What’s Going On?
Last week, Petco announced they would be removing human operated shock collars from their stores!
This is a huge win for positive dog training, and also an amazing win for pet owners who can now see more effective training items on their local PetCo’s shelves.
What does that mean?
So far, it means that shock collars that have a remote control for the human will no longer be available for purchase in Petco stores.
Shock collars associated with underground and radio fences will remain, as will prong and choke collars. However, the FAQ for the recent announcement did say that Petco would be reviewing other items in the store, so I (and all the other positive trainers out there) are hopeful that these will also be removed soon.
So What’s the Big Deal?
The Big Deal is that a nationwide chain has announced its support for positive reinforcement-based training!
AND, they based that support on research showing that shock collars are 1) no more effective than positive training; 2) training with shock can have unintended side-effects, both mental and physical; and that 3) if there’s a kinder way to do something, then we should!
Now, I’m not saying they based their decision on this exact paper, but a recent study called “Efficacy of Dog Training with and without Remote Electronic Collars vs. a Focus on Positive Reinforcement” is a modern study that directly compares shock collars to positive reinforcement training.
The study compared three sets of dogs trained with different methods—Group 1 used professional trainers selected by electric collar manufacturers and shock collars, Group 2 used the same trainers as Group 1, but with balanced or traditional methods (usually a mix of punishment and minimal reward), and Group 3 used professional positive reinforcement-based trainers. All three groups taught the cues “sit” and “come.” The group trained with positive reinforcement alone performed better after training than either of the other two groups!
This study demonstrated that punishment, and in particular shock collars, isn’t needed for better responses to cues.
It also showed that “come” or the recall can be taught without punishment. Many shock collar trainers advocate for its use here in particular, saying a reliable off-leash recall is impossible without the collar. However, this study (and hundreds of positive trainers worldwide) demonstrate otherwise. Many of us (positive trainers) have trained awesome recall in the dogs we’ve worked with.
Additionally, several studies show that punishment-based training, which includes training with shock, can have unintended side-effects such as stress, suffering, fearfulness, increased behavior problems (in particular aggression to dogs and humans), increased excitability, and distracted behavior. All of the side effects of punishment-based training can last for some time, even with positive training intervention.
A number of studies show that shock is a cause for aggressive behavior in a large number of animals. In dogs, electric shock has caused dogs to attack snakes they were being trained to avoid (via shock), and a variety of case studies showed evidence of increased aggressive behaviors when shock was used on dogs that showed signs of fear or defensive aggressive behavior at the sight of other dogs.
A Thorn by Any Other Name…
You’ll notice I’ve called shock collars “shock collars” throughout this article. However, there are many names this kind of collar goes by including:
- stim collar
- electric collar
- e-stim collar
But don’t be fooled. They’re all the same thing and work through the same method—delivering a pulse of static electricity to the throat of the dog that causes pain. And yes, it causes pain because otherwise, it wouldn’t do anything to change behavior.
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ~Maya Angelou
I’ve always loved this quote, and I think it can apply to us and our approach to training animals. People who use different training methods aren’t bad people, but there are kinder and more effective ways to train our animals, so why wouldn’t we choose those?
Not only that, but if there’s a kinder way, don’t you think we should use it? It is so much easier to separate your emotions from your training with positive reinforcement. Think about it—if your dog ran away from you into traffic, what would you do when you got them back safe and sound?
Often when humans are upset, we punish the cause—in this case, the dog. How many of us have lectured or even yelled at our dogs when they returned to us after running off? How many would be tempted to hit the button on a shock collar remote to “punish” that behavior when, in fact, the time for punishment is long gone?
To the Future!
We don’t use leeches for general medical purposes anymore for a reason—science and research have developed better, more effective ways to treat people! The same goes for dog training—not only is science currently finding that positive training is more effective, longer-lasting, and easier to implement, so far it has also found that there are no negative side effects.
This is a good example of why continuing education (and education at all) is just as, or even more, important than “experience.” We are learning all the time, and we do ourselves, our pets, and our clients a disservice when we cling to “the old ways.”
I think this also highlights what Petco is doing. They recently learned that there were kinder, more effective training methods and chose to remove the most aversive tool from their inventory.
Now, we can hope that other big chains follow Petco’s lead.
But that’s not all!
We can also advocate for our pets!
How Can I Help?
If this is important to you, please contact stores like PetSmart, Pet Supplies Plus, etc. and tell them how awesome Petco’s decision was and that you’d love for them to follow suit.
Also, please contact Petco and tell them you appreciate their decision (aka—Click and treat them with the reward of your praise and admiration!). Our pets aren’t the only ones who benefit from positive-reinforcement!
If you’d like an idea of what to say, try this:
Dear [store name],
Our pets deserve kind and humane training methods [like you recommend in your store (include this part if they have positive training in their stores)], and I think you should spread that message through your entire store by removing products like shock, prong, and choke collars and other items that work by causing pain, fear, or force from your shelves.
I’m sure you heard about Petco’s recent decision to remove shock collars from their stores. I’m so happy about this change, and I want to celebrate you too! Please consider a similar move!
If you’re writing to your favorite pet store, be sure to include what you love about them in your letter too! It’s always nice to get a genuine pat on the back, and sometimes it makes people more open to considering your request.
And don’t forget to make it positive! There’s no need to tell store employees that they’re horrible for selling these products, etc. Most of the time 1) it’s totally out of their hands and decided at the corporate level, and 2) very few pet store employees are also professional dog trainers and likely won’t understand what you’re talking about if you approach it that way. (This isn’t to say that they donl’t know what they’re doing at all!—Just that they may not be aware of the science behind all the tools they sell.)
Some chains that operate in West Virginia who you may want to contact with this message:
Go here and choose “In-store experience” or “Item/Product Questions” and then enter your message in the boxes provided. https://www.petsmart.com/account/contact/
Prefer snail mail? Send it to the corporate headquarters at:
PetSmart Corporate Office
19601 N 27th Ave
Phoenix, AZ 85027
Or call: (888) 839-9638 Monday–Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. EST
Go here and choose “In store experience,” “Product issues,” or “Inquiries”
Prefer snail mail? Send it to the corporate headquarters at:
PSP Group, LLC
17197 N. Laurel Park Drive, Suite 402
Livonia, MI 48152
Or call: 1-866-477-7748
Want to send kudos to PetCo?
Go here and find “Email Customer Relations” near the bottom of the page. Select “Other.” https://www.petco.com/contact-us
Prefer snail mail? Send it to corporate:
Petco National Support Center
10850 Via Frontera
San Diego, CA 92127
Or call: 877-738-6742 5am to 9pm PST, 7 days a week.
Be sure to talk to your local small business pet supply stores as well!
If you have questions about anything in here or would like to discuss things, please feel free to send me a message!
And if you’re ready to start training with the most current, easy-to-use, and fun way of training? Contact me to get started!
Most of the points in this article were drawn from the sources below. You can access several for free online, and for the others, you should contact your local librarian for access.
Arhant, C., Bubna-Littitz, H., Bartels, A., Futschik, A., & Troxler, J. (2010). 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, 123(3–4), 131–142. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2010.01.003
Beerda, B., Schilder, M. B. H., van Hooff, J. A. R. A. M., & de Vries, H. W. (1997). Manifestations of chronic and acute stress in dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 52(3–4), 307–319. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0168-1591(96)01131-8
Blackwell EJ, Casey RA. (2006). The use of shock collars and their impact on the welfare of dogs: A review of the current literature. Available online at: https://positively.com/files/The-Use-of-Shock-Collars-and-Their-Impact-on-the-Welfare-of-Dogs.pdf (accessed November 10, 2019).
Companion Animal Welfare Council CAWC. (2012). The Use of Electric Pulse Training Aids (EPTAs) in Companion Animals. Available online at: http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/14640/1/CAWC%20ecollar%20report.pdf (accessed December 3, 2019).
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Polsky RH. (2000). Can aggression in dogs be elicited through the use of electronic pet containment systems? J Appl Anim Welf Sci. 3:345–57. doi: 10.1207/S15327604JAWS0304_6
Rooney NJ, Cowan S. (2011). Training methods and owner–dog interactions: links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 132:169–77. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.03.007
Schalke, E., Stichnoth, J., Ott, S., Jones-Baade, R. (2007). Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situation. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 105, 369–380.
Schilder, M.B.H., van der Borg, J.A.M. (2004). Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 85, 319–334.