This week GPS manufacturer Garmin bought a company called Tri-Tronics. They make shocking collars for dogs. You know those things: push button, electric charge makes your dog suffer, dog does something. These are gadgets we don’t really need.
It’s quite simple: Shocking collars for dogs or any other sentient beings are bad. While they achieve their objective, they also bring pain to an innocent animal. Do you really need to use these barbarian gadgets to make a dog do something? The scientific answer is no.
Take my dog Amos, the happy happy black thing to the right. He is a smart little fella. He does a zillion things on command. I can wave at him and he will wave back. I can tell him to sit down, and he will sit down. Say bark, he barks. Stop, stop. Stay means stay, period. Tell him to show respect and he bows his head like a 16th century knight. Point your index finger at him, say “bang bang” and he drops dead on the floor instantly, sometimes with perfect drama and timing, like a bad cowboy in a spaghetti western. But Amos is not a specially smart dog. He’s like every other dog.
Dogs can learn anything using positive reinforcement
He learned all this through positive reinforcement, which is precisely the opposite of what shocking collars do, while achieving the same results. Like all the dogs in this video by OK Go! No negative reinforcement was used on them whatsoever. Like all those dogs, Amos had fun doing it all and he learned fast! Learning was a party for him.
And learning is not only about tricks. With positive reinforcement training, dogs can learn any behaviour you can imagine, from not barking to staying in a perimeter to hunting for drugs.
What shocking collars do is called negative reinforcement and, as you probably know because of your own experience, negative reinforcement sucks dog’s bollocks. As dog trainer and author Anna Jane Grossman describes:
To get a dog to sit using an electric collar, you turn on the shock and only turn it off once his butt hits the floor. The behavior is reinforced because the pain goes away. Immobilizing a prisoner and pouring water on his face until he speaks? Same idea. Except we’re doing this to creatures we supposedly love.
Why Garmin is buying Tri-Tronics – which sounds like the name of an evil company from a B-series ’80s telefilm – is beyond me. I don’t know what they plan to do with their shocking collars. But I know that shocking collars are a bad idea no matter how they are applied.
If you want to know more about the scientific principles that show why shocking collars is a technology that should be eradicated from planet Earth, go to TheDogs.