To choke or not to choke How positive reinforcement has affected the use of choke collars in dog training

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1 To or not to How positive reinforcement has affected the use of collars in dog training Sara Edsler Abstract Choke collars and similar devices have for long been used on dogs in various situations. Their main use being that of a training or restraining tool when dealing with dogs displaying problematic behavior but many dog owners also use these types of collars simply as they seem to be practical and easy to put on any dog. In this article existing literature is examined to see if there is any correlation between the decreasing use of collars and the increasing use of positive, reward based, training. The public opinion regarding attitudes towards chains was also sampled through an online questionnaire. None of the examined articles showed a positive attitude towards collars or training methods involving negative reinforcement or positive punishment. The public attitude was both positive and negative. More respondents showed a positive attitude towards collars when asked if they were for or against the use of them. However there was an overwhelming negative attitude when asked if they believed chains to provide a greater risk of injuries or if collars was considered an efficient method to stop a dog from pulling on its leash. Key words: Dog; Choke collar; Positive reinforcement; Positive punishment; Negative reinforcement; Training Introduction Different types of collars with a effect have long been used in a wide variety of situations. Choke collars are most often used in place of a regular collar, the ease with which it is put on, as well as the aversive effect a simple tug on the leash can give with such a collar seems to previously have elicited many professional dog trainers to use and recommend it in their programs. Theories about how wolves behave with their pack in the wild laid the ground for many of the different, more aversive, dog training methods that have been and are still, widely in use. Through force and social dominance the wolves seemed to gain higher rank in their packs, which many trainers came to apply on dog training through the use of chains, electronic collars and pinch/prong collars amongst many other techniques and tools (Yin, 2007). The use of a collar is one of the methods recommended by many professional trainers, especially when dealing with dogs displaying aggression or not cooperating when on a leash (Heron et al., 2009). Choke collars are often also chosen by dog owners as they are considered to be practical and it takes longer time for most dogs to outgrow them. These owners most likely don t see these types of collars as an aversive training tool but simply as a collar like any other.

2 The use of collars as a training device in dog training is declining as an increasing amount of research puts forth the negative implications that may arise both in regards to training efficiency but also what concerns dog health aspects (Ogden et al. 2007). As methods using positive reinforcement become increasingly popular (Alexander et al., 2011; Rooney et al., 2011 ) there seems to be a decline in the use of collars as a training tool, raising the question whether the increase of one has a direct influence on the decrease of the other. This will be investigated through previously published research on the subject. Many professional dog trainers as well as researchers propagate a negative view on collars today, but the question remains what is the opinion of the everyday dog owner? Is the general opinion regarding the use of collars positive or negative? Method and materials A survey containing eight statements concerning dog owners attitudes towards collars was published online using Google Documents. The statements required yes or no answers and a link to the survey was distributed on two popular dog forums ( & as well as on Facebook in order to reach a broader community of dog owners with varying opinions on dog ownership and training. The survey was open for answers for a period of five days during which time 50 answers were received. The survey can be seen in appendix 1. Analysis The answers of the 50 surveys where gathered and counted, thereafter registered into excel and two diagrams were created. A bar graph displaying the number of yes and no responses to each statement was created. In order to summarize the general attitude towards collars from the respondents the results were also divided into positive and negative attitudes towards chains and the mean value for each category was calculated. The mean value was used to make a pie chart giving a clearer overview of the general attitude amongst the 50 respondents in regards to chains and their usage. Results The results of the survey seen in figure 1 show a fairly evenly distributed division of opinions concerning the usage of collars in the first five statements. From these initial five statements it is hard to draw any real conclusions regarding people s attitudes towards this type of collar. In the first statement it is apparent that more respondents seem to have a positive attitude towards collars whereas in the second statement regarding whether they are positive towards the usage there is a majority giving a negative response. There are several possible biases to this difference in responses, one being the possible misunderstanding of the question asked. The true difference of opinion becomes apparent in the last three statements. For all three statements a majority seem to display a negative attitude regarding chains for the given statements. Out of the 50 respondents, 45 claim chains to be an inadequate method in stopping a dog from pulling on its leash. 37 respondents agree that a chain has a greater risk of inflicting injuries to a dog than does a regular collar, this attitude is reinforced by the answers of statement number eight where 35 respondents disagree on chains having the same risk of inflicting injuries as does a regular collar.

3 In figure 2 it is apparent that a majority of 58 % display a slightly more negative attitude towards collars in general, whereas 42 % display a more positive attitude I am against the use of collars (on my own or other dogs) I am positive to the use of collars (not necesarily on my own dog) I agree that there are certain situations It is acceptable to use collars on which may require the larger dogs. use of collars. It is acceptable to use collars on smaller dogs. Using collars is a good method to stop a dog from pulling on its leash. Choke Choke collars have collars have a larger risk the same of injuring risk of my dog injuring my than does a dog as does regular a regular collar. collar No Yes Figure 1: data collected from the 50 surveys divided by number of Yes/no per question 42% 58% Responses displaying a negative attitude towards collars Responses displaying a positive attitude towards collars Figure 2: Overview of attitudes towards collars presented by mean values for each standpoint.

4 Discussion In a study performed by Heron et al. (2009), dog owners seeking help from behavior specialists regarding problems with their dogs behavior were asked to respond to a survey. The survey contained questions regarding training methods they had attempted to use to alter the dogs behavior problems, where they had received information about each method and how the dog responded to the method. Amongst the most recommended methods were leash tugging (used in 75 % of the cases and the use of chains and prong collars (used in 38 % of the cases). 50 % of the advice regarding leash tugging and 66 % of the advice regarding collars originated from professional trainers. These two methods were among those methods which elicited an aggressive response from the dog when applied. This data indicates that positive punishment (inflicting an aversive stimuli when the dog displays an unwanted behavior) and negative reinforcement (removing an aversive stimuli when the dog performs a desired behavior) are still widely in use in dog owners attempts to control problem behavior. However the efficiency of these methods can be argued based on extensive research. Alexander et al. (2011) studied the different training methods used in search dog training and concluded that 72 % of the trainers used positive reinforcement methods whereas 28 % used compulsion based methods. The authors further concluded that dogs trained with compulsion tended to perform less well and have a higher risk of suffering from stress induced welfare concerns. Previous research also states that the use of collars as a way of administering punishment may induce fear and anxiety in dogs. Punishment increases the dogs reactiveness, which in turn may increase its aggression and arousal, meaning that an already aggressive dog may become increasingly aggressive if disciplined using a collar or similar training tool (Brammeier, 2006). The use of collars as well as leash pulling in order to correct unwanted behavior along with other punitive methods is mainly recommend in dog training classes as well as on television ( Yin et al ). Landsberg et al. (2008) cite several dog training books where chains and heavy tugs on the leash are recommended methods for behavior modifications on dogs, where the authors of said books claims that whining or crying from the dog is simply a sign that the dog is trying to manipulate the owner and they should therefore be ignored. Certified applied animal behaviorists and veterinary behaviorists usually recommend the use of counter conditioning or positive reinforcement to deal with the same behavioral issues (Yin et al. 2008). These findings contradict the attitude initially portrayed by those responding to the survey that was given. In the first five questions asked there is a small majority showing a positive attitude towards collars. Reasons for this can be many; the respondents may be practitioners of compulsion based training, they might use collars just for practicality reasons without using them for reasons of administering positive punishment, there can be misinterpretations of the questions asked, the respondents may also be giving their answers based on worst case scenarios along with several other reasons. However the relatively positive attitude regarding collars alters in the last three questions. A wide majority seem to agree on collar being inappropriate for the purpose of training a dog to not pull on its leash. This correlates with a vast amount of research, some already cited, regarding the ineffectiveness of using positive punishment and negative reinforcement in treating behavioral problems in comparison to positive reinforcement. Arhant et al. (2010) conclude that the use of positive reinforcement and a high percentage of rewards given is associated with better obedience and lower aggressive and fearful dog behavior.

5 A vast majority seem to agree on collars proposing a greater risk of injury than would a regular collar. This view is supported by Schalke et al. (2007) who claim that even the use of electric shock collars propose a lower risk of inflicting injuries to a dog than would mechanically operated training tools such as chains. According to Overall (2007) there are several medical concerns that speak against using collars. Data implicating these types of collars as being the cause of neck instability, degenerative arthritis as well as laryngeal paralysis has according to the author existed for years. Overall (2007) also points to a study demonstrating the effects of neck pressure caused by these types of collars increase the intraocular pressure which may in the long run injure the vision of these dogs. The increased pressure on the jugular vein is the main reason for this increased eye pressure and its subsequent effect on the eye. German Shepherds have a relatively high frequency of some of these eye conditions, however none of these conditions have been noted in dogs wearing a harness (Overall, 2007). Ogden et al (2007) Report that the most common cause for extrinsic laryngeal trauma is the use of a chain. Based on the research examined, the general opinion towards collars and their use and efficiency in science is a negative one. This opinion does correlate with the total opinions received from the public where a majority show a negative opinion towards this type of collars, especially when used as a training device and when possible injury risks are taken into account. All literature examined for the purpose of this article propagated a preference towards training with reward based, positive methods, no articles were to be found where negative reinforcement or positive punishment was the preferred or recommended method for dog training. Further research where questions regarding what training methods the questionnaire respondents use themselves should be included in order to investigate the possible relationship between the public opinion on collars and the increasing use of positive training methods. Additional research should also carefully define what is actually inferred by the term collars in order to minimize possible biases and misunderstandings in the questionnaire. Clinical studies of trauma and other injuries caused by collars and similar devices could also provide important topics for further research. Investigating the health status of dogs trained for military or other service purposes where collars are more commonly used is another field where further research can be considered important.

6 References Alexander, M.B., Frienda, T., Haug, L Obedience training effects on search dog performance. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Arhant, C., Bubna-Littitz, H., Bartels, A., Futschik, A., Troxler, J Behaviour of smaller and larger dogs: Effects of training methods,inconsistency of owner behaviour and level of engagement in activities with the dog. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Brammeier, S Good trainers: How to identify one and why this is important to your practice of veterinary medicine. Journal of Veterinary Behavior Herron, M.E., Shofer, F.S., Reisner, I.R Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Landsberg, G.M., Shaw, J., Donaldson, J Handling Behavior Problems in the Practice Setting. Vet Clin Small Anim Ogden, D., Baines, S., Beck., A Bilateral thyrohyoideus muscle rupture in a dog. Journal of Small Animal Practice Overall, K.L Considerations for shock and training collars: Concerns from and for the working dog community. Journal of Veterinary Behavior Rooney, N.J., Cowan, S Training methods and owner dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Schalke, E., Stichnoth, J., Ott, S., Jones-Baade, R Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situations. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Yin, S Dominance Versus Leadership in Dog Training. Understanding Behaviour. CompendiumVet Yin, S., Fernandez, E.J., Pagan, S., Richardson, S.L., Snyder, G Efficacy of a remotecontrolled, positive-reinforcement, dog-training system for modifying problem behaviors exhibited when people arrive at the door. Applied Animal Behaviour Science

7 Appendix 1 Statements 1. I am against the use of collars (on my own or other dogs) 2. I am positive to the use of collars (not necessarily on my own dog) 3. I agree that there are certain situations which may require the use of collars. 4. It is acceptable to use collars on larger dogs. 5. It is acceptable to use collars on smaller dogs. 6. Using collars is a good method to stop a dog from pulling on its leash. 7. Choke collars have a larger risk of injuring my dog than does a regular collar. 8. Choke collars have the same risk of injuring my dog as does a regular collar.