The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

- Isaac Asimov

Open Letter to Canine Research Scientists
by Linda Michaels, M.A. Psychology

Linda Michaels calls on canine research scientists to lead the way on the ethical treatment of companion animals.

dog with shock collar
"Not infrequently animal abuse
masquerades as dog training."

It would require a long list to delineate the benefits of companion animal canine research conferences and live streams. Admirably, these conference bring canine researchers into the mainstream of the canine applied practices fields, i.e., dog training. Many pet parents and trainers take careful note of scientific positions and plan to incorporate the lessons-learned into their practice. The researchers benefit in kind from relationships forged with dog trainers and pet parents. Through these forums, canine research scientists may reap benefits that include research dollars, personal financial rewards in the form of speaker fees and opportunities for book sales, name and brand exposure.

Although the preponderance of materials presented at dog behavior conferences often favour a force-free approach, notably shock collar snake aversion "training" and emergency recall are of particular concern. Critical empirically based data and a clear position on ethics are not always forthcoming or apparent in these areas.

To be clear, no one is calling for a ban on scientific discussions of devices designed to cause pain, or of positive punishment, as has been suggested by some speakers. However, rationalising or justifying the use of such devices and methods is another matter.

Positions against the use of shock and positive punishment with companion pets are not necessarily based in a misunderstanding of science and the misapplication of the principles of learning, as is hinted at by some presenters., nor are such positions necessarily emotion-based and blind to science. Indeed, the opposition to their use may well be based in a sophisticated academic grasp of the mechanisms at work and a perfectly understandable desire to promote animal welfare in a civilized world. Full Letter Here

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The Defra Study & Research Project Final Report

Study concludes dogs treated with electric shocks suffered negative behaviorial & physiological changes while non shocked dogs in the study did not. Study Here

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Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2007) Editorial

by Karen L. Overall, Philadelphia, PA

excerpt...These conclusions give lie to the assertions that "taps" are "imperceptible" and "tickle" human beings (Goldberg, online), and that when fitted with electronic collars people are surprised that they feel so little. In short, if the 1/1000 of a second "tap" (no information on how such data were acquired or validated) only generates a reaction so subtle that a dog might only look at you or flick his ear (Goldberg, online), why are we not using a clicker or a voice to get that response? If the "stimulus" is just to get attention (Courtney, 2005; , 2004, online; Hassen, n.d.), this becomes all about timing and getting the dog's attention. Do we really need an electric collar or shock to do that? If so, we have likely overridden many of the dog's normal responses. In such cases the obvious conclusion is that these dogs would have responded and will respond to clear signaling and humane training designed to provide them with a clear, contextual set of instructions....For Full Editorial

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The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training

Published: September 03, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102722

This study from the University of Lincoln in the U.K. reports shock collars cause animals stress and risk their wellbeing. Study Here

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Ruth Lysons, MA MSc VetMB MRCVS Nick Coulson, MA MBA PhD VetMB MRCVS 16 November 20

...Dr Lysons concluded …" that the animal welfare cost is likely to exceed the benefits from use of electronic collars as training devices, since they may cause pain, effective alternatives exist, and the scope for misuse or abuse is too great."...Full Review Here

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Karen Overall, Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2007

Excerpt... "Absolutely, without exception, I oppose, will not recommend, and generally spend large amounts of time telling people why I oppose the use of shock collars, prong collars, choke collars, and any other type of device that is rooted in an adversarial, confrontational interaction with the dog…. full editorial here

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UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs

Project Study Final Report

"The project had a single aim, namely to assess the impact of use of remote static pulse electric training aids (e- collars) during the training of dogs in comparison to dogs referred for similar behavioural problems but without e- collar training."

Excerpt… "The results of this study show that that both the trainers‟ general approach and the tools they use in training affect the dog's emotional responses to training. It would therefore be of value to further investigate the welfare consequences of the skill levels of e-collar operator as well as the tools they use. Nevertheless the study did find behavioural evidence that use of e-collars negatively impacted on the welfare of some dogs during training even when training was conducted by professional trainers using relatively benign training programmes advised by e-collar advocates."

Full report HERE.

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Matthijs B.H. Schilder a,b,∗, Joanne A.M. van der Borg a

  • Department of Clinical Sciences of Companion Animals, University of Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • Department of Ethology and Socio-Ecology, University of Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Accepted 23 October 2003


Behavioural effects of the use of a shock collar during guard dog training of German shepherd dogs were studied. Direct reactions of 32 dogs to 107 shocks showed reactions (lowering of body posture, high pitched yelps, barks and squeals, avoidance, redirection aggression, tongue flicking) that suggest stress or fear and pain. Most of these immediate reactions lasted only a fraction of a second. The behaviour of 16 dogs that had received shocks in the recent past (S-dogs) was compared with the behaviour of 15 control dogs that had received similar training but never had received shocks (C-dogs) in order to investigate possible effects of a longer duration.


Only training sessions were used in which no shocks were delivered and the behaviour of the dogs (position of body, tail and ears, and stress-, pain- and aggression-related behaviours) was recorded in a way that enabled comparison between the groups. During free walking on the training grounds S-dogs showed a lower ear posture and more stress-related behaviours than C-dogs. During obedience training and during manwork (i.e. excercises with a would-be criminal) the same differences were found. Even a comparison between the behaviour of C-dogs with that of S-dogs during free walking and obedience exercises in a park showed similar differences. Differences between the two groups of dogs existed in spite of the fact that C-dogs also were trained in a fairly harsh way.

A comparison between the behaviour during free walking with that during obedience exercises and manwork, showed that during training more stress signals were shown and ear positions were lower. The conclusions, therefore are, that being trained is stressful, that receiving shocks is a painful experience to dogs, and that the S-dogs evidently have learned that the presence of their owner (or his commands) announces reception of shocks, even outside of the normal training context. This suggests that the welfare of these shocked dogs is at stake, at least in the presence of their owner.

Conclusions and recommendations

We concluded that shocks received during training are not only unpleasant but also painful and frightening. Furthermore, we found that shocked dogs are more stressful on the training grounds than controls, but also in a park. This implies, that whenever the handler is around, the dog seems to expect an aversive event to occur. A second unwanted association might be that the dogs have learned to associate a specific command with getting a shock. Apart from the acute pain and fear, these expectations may influence the dog’s well being in the long term in a negative way. To counter misuse of the shock collar, it is proposed to ban its use for “sports”, but save it for therapeutic applications, such as for suppressing hunting and killing sheep. The effects we found occurred in spite of the fact that control dogs also underwent fairly harsh training regimes. Trainers and handlers should study learning theory far better and review the structure of the training in order to teach the let go command in an earlier phase and to reduce the number of mistakes. They should incorporate more rewards during exercises. Also, less temperamental and less forceful dogs should be bred. This also would decrease the chance that dogs make mistakes for which they could receive punishment.

Click here for full article.

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"Characteristics of electronic training collars for dogs"

1. J. A. Lines, BSc, MSc, PhD, MIMechE, CEng,
2. K. van Driel, BSc, MSc2 and
3. J. J. Cooper, BSc, PhD3

Author Affiliations

1. Silsoe Livestock Systems, Wrest Park, Silsoe, Bedford, MK45 4HS, UK
2. Formerly at Food and Environment Research Agency, Sand Hutton, York YO41 1LZ, UK
3. Animal Behaviour Cognition and Welfare Group, School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, Lincoln LN2 2LG. UK;

A wide range of electronic dog training collars (e-collars) is available in the UK, but information enabling purchasers to compare the important characteristics of these collars is not available. In this research, the electrical characteristics of 13 e-collar models were examined, and an approach to ranking the strength of the electrical stimuli was developed. To achieve this, the electrical impedance of dogs' necks were measured so that e-collars could be tested under realistic conditions. This impedance was found to be about 10 kΩ for wet dogs and 640 kΩ for dry dogs. Two replicates of eight e-collar models and single copies of a further five models were then examined. The stimuli generated by these collars comprised sequences of short high-voltage pulses. There were large differences between e-collar models in the energy, peak voltage, number of pulses and duration of the pulses, but little variation between the replicates. The peak voltage varied with the impedance, from 6000V at an impedance of 500 kΩ to 100V at 5 kΩ. The highest voltages were generated for a few millionths of a second. Stimulus energy levels at the maximum strength setting with a 50 kΩ load ranged from 3.3 mJ to 287 mJ. A stimulus strength ranking indicator was then developed to enable the strengths of e-collars with diverse electrical characteristics to be ranked. This ranking shows a wide range in the stimulus strengths of collars, and that the relationships between 'momentary' and 'continuous' stimuli for various models differ significantly.

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AuthorsDr. Richard Polsky, Ph.D. in animal behaviour.JournalJournal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 2000 Vol. 3 No. 4 pp. 345-357

Five cases are described that involve severe attacks on humans by dogs who were being trained or maintained on an electronic pet containment system. The system is designed to boundary train a dog through the use of electric shock in an escape-avoidance conditioning paradigm. Data were collected from legal documents filed in personal injury lawsuits. Analysis of the findings show that all dogs lacked a marked history of aggressive responding, all were adult males, and most were reproductively intact. All attacks happened near the boundary of the property. In every case, the system was operational at the time of attack. Moreover, in most cases, the dog received shock. Findings lend themselves to possible interpretation in terms of unconditioned aggression as a result of a dog having received electronic shock and avoidance-motivated aggression mediated through fear reduction toward human stimuli. For full commentary and study click Electronic Pet Containment Systems

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A review of the current literature Dr Emily Blackwell BSc PhD CCAB and Dr Rachel Casey BVMS PhD DipECVBM-CA Dip(AS)CABC CCAB MRCVSDepartment of Clinical Veterinary Science University of Bristol 2006

There is little doubt that high intensity electrical stimulation causes a physiological stress response in dogs (Schalke, 2005). Application of initial high intensity shocks has also been found to elicit behavioural responses associated with fear and distress in the dog, including yelping, struggling, biting, freezing, withdrawal, hiding, running to the owner, cowering, trembling, defecation and urination (Tortora, 1982a). Whilst the stress response is a normal/adaptive physiological response that allows an animal to cope with changes in its environment, this can be detrimental where the animal cannot predict and control the situation, for example if the dog being trained is unable to learn how to avoid the shock. Where cortisol levels in dogs exposed to predictable/unpredictable and controllable/uncontrollable exposure to shocks have been measured, they have shown an increased cortisol response in dogs that were unable to avoid the shock (Dess et al, 1983)

To read full review Click here

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Ilana R Reisner, DVM, PhD

The author states, “Aversive tools such as electric stimulation (shock), prong, or training (choke) collars that require pulling and jerking to work, hitting and scolding can increase anxiety and therefore increase the risk of biting; in addition, they are likely to lead to treatment failure” purchase full article here

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Escape rates and biting histories of dogs confined to their owner’s property through the use of various containment methods.

S.Starinsky, Nicole; K. Lord, Linda; Meghan Herron, 2017/02/01- Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assoc.

OBJECTIVE To determine escape rates for dogs confined to their owner’s property by various containment methods and determine whether biting history was associated with containment method. DESIGN Cross-sectional survey. SAMPLE 974 owners of 1,053 dogs. PROCEDURES Individuals patronizing pet stores in Columbus, Ohio, were recruited to complete a survey on the method they used to confine their dogs to their property and their dogs’ behavior history. RESULTS Dogs were confined to their owner’s property by a physical fence (821/1,053 [78.0%]), electronic fence (150/1,053 [14.2%]), or tether system (82/1,053 [7.8%]). Dogs confined by an electronic fence were more likely to have escaped (66/150 [44.0%]) than were dogs confined by a see-through fence (153/658 [23.3%]), privacy fence (38/163 [23.3%]), or tether (22/82 [26.8%]). Forty-eight (4.6%) dogs had reportedly bitten a person in the past, and 81 (7.7%) had reportedly bitten another dog, but containment method was not significantly associated with whether dogs had ever bitten a person or another dog. Greeting behavior (growling, snarling, or trying to bite) was significantly associated with a history of biting a person or another dog. CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE Results suggested that escape rate, but not biting history, was associated with the method owners used to confine dogs to their properties. Greeting behavior was associated with biting history, suggesting that owners of dogs that growl, snarl, or attempt to bite when meeting an unfamiliar person or dog should seek assistance to prevent future bites. © 2017, American Veterinary Medical Association. All rights reserved. Full text here: Escape rates and biting histories of dogs confined to their owner’s property through the use of various containment methods. Available from: Escape rates and biting histories of dogs confined to their owner's property through the use of various containment methods [accessed Nov 25 2017].

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By Anders Hallgren

A study that showed that it is as usual that dogs have problems related to the spinal, as we humans. In a normal population of 400 dogs there were 63% that had some sort of defect as defined by the chiropractors that were cooperating to do this piece of research. In many cases there were problematic behavior correlated to the back defect. One of the most alarming findings were that as many as 91% of the dogs that had been pulled hard on the leash, or themselves pulled hard, had defects in the neck!

Pulling and jerking on leash as well as tethering dogs may increase the risk of a spinal injury. A dog can easily forget the boundaries of the chain or rope, accelerate, and suddenly come to a halt, with all the stopping power concentrated around the dog's neck.

The results of this study have been spread worldwide and have made dog clubs change training methods and not use hard pulls on the leash any longer. Many dog owners now shift to use a harness instead of a collar (especially choke chain) to avoid hurting the neck of their dogs.

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Pauli AM, Bentley E, Diehl KA, Miller PE.

Department of Surgical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


The effect on intraocular pressure (IOP) from dogs pulling against a collar or a harness was evaluated in 51 eyes of 26 dogs. The force each dog generated while pulling against a collar or a harness was measured. Intraocular pressure measurements were obtained during application of corresponding pressures via collars or harnesses. Intraocular pressure increased significantly from baseline when pressure was applied via a collar but not via a harness. Based on the results of the study, dogs with weak or thin corneas, glaucoma, or conditions for which an increase in IOP could be harmful should wear a harness instead of a collar, especially during exercise or activity.

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ScienceDaily (Feb. 17, 2009) — In a new, year-long University of Pennsylvania survey of dog owners who use confrontational or aversive methods to train aggressive pets, veterinary researchers have found that most of these animals will continue to be aggressive unless training techniques are modified.

The study, published in the current issue of Applied Animal Behavior Science, also showed that using non-aversive or neutral training methods such as additional exercise or rewards elicited very few aggressive responses.

"Nationwide, the No. 1 reason why dog owners take their pet to a veterinary behaviorist is to manage aggressive behavior," Meghan E. Herron, lead author of the study, said. "Our study demonstrated that many confrontational training methods, whether staring down dogs, striking them or intimidating them with physical manipulation does little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses."

The team from the School of Veterinary Medicine at Penn suggest that primary-care veterinarians advise owners of the risks associated with such training methods and provide guidance and resources for safe management of behavior problems. Herron, Frances S. Shofer and Ilana R. Reisner, veterinarians with the Department of Clinical Studies at Penn Vet, produced a 30-item survey for dog owners who made behavioral service appointments at Penn Vet. In the questionnaire, dog owners were asked how they had previously treated aggressive behavior, whether there was a positive, negative or neutral effect on the dogs' behavior and whether aggressive responses resulted from the method they used. Owners were also asked where they learned of the training technique they employed.

Of the 140 surveys completed, the most frequently listed recommendation sources were "self" and "trainers." Several confrontational methods such as "hit or kick dog for undesirable behavior" (43 percent), "growl at dog" (41 percent), "physically force the release of an item from a dog's mouth" (39 percent), "alpha roll"physically -- rolling the dog onto its back and holding it (31 percent), "stare at or stare down" (30 percent), "dominance down" —- physically forcing the dog down onto its side (29 percent) and "grab dog by jowls and shake" (26 percent) elicited an aggressive response from at least 25 percent of the dogs on which they were attempted. In addition, dogs brought to the hospital for aggressive behavior towards familiar people were more likely to respond aggressively to some confrontational techniques than dogs brought in for other behavioral reasons.

"This study highlights the risk of dominance-based training, which has been made popular by TV, books and punishment-based training advocates,"Herron said. "These techniques are fear-eliciting and may lead to owner-directed aggression."

Prior to seeking the counsel of a veterinary behaviorist, many dog owners attempt behavior-modification techniques suggested by a variety of sources. Recommendations often include the aversive-training techniques listed in the survey, all of which may provoke fearful or defensively aggressive behavior. Their common use may have grown from the idea that canine aggression is rooted in the need for social dominance or to a lack of dominance displayed by the owner. Advocates of this theory therefore suggest owners establish an "alpha" or pack-leader role.

The purpose of the Penn Vet study was to assess the behavioral effects and safety risks of techniques used historically by owners of dogs with behavior problems.

Journal Reference:

Herron et al. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2009; 117 (1-2): 47 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.12.011

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Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability

Nicola Jane Rooney. Sarah Cowan

Animal Welfare and Behaviour Group, School of Clinical Veterinary Sciences, University of Bristol, Langford, Bristol BS40 5DU, United Kingdom

Accepted 2 March 2011. published online 22 April 2011.

The methods by which owners train their pet dogs range widely, with some exclusively using rewards, and others using a combination, or only punishment-based methods. This paper examines links between the way in which owners reported to have trained their dogs and observations of the dogs' subsequent behaviour. It also explores associations between behaviour of owner and dog when tested in their own home. A total of 53 owners were surveyed about their preferred methods for training each of seven common tasks, and were each filmed interacting with their dog in a series of standardised scenarios. Dogs owned by subjects who reported using a higher proportion of punishment were less likely to interact with a stranger, and those dogs whose owners favoured physical punishment tended to be less playful. However, dogs whose owners reported using more rewards tended to perform better in a novel training task. Ability at this novel task was also higher in dogs belonging to owners who were seen to be more playful and who employed a patient approach to training. This study shows clear links between a dog's current behaviour and its owner's reported training history as well as the owner's present behaviour. High levels of punishment may thus have adverse effects upon a dog's behaviour whilst reward based training may improve a dog's subsequent ability to learn.

Full study can be accessed here.

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Effects of 2 training methods on stress-related behaviors of the dog (Canis familiaris) and on the dog–owner relationship

Stephanie Deldalle, Florence Gaunet, 10 March 2013.

Instrumental learning plays an important role in dog–human interactions. The recent demand for pet dog training has resulted in the development of various training methods. The present exploratory study aims to compare the effects of 2 training methods on both the behavioral welfare of the dog and the dog–owner relationship: the first method is based on positive reinforcement (appearance of an appetitive stimulus), whereas the second method is based on negative reinforcement (disappearance of an aversive stimulus). The study compared behaviors linked to signs of stress and attentive behaviors toward the owner in 2 dog training schools, which used different methods. Walking on-leash activity and obeying the "sit" command were studied. The results show that dogs from the school using a negative reinforcement–based method demonstrated lowered body postures and signals of stress, whereas dogs from the school using a positive reinforcement–based method showed increased attentiveness toward their owner. However, neither method affected avoidance behaviors. This exploratory study reveals the differential effects of the 2 training methods on dogs' behaviors; it suggests that training methods based on positive reinforcement are less stressful and potentially better for their welfare.

Full study can be accessed here.

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EF Hiby*, NJ Rooney and JWS Bradshaw
Anthrozoology Institute, Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, Langford, Bristol BS40 5DT, UK 2004

Historically, pet dogs were trained using mainly negative reinforcement or punishment, but positive reinforcement using rewards has recently become more popular. The methods used may have different impacts on the dogs' welfare. We distributed a questionnaire to 364 dog owners in order to examine the relative effectiveness of different training methods and their effects upon a pet dog's behaviour. When asked how they trained their dog on seven basic tasks, 66% reported using vocal punishment, 12% used physical punishment, 60% praise (social reward), 51% food rewards and 11% play. The owner's ratings for their dog's obedience during eight tasks correlated positively with the number of tasks which they trained using rewards (P < 0.01), but not using punishment (P = 0.5). When asked whether their dog exhibited any of 16 common problematic behaviours, the number of problems reported by the owners correlated with the number of tasks for which their dog was trained using punishment (P < 0.001), but not using rewards (P = 0.17). Exhibition of problematic behaviours may be indicative of compromised welfare, because such behaviours can be caused by, or result in, a state of anxiety and may lead to a dog being relinquished or abandoned. Because punishment was associated with an increased incidence of problematic behaviours, we conclude that it may represent a welfare concern without concurrent benefits in obedience. We suggest that positive training methods may be more useful to the pet-owning community.

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Emily J Blackwell, Christine Bolster, Gemma Richards, Bethany A Loftus and Rachel A Casey


The use of electronic training devices for dog training is controversial. The aims of this study were to give an indication of the extent to which dog owners use these devices in England, identify factors associated with their use, and compare owner report of outcomes. A convenience sample of dog owners in England was used to identify numbers using electronic training devices and identify reasons for use. Factors associated with use of remote e-collars only were determined by comparing dogs trained using these devices with two control populations matched for reason of use (recall / chasing problems). Comparison groups were: those using other 'negative reinforcement / positive punishment' training techniques, and those using 'positive reinforcement / negative punishment' based methods. A multinominal logistic regression model was used to compare factors between categories of training method. Owner reported success for use was compared using chi-squared analysis.


In conclusion, a fairly low proportion of owners select to use electronic training devices. For a population matched by reason for training method use, characteristics of dogs, including occurrence of undesired behaviours do not appear to distinguish between training methods. Rather, owner gender and attendance at training classes appear more important, although explaining a relatively small amount of variance between groups. More owners using reward based methods for recall / chasing report a successful outcome of training than those using e-collars.

Full Study here.

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Received 7 October 2011; accepted 4 December 2012. published online 27 February 2013.


The features of severe ischemic brain damage after strangulation by the owner of a 1-year-old German shepherd dog are described. The dog was disciplined by the owner during training by holding the dog off the ground by his choke chain collar. At first, the dog behaved normally, but he became increasingly ataxic and started circling to the left and showed reduced consciousness. The neurological examination revealed severe disorientation, left lateral pleurothotonus, and circling. The neurological findings were consistent with a multifocal brain lesion. A magnetic resonance imaging scan was performed and showed changes in the T2- and diffusion-weighted images, consistent with severe cerebral edema resulting from ischemia. Because of the severity of the clinical features, the dog was later euthanized. To the author's knowledge, this is the first report of a severe brain ischemia after strangulation in a dog.

For full article

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Pathologies of The Dog Associated With The Use of Choke Chains

Dissertation June 2007 - Miles Anita

"Not only is this constant pulling uncomfortable for the person at the end of the lead but can actually damage the dogs neck and windpipe. Research done in the United States has identified that many cases of aggression were due to dogs having necksymptoms were persistent pullers on the lead. Once these dogs had spinal realignment, the aggressive behaviour significantly reduced." (Dog Club) … Full Article Here

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The Effects of Using Aversive Training Methods in Dogs- A review

Gal Ziv, Wingate Institute, Netanya, Israel
Journal of Veterinary Behavior Clinical Applications & Research
Feb 23, 2017


The purpose of this study was to review a series of studies (N = 17) regarding the effects of using various methods when training dogs. The reviewed studies examined the differences between training methods (e.g., methods based on positive reinforcement, positive punishment, escape/avoidance, et cetera) on a dog's physiology, welfare, and behavior toward humans and other dogs. The reviewed studies included surveys, observational studies, and interventions. The results show that using aversive training methods (e.g., positive punishment and negative reinforcement) can jeopardize both the physical and mental health of dogs. In addition, although positive punishment can be effective, there is no evidence that it is more effective than positive reinforcement–based training. In fact, there is some evidence that the opposite is true. A few methodological concerns arose from the reviewed studies. Among them are small sample sizes, missing data on effect size, possible bias when coding behavior in observational studies, and the need to publish case reports of bodily damage caused by aversive training methods. In conclusion, those working with or handling dogs should rely on positive reinforcement methods and avoid using positive punishment and negative reinforcement as much as possible. Full Article Here

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Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situations

E. Schalke , J. Stichnoth, S. Ott, R. Jones-BaadeDepartment of Animal Welfare and Behaviour, Veterinary School of Hannover, Buenteweg 2, 30559 Hannover, Germany, 2005


The results of this study suggest that poor timing in the application of high level electric pulses, such as those used in this study, means there is a high risk that dogs will show severe and persistent stress symptoms.

We recommend that the use of these devices should be restricted with proof of theoretical and practical qualification required and then the use of these devices should only be allowed in strictly specified situations.


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Article from Welfare in Dog Training

If a dog shows a behaviour which results in a perceived positive outcome, he or she is more likely to show the behaviour again on subsequent occasions – this is known as reinforcement. If a behaviour results in a perceived negative outcome, the dog is less likely to show the behaviour again – this is punishment. Simplistically, in order to change a behaviour, one could either punish an undesired behaviour or reinforce the desired one.

‘Punishment’ tends to be an emotive word, but scientifically this just means a reduced chance of a behaviour occurring again. Hence, depending on the characteristics and experience of the animal, and the choices of the trainer, a ‘punisher’ could vary from a mild ‘no’ to a very aversive stimulus such as a tightened prong collar around a dog’s neck. Punishment has been used in animal training since animals have lived in close proximity with people. However, just because training techniques based on the induction of fear or pain have been used for a long time, does not necessarily mean that they are the best option in terms of efficacy or animal welfare. In fact, training a dog using such techniques carries number of risks.

These are:

  • Increasing the dogs fear or anxiety about the situation in which it is used
  • Decrease the dog’s ability to learn
  • Associate other, coincidental events with a fear provoking event
  • Inhibit behaviour, but leave the underlying emotional response unchanged increasing the chance of future problems
  • Induce an new avoidance, or aggressive response
  • Cause confusion as to which behaviour is required
  • Cause physical injury

effective response In addition, since training techniques are widely used that do not require the use of severe punishment, there is no need to use techniques which impact negatively on the welfare of dogs. The relative safety and effectiveness of using reward based or punitive training techniques must also be taken into consideration.

Increasing Fear and Anxiety

Most problematic behaviours, including aggression, develop because the dog learns to show an effective response to a perceived threat. Causing further anxiety to the dog by applying a punishment will not achieve the aim of making the dog less worried about whatever it is responding to: in fact it will almost inevitably make it more fearful in that context.

When a dog shows aggression to something that is perceived as a threat, it is possible to do something to it which is even more aversive (e.g. by pinning to the floor with your foot on its throat, or blasting an air-horn in its face), that may inhibit its expected behaviour temporarily. Because people often look for ‘instant fixes’ this approach may look like a cure, and appear impressive on TV, but it does not resolve the cause of the original behaviour. Because the dog remains fearful of the original perceived threat, and indeed will often be more anxious because they are now worried about the original threat and what their owner will do to them in that context, the behaviour will often recur, or different behavioural responses to avoid the threat may develop. This makes sense if you think about it from a human perspective. For example, if you are scared of spiders, you will respond to this fear by trying to avoid close contact with them. Now imagine that someone dragged you up to a spider by pulling you up to a spider by the neck-tie so that it was choking you, and held you there until you stopped struggling – would you feel any different about spiders? Or would you now be worried about spiders and by the presence of the person who tried to ‘cure’ you?

Stress and Learning

Using harsh punishment based techniques to change behaviour is frequently counterproductive. There is a complex relationship between physiological stress responses and learning ability, but in general mild stress tends to enhance learning, but higher or more chronic levels of stress actually inhibit the ability of animals to learn, and particularly to consolidate and retrieve memories (Joels et al. 2006; Mendl, 1999). Research suggests that high levels of stress may influence a dog’s ability to learn (Walker et al.,1997), therefore the application of severe punishers may also result in a stress response that impedes learning.

Risk of the Dog Associating the Punishment with Something Else

Anxious and fearful responses appear to particularly occur where the punishment is poorly synchronised with the action of the animal (Schalke et al., 2005), in other words when the punishment is poorly timed. After a significant event, such as the application of pressure from a choke chain, the dog will try to identify what events might have predicted this occurrence, either related to its own activity, or things happening in the environment. This means that although the trainer may intend the dog to associate pulling on the lead with the pressure on the neck, the dog may associate the latter with something completely different. Quite often, for example, dogs will associate the pressure from a choke chain with the word ‘heel’, but not with their pulling. So, when they hear ‘heel’ they tense up and brace themselves for the anticipated pressure. In practice, anything else present when the punishment is used may serve as a discriminative stimulus for the punishment (Polsky, 1994). In other words there is a real danger of an unwanted association being made between the unpleasant punishment and some coincidental stimuli, such as the presence of a person or other animal.

Even when a dog is ‘caught in the act’ and punished, he or she may still not associate the punishment with the undesirable behaviour. This is commonly seen, for example, when puppies are smacked by owners for toileting indoors: they don’t associate this with where they are peeing, but instead with the presence of the owner, so simply find a place to pee away from the owner rather than learning to go outside. In addition inappropriate levels of punishment may result in an intense fear and avoidance of the location e.g. the back garden.

Of course unintended associations, due to poor trainer timing, or the chance association with another, random, stimulus, occurs as frequently with reward based training as it does with punishment techniques. For example, if an owner recalls their dog, but takes a while getting the toy out of their pocket when he or she returns, they may end up throwing the toy when the dog happens to be turning in a circle, resulting in a dog that comes back and then turns a circle for its reward. However, the long term consequences of these ‘reward mistakes’ is much less serious than when punishers are associated with unintended stimuli. Avoidance response to things that are perceived as aversive are likely to be long lasting and resistant to change compared to those occurring as a result of positive reinforcement (Brush, 1957; Solomon et al., 1953). The difficulty in correcting errors when using aversive methods is significant considering the opportunities for unintended associations, and the potential development of fear.

Increasing Aggression and Risk to Owners

Another drawback of the use of harsh punishment in training dogs is the risk of eliciting or worsening aggression. For example, puppies that are trained using punishment based approaches will have an increased risk of being fearful of hand movement as adults, and have an increased risk of biting (Hunthausen 2009). Although some authors have advocated the use of punishment in the treatment of certain types of aggression in dogs, as pain is a primary cause of aggression (Johnson, 1972), it is clear that the potential exists for a dog to respond aggressively to a nearby person or animal on application of a painful stimulus. The misplaced belief in ‘dominance theory’ can lead to owners using punitive types of training which predisposes to aggression (De Keuster and Jung 2009). Reisner et al. (2007), for example, found that 59% of dog bites happened as a consequence of owners attempting to discipline their dogs.

Owners should be particularly cautious of using confrontational or punitive techniques with dogs that have an established aggressive response. Aggression develops as a response to perceived threat either to itself or a valued resource. However, once established, dogs will often have a strong expectation that their aggressive behaviour will be successful to avoid the perceived threat. Trying to stop or interrupt such a response has a high risk that the dog will show an increased level of aggression.

Confusion as to Which Behaviour is Required

Imagine that you needed to learn a new behaviour as a new employee, but in order to teach you this behaviour, your new colleagues only shouted at you when you did the wrong thing. You might try a whole range of different possible responses, but may never identify the exact thing that they wanted you to do. Where owners rely mainly on punishment for inappropriate behaviours, it is very difficult for a dog to work out what it is supposed to do. As would also happen to you in your work-place, dogs will tend to either end up becoming very frustrated and showing one of the behavioural consequence of this emotion, such as aggression, or give up entirely and stop trying any behaviours at all.

Risk of Physical Injury

There is also an increased risk of physical injury to the dog where harsh handling is used. Choke/check chains and prong collars can result in laryngeal, esophageal, thyroidal, and tracheal damage (Brammeier et al. 2006).

Efficacy of Different Training Approaches

In order for any form of training to be successful, it is important that the reinforcer or punisher is applied very quickly after the animal’s action, in order for the animal to make an association between its own behaviour and the consequence of it. In addition, the reinforcer or punisher must be applied at such a level that it either increases or decreases subsequent displays of the behaviour. In the case of positive reinforcement, this requires the reward to be something that the animal values, and which creates a positive emotional response. Where punishment is used, it must be aversive enough to create a negative emotional response.

A further problem with the use of aversive stimuli, therefore, lies in the trainer’s ability to achieve the optimum level of pain/discomfort required to suppress the target behaviour. Understandably, owners tend to begin with a low level of punishment and gradually increase the level of punishment to find the level required to stop the behaviour. This is unlikely to be effective as animals can habituate to aversive stimuli when they are incrementally increased.

In order to effectively suppress a behaviour, the initial level of punishment needs to be of sufficient severity to suppress the behaviour and avoid immediate reappearance. There are ethical concerns and practical problems that arise from this as there is no way of knowing in advance how intense the initial punishment should be for each individual animal, due to large individual differences between dogs. Even within a single breed, dogs have been shown to have a variable capacity for coping with aversive stimuli (Vincent & Mitchell, 1996). This leads to the problem of determining and administering an appropriate level of punishment (high enough to suppress the behaviour, but not so high that it causes a prolonged fear or anxiety response) for each individual dog.

Research also suggests that training using positive reinforcement based methods is more likely to be successful than those based on punishment (Hiby et al., 2004). The study also found that the use of punishment techniques in the training of dogs was associated with an increase in the incidence of problem behaviours.


Accurately determining the underlying motivation for a behaviour requires specialist expertise, as does assessing the risk that an aversive experience might actually increase the severity of a problem behaviour or induce new ones. Because of the serious risks of using punishment based techniques, even when applied ‘accurately’, most professional behavioural clinicians very rarely advocate the use of any punishment based training techniques in the modification of dog behaviour. As owners, trainers or clinical behaviourists, we all share a responsibility to the welfare our dogs to use the least aversive methods available to us to change our dog’s behaviour without the need for pain or fear.


Brammeier et al. (2006) Good trainers: How to identify one and why this is important to your practice of veterinary medicine. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 1, 47-52.

Brush, F.R. (1957) Effects of shock intensity on the acquisition and extinction of an avoidance response in dogs. Journal of Comp Physiol Psychol 50, 547-552

De Keuster, T. and Jung, H. (2009). Aggression towards familiar people and animals. In Horwitz, D.F. and Mills, D.S. BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine. 2nd ed. 182-210.

Hiby EF, Rooney NJ, Bradshaw JWS (2004). Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare, 13 (1): 63-69

Hunthausen, W. (2009). Preventative behavioural medicine for dogs. In Horwitz, D.F. and Mills, D.S. BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine. 2nd ed. 65-74

Joels, M., Pu, Z., Wiegart, O. et al. (2006). Learning under stress: how does it work? Trends in Cognitive Science, 10, 152-158.

Johnson, R.L. (1972) Aggression in man and animals, Saunders, Philadelphia.

Mendl, M., (1999). Performing under pressure: stress and cognitive function. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 65, 221-244

study dog

Polsky RH (1994). Electronic shock collars – are they worth the risks? Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 30 (5), 463-468

Reisner, I.R., Shofer F.S., Nance, M.L., (2007) Behavioral assessment of child-directed canine aggression, Injury Prevention, 13, 348-351

Schalke, E., Stichnoth, J. and Jones-Baade, R. (2005) Stress symptoms caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs (Canis Familiaris) in everyday life situations.Current Issues and Research in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine: Papers presentedat the 5th International Veterinary Behaviour meeting. Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Solomon R. L., Kamin, L.J. and Wynne L. C. (1953) Traumatic avoidance learning: The outcomes of several extinction procedures with dogs. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 48 (2), 291-302

Vincent I.C and Mitchell A.R. (1996) Relationship between blood pressure and stress prone temperament in dogs. Physiol Behav 60, 135-138.

Walker, R., Fisher, J. and Neville, P. (1997). The treatment of phobias in the dog. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 52, 275–289.

The following books are good sources of information on training techniques and their application:

Excel-elerated Learning by Pamela Reid.

How Dogs Learn by Mary Burch and Jon Bailey

Article from Welfare in Dog Training

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