Remote Collar Training, What does Science have to say?

Shock collars, electronic collars, remote training collars…what ever you want to call them, they create a lot of controversy. But how much is factual and how much is based only on emotion?

The following article was written by professional dog trainer, Janeen McMurtrie of SmartDogs in Red Wing, MN.  An excellent article that discusses the current science discussions surrounding the use of remote electronic training collars.

See No Evil, Read No Evil, Cite No Evil

The internet hosts hundreds of articles warning you about the dangers of electronic training collars (e-collars). Ruth over at Spot Check recently summarized a few of the most often cited studies in a post on the heated rhetoric surrounding the recent ban on the use of e-collars in Wales. 952 641 6576

The literature is full of references to studies by Schalke et al., Schilder and van der Borg and more recently, Herron et al. whose authors warn us that e-collar training (and indeed, any use of aversives) is unpleasant, painful, frightening — and pointlessly ineffective.

If you spend some time reviewing these articles, as I recently did, you might assume that no research supporting the use of e-collars is currently available.

And you’d be wrong.

Given the widespread references /cites to studies that support the idea that e-collars are not only cruel and abusive, but that they can also elicit aggressive behavior — imagine my surprise when I came across an article providing strong evidence that e-collars were astonishingly effective in rehabilitating aggression in dogs.

Daniel F. Tortora’s study, titled “Safety Training: The Elimination of Avoidance-Motivated Aggression in Dogs,” was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General in 1983. The article is only available by purchase but is well worth $11.95 if you have an interest in this area. (Note: the article was also published in Australian Veterinary Practitioner in 1984, 14 (2), 70–74.)

Tortora took an elegantly simple approach to treating what he referred to as “avoidance-motivated aggression”. He proposed that because avoidance-motivated aggression is learned and maintained as an avoidance response, the most effective way to counter-condition it would be to teach the dogs nonaggressive avoidance responses.

Tortora defines avoidance-motivated aggression as “a form of instrumental aggression that involves attacks or threats of attack directed toward one or more of the dog’s human caretakers”. Avoidance aggression typically starts out as aggressive avoidance responses to things like physical discomfort (such as from grooming), intrusions on areas that the dog views as his territory and commands he doesn’t want to comply with. According to Tortora, these dogs usually suffer from a lack of training and predictability in their lives and therefore feel like they lack control over their environment.  They behave like they expect bad things to happen and the only way to prevent the bad things is through aggression. When their frustrated owners resort to after-the-fact punishment, the dog’s expectations are reinforced, a feedback loop is created and the dog’s aggression escalates.

Tortora’s proposed remedy for this common, dangerous and difficult to remedy form of aggression consisted of teaching the dogs “nonaggressive, prosocial habits” such as AKC’s CDX level obedience exercises. He predicted that the probability of post-training aggressive behavior would be inversely proportional to the number of obedience exercises a dog gained proficiency in. The program also included teaching the dogs a conditioned safety signal that was used to reinforce good behavior and build the dogs’ confidence.

All exercises were introduced with the slip collar, then e-collar training was overlayed onto the introductory work. The e-collars used could emit two different tones, and tones and stimulation could be delivered separately or in conjunction with each other. The dogs were trained to perform 15 different commands at increasing levels of difficulty. These included: stand, down, come, go, hold, drop, sit, off, place, fetch, in, stay, play, no, heel, and hup. As commands were mastered, they were practiced in environments of increasing distraction. The dogs were initially trained by experienced trainers (Tortora doesn’t describe their qualifications but all were apparently able to train the dogs to a minimum of CDX level around significant distractions) in a board and train environment. Once the dogs were able to consistently perform the exercises under distraction without the e-collar, training was transferred to their owners, who used the e-collar only as needed to proof exercises.

Tortora stated that the dogs could be safely returned to their owners because: “Safety training with companion dogs, however, produces changes of long duration, perhaps even permanent changes. These changes in behavior readily transfer readily from the trainer to the dog’s owners and others.”

Many people are concerned that the stress of e-collar training will make dogs fearful or aggressive. While the dogs developed an initial conditioned anticipatory fear reaction during the escape training portion of Tortora’s program, their fear was extinguished during the subsequent avoidance and proofing stages. Upon reviewing these results, Tortora stated “It seems that the impact of safety reinforcement is to make the dog less fearful generally and better able to withstand trauma.”

How effective was this work? Well, in the abstract Tortora states that the program:

… resulted in complete and permanent elimination of aggression in all of the 36 dogs tested. In addition, it produced extremely extinction-resistant prosocial avoidance responses, significant increases in the dogs’ emotional stability, an avoidance-learning and safety acquisition response set, and improvements in measures of the dogs’ “carriage.”

Take a few minutes to let that sink in. If a study demonstrated similar results for clicker or food lure training it would be cited on tens of thousands of sites across the internet. The author would be the darling of popular dog magazines and a regular presenter at dog training conferences. Heck, I bet he’d even have his own television show – and (unlike another popular television dog trainer) there wouldn’t be a torch and pitchfork mob out to lynch him.

While I understand that the literature can be (and often is) cherry-picked to support preconceived notions even in peer-reviewed studies, I am absolutely stunned by the dog world’s shunning of Tortora’s work. His article is very rarely cited in recent studies related to ecollars, aversives, dog training and aggression — and when it is, it is not unusual for him to be misquoted or taken out of context. (details on that below the break)

Given the outstanding success Tortora had in rehabilitating aggressive dogs and the fact that his article appeared in a well-known journal published by the American Psychological Association, why are studies published by Schalke, Schindler and Herron (and opinion pieces written by Pat Miller) touted as landmark studies on e-collar use while his work languishes in anonymity?

Using e-collars to train dogs is a controversial and emotionally-charged issue. This is largely because, as Steven Lindsay writes:

… the word shock is loaded with biased connotations, images of convulsive spasms and burns, and implications associated with extreme physical pain, emotional trauma, physiological collapse, and laboratory abuses.

Shock scares us. Despite the fact that electrical stimulation can now be used to relieve pain, most people simply cannot come to terms with the idea that a ‘shock’ can be used as anything but a terrifying and harshly punitive bolt from god.

Unlike those commonly in use today, early electronic training collars could only  be used in a harshly punitive way – and much of the laboratory research that has been done on shock, aversion, escape and avoidance was horrifyingly cruel. Along with the strongly negative connotations associated with the word “shock”, the ugly history of the use of shock in behavior modification studies also affects our feelings and opinions about its place in dog training.

The current literature on the use of aversives (especially electronic ones) in dog training shows a striking lack of articles that present results that call popular ideas favoring positive reinforcement only dog training into question. And unfortunately, as we recently saw in Wales, the results published in these studies are being used to further a political agenda.

There are far too many cases where great scientific advances were made based on a piece of odd, apparently anomalous or unpopular bit of work that could very easily have fallen by the wayside. Rejecting, ignoring or suppressing data and ideas that don’t fit in with popular thought is a dangerous kind of censorship. And it is crucial that we do all we can to it in a world where science has an increasingly important effect on the personal and regulatory decisions we make.


Below the break: Links and brief summaries of recent literature related to using e-collars to train dogs, and some notes on the journals the articles are published in.

After I found Tortora’s article, I decided to conduct a google literature review on articles related to the use of e-collars in dog training. My goal was to get an idea for how widely cited his article was. I spent dozens of hours searching google scholar for articles related to shock collars, remote training collars, electronic training collars and electric collars. I also searched specifically for articles that cited Tortora.

I was shocked by what I discovered and that’s what inspired the above post.

The studies I found are presented below in chronological order. I’ve included a very brief summary of each article as it relates to this post. I included a link to articles that were available on line. Because it is the focus of this post, all of these articles were published after Tortora’s. Please drop me a line in the comments if you know of any I missed.

Following the list of articles are some notes on the journals they were published.

Polsky 1994, Electronic Shock Collars: Are They Worth the Risk?,  Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 30: 463-468. This study concludes that e-collars are only appropriate for use as a last resort by experienced users on a case by case basis. Polsky does not includes Tortora’s study in his references even though he discusses literature on the use of e-collars in training. In fact, he specifically (and erroneously) writes that “The only technical publications that exist are brief overviews.”

Polsky specifically states that “Punishment training with an electronic shock collar is not advisable for aggression stemming from dominance, aggression arising out of fear, or other kinds of misbehaviors that are fear-related. He admits that electronic shock creates an intrinsically rewarding learning environment when used as negative reinforcement and refers to this as the proper use of the tool. Polsky states that the main problems in use of the device arise from ‘random’ shocks from some collars, the fact that it is difficult to fit very small dogs, the bad timing of some dog owners, and the possibility of pressure sores — all of which are easily mitigated by using good equipment and getting good training advice.

Oddly Polsky cites Tortora’s 1992 book on the use of e-collars, but not the 1983 article.

Lynch and McCarthy 1996, The effects of petting on classically conditioned emotional response, Behavior Research and Therapy 5(1): 55-62. I was not able to find so much as an abstract to this article on line. According to Jacques and Myers (see below):

In this study, the authors observed the physiological effects of human contact on the dog. The research found that the dogs’ heart rate increased when a tone was followed by an electric
shock of a medium level. The electric shocking device used was a high-voltage system, one second shock, different for each dog according to the dog’s reaction at each interval. The level of shock used was intense enough to cause the dog to fully flex his leg off the table.

If you can find a copy of this, let me know – though based on the paragraph above it sounds like the methods used have absolutely no bearing on modern e-collar training methods.

Eckstein and Hart 1996, Treatment of acral lick dermatitis by behavior modification using electronic stimulation. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Assocation 32: 225-229. Only the abstract of this article was available (let me know if you find the full version). The abstract states that acral lick dermatitis was successfully treated in four dogs studied, and while two of the dogs relapsed in the six to twelve months following the study, a brief retraining period eliminated the behavior. This is another pro-e-collar article that is ignored by most researchers.

Beerda, Schilder, van Hooff, de Vries and Mol 1998, Behavioural, saliva cortisol and heart rate responses to different types of stimuli in dogs, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 58 (365-381). This study measured stress parameters in dogs subjected to aversive events consisting of sound blasts, short electric shocks, a falling bag, an opening umbrella and two forms of restraint. The goal was to find ways to measure stress quantitatively to help asses animal welfare. Shocks were used in a purely random, painful, aversive way. Tortora’s 1983 study is not cited.

Polsky 1998, Shock collars and aggression in dogs. Animal Behavior Consulting Newsletter, 15(2). Let me know if you can find a copy of this. I couldn’t.

Breland-Bailey 1998, Electric shock as a form of aversive stimulation (punishment), Animal Trainer’s Forum Newsletter (SIG Association for Behavior Analysis) Winter. Let me know if you can find a copy of this. I didn’t have any luck.

Polsky 2000, Can Aggression in Dogs be Elicited Through the use of Electronic Pet Containment Systems, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 3(4): 345-357.  This article discusses how electronic pet containment systems may act as elicitors of aggressive behavior. Polsky only studied five cases of such aggression and, while he now cites Tortora’s 1983 article, he implies that Tortora found that electrical stimulation was an elicitor of aggressive behavior. Oddly, he never mentions the primary focus of Tortora’s work, which was that electrical stimulation could be used to cure territorial aggression. In my opinion this negates any value to this study.

Coleman and Murray 2000, Collar mounted electronic devices for behavior modification in dogs. Urban Animal Management Conference Proceedings, Hobart, Australia. Coleman and Murray studied bark collars, boundary collars and remote trainers and stated that: “The data gathered from this survey showed that electronic training collars can be an effective remedial measure for some types of problem behaviour in dogs.”

Delta Society 2001, Professional Standards for the Dog Trainers: Effective, Humane Principles. Delta Society, Renton, Washington, USA. A detailed and balanced discussion of the pros and cons of an enormous variety of training tools. It presents a neutral opinion on the use of electronic training collars.

Christiansen 2001, Behavioural differences between three breed groups of hunting dogs confronted with domestic sheep, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 72(2): 115-129. I could only access the abstract of this article without payment so details and references cited are not available. The goal of the study was to assess prey drive and attack severity on domestic sheep by three breeds of dogs. Electronic training collars appear to have been used punitively. I could only access the abstract, so if you know where I can find a complete copy of the article, please let me know.

CABTSG (Companion Animal Behavior Therapy Study Group) 2002, Electronic training devices: A behavioral perspective. Journal of Small Animal Practice 44:95-96. Let me know if you can find a copy of this. I didn’t have any luck.

Tsevtkov, Carlezon, Benes, Kandel and Bolshakov 2002, Fear conditioning occludes LTP-induced presynaptic enhancement of synaptic transmission in the cortical pathway to the lateral amygdala, Neuron, 34(2): 289-300. I was not able to find so much as an abstract to this article on line. According to Jacques and Myers (see below):

This study attempted to prove a longstanding theory that learning takes place and memories are formed when the same message travels repeatedly between specific cells in the brain. During the study, researchers introduced rats to a sound that was accompanied by an electric shock to the foot. The shock, while of a low intensity, did cause the rats to be visibly startled. The day after the rats were trained this way, they were exposed to the sound but were not shocked. However, the sound still frightened them, even more so than during the initial training, and their fear increased as time passed.

If you can find a copy of this I’d like to see it but since random shocks with no training or guidance were used, shocks were applied to the feet and fear conditioning appeared to be the goal of the experiment – I don’t see any relevance to modern e-collar training.

Marschark and Baenninger 2002, Modification of instinctive herding dog behavior using reinforcement and punishment, Anthrozoos 15 (1): 51-68. There aren’t any references to shock or e-collars in the abstract and references cited were not available in online open access copies I found. The authors note that “While positive reinforcement can be used exclusively for the training of certain behaviors, it is suggested that in the context of instinctive motor patterns, negative reinforcement and punishment may be desirable and necessary additions to positive reinforcement techniques.” E-collars were used or studied in this article but it is not available in without a fee. If you know where I can find a copy, please let me know.

Shivik, Treves and Callahan 2003, Nonlethal techniques for managing predation: Primary and secondary repellents,  Conservation Biology 17(6): 1531-1537. The authors studies the efficacy of several methods, include the use of e-collars, to reduce predation on livestock by wolves. They reported mixed results with e-collars and determined that they were not applicable for this use.

Hiby, Rooney and Bradshaw 2004, Dog Training Methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare, Animal Welfare 13: 63-69. This paper is a survey of training methods commonly in use by the general pet owning public in the United Kingdom. The authors note that the use of aversives, including as employed in negative reinforcement, not only causes suffering but may also result in aggressive behavior. I’m not sure how they came to that conclusion because none of the owners surveyed used negative reinforcement methods. The only owner use of aversives I saw discussed was punishment after the fact – something that none of the dog trainers I know recommend. The study discusses the use of aversives in some detail, but does not mention the use of e-collars. Tortora is not cited. They simply note that previous studies of the relationship between training methods and problematic behavior yielded “apparently conflicting results”.

Schilder and Van Der Borg 2004, Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 85: 319–334. One of the most commonly cited studies on e-collar use. This study did reference Tortora’s article, though simply with the line “Use of the shock collar has been promoted by Tortora” with reference to historic data on use. If Schilder and Van Der Borg read Tortora’s study, they apparently ignored or discounted absolutely everything he wrote about using the e-collar to train dogs. They didn’t follow the training and generalization steps that Tortora believed was a vital part of the training process and only used shocks punitively (after the fact) or, worse yet, randomly, instead of as negative reinforcement.

Since they cited his work, I don’t understand why Schilder and Van Der Borg completely ignored the dramatic long term ‘behavioral effects’ of Tortora’s training program. And when I combine this with the fact that they don’t even mention his results, I get a nagging suspicion that Schilder and Van Der Borg’s work was affected by significant anti-e-collar bias.

Lockwood 2004, The Facts About Modern Electronic Training Devices, Radio Systems Corporation Technical White Paper. Corporate promotional piece discussing the history and use of electronic training devices.  Discusses advantages and disadvantages of electronic training devices. This paper doesn’t include any citations.

Lindsay 2005, Chapter 9: Biobehavioral monitoring and electronic control of behavior in Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training: Procedures and Protocols, Vol. 3: 557-633. Lindsay’s work is a must read for anyone who wants to understand how electronic training collars work – and how they don’t work.He discusses the history, physics, psychology, physiology and use of e-collars in detail including a discussion of Tortora’s 1983 study.

Lindsay presents a brief criticism of Christiansen’s work, specifically in regard to how Christiansen describes how the collars used in his study delivered stimulation.

I find it interesting that Herron et al. not only missed Tortora in their literature review – they also make no mention of Lindsay’s landmark work. And while Jacques and Myers cite Lindsay, they completely ignored the primary point he makes with respect to e-collars – i.e. that they are a safe, effective and humane dog training tool.

E. Schalke, J. Stichnoth, R. Jones-Baade 2005, Stress Symptoms Caused by the Use of Electric Training Collars on Dogs in Everyday Life Situations, Current Issues and Research in Veterinary Behavioral Medicine, Purdue University Press, ISBN 987-1-55753-409-5.  Electronic training collars were used only randomly or punitively and – only three references are cited. Tortora is not mentioned.

Courtney 2005. The rehabilitation of “Grace.” Control and Therapy Series, Post-Grad. Found. Vet. Sci. Univ. Sydney 240, 1622-1624. I could not find this online. If you can help, drop me a line.

Meslow 2006, Barks or Bites? The Impact of Training on Police Canine Force Outcomes, Police Practice and Research 7 (4):  323-335. This study discusses the relative effectiveness of bite and hold versus bark and hold strategies in police service dogs. It notes that the equipment and methods used to train of police dogs varies greatly. Less than half of the respondents stated that they used the e-collar. Meslow noted that the equipment used in training was not correlated to number of bites though breed was strongly correlated. Tortora was not referenced.

Schalke, Stichnoth and Jones-Baade 2007; Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday situations, Applied Animal Behavior Science 105, 369-380. In this study Schalke et al. found that when dogs were able to predict and control shocks, they did not show persistent or considerable stress indicators. I find it very odd that they were studying electronic training collars, predictable shocks and dog training — and still somehow managed to miss Tortora’s 1983 article.

Jacques and Myers 2007, Electronic Training Devices: A Review of Current Literature, Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice, Spring 2007, 22-39. A study on electronic training devices and how they work including physiological effects, psychological effects and effects on learning. Apparently not a particularly detailed (or balanced) literature review – it includes no references to Tortora’s book or his 1983 article and takes Lindsay’s work out of context. This study is discussed in more detail in Spot Check’s March 2010 blog post.

Electronic Training Collar Manufacturers Association (ECMA) 2007, The Facts About Modern Electronic Training Devices. An industry white paper on the types of electronic training devices available. It includes technical data on electronic training devices but doesn’t discuss training methods. Tortora is not cited.

Overall 2007, Editorial – Why electric shock is not behavior modification, Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2: 1-4. Even though it states clearly that this is an editorial piece, Overall’s 2007 paper is cited as a “study” by many opponents of the e-collar. Overall does not cite Tortora’s 1983 study. The only pro-ecollar pieces she cites come from  websites of dog trainers who use e-collars.

Salgirli 2008, Comparison of Stress and Learning Effects of Three Different Training Methods: Electronic Training Collar, Pinch Collar and Quitting Signal, doctoral dissertation University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Germany. From the introduction:

The aim of this study is to investigate whether any stress is caused by the use of specific conditioned signal, quitting signal, and/or pinch collars as alternatives to electric training collars, and if they do so, whether the stress produced in the process is comparable to the one with electric training collars. Therefore, we set out to investigate the direct behavioral reactions of the dogs upon administration of above mentioned training methods. We are especially interested in finding out which method leads to less stress in dogs by comparing their behavioural effects.

Furthermore, this study will examine the learning effects of the above mentioned training methods, i.e., electronic training collar, the pinch collar and the quitting signal. Thus, the compatibility of the learning effect of the quitting signal with the learning effect of the pinch and the electronic training-collar, namely the compatibility of effectiveness of ‘’negative punishment’’ method with the ‘’positive punishment’’ method, in a training with high level of arousal and motivation will be assessed.

Salgirli discusses Tortora’s article and methods in detail. The author concluded that:

The results of the present study indicate that the electronic training collar induces less distress and shows stronger “learning effect” in dogs in comparison to the pinch collar. The quitting signal is on the other hand not found effective in police dog training although it causes the “least distress” reactions in dogs when comparing with the electronic training and pinch collar. Altogether, concerning the “bodily reactions”, the pinch collar was evaluated as the most distressful method and considering the “learning effect”, the electronic training collar was found to be the most effective method.

Like Tortora’s, this article does not appear to be cited by most authors studying the use of e-collars.

Haverbeke, Laporte, Depiereux, Giffroy, Diederich 2008, Training methods of military dog handlers and their effects on the teams’ performances, Applied Animal Behavior Science 113: 110-122. Haverbeke et al. analyzed how training methods used on working dogs and the performances of the dog handlers affected the dogs’ welfare.  In a stunning bit of rocket science they found that dogs that made more mistakes received more corrections.

Haverbeke et al. didn’t reference Totora’s 1983 study when they made brief mention that the use of aversive stimuli can be efficient. Instead, for some strange reason, they only referenced Tortora’s study when they stated that aversives have been observed to result in “an increase in the number of behavioral problems” – taking Tortora’s work completely out of context.

Apparently fairly green dogs were used in the study. The authors note that the ‘trainers’ used both rewards and punishments on an intermittent schedule. While intermittent use of rewards is highly effective, intermittent use of punishment is counter-productive. They stated that dogs that made more mistakes or were more highly distracted received more punishments than the other dogs, then they made a stunning and confusing leap in stating that the increased punishments caused the distractions, not vice-versa.

Karen Overall’s June 22, 2009 “open letter regarding the use of shock collars” is a strongly anti e-collar opinion piece (though many wrongly cite it as a ‘study’). It only includes references to a few studies that found adverse effects related to e-collar use and somewhat ironically states that “… it’s time we replaced everyone’s personal mythologies and opinions with data and scientific thinking. Such opportunities are now available, but are often not exploited.”

Herron, Shofer and Reisner 2009, Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors, Applied Animal Behavior Science 117: 47-54. I reviewed this article in detail in a previous post. Even though Herron et al. present a somewhat detailed literature survey of dog training methods and effectiveness, specifically discuss the use of e-collars and reference other studies related to the use of e-collars in dog training, they make absolutely no mention of Tortora’s 1983 study.

Schalke, Ott, Salgirli, Bohm and Hackbarth 2010, Comparison of stress and learning effects of three different training methods; Electric training collar, pinch collar, and quitting signal, Journal of Veterinary Behavior 5(1): 43-44. I was able to access this in a screen grab. It appears to be a short summary of Salgirli’s dissertation.

About the journals

Beerda et al 1998
Christiansen 2001
Schilder and van der Borg 2004
Schalke et al. 2007
Haverbeke et al. 2008 and
Herron et al. 2009 were published in:

Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Applied Animal Behavior Science (also cited as The Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science) is the official journal of the International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE). The ISAE  was created in Edinburgh in 1966, as the Society for Veterinary Ethology (SVE). It rapidly expanded to cover all applied aspects of Ethology and other Behavioural Sciences, which are relevant to many human-animal interactions, such as farming, wildlife management, the keeping of companion and laboratory animals, and the control of pests. The Society also quickly became increasingly international: it now has a federal, international structure as well as regional representatives around the world.

All the articles discussed in this post that were published in Applied Animal Behavior Science studied only harsh, punitive use of aversives and – not surprisingly – they all came to the conclusion that the use of aversives and/or e-collars is inhumane and/or ineffective. Schalke’s later work with Salgirli that found that e-collars were highly effective and less stressful than pinch collars or quitting signals was not published in this journal.

Polsky 2000 published in:

Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science is a joint project of the Animals and Society Institute and The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Animals and Society Institute is a non-profit animal protection group whose “programs focus on interdisciplinary research designed to increase the prominence of animal issues in public policy” and appears to be linked to HSUS.

Marschark and Baenninger 2002 published in:

Anthrozoos is the official journal of the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ). ISAZ was formed in 1991 as a supportive organization for the scientific and scholarly study of human-animal interactions.

Hiby et al. 2004 published in:

Animal Welfare (whose motto is “science in the service of animal welfare) is the journal of The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), an independent registered charity that works to develop and promote improvements in the welfare of all animals through scientific and educational activity worldwide. UFAW believes that good science can inform, motivate and facilitate that change – whether through developments in legislation, professional ‘best practice’ or the actions of other organisations and individuals.

Jacques and Myers 2007 published in:

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice is the journal of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). “As professionals, IAABC members work to minimize the use of aversive stimuli and maximize the effective use of reinforcers to modify animal behavior. The LIMA (least intrusive and minimally aversive) principle is useful as a general rule. Within that framework, the IAABC welcomes diversity and openness. Positive regard, and respect for differences are core values. Animal behavior consultants also respect the client’s right to self-determination and embrace a non-judgmental approach.”

Schalke, Ott, Salgirli, Bohm and Hackbarth 2010 published in:

Journal of Veterinary Behavior, an international journal that focuses on all aspects of veterinary behavioral medicine, with a particular emphasis on clinical applications and research.


17 thoughts on “Remote Collar Training, What does Science have to say?

  1. Jerry Ingram says:

    I read this because I expected it to be an unbiased opinion that offered all of the science available. Instead, I read an article focused on one study written 30 years ago and an attempt to ignore or hide all of the studies done in the 21st century.

    I don’t want to hear how clients come to you with troubled dogs because their last trainer was this or that. I am a positive trainer and if you think I don’t hear about the aversive trainers across town in every class I teach, then your an idiot.

    I know those trainers across town have stacks of AKC confirmation and competition awards on their walls at home. I know they use shock collars, choke chains, and pinch collars. I also know that both of us have clients who do not do anything right if they are doing anything at all. No training method will reach lazy clients. AND please, there are so many incompetent trainers on both sides that only an idiot would use those trainers as an example of comparison. How about you compare yourself to the most successful people who oppose you? No, you wish to compare yourself only to those who are incompetent because that way you look good.

    This article was a waste of my time. Next time, make an argument that presents up to date material, you have really destroyed your credibility.

    • Robin says:

      Hi Jerry, When you say “you” I’m not certain if you are speaking to me the owner of the blog or Janeen, the author of this piece?

      In any event, I certainly agree with you that there is no magic training method that will reach the unmotivated (lazy, in your words) dog owners. However, I don’t think those types of dog owners ever bother to seek us out. If someone comes in my door, your door or any of our competitors doors they have shown an interest in improving life for either themselves, their dogs or both. That initiative should be enough for any of us to find realistic and timely ways to attempt to help reach their objectives (and I do understand there are times that part of our job is to help them see what objectives are realistic)
      As far as comparing myself to successful people who oppose me, could you please clarify? Again, I am not certain if you are speaking to me, (robin) the owner of this site or Janeen (the author of this particular article)? After clarifying that tidbit could you please identify who you wish either of us to compare ourselves too?
      I’m not certain what “successful people” oppose me. As a general rule I’ve found those trainers that most of us would consider to be in the “all positive” camp to be very polite and engage in thoughtful discussion when we are in the same room with one another. And none of those people have written a word to me about opposing me, nor have I actually seen many of them chime in on the tool banning wars/discussion. I have found that it appears to be the less successful (my term for those who seemingly spend day in and day out trolling the internet spreading harsh words) people that are the ones who make the highest percentage of the noise.

      I’m sorry this particular blog post was a waste of your time. Personally I thought just the amount of collected research pulled together in one place was a helpful resource to have and I credit Janeen for compiling as much as she could.
      best regards,

      • Jerry Ingram says:

        When I say compare yourself to successful people who oppose you, I am talking about the comments from posters who judge all of their opposition by the complaints that clients provide them about other trainers and their methods. There are plenty of trainers successfully using methods that oppose our beliefs. We cannot judge an entire idea based on the failures coming from that idea. There are too many trainers out there that should not be training at all no matter what their ideals are. Their knowledge base is just too small.

        Are you saying that you do not have clients who come to you and then don’t want to put in the work you tell them is necessary to accomplish the task? You have never seen one of your clients downtown being pulled by their dog full well knowing six months ago, that client and their dog successfully proved to you they were capable of walking nicely on a leash? I get a lot of clients that come to me looking for a magic pill. When someone tells me their dog was trained at my competition across town and their dog is acting inappropriately, I know it is the owner who didn’t follow through, it was not my competition. My competition and I are very opposing ideals.

        Actually, there are a lot of all positive trainers that are not polite to humans. It blows me away how they can preach positive toward an animal and do a 180 when dealing with fellow trainers or clients that do not agree with them.

        The writer of the material is the one I am pointing a good portion of my message at. This was not a fair assessment of the material. 75% of the material is pointed toward one study done 30 years ago. Then only minor points are made about opposing studies. Then she condemns them for not even mentioning Daniel F. Tortora’s work. Why should they mention his work? It is outdated and if you read the study, it was conducted without control groups. He also trained the dogs before using the shock collars.

        If we wanted to do a proper presentation of science data available on the use of aversive collars, it would have presented the best and latest studies that represented different ideals. It would have made positive and negative points of each study. Then allowed the reader to make a decision for themselves based on the science available. This writer is obviously biased and presented the material in a very biased manner.

        I am a positive trainer. I oppose the use of metal and shock collars. HOWEVER, I do believe in the use of aversives on rare occasions. I have no problem for example using a citronella bark collar.

        This article was not about what science has to say, she left out way too much. It was about slamming studies she does not agree with and touting a single 30 year old study as the ultimate ground breaking truth. When I was in college, if we used a study over 5 years old, we better back it up with new material. She did not provide more recent studies that back up Daniel F. Tortora’s material. Please email me if you have it, yes I will read it.

        It amazes me there are no studies, at least none I was able to find, that consider the concept of using positive punishment and positive reinforcement simultaneously. I have seen no studies that look at levels of positive punishment. At what point does positive become ineffective? At what point does anxiety reach a level where the animal can no longer learn.
        How many of us could learn while being shocked around the neck? Would that be a good way to learn math?
        This article completely fails to provide what the title implies it offers.

        • Robin says:

          Thank you for the clarification Jerry. Now I’m following. I agree with you that their are plenty of trainers successfully using a variety of methods, weather we are talking e-collar, clicker, lure/reward, prong, etc…there is a good deal of talent in the field on all sides of the methodology debate.

          When clients complain about “the other trainer” though I’m hard pressed to assume we can just chalk it up to “laziness” on the clients part though. (I certainly think there are some who are lazy and do not follow through and yes, I’ve personally bummed into past clients that are not doing what I taught them and I see their dogs not behaving in a way I would be proud of) But if a client seeks out training, it doesn’t work for them and seeks out more training, it doesn’t work for them, seeks out more training etc,…I’m not sure we can just chalk that up to “lazy”. That client is at the very least investing a whole lot of effort into trying to find a solution to their training problems. I do think it MAY be that the methodology they were being instructed to follow is not working. IMO this happens most often when the trainers ideology gets in the way of creating a realistic approach that works for the client and their lifestyle.
          as for the rest of your questions, I would have to direct you to Janeen if you want answers to her motivation in writing the article. From my perspective and reposting it on TASC, I thought it was an interesting read and valuable just for access to so many study links in one article. Have you read the Hannover study? that may answer a few of your questions about more current research.

          On a similar but slightly different note I do want to add that I strongly believe more research needs to be done. My feeling is that too much of it leaves out the most critical information and that is HOW the training was actually done, what levels, what brands, how much prior e-collar conditioning before situational training, and the skill level of those using or teaching the techniques to those in the study. I’d be VERY open to a study being done here and assessing my work and that of my clients.

          Additionally I am very curious why you feel a citronella collar is acceptable but a stimulation collar is not?

          again, thanks for the clarification. I appreciate that.

  2. Lyssa Dennis says:

    Thank you for sharing your research! I can not believe in these days of new technology that one of the bigger companies like “pet safe” have not put out new positive research on remote collars. Someone should submit a study!
    Let’s all continue sticking together to put some common sense and facts into these Cool Aide drinking fools

  3. TexasDogTrainer says:

    Really? You reference back to a study done almost 30 years ago??? Studies that are good and hold water will be cited and recited again and again. This one , not so much. But good luck with that one.

    I’m still confused whey you go on and on about this ONE study when NUMEROUS have been done on the ill effects of e-collars on dogs. Who’s witch hunting now?

  4. cynthia says:

    I have found two of the articles mentioned that the writer was unable to get a copy of. Are they still needed, if so who do I send them to?

  5. John Van Olden says:

    I remember seeing this post before, but it hit my radar again while doing some googling for an article I’m working on. It’s an amazing compilation of research, and gives me plenty more to google.

    What’s missing here is deriding comments from those with opposing training ideologies. Unfortunately, this is typical. The debate on training methodologies remains one-sided.

    About 6 weeks ago I “outed” myself on an email list of “all-positive” dog trainers (I had been lurking on for a year or so) with a 2500 word post about myself, after I found that I became the subject of discussion. My Yelp reviews were researched, the websites of the trainers I have worked with were combed, my blog posts reviewed, and (derogatory) opinions rendered. Not one person took the time to email me. I explained who I was, my background, and invited anyone who cared to to come to my hometown and work with some dogs with me, since I lived within 150 miles of most of the members of the list. I received ZERO replies, and was removed from the list a few days later. (Don’t worry, I have the whole transcript for a future blog post!)

    Thanks for a great blog, Robin!

    • Robin says:

      Hi John,
      The credit for all the research goes to Janeen McMurtrie. This was a piece originally on her blog that she granted permission to repost here.

      I hear you on the “all positive” groups. Their behavior is shameful…although might be something National Geo could do a story on…their hunting/pack behavior is amazingly skilled. 🙂
      Good luck with your article.

  6. Monima O'Connor says:

    Dear Robin
    I launched my campaign and on-line petition in Wales last week on Facebook which carries links to the GoPetition entitled “Save our Welsh Cats & Dogs from Death on the Roads”.
    Your posting here is very interesting and I will link it to my Facebook page. I do hope that there are fans of yours in Wales who may see this !
    I note Dale McCluskey started one in May last year within the UK so I will try and look him up.

    Best wishes

    • Robin says:

      Hi Monima,
      Good luck with the petition. I wish you much success in helping your legislative system see the error in thinking that banning tools is a solution. I do believe the pendulum will swing back in favor of balance and common sense in regard to dog training and management. However, as we both know, education is key and there is much to be done.
      If I can be of further help, please let me know.
      Warm Regards,

  7. Mary Adair says:

    I so wish I could have some help as I have adopted a rescue silky about 9 months ago and we love him so much, however he came from a very abusive situation and he bites us. We have seen a behavierest who said that he bits out of fear. He advised that when he does bad things that we should ignore the behavior and give a positive response to him. He now often bites and will come out of a sleep and bite if allowed in our room. we Have now chosen to restrict him at various times. We feel that Medication might be helpful and even are considering a collar. This is so painful as we really want to help him-how is the question. It is fine to leave the email if someone can help Thank you

  8. Gail, aka TheDogma says:

    Wow, what an enormous resource you’ve compiled.

    Thanks so much for putting so much time into what is simply being fair to all readers with all dogs.

    You get an atta girl.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *