DOG DOMINANCE –BASED & ELECTROSHOCK TRAINING CONCERNS
By Dr. Michael W. Fox*
Letter from a reader of the author’s Animal Doctor syndicated newspaper column: Dear Dr Fox, I am a great admirer of your work (at least what I know about it.) I own many of your books and was attending the SPARCS 2013 conference this last weekend of June, 2013. I like the part of spirituality that enters, is given space in your work.
A controversy was created around your comments re: use of aversives, use or neck shaking and shock collars. These seem to contradict all of your work or my perception of your work, approach of respect towards other animals. I see you as a man of grace who would not hurt other animals. Some people here (Canada) are totally flabbergasted by these ‘recommendations” as they perceive it. To me it is very painful because I really appreciate all of what you did so far for animals all over. When I see your interactions with animals I cannot imagine that you would use or recommend these methods to modify their behaviors. The shaking of the neck is something that Cesar Milan would recommend and in some dogs it will escalate the emotion and increase the risk of a bite therefore putting them in danger of losing their life. And yes I am struggling with the opinions of trainers who take the position that only gentleness ( so called R+ or positive reinforcement/reward) works and should be used at all times and it makes things difficult to maintain a balanced view and find where I position myself all things considered. You see what the controversy is about. I needed to put my mixed emotions on paper out of the admiration I have for you. I would really appreciate if you could share your thoughts on this with me.
Respectfully Marie France Langlois, Carignan, Quebec
Dear Marie-France, I am totally opposed to shock collars but in some situations it is necessary to seize a dog by the scruff as a measure of control and behavioral inhibition. I think that it is important to address what seems to be an on-going controversy ignited by the dominance-intimidation ways of people like Cesar Milan which I have publicly deplored.
Some dogs need physical restraint to learn internal inhibition/self-restraint, one method I have described being ‘Cradling’ for pups and small dogs. Holding around the neck and shoulders with one arm or holding the neck- scruff and when needed, placing a hand around the dog’s muzzle or putting on a muzzle are standard handling procedures for keeping some dogs still for veterinary examination. I would not write this off as cruel domination but rather, as when a cat is held by the scruff of the neck, induces a reflexive passivity. Pups are likewise held by the scruff of the neck when being carried by their mothers and a reflex passivity is triggered as per my earlier research on the reflexological/neurological development of the dog.
I would only advocate using a scruff and muzzle hold and even holding a dog down for a few seconds as an extreme intervention, only by a competent person, as when one dog has attacked another. When put into practice, as at my wife Deanna Krantz’ animal refuge in India, in addition to other safe and effective techniques to break up a fight when caring for a free group of 30 or more dogs, this NATURAL, ethologically appropriate method of canine behavioral inhibition works well. Loud sounds can also prove effective at a greater distance.
I hope this helps clarify things for you and my position and total aversion to the Millan-style of domineering aversive conditioning which could increase canine aggression.
Another issue is training collars using remote wireless signals: buzzers and tones are fine, but no electroshocks for any dog, hunting and working dogs in particular where there can be much misuse and abuse of these devices .Remote control electroshock collars with variable intensity should never be sold to the general public. Only experienced, sensitive and qualified dog handlers and behaviorists should use remote shock collars in aversive conditioning, such as to prevent dogs from attacking livestock. This technique is being considered for use in Sweden on wolves, captured and released with such collars to deter them from attacking farm animals in their range.
Call for a Ban on Electric Shock Collars for Dogs
The British Kennel Club and others in the U.K. are urging the Government to prohibit the use of shock collars for training dogs. This comes after two independent studies have shown that there is “ conclusive proof that electric shock collars do not deliver the promises the manufacturers claim and could actually cause more behavioural problems than they solve”, according to a report in the Veterinary Record, Aug 10, 2013, p 130.The research indicated that “ behavioural and physiological responses are consistent with negative emotional states”, and that the use of e-collars in training pet dogs leads to a negative impact on welfare, at least in a proportion of animals trained using this technique.”
Dr. Peter Stockdale, veterinary college class-mate and former Dean of the veterinary college at Massey University, NZ, now retired from sheep farming in British Columbia, tells me that in his opinion all users of shock collars should be trained and certified. He relies on them while working his dogs with the sheep, using remote controlled, rheostat-adjustable DogTra system which can deliver a warning buzz or beep to the dog’s collar, coupled only when needed after initial training as a conditioned reflex signal, with reinforcement of a mild electroshock. “Improperly used, these devices will demoralize a dog, and I have not developed the skill of some shepherds who can simply control their dogs with different kinds of whistles.” Bark-activated buzzers can work well for some dogs who are incessant barkers, but again, electroshock-devices I find ethically unacceptable and yet they are being sold to insensitive owners, trainers and handlers who are lacking the kind of empathy and skill called for in their proper use.
At the other extreme are the ‘hands-off’ never shout or hold-down dog trainers/counselors who put gentleness before all else, a position I respect but which will prove ineffectual with some strong-willed and over-indulged dogs, like some parents who are averse to exercising ‘tough love’ when it comes to dealing with their delinquent offspring who do not respect boundaries and want their own way—like so many delinquent dogs. Striking may be the solution of last resort or only response for some, an action which I deplore. There never can be any justification for hitting or kicking a dog, an attention-getting loud hand clap or shout being sufficient. Also. ‘time-out’, such as banishing a misbehaving dog immediately to another room, is another effective corrective for most dogs.
Canine genetics, early experiences, socialization and other dog-related influences on behavior and trainability/adaptability not withstanding, one must look at the attitude, competence, confidence, intelligence, understanding and capacity for empathy of the dog’s human companion with equal thoroughness before deciding on the most appropriate remedies for troubling, unwanted, aggressive and other behaviors which need to be modified in order to improve the human-non-human bond and in many instances prevent animal abuse, cruelty and even abandonment or euthanasia.
I must add that many people, including dog caregivers and trainers/educators, are limited by their own preconceptions and misconceptions about how to handle and communicate with dogs. No amount of factual knowledge without hands-on experience is going to make a difference because they variously lack empathy, have unresolved fears, need to dominate and control etc etc. This is why I do not advise many people to engage in play-fighting with their dogs which includes grabbing and shaking the scruff of the neck, cheeks and muzzle. But many people can engage in such intense physical contact because their dogs know what is going on and the humans know when to set limits and boundaries in terms of response intensity and duration of interaction. Those who play together stay together. But many trainers say, mistakenly, that such interactions, and even having a tug-of-war with a chew-rope or knotted towel, will encourage dogs to become aggressive and dominant in the relationship. So they say no to what many dogs really enjoy, along with their human playmates. This is unacceptable and makes me wonder about the training/education of many individuals in the dog business of training and behavioral counseling. Some trainers even regard a dog jumping up on a person as dominance behavior, another example of a little bit of knowledge potentially causing more harm than good. Dogs also jump-on to greet, embrace, display affection and to solicit play.
Even a leash and collar (and especially the choke-chain collar which I deplore) can be an instrument of torture and abuse in the wrong hands. When commonly used improperly as tools of domination, correction and control they can cause neck injuries and great harm especially to small breeds whose tracheas can collapse when they pull too hard or are corrected too roughly. Small breeds in particular should be walked in harnesses around the chest, and for other dogs the Anderson-type ‘Gentle Leader’ around the muzzle can provide effective, non-injurious control and direction.
Above all we must examine the truths that we live by, including what we believe to be the best and only way to treat, handle, train dogs and other animals, and to remain open to new ways and old using common sense as our guide, not ‘pure science’, and compassion, not custom, expedience or convenience, as our compass.
Taking the lead set by Scotland and Wales, the English government will outlaw the use of remote-controlled collars on cats and dogs that deliver an aversive electrical shock, painful sound or noxious odor. This initiative, in part spearheaded by veterinary behaviorists and bioethicists, is based on the evidence that using aversive conditioning/ fear as a training method is inhumane and actually less effective than positive reinforcement training methods.
While at this time we cannot anticipate such ethical initiatives for the benefit of animals from the current U.S. government, at least State legislative initiatives could set the ball rolling in the morally and ideologically divided United States of America. I have witnessed and physically experienced some of the remote control electronic devices used on animals in various countries including direct brain stimulation, not of mine! but of dogs in a former Soviet Union country. Such devices I see a perversion and techno-degradation of our natural abilities to communicate with other species; a harmful short-cut for expediency rather than developing the skills and qualities that make us worthy of animal companionship and service.
No good ends can justify or ultimately come from cruel means, including human torture, a human rights issue many countries still emerging from the moral fog of anthropo- centrism that still justifies animal cruelty and abusive training methods on dogs and other animals. Compassion, a boundless ethic embraced by reason and informed by empathy, may yet prevail, as this bioethical initiative to banish punishing shock collars on companion animals translates into appropriate action.
CONCERNING COMPANION ANIMALS AND RADIO COLLARS
Users of cell phones, tablets and lap-top computers are advised to keep such devices away from various body parts. Such warnings are predicated by The CDC stating; “We don’t know for sure if RF radiation from cell phones can cause health problems years later. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified RF radiation as a “possible human carcinogen.” https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/cell_phones._faq.html In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) from the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement adding radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (including microwave and millimeter waves) to their list of things which are possibly carcinogenic to humans. IARC (31 May 2011). “IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields As Possibly Carcinogenic To Humans” (PDF). Press Release (Press release). The American Cancer Society’s posting (Microwaves, Radio Waves, and Other Types of Radiofrequency Radiation, May 31, 2016 ( https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure.html).and noting that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified RF exposure as a possible carcinogen, emphasizes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. National Toxicology Program have not yet formally classified RF radiation as to its cancer-causing potential.
These concerns raise the question of the safety for animals wearing radio collar devices, now widely used on various wildlife species for monitoring, research and conservation/management, and increasingly on livestock and companion animals. Global positioning system (GPS) and very high frequency (VHF) radio collar telemetry systems are widely used to provide high spatial and temporal resolution information for detecting wildlife and domestic animal location and movement.
Electronic shock and vibration-generating collars have been associated with cancer in dogs by several owners using such devices in association with electric “Invisible Fences” and to stop their dogs from barking. But further research would be helpful in confirming such associations as documented in the Canine Journal ( https://www.caninejournal.com/community/do-shock-collars-cause-cancer/ Remote electronic training collars have been documented to have adverse welfare consequences to dogs and such stress could play a contributory role in some dogs developing cancer ( See Jonathan J. Cooper, Nina Cracknell, Jessica Hardiman, Hannah Wright, Daniel Mills. The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (9): e102722 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102722)..See also Steiss, J.E., Schaffer, C., Ahmed, H.A., Voith, V.L., 2007, Elevation of plasma cortisone levels and behaviour in dogs wearing bark control collars. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 106: 96-106
So- called invisible, wireless, electric fences widely used to contain dogs on private property have been anecdotally associated with fear/anxiety syndromes, seizures, lymphoma and other cancers in dogs having frequent exposure to such non-ionizing radiation. More research is called for to determine the veracity of such concerns and in other species where such systems of containment are used. (Electric pulse training aids: more evidence needed, says CAWC. Veterinary Record Vol 171, 257. 2012. http://dx.doi. org/10.1136/vr.e6093).
The first veterinarian to highlight electro-sensitivity problems in animals to my knowledge, was Dr. Allen Schoen, ( www.drschoen.com/2011/09/01/). Not surprisingly he is one of the leaders in veterinary acupuncture and holistic, integrative veterinary practice. He was alerted by the article by Josh Hart (http://stopsmartmeters.org/2011/08/31/and-what-of-the-animals/) about a woman and her dogs, all of whom had adverse reactions after a Smart water meter was installed in her home.
To find out how many cell phone towers and wireless antennae there are within a 2 mile radius of where you live, go to www.antennaesearch.com and you may be in for a big surprise.
PET OWNERS PURCHASING “HIGH TECH” PRODUCTS
About 23% of Americans polled by the Consumer Technology Association said they planned to purchase pet-related technology as a holiday gift, according and the number of pet tech products shipped during the fourth quarter of 2019 was expected to be 60% higher than in the fourth quarter of 2018. Products include automatic food or water dispensers, automatic pet doors, and pet monitoring systems .Las Vegas Review-Journal (tiered subscription model) (12⁄31) A cat litter box on display at a consumer electronics show in las Vegas is equipped with a video camera, connects to voice-enabled assistants and uses artificial intelligence to analyze the cat’s waste for signs of illness. Reported by The Verge (1⁄720).
The more such electronic devices are put into the home environment and monitors put on companion animals’ necks along with remote sensors, training devices and invisible fence shock collars, the more health and behavioral problems I predict: And worse. Equipment failures could put animals at risk. There is no substitute for attentive human care.
Electropollution in the home environment is a growing concern, both dogs and humans developing adverse reactions, for instance, to Smart water meters. Microchipping animals for identification is as far as I would go with long-term application of such technology, short-term applications for animal health and wildlife research purposes being carefully monitored by experienced veterinary and other practitioners. I receive many letters from readers of my nationally syndicated newspaper column Animal Doctor in the U.S. concerning the increasing use of immunosuppressant drugs such as Apoquel and Cytopoint, which can have harmful side-effects and often do not help cats and dogs diagnosed with itchy skin “allergies” or so-called atopic dermatitis.
This distressing clinical problem is very much on the rise and cannot be attributed solely to food allergens and pollens. As more and more homes are incorporating various wireless technologies, so electropollution, also in surrounding outdoor environments, may be contributing to this rise in “atopic” dermatitis/allergies because some dogs and cats are electrosensitive and show symptoms similar to those in people diagnosed with electrohypersensitivity. According to the World Health Organization “Sensitivity to EMF has been given the general name “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” or EHS. It comprises nervous system symptoms like headache, fatigue, stress, sleep disturbances, skin symptoms like prickling, burning sensations and rashes, pain and ache in muscles and many other health problems.
Whatever its cause, EHS is a real and sometimes a disabling problem for the affected persons. Their EMF exposure is generally several orders of magnitude under the limits of internationally accepted standards.”( WHO International Seminar and Working Group Meeting on EMF Hypersensitivity (Prague, Oct.25-27,2004). New robotic cameras allow owners to monitor their pets from afar, to talk to them and even dispense treats. Nearly $50 million worth of the cameras were sold in 2018, according to Grand View Research. The cameras can ease separation anxiety in both dogs and dog owners. (The Washington Post , Feb 18th 2020). Radiation from these devices could be contributing to animals’ discomfort and have long-term adverse consequences on their health and the people sharing the same electro-polluted environment.