Harsh Punishment can Work but Humane Treatment is Reliable & Safe

Question:
I appreciate last Friday’s column about shock collars. However there is one particular use for which I found it invaluable. My 4 month old terrier mix was chasing cars even on a leash. A neighbor k9 officer loaned me a shock collar with strict instructions to set it on maximum so that she would not acclimate. It worked beautifully; I only had to shock her twice. Now 14 years later she has never again chased a car.

Dr. Nichol:
It’s hard to argue with your success but it could have gone the other way. Shock collars cause intense fear for many dogs, in some cases leading to aggression. Electric shock is also risky on a physical level. Dogs have suffered severe burns to their skin. There is a safe, effective, and humane alternative in nearly every case. Current learning theory teaches that punishment should be a last resort.

Terriers are genetically programmed to pursue movement; they should be expected to chase. Rather than punishing natural activities (including barking, digging or defensive aggression) arousal triggers can be recognized early so the bad behavior can be derailed. The dog is then be redirected to earning good things.

Beyond the science that underlies modern treatment is the issue of crossing a line of trust and respect. Miss America, the Nichol family dog, showed her penchant for car chasing at the tender age of 10 weeks. Clicker training taught her that she would get an immediate reinforcer when she redirected her intensity by touching a target stick. Her compliance is always rewarded with a treat, praise, and a pet on the head. Good things come from her trusted leaders. Admittedly, it wasn’t a quick process; we repeated it hundreds of times. But it worked and it was fear-free.
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