Animal behaviour specialists at the University of Lincoln (UK) have published a study that supports the use of positive reward-based training methods over the use of electronic shock collars.
The immediate effects of training pet dogs with an electronic collar cause behavioural signs of distress, particularly when used at high settings.
The study involved 63 pet dogs referred for poor recall and related problems, including livestock worrying, which are the main reasons for collar use in the UK. The dogs were split into three groups – one using e-collars and two as control groups.
The trainers in the study were industry approved and fully familiar with the guidelines for use of e-collars which are published by collar manufacturers.
Trainers used lower settings with a pre-warning function and behavioural responses were less marked than during a preliminary study (the results of which have since been discounted because the trainers did not follow collar protocols). Despite this, dogs trained with e-collars showed behavioural changes that were consistent with a negative response. These included showing more signs of tension, more yawning and less time engaged in environmental interaction than the control dogs.
Following training most owners reported improvements in their dog’s problem behaviour. Owners of dogs trained using e-collars were, however, less confident of applying the training approach demonstrated.
These findings indicate that there is no consistent benefit to be gained from e-collar training, but greater welfare concerns compared with positive reward-based training.
Lead author Jonathan Cooper, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “e-collar training did not result in a substantially superior response to training in comparison to similarly experienced trainers who do not use e-collars to improve recall and control chasing behaviour.
Accordingly, it seems that the routine use of e-collars even in accordance with best practice, as suggested by collar manufacturers, presents a risk to the well-being of pet dogs. The scale of this risk would be expected to be increased when practice falls outside of this ideal.”
The peer-reviewed journal article for this research is:
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’ PLOSone http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102722