eileenanddogs

Tag: aversive

Is It Really Just a Tap? Shock Collar Training Explained

Is It Really Just a Tap? Shock Collar Training Explained

Holding down the button on a shock collar remote

Shock collar trainers have several names for the shocks that they administer through the collar. A tap. A stim. A nick. A page. Static. Application of pressure.  It sounds like something short and relatively benign.

Even the word “shock,” although it has much more negative connotations (which is why shock collar trainers usually don’t use the word), sounds like something brief. If you get a shock from scuffing your feet on the carpet then touching metal, it is unpleasant but over in milliseconds.

What many people don’t realize is that in many types of shock collar training, the electric shock is on for much longer periods. In the initial training sessions it is turned on and left on until the dog figures out, sometimes with very little effective information from the trainer, what she is supposed to do to get it to turn off.

Here is what that training can look like. (This video uses a stuffed dog as a demo.) Since with many actual shock training videos you can’t tell when the shock is applied and how long it lasts, I have shown that pictorially in the video.

This method uses what is called negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is in play whenever you are trying to get an animal to do something by using something painful or uncomfortable. (This is in contrast to positive punishment, which is used to get the dog to stop doing something. Shock training is used for that, too.) When a shock collar is used in negative reinforcement training, the shock is turned on, and left on, until the dog does the desired behavior. Some common applications are for recalls, crate training, platform training, and taking and holding a retrieve item. Negative reinforcement is also called “escape and avoidance” training. In this case the animal is working to escape or avoid the shock.

Science tells us there are two ways to get repeated behavior. One is to add something the dog likes after she does it. (Dog sits, and gets a treat.) The other is to take away something the dog doesn’t like after she does it. The handler pinches a dog’s ear until she grabs and holds the dumbbell in her mouth, then the handler releases the ear. There is no “neutral” way to get behavior to repeat. Behavior is driven by consequences. If you don’t see something either pleasant or aversive influencing the dog’s behavior in a training session, you haven’t looked hard enough. (Hint: it’s usually not praise.)

So when the shock collar trainers say that the shock doesn’t hurt–that’s not true.  During the initial training period, it must be painful, uncomfortable, or frightening, or it wouldn’t work. It has to have some unpleasant feeling that is robust enough to get the dog to work to make it stop. An example of a dog exhibiting absolute misery during his first session with a shock trainer is on my page Shock Training Session Video Analysis.

It’s true that after the initial stages of training, the shocks can be shorter and at a lower level. Sometimes just having the dog wear the collar, or using the vibration function only is enough to get compliance. Being trained with shock leaves a history of pain and discomfort behind it.  And the possibility of it never goes away as long as the dog is wearing the collar. The dog understands this from experience, because she has already learned the consequence of not responding immediately. The consequence is pain. As Kelly Blackwell, a well known shock trainer, describes the dog’s understanding of shock collar training: “If I don’t do it, they can and will make me do it.” You can see her videos on my Shock Collar Training vs Force Free Video Examples page.

It is even possible to manipulate collars so the dog doesn’t know which collar delivers a shock. A trainer can thus get compliance from a dog who is not even wearing a shock collar. Also if the dog associates the shock with the trainer, the dog may comply without wearing the collar. In both of these cases, the threat of shock is still there to the dog.

That is how you train behaviors with a shock collar. Leave the shock on until the dog complies, then release it when she does. If that level of shock does not work, raise to a more painful level.  Once the dog understands how the system works, most dogs will comply at lower levels of pain or just the threat in order to avoid the escalation.

Video Comparison

One of the advantages claimed by shock trainers is that their dogs can be off leash.   Which of these dogs in the following videos appears to be enjoying his freedom more: the one who just learned to come when called because otherwise he will be shocked, or the one trained force free, doing a long distance recall, and who was called away from sniffing, to boot? Watch the body language.

“Dog training using remote training collar by BigLeash”

(This is not a stuffed dog but a real beagle being trained, in case you would rather not watch. The actual training starts at about 1:40. )

“Stanley, come!”

(Beagle/rat terrier mix trained without force, doing two quick, responsive, happy recalls)

More Comparison and Analysis

Three new resources:

Shock Collar Training vs Force Free Video Examples. This is a resource page that contrasts videos of dogs being trained with shock and videos of training the same or similar behaviors force free.

Shock Training Session Video Analysis. Some very generous trainers from the Observation Skills for Dog Training FaceBook group helped me do a second by second observational listing of the body language of a dog undergoing his first shock training session. There is also analysis and commentary on the training techniques used.

Training Your Dog with a Shock Collar: How Will You Decide? An article written for a lay audience in plain language on the risks and damage caused by shock collar use. There are links to scholarly resources and statements by credentialed experts to back up the statements made.

Thanks for reading. Please pass this along to anyone who may be considering using shock or hiring a shock trainer because they have heard that the shock is “just like a tap on the shoulder.”

Upcoming topics:

Call the Doctor. I Think I’ve Been Poisoned!

Call the Doctor. I Think I’ve Been Poisoned!

I had a little outpatient procedure the other day. As I was leaving, still a little fuzzy, the discharge nurse gave me some papers including a little card in an envelope. She said, “This is a thank you note from all the staff who worked with you today.” I was surprised, and mumbled, “Well, I should be thanking them.”

I did think it a little odd to get a thank you note for undergoing a medical procedure! But when I got home I opened the envelope with that little surge of happy anticipation you can get with such things, even if it’s from a medical office and even though I suspected they had a reason beyond the simple goodness of their hearts for sending it. After opening it I first saw that five staff people had signed it by hand. How nice. Then I read the printed message. “Thank you for letting us serve you today. Please take the time to complete our survey.” There was a green sheet in the packet with questions about the service at the facility.

I felt slimed.

Thank you note. It was a poisoned cue in this story.

(This is a generic thank you note. I don’t have a picture of the actual note because I threw it away THAT DAY.)

I should have known better. I did sense that they wanted something from me when the nurse made a point of mentioning the note. I couldn’t imagine what they could want, though, and the suspicion slipped away. My cultural programming took over, and in spite of myself I had a little of that sense of anticipatory happiness that comes with an unexpected gift or even just a piece of pleasant mail.

I started thinking  about this in behavioral terms as I realized that they had squelched any desire on my part to be cooperative. That’s too bad since they were nice staff. Perhaps they needed the survey for some kind of accreditation. But I had a visceral negative response to this ham-handed attempt at manipulation.

I discussed the incident in the context of Dr. Susan Friedman’s course, Living and Learning with Animals, which I am currently taking.

I described my feeling of being tricked. I had been expecting a tiny happy feeling from being thanked. It might have reinforced going to that facility, or more probably opening the envelope of the card. I got an aversive instead. I was blindsided by pressure to perform a task, albeit simple, but in a way I really didn’t appreciate.

So instead a goodie potentially resulting in positive reinforcement, I got an icky application of negative reinforcement. Check out my post for a review of the processes of operant learning, a.k.a. “the quadrants.”

Susan Friedman pointed out that the thank you note was a poisoned cue. Whoa. Of course.

She was referring to a term coined by Karen Pryor that refers to a cue associated with both reinforcing and aversive consequences. Animals that experience this kind of mixed training are generally demotivated and often display stress. Nicole Murrey performed several experiments with poisoned cues for her master’s thesis research under the supervision of Jesus Rosales Ruiz at the University of North Texas. The behavior in the study was to come to the human on cue. The aversive seems comparatively mild  to us: it consisted of the dog being pulled into position via the leash when it failed to come voluntarily.

The dog learned one verbal cue for the behavior that was taught with positive reinforcement only. It learned a different verbal cue for the version that included the aversive. Adding the aversive completely changed the dog’s performance and demeanor in those training sessions.

Ms. Feisty being pulled via the leash. After she complies, the pressure will release, negatively reinforcing her movement in the handler’s chosen direction.

 

Being pulled where you don’t want to go isn’t fun for a real dog.

The above photo was graciously provided by Debbie Jacobs of fearfuldogs.com. She has a great blog here. Debbie’s life’s work is UNpoisoning things for dogs. I almost decided not to use the photo because it seemed a bit callous for me to compare my instant of squirming irritation with the experience of a dog being pulled by its neck. But these kinds of connections help me learn, and maybe they will you too.

Anyone who crosses over to training based on positive reinforcement notices the changes in the dog’s response to cues that are trained exclusively that way. It is writ large. And some of us actually retrain behaviors and change poisoned cues because of the negative associations.

For humans and some animals, the aversives involved with negative reinforcement can be completely non-physical. Negative reinforcement is present in social pressure, threats, nagging,  extraction of promises, guilt trips, even quotas and deadlines. All situations in which some kind of pressure is applied to get you to do something, at which point the pressure relents.

A thank you note is a cue for being thanked, and opening them has been taught to me with positive reinforcement. Every time I had opened one before this I had gotten a small bit of pleasure, or at the worst, a neutral experience. What I got this time instead was a mild aversive, and the surprise made it SUCK. This was a tiny incident in life, a blip on the screen. But I’ll bet it will be a while before I have unspoiled anticipation at opening a thank you note again.

Ironically, a straightforward request to fill out the survey would have been fine. But some marketing wannabe decided to pair it with the unexpected thank you note. I’d be interested to see whether they got more surveys back when they implemented that pairing. It didn’t work on me.

How about you? Have you ever gotten something slightly (or extremely) icky when you were expecting something nice? How did you feel about it?

Copyright 2012 Eileen Anderson

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Extra Text
Cape Town, South Africa