My Response To Sheldon & Tristian: Debate About Ecollers

On Friday December 18th 2015 Duke Ferguson went on the air to discuss electric collars with a radio show host, Sheldon MacLeod and a trainer Sheldon hosts weekly, Tristan Flynn from Jollytails.

Tristan often speaks out against the use of electric collars (ecollars) and during this debate brought up position statements from leading Veterinary Behavior Associations.  These associations I have an enormous amount of respect for and there is no doubt that they have a place in the training community. One of the things that I truly love about behavioral scientist’s, is that from them you can learn the deepest most inter workings of behavior. Through their findings we can truly have conversations with dogs on a much deeper level because rather than learning words or phrases we can actually become fluent in doggie lingo.

For any trainer regardless of methods used, being fluent in dog is a necessity. With all of this said, Duke brings about a very important point…words on paper don’t amount to much. As the age old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

I am not going to waste your time here with anecdotal evidence and personal experiences, rather I am going to share with you a video of a Veterinary Behaviorist, who served on the board of The American Veterinary Association of Animal Behavior,  working a dog with dog aggression. I challenge you to watch this video and not think what she is doing is quite rough. No, there is not stimulation from an electric collar but there is no doubt this dog is being yanked and jerked around by his face and neck. Suddenly the claim made by Veterinary Behavior Associations that they do not support a group of devices because of the damages done to the dogs body and mental state seems a bit ridiculous, essentially, you can jerk your dog around with a leash as long as you are doing it with the “correct” devices.

Take a look:

In this very video she discusses how she is applying a lot of Gentle Leader pressure. She dances around this dilemma by referring to the pressure as Negative Reinforcement. Interestingly though, Negative Reinforcement means to remove (-negative) something unpleasant to increase (reinforce) behavior. She knows she is applying something unpleasant to the dog yet justifies it because it’s an “emergency situation”. This would be the very claim and justification made by anyone who uses e-collars, we are not so different after all.

To further make the statements made by Veterinary Behavior Associations less credible, this very Veterinary Behaviorist, the one in the video, has an article written about the use of Gentle Leaders. The title of the article is: Are Head Collars on Dogs Dangerous or Safe? It’s All About Technique.

You can read the full article here:

That’s an interesting title. Apparently there is a correct way of using a gentle leader and if someone were to use one improperly we may see damage done to the dog. Very similar to choke, prong and e-collars, but because the word gentle is in the title of the device it is easier to look away when a dog is being treated harshly.

I want to make clear right here that I do not disagree with Dr. Sophia Yin’s approach. I believe she did what she had to given the tool at her disposal, her stature, build and strength in comparison to the dog she was working with and in the end she got some amazing results. That does not change the fact that I do see someone being rough with a dog, someone who claimed to be a proponent of positive reinforcement and “force free” methods. Her entire career was based off of diffusing stress in dogs and pushing all positive methods.

If you have not read the article yet, perhaps you wanted to wait until you were through with my letter first, I want to share two quotes, both taken from the same article above.

“If this were a person, flailing on the end of a leash attached to an apparatus on his head, he’d surely have a neck injury. But anyone who has seen a dog that goes to town playing tug-o-war knows that a dog’s neck is built differently.

Because of this neck strength, few cases of injury due to head collars have been proven or medically documented (I actually haven’t seen any). Not to say injury could not happen. However, veterinary documented injuries caused or exacerbated by choke chain corrections and electronic collars are easy to find.”

Gentle leaders are fairly new in the training community, give veterinary documented cases some time, it will happen. In fact (okay I am going to waste your time with anecdotal evidence and personal experiences) my own veterinarian asked me about different devices, said she is seeing a high number of clients not liking prong collars, but doesn’t know why when she sees more injuries due to gentle leaders. It’s not unlike banning dog breeds. Ban pit bull type dogs and we will begin to see a rise in bites from other breeds, Tristan, you said that yourself on one of the shows with Sheldon. So it stands to reason,  that if you ban a specific training tool then we will see a rise in injuries due to other devices. Banning doesn’t work, education does.

I digress, here is the second quote taken from the very same article:

“Most likely if dogs are pulling on their head collar a lot or running to the end, they may need massage or chiropractic care just the way people who work or study at a desk all day need back adjustments periodically.” 

So we went from “few cases of injury due to head collars have been proven or medically documented (I actually haven’t seen any)”, to “they may need massage or chiropractic care”. And, she compared the use of a gentle leader to sitting all day. It is just a simple fact that human doctors are fed up with us sitting all day. Studies show that the damages done due to long periods of sitting are monumental and studies are showing… irreversible.

Hey don’t take my word on it, here are some resources that back my statement:

So when a Veterinary Behaviorist or Dog Trainer puts a gentle leader on a dog and then makes matters worse by yanking him around to “redirect” him they are likely causing irreversible damage to the dog’s neck. Just because we can not see the damage does not mean it is not there.

Tristan, I don’t know if you are truly ignorant to the damages done by these devices or if you just choose to ignore it, and I can’t decide which is worse. Either you are truly ignorant, perhaps, because you spend so much time bashing other people for their techniques and methods (which based off your erroneous comment made about dogs being shocked at random, you obviously don’t understand how ecollar training works, despite all you have read) you never give your methods or tools a single thought or you know perfectly well that there are risks involved and you simply choose not educate people on that matter. And, it seems your ignorance doesn’t stop at gentle leaders; front clip harness are also beginning to gain a bad rap amongst Veterinarians (remember I said give medically documented cases time, well here you go).

Here are some articles that call into question the safety of front clip harness:

Training aids are often a necessity to help the owner control and manage their dogs through the training process and can be invaluable tools used to give the owners a sense of instant success. As we all know, we are much more likely to see fall out if owners do not feel that they are gaining the right amount of progress in a decent time frame. This is why, I do not personally, disagree with any tool but I question the morals and ethics of a trainer who will not discuss pros and cons with owners or who hide truths about devices just because they want to maintain an image.

In reference to the “we don’t put ecollars on children” retort, we also do not put apparatuses (i.e gentle leaders) around their faces to control them and gain their attention. If we are going to continually hear that argument lets really take a close look at how we treat dogs versus our children because not only do we not put apparatuses around there faces we also do not feed them from bowls on the floor, crate them when we leave the house, spay or neuter them and we do not euthanize them if they bite someone. If you think  children don’t bite people, you have never had or been around children.

I can go on for another 1,000-3,000 words on how “all positive” trainers shoot themselves in the foot with their inconsistencies on their positions of the use of corrections, but realistically in the end, as trainers we have to run our practices the best way we know how. Education should never stop and mistakes will be made but ultimately we should begin to recognize a trained dog, regardless of methods used to meet the end (aside from honest to goodness abuse) is better than an untrained dog. When behavior is still the number one reason dogs die every single year in western countries, it’s time to quit bickering and just do your job and let others do theirs.




2 thoughts on “My Response To Sheldon & Tristian: Debate About Ecollers

  1. I have tried many different training techniques over the years and If it wasn’t for the e collar my dog would never have had the freedom he has now. He is able to enjoy life to the fullest because of it. Each owner and dog is different and any responsible pet owner should know their dog and be able to decide for themselves on the training technique that works best for them.


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