See no evil. Read no evil. Cite no evil.

April 27, 2010 at 10:30 am 39 comments

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. Her post was the inspiration for this one.

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.

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39 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rob McMillin  |  April 27, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Wow. Don’t have time to plow through this whole piece, but fascinating reading so far. There are times — this morning was a good example — when Maddy backslides, and I wonder if an e-collar might be a good idea. (I came back from my run and she started in with her furious barking at me, and even attempted to nip my running pants. Not. Cool. So now we have to reset the bite attempt clock.)

  • 2. Curbstomping preconceived “wisdom” « Blunt Object  |  April 27, 2010 at 11:03 am

    […] See no evil.  Read no evil.  Cite no evil. […]

  • 3. Bryan  |  April 27, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Very impressive article. You obviously spent countless hours researching this material. Good job!

  • 4. H. Houlahan  |  April 27, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    I think I have one of the ones you are missing (The Rehabilitation of Grace) on my old computer, and PC may be able to get some via the university without paying. I’ll get on it later this week.

  • 5. ruthcrisler  |  April 27, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    You’ve done a real service with this post, providing a sorely needed overview of available science along with insightful and thought-provoking commentary. Hats off!

    Oh, and thanks for the link to my post, despite its being markedly less scholarly and rather more flippant. I’m flattered.

  • 6. The Doubtful Guest  |  April 27, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    BRAVO! What a thorough piece. THANK you. Ruth, I enjoyed your piece as well.

    It’s high time the “science zealots” are shown their own biases. So many in the “anti” camp claim to be all about the science, but since it is not resoundingly in their favor on this issue, they shun all but the most damning citations. In fact, one of the studies Overall cites (Schalke) actually proves the OPPOSITE of what her opinion is.

    It just goes to show that when emotions are involved, these people have their hands over their ears and are singing loudly to drown out the facts. It’s so easy to get people riled up against the tool when you appeal to emotion alone. And really, emotional appeals are all they have.

    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?

    Freaking great question, on all counts. And can one actually cite a study like Schalke’s (or Herron’s) with a straight face? If someone told you that butterfly-watching was bad for you, and said there had been a scientific study to prove it, and when you asked you were told that the study consisted of 35 people of the same race being attacked by a no-longer-existing aggressive strain of butterfly, you’d laugh in that person’s face. That’s about as unscientific a study as would ever be conducted.

    But Schalke’s “study” is comparable to that.

    Exhaustive work, my dear.

  • 7. The Doubtful Guest  |  April 27, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Sorry about the italics. Thought I closed those after “anonymity.”

  • 8. Mongo  |  April 27, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Brilliant Brilliant piece, Ruth. Freaking brilliant.

    Okay- I have never trained with an e-collar.
    But I may have to learn for my new guy…..

    Maybe part of Tortora’s success of treating avoidance motivated agression was because the e-collar is percieved so differently by the dog that the HUMAN HANDLER is removed from the learning equasion (in the dogs mind) to allow it to actually learn by itself. And for avoidance motivated aggressive dogs, it may be a brand new experience…
    Considering the intense bond between humans and dogs (especially fearful dogs) this could be significant.
    Removing the source of the most intense confusion and instability and distraction (the human holding the leash) from the learning phases of exercises may be profund…..

    And it could explain the hatred of such collars or any aversives that consider the dog/human bond to be the most motivating force (LOVE!! Love! love!) to be the most productive, even when its clearly not.
    The idea that dogs may need us to step away (physically- or at least change to a new language like the e-collar sensations) so the dogs can think clearly and truly learn a new set of productive behaviors insults many people who feel they need to be bonded for the dog’s benefit, since dogs are nothing but vaccuous love recepticles.
    So for those people, even huge success of the e-collar would make it even more hated. And those folks would be the ones that love to fund studies that show they are right, even if the studies are stupidly biased.

    I use a squirt bottle with pickle juice/water on jet to teach “hush” to stubborn barkers. It only works IF done so nonchalantly the dog has no idea where the squirt came from.
    My older savvier dogs recognize the bottle- but but my other dogs just think after the command ” Hush”, further barking makes their mouth sour without any interest on my part.
    I have a friend that brandishes a squirt bottle like a six-gun while her dogs run around her barking, avoiding the squirts and ignoring her completely unless she hold the bottle.
    (sorry- just trying to give an example)

  • 9. Luisa  |  April 27, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    My God, an actual, annotated bibliography, with actual links [faints]. Great post.

  • 10. Must Read « Caninecoach’s Weblog  |  April 28, 2010 at 6:33 am

    […] See no evil, read no evil, cite no evil. […]

  • 11. Lee Mann  |  April 28, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Great work and a resounding thank you for putting some science to the reference research and analysis ! It amazes me how often “scientists” will very formally present their opinions as fact, totally obviating their education and professional integrity. Overall et al with an agenda…no science at all.

  • 12. cyborgsuzy  |  April 29, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Great post, thank you.

  • 13. Viatecio  |  April 29, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    I checked for the articles you couldn’t find, and my university databases brought up absolutely nothing. It’s interesting to note, however, that the 2002 edition of Neuron is not even online. If anyone else has any better luck, that’d be awesome.

    And a great post all around as well, wonderful read. I’m almost disgusted with how picky science has become today…isn’t it supposed to be about reviewing everything from all angles before writing the paper? Now it’s all about picking and choosing that which supports the hypothesis, and slamming those which might inject a differing conclusion.

    By the way, that collar in Figure 1 of “Risks and Benefits of Electronic Collars” link looks strangely like my “new” TriTronics 100/LR!

  • 14. Jill Morstad  |  May 1, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    WHAT???????????? Dog training WORKS???????????????

  • 15. jordan  |  June 30, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    I began using an e collar very recently when after all CONSISTANT traditioanl dog training failed to bring our beautiful 18 month old lab under reasonable control…not only had she always been socially aggresive, but impossible to rein especially with a 3 year old child in toe…when she got out in spring and simply would not comply to commands to return and almost got hit by a car we knew we had to try something even we deamed drastic. not even 12 weeks later and she is literally a different dog! even off the e-collar we have gained significant common control over her, and if that ain’t the kicker! our girl has become pleasant and approachable…we enjoy our walks soooooo much that we are out more then we are in…she runs right over with her tail a wagging to have her e-collar put on and complies with a very calm and happy gait…our tails our wagging too!!!

  • 16. dogcrazy  |  July 1, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Where is Daniel F. Tortora these days? The rumor was he “disappeared” in the late 1980’s never to be heard from again. I love his books and still refer folks to his acclaimed “The Right Dog For You”, the best book I know of for choosing a purebred.

  • 17. SmartDogs  |  July 1, 2010 at 11:13 am

    I never heard that story. Given that he finished his doctorate in ’73, I would guess he’s comfortably retired.

  • […] I've read the article before – it's about 3 years old now – but I won't rehash it. Here's a counter-observation by Janeen McMurtrie of the studies referenced by Overal and others, with sources cited. See no evil. Read no evil. Cite no evil. Smartdogs' Weblog […]

  • 20. Linda Hobbet  |  October 23, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Thank you so much for this overview. I was unaware of the Tortora study and I will try to get a copy. If I find any of the ones you haven’t found I will let you know.

  • 21. Linda  |  November 10, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    I understand though that the Tortora study involved high level use of electric shock (stim) as well as low, and that during the study dogs were beaten with switches and/or newspapers when asked to do an obedience command.

    This clearly causes a welfare problem and few would be keen to subject their dogs to this kind of treatment, which surely has to be considered extreme and abusive?

  • 22. SmartDogs  |  November 10, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Can you provide citations in Lindsay’s study where the beatings etc. are mentioned? I have a print copy of it here and I don’t see it.

  • 23. Linda  |  November 11, 2010 at 2:32 am

    Hi, it’s not Lindsay’s study? It’s Tortora (1983)

  • 24. A Letter to the CCPDT « Spot Check  |  January 4, 2011 at 8:10 am

    […] So what does science have to say about electronic stimulation and training? Very little as it turns out, and what it does have to say is hardly definitive. Even the authors of Electronic Training Devices: A Review of Current Literature, in contemplating the body of relevant scientific research, admit that “most studies involving dogs have discernible methodological weaknesses”. […]

  • 25. Remote collar article - Page 15 - Pet Forums Community  |  April 12, 2011 at 10:50 am

    […] […]

  • 26. Remote collar article - Page 16 - Pet Forums Community  |  April 13, 2011 at 2:26 am

    […] […]

  • 27. Remote collar article - Page 22 - Pet Forums Community  |  April 14, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    […] […]

  • 28. metisrebel  |  September 3, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Bless you for wading through all that research. I’m bookmarking your wonderful article to show anyone who complains when I teach the Drama Prince to improve his recall.

    Which, BTW was ruined by *other* dogs messing with him as he tried to “come” or my having to rescue him when being battered by other dogs and putting him on leash after recalling to get him away from aggressive dogs–which I *know* destroys recall but unfortunately, I don’t rule the world :/

    Only dog I couldn’t recall without using one but it sure beats forcing a sled dog to stay on leash all the time which IS cruel, or risking him run over by a car.

  • 29. k9pack  |  September 4, 2012 at 7:35 am

    When you begin to pin the trash science agenda down you will soon see that it doesn’t live up to the hype. Those who defend this agenda are indoctrinated to these ideas. It is a belief system for this group of exploiters.

  • 30. dianeatdogtrain  |  November 30, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I know **personally** a woman who was a research assistant to Dr Tortora back inna day. She told me he force-fetched every dog who was presented to him for aggression. He said it gave you control of the mouth. He was correct.

    I got booted off an APDT list a long time ago for mentioning that force fetch WAS on topic on an aggression list due to this factoid. Ten thousand bonus points to the first person who can identify the moderator of that APDT list…..

    Incredibly NICE piece of research work, thank you so very much. Will be sharing.

  • 31. dianeatdogtrain  |  November 30, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Reblogged this on dogtraindiane and commented:
    This is a wonderful piece of writing. The research is immaculate, and shows in graphic detail the **lack** of research of many opposed to e-collars. I tip my hat to Janeen. Well done, lass. WELL DONE!!!!

  • 32. Cynthia  |  April 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    “The effects of petting…” etc can be purchaed here:

  • 33. SmartDogs  |  April 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Yeah but it galls me to spend more on one fecking article than I would on most books. Twenty bucks for a pdf? Journals appear to be utterly clueless when it comes to the laws of supply and demand. If they offered pdfs for a reasonable price – like $3 each – they’d sell a much larger volume and make more money.

    So – is the goal making money or preventing access to the data?

  • 34. Tess  |  May 6, 2013 at 5:08 am

    I think a scientific study from 1983 is not valid anyway. There has been 30 years of study on how the brain works, stress responses etc on all animals including dogs as well as innovations on training. 30 years ago David Mech hadn’t even done some of his earlier studies on wolves which were adapted for domestic dogs. Yet since then he has revised these studies and the original results have been overturned by him.

    I know this is off subject but my point is, using something I do know as the example, that science from the 1980s is hard to find because it is old. And if everyone still accepted Mech’s earlier study it would be flawed as he admits he got it wrong.

    Mre study is needed – those in favour of e collars could find a vet willing to take regular measurements of seratonin before, after, during their training etc. Or a study of close shots of the dogs looking for stress signals, such as tension around the mouth, panting, stiff body posture etc and using a variety of dogs, some when not using the collars as well as those that are of course. This is something that any training group could do with a competent photographer. If you published this, maybe people like me would respect your right to use this equipment. I know I would like to see this.

    Oh and some-one mentioned her dogs wags the tail at sight of the e collar – tail wagging signals emotional arousal, which can be happy, excited, anticipatory, scared or angry. There are scientific studies on tail direction in wagging, using freeze frame pictures as it happens too quickly for the human eye to see all the details, and apparently it makes a difference which way the tail wags. Other dogs would see this and understand, we are only just learning how subtle a dog’s language is through technological advances. So put some up to date accurate studies out there to show you are right. I look forward to reconsidering my views.

  • 35. E-collar Q's - Forums  |  June 9, 2013 at 5:09 am

    […] See no evil. Read no evil. Cite no evil. | Smartdogs' Weblog Here's some good info on E collars __________________ I Believe in Dog […]

  • 36. Silvia  |  November 17, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    You are right about Tortora is not cited as much as it should, but that doesn’t give any particular “power” to the study.
    Maybe you should have talked about the weaknesses of Tortora’s study, such as lack of a control group under the exactly same procedures, just to assess which part of effectiveness was because of electronic devices; or lack of data about the amount of curret used, making replication very difficult. Both weaknesses are mentioned in the CAWC 2012 report..
    .. And I would add 2 more, not concerning efectiveness (the aim of the study), but concerning humane use:
    As far as I know, Tortora never checked for cortisol or any biological marker of stress, not in the short term or in the long term.
    Tortora’s assessment of behavior is made about very subjective tags, such as Defiant, Spirited, Trusting… Nowadays behavior assessment relies on body postures, measurable by videotaping.
    And rather a wish than a weakness, I should have liked more detailed explanations about the “return to home” stage.

    Anyway, time has passed and more information are available: CAWC report, DEFRA studies 1 and 2…

    Maybe you would like to edit and complete your exhaustive review..

  • 37. alanzj  |  March 3, 2014 at 12:20 am

    Reblogged this on The Alpha Pack and commented:
    a good read up 🙂

  • […] See no evil. Read no evil. Cite no evil.. […]

  • 39. Susan Jaffe  |  July 4, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    I doubt anyone criticizing an eCollar has ever used one properly.Pat Miller I believe said she knew they were bad so would not try using one .Brilliant!
    Dogs I know love the collar as it means running free.I believe Pam Reid explained how confidant a dog becomes knowing how to beat a zap or even a vibration.Almost smug as he turns away from the chase.

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