Our Mutts 09-07 & 09-21 / Dayton Mingle With Our Mutts 09-14 /
Further details can be found on the community page of my website: http://thek9guy.com/community.shtml
IN THE NEWS
Recent news stories important to owners....
Service Dog Named After Boy who Died
Bringing Military Dogs Home
Family Dog Bites Child, Parents Charged
Officer Charged in Police K9's Death
NY Rescue Accused of Selling Sick Dogs
Dog Donates Blood to Save Another Dog
$300K Awarded in Dog Bite Case
Business Booming at Dog Gym
First Lutheran Comfort Dog in OH
Bacteria for Treating Tumors
Links to these and other daily stories are available at http://thek9guy.com/ddn
Kids are back in school and family schedules get busier this time of year. Spend some time with your dog(s) on training every day! Regular practice will always get best results.
Vacations and the start of a new school year find late summer typically a bit calmer for scheduling. Recent calls have seen an increase in dogs needing help with leash reactivity and aggression.
In a private Facebook group this week, several trainers (including myself) were discussing changes in Veterinary medicine over the past several decades. The main topic had to do with who should set service dog standards. There were many off shoots to this topic, and one centered around how our society is seeking training and behavioral advice more and more from Veterinarians vs trainers. As a trainer you may call into question my impartiality here, but I'd like to share a viewpoint developed simply from having lived with dogs for over 50 years.
The first dog I owned as an adult was a rather rambunctious great dane. I was 22 years old, newly married, and very busy in a new career which had nothing to do with dog training. I remember clearly a visit to our well seasoned, country Veterinarian. While our big dog was fidgeting and wanting nothing to do with sitting still on an exam table, our Vet calmly moved our dog's slip chain up behind his ears and gave one quick pop on the collar. Our dog settled down immediately, and he never misbehaved at the Vet's office again.
While our Vet shared an important lesson that day (the simple effectiveness of a calm, clear correction), he also knew he was not a trainer! Because he understood the importance of training, he kept a referral list of those trainers he knew could help his clients learn important life skills with their dogs. Decades later, I was honored when he added me to his referral list. I have the sinking feeling that if I could somehow re-live that early scenario with my great dane, most Vets today would simply whip out the cookie jar. Ughhh.
So I do miss our old Vet who retired some years back. I miss his depth of experience in providing medical care to our pets, and I miss his breadth of wisdom in truly understanding the power of effective training. He referred behaviorally challenged dogs to trainers. Many Vets today seem more likely to offer pharmacological solutions or referrals to Vet behavioral specialists. While these options may have merit in some cases, training will always be the gold standard for addressing behavioral problems because trained dogs understand how to live under the guidance of a human being.
So what can a trainer provide that a Vet cannot? Good trainers will coach owners on way to build successful leadership in a home. Good trainers will develop a dog's obedience so owners have skills and language to guide dogs successfully in our human world. And good trainers will teach owners how to read their dogs so they may provide helpful, proactive supervision. No medication or counselling by a Veterinarian can offer the same IMO. None. To all the Vets out there who understand this and recommend effective trainers, there are many good dogs and their owners who thank you!
I post news stories every day of interest to dog owners and professionals. One trend that I find very interesting is the power of social media in finding lost pets. There have been numerous news stories of lost dogs finding their way back home via support and work of friends and followers on social sites. Today I am pressed for time, but did want to mention a new app that is harnessing this power in a new way...
Finding Rover is a facial recognition app for dogs. The app is free. Once you download it, it takes just a few moments to create an account then snap a picture of you dog. After 2-3 quick steps, the picture is scanned into Finding Rover's database, If your pet is ever lost, you can mark you pet as lost through the app. Those finding lost pets can likewise submit a facial pic to Finding Rover to be run against their database. Very interesting concept, nicely designed app, and something I can see becoming a very useful tool if it is widely adopted.
In the meantime, and in addition to this clever app, remember that simple tags on collars and microchipping are also required to maximize the likelihood of finding any lost pet.
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