This article originally appeared in Dog News and is published here by permission of the author.
She Said What?
There is a popular belief among the uneducated that electronic dog collars, or e-collars (sometimes called “shock” collars) are cruel and inhumane. Some people seem to think that if an owner has trouble training a dog he or she is inclined to run out and purchase an electronic collar so he can zap the heck out of his dog when he misbehaves. Not only is this view insulting to dog owners, but it seriously misunderstands how e-collars are used.
Any tool – and that is what an e-collar is – can be misused. A hammer is intended to strike a nail but you could accidentally hit your thumb with it. Used properly, e-collars are very good training aids for many kinds of dog training. They are not simply used for obedience training. They are used for advanced field training, for agility and other sports. E-collars are also used for training dogs at a distance when you are not close enough to give a correction. And they are used for behavior modification for dogs with behavior problems. This can be especially important when no amount of positive reinforcement will work.
You should also know that e-collars aren't used to teach dogs basic commands. They are best used to reinforce commands that a dog already knows.
E-collars today are extremely advanced. They can literally have a couple of dozen settings and the handler can choose a very precise degree of stimulation for the dog. “Stimulation” is the correct term because the handler can choose from a tone, a vibration, or a slight shock to reinforce a command. Sophisticated collars can have many other features.
It's also important to remember that people who use invisible fencing for their dogs are using the same principle. The dog wears a collar that picks up a signal. If the dog gets too close to the fence and ignores the warning tone, the dog will receive a slight shock. Most dogs quickly learn the boundaries and stay inside, but the fence works because of the e-collar approach.
I'm explaining this information about e-collars and invisible fences because a representative for the AKC – Gina DiNardo – appeared on Fox and Friends a few days ago and inexplicably gave the impression that the AKC opposes them.
Here is the AKC's policy on e-collars, as stated in the Board Policy Manual online:
Training Collars (July 2001 Board meeting)
Special training devices that are used to control and train dogs, including but not limited to, collars with prongs, electronic collars used with transmitters, muzzles and head collars may not be used on dogs at AKC events, except as allowed in the AKC Rules, Regulations, and policies.
The American Kennel Club recognizes that special training collars may be an effective and useful management device, when properly used, for controlling dogs that might be extremely active, difficult to control on a neck collar, or dog aggressive. These collars are also recognized as possibly useful for gaining control at the start of basic obedience training, essential education that dogs deserve and need.
There is a point at which owners should have sufficient control of their dogs to manage them on regular neck collars, without the use of special training collars. This is the point at which dogs are acceptable on the grounds of AKC competitive events and will have the opportunity to participate in those events.
That policy seems to be reasonable and easy to understand. It's been in place for some 13 years. It appears that Gina DiNardo's statements were out of line, perhaps prompted by a new study out of the UK that suggests e-collars might distress dogs.
As far as anyone knows, there has not been any kind of change in AKC's policy regarding the use of training collars. AKC's Social Media person, Chris Walker, said that the comments were intended for an audience of pet owners. Unfortunately, when a spokesperson for the AKC goes on national television and disparages a training tool, people do not make that distinction. I think we can expect to see a bumper crop of animal rights legislation trying to ban e-collars at the state level soon – all of it quoting Gina DiNardo and claiming that the AKC opposes e-collars.
I think we all understand that AKC would like to be popular with pet owners. It's nice to sound politically correct. But there are many subtle nuances involved with dogs, dog ownership, training, and breeding. AKC has a core constitutency that expects AKC to know and protect their interests in dogs instead of brushing them aside to gain some media approval.