I have always believed very strongly that what is truly best for the training industry, and for the dogs and owners we help, is to work with one another and reach a mutual respect and understanding with one another, even when we disagree.
What drew me to NADOI was their code of ethics stating precisely that. I would think organizations that only further so-called “positive only” methods would take a similar positive stance in the interest of education, yet most have not.
I would like to counter a few points and common misconceptions regarding the e-collar.
First, I think many veteran trainers are equating modern technology with decades-old tech. Early e-collars had as little as three levels, so over- and under- correcting dogs was a very real risk. Modern collars have a hundred increments or more, so a savvy trainer can find exactly the right level for the dog, without inflicting pain or fear. Many trainers of the generation before me have never had a modern e-collar in their hands to try on themselves and see. I would encourage you to do so. The youngest generation of aspiring trainers is heavily influenced by social media, where false information abounds, with very little real life experience yet.
Often we hear the cry of “science!” in these discussion. Behavioral science is of course important but we must look at it with a scientific eye. This means all information, all quadrants of operant conditioning, and studies must be looked at in finite detail. Reading an editorial on a study is not enough to refer oneself as “science based”.
Because you see, when we take a closer look at some of these studies, some are performed in a horrific fashion. As little as three trainers per control group, collars started off on the highest level, no teaching of foundation behaviors prior to jumping in with punitive measures.
No reputable modern trainer who implements e-collars will condone this usage. If you must abuse dogs to prove a point, I say that point is most decidedly unscientific, who is the real abuser there?
The other defining factor in nearly all behavioral studies is the release of cortisol, yet cortisol is released both during distress and eustress. And this is of course only pertinent if you consider stress a dirty word. For many of us, a dogs’ ability to overcome stressors is of tantamount importance.
As previously mentioned, training is also art. There is not, nor will there ever be, a equation to teach you what a dog is about to do just by the look in their eye, or soul-deep connection when a dog/handler team truly clicks. But science and art should be respected. They are feeling creatures, not automatons.
There is also the myth that trainers who employ aversives don’t use positive reinforcement. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of the worlds finest trainers, who are truly geniuses and artists with a clicker, also employ e-collars, prong collars, and other forms of correction.
There was a time in my career when I sneered at clickers and food reward, and believed that e-collars were a last resort to only ever be used on dogs who were chronic runners. Thanks to attending seminars with an open mind, and collaborating with different types of trainers, views I held for over a decade were challenged and torn down, allowing me to emerge a better and more well rounded trainer.
So I would issue a challenge to any trainer or training enthusiast who has a strong negative feeling toward any method or tool- seek out the finest trainer who you can who employs your least favorite tool. Sit back, be quiet, watch and learn. You need not be converted. Just learn.
My most profound thanks to NADOI for maintaining a high standard not only for your certified members’ training ability, but for their ability to treat other trainers the way we all feel our dogs should be treated- with understanding and respect.
NADOI encourages its members to express their opinions on topics of interest to the training community. The point of view expressed in this NADOI Note is solely that of the author.