A Belgian Malinois dog is panting, wearing a shock collar, a prong collar, a flat buckle collar, and a training harness.

It is not acceptable to use a shock collar on a dog and call it "training". It is beyond insulting to me, my colleagues, my mentors, and my industry. It infuriates me to see it time and again. How anyone can think that sending an electric current through a dog's neck or genitals is an acceptable way to teach another sentient being how to "behave" is beyond me. It's the person holding the remote who needs to learn how to behave appropriately, as far as I'm concerned. 

I'm not being facetious; that's actually what training is all about - changing our own behaviour to create change in our learner's behaviour. Dogs are not here to be moulded or manipulated, according to our outrageous expectations. They are here because we have forced them - we domesticated them and now we control them with a leash and a collar. We owe them the simple respect of helping them learn appropriate behaviours to allow them to live comfortably and safely in our world. 

We trainers spend countless hours immersed in education. We take course after course, watch webinars, attend seminars and conferences, read books and research papers, attend consultations with mentors, shadow and assist in classes and lessons, and we push ourselves to continue learning every day.

We do this in order to understand behaviour in all species - dogs, cats, people, horses, chickens, crows, giraffes, hippos, dolphins, you name it. We do this to understand psychology, learning theory, ethology, husbandry, anatomy and physiology. We do this in order to be able to help the average person and their pet, their show dog, their agility star, their dock-diver, their service animal, their therapy pet, or their best friends. We do this in order to help humans learn how to change their own behaviour to influence positive change in another.

We don't do this so that we can provide the quick fix that doesn't exist - the shock collar.

The shock collar may give you the results you're looking for at the moment and it's quite impressive how quickly it can work. Positive punishment (adding an aversive to decrease a behaviour) works - absolutely. If it didn't, it wouldn't be an available option in our quadrants for behaviour change. However, it comes at a price. 

When we use positive punishment to change a behaviour, we may stop the behaviour from occurring again or as frequently, however, what we see as "stopping" is often simply "suppressing". If we know anything about psychology, we know that suppression never turns out well. It might work in the short term but eventually, the lid blows off the pot and no one wants to be anywhere near it when it blows. Oftentimes there is no warning, either. 

It's best to find the root of the problem and address it directly (said every psychotherapist ever) rather than side-stepping the issue, suppressing emotions, and creating an unsafe and unpredictable environment for the learner. 

Rather than punishing what we dislike, why not replace it with something we do like and make that behaviour more desirable for the learner to perform? We could even use reward removal to show our displeasure about this undesirable behaviour, however, we still have to teach the learner what we do want. (Yes. It's work. Did you think it was going to be easy? You must have been watching an ad for a shock collar.)

Don't believe me? Think I'm a cookie-pusher? Think that I'm a positive trainer therefore I must be permissive? Think that what I do only applies to soft, easy dogs? Well, it may surprise you to know I started in that "other" world. I started out using heavy leash corrections, alpha rolls, prong collars, spray collars, shock collars, and all the rest. In fact, it was my work in that department that got me mauled, but that's a story for another day. 

I've been there, done that, and bought the jersey. I'm embarrassed about it. I'm ashamed that I didn't take the proper steps to become a trusted, educated, qualified member of my industry. I snuck into it under a professional guise and am lucky I made it out on the other side with few enemies and minor damage.

Now, I work with all sorts of dogs - the soft/easy ones, the hard/challenging ones, the big, the small. I don't discriminate. I work with brand new puppies whose behaviour I can help change in order to prevent problems. I work with boundary-pushing adolescent dogs who just need patience and guidance. I work with traumatised dogs who take time, time, and more time. I work with the dogs whose bites histories put them one phone call away from a seizure and euthanasia. I work with the dogs who others have given up on - just like most trainers out there.

There is no shortage of dogs in need and humans too, and I'm proud to say that I don't need to rely on an electric current to change lives. I need a different current - science, common sense, and kindness.