Never Shock a Puppy Campaign to Launch Sept 1, 2010

Founders/organizers at the first-ever BlogPaws conference in April 2010 challenged pet bloggers to Be the Change for Pets. When asked what ONE thing would improve the lives of pets, some of us replied … raise awareness about humane (pain-free) alternatives to dog collars designed to hurt, startle, punish. That’s how Never Shock a Puppy was born.

Never Shock a Puppy graphicAnd, by “puppy” we mean any dog — no matter size, sex, age, or breed.

Truly, there is NO need to pinch, shock, choke … hurt, scare, startle … drag around, struggle with, boss around your dog to teach him/her basic manners.

Stay with us over the initial 8-week Never Shock a Puppy campaign:

Our goal? To raise $2,500 for the No-Choke Challenge, where the Humane Society of Boulder Valley will give free dog collars or dog harnesses to people in the Boulder (Colorado) area who turn in their choke chains, pinch collars, or shock collars.

Essentially, the money raised will buy 165 or so replacement dog collars or dog harnesses.

That’s 165 dogs who will no longer HURT in the process of learning. We cannot change the entire dog-training world, but we think this is a start.

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10 Responses to Never Shock a Puppy Campaign to Launch Sept 1, 2010

  1. Jane Boursaw says:

    Oh, what a great – and important – site, Roxanne. I’ll be following you and helping publicize however I can.

  2. Heidi says:

    Wonderful idea! You do not have to hurt, to train! What a concept! :o)

  3. JJ says:

    What a great idea; I’m just… not so sure about how you present it.

    Here’s why:

    I have a great many clients who come to me as extremely traditional-minded handlers. Guess what? We don’t train that way at our facility; we’re reward-based trainers who see punishment as probably more harmful than helpful (depending on timing and making the punishment fit the crime, of course. And even then, it‘s still risky, as you know.)

    I’ve had quite a few people come on shock collars, slip collars, pinch collars, etc.

    If you were the one who had to convince these people to switch methods, and actually WANTED those people to switch their methods, become more positive, how would you present that to them? …It’s a very precarious situation when you think about it; say the wrong thing and you haven’t just lost a client, but lost your chance to improve a dog’s life.

    Which brings me to the real question I want to ask: Why are you presenting the information on your site in the manner that you are?

    In doing so, you may find that a lot of people who agree with you – agree that shock collars are bad – are going to rally to your cause, donate money, and try to help out.

    What you won’t find is a traditional minded trainer who stumbles upon your site, says, “Gee, they’re right,” and changes their training style or donates or whatnot. These people will ABSOLUTELY NOT rally to your cause. In fact, in reading the information presented on your site in the way that it is presented, they’re going to feel like you’ve attacked them, even though you’re just trying to do what’s right by you – and me, and most of the people who are going to come across your site.

    Essentially, the way it reads is as an attack on a person’s core belief system. Let’s face it, the way we believe dog training should be done is held very close to us. Those who believe that this way is right or this way is abuse are not likely to up and change their minds on the drop of a dime….and it doesn’t make a difference whether they’re traditional or positive.

    From what I read, you’re also trying to get people to trade in their e-collars and slip collars for what you call more humane training tools (I say “what you call” because it may not be what someone else calls. For the record, I’m on your side.) Here’s food for thought: I have had a few clients come in with dogs who pull on lead – ie: try to walk their handlers. I talked to them about the possibility of a head collar, and they gasped, taken aback, and simply stated that they would never put their dog through that kind of torture, that they’d rather put their dog on a shock collar turned up a few notches and what the heck was wrong with me?

    Head collars take a while to get used to. They’re very invasive and most dogs don’t like them even after they accept them as part of the training game and deal with it. I have clients – even super positive ones – who would put their dog on a prong collar before they’d touch a head collar.

    ….And they aren’t bad people; they simply have different core beliefs. (We usually con them into a front pull harness or REALLY work on getting that walk into gear, but I’m just saying that what you/we accept as sane and rational and humane won’t always be what someone else does.)

    When you say things like our way “builds – rather than breaks down – the human-animal bond” you’re basically telling a person who uses that nasty other method that they’re making their dog unhappy or ruining their bond by trying to train their dog. Calling them an idiot, telling them they’re wrong, or whatnot. Sadly, you do that and you immediately turn that person to the defensive, and off of whatever you have to say. Worse yet, what you have to say IS WORTH HEARING. But presented that way, they’re not going to listen.

    And let me say this for the record: I come from traditional training. I have never, and don’t know anyone who has (though, trust me, there are those people. I haven’t met them, and I don’t want to,) put my dog on an e-collar or slip/prong collar because their bad behaviors annoyed me. It simply was how you trained the dog – you put him on his slip collar and gave him a pop if he walked too far ahead of you or didn’t sit when you told him to. It had nothing to do with how I felt about the dog. In fact, it was an emotionless response, in the same manner that I would recommend to a client who needed to tell his dog “no.” I would say that it needed to be a businesslike exchange – no emotion involved – just a correction of “that’s not what I wanted.”

    It’s pretty unfair to say that. If nothing else, I felt personally attacked and hurt that you would have that on your site. Rather emotional of me, yes, but I did used to train that way, and (okay, I had training in on-the-spot timing early on) I’ve never corrected my dogs out of line or based on my moods. I put the correction in where it needed to be and praised the dog for doing the right thing. And yes, I’ve since figured out that there are better ways and they are SO MUCH BETTER!!! …And they’re more fun, to boot. But that’s it. When I try to rally a client to my side of the training fence, I do it with science. I DO NOT DO IT WITH EMOTION. I present scientific findings and use that to my advantage, saying that we’ve found this way does this or that, and it’s kind of fun, too. That gets people interested. Attacking what they believe in or telling them that they are wrong does not.

    And saying “more humane” anywhere is a risky thing. If someone from the other side was considering your way, you’ve probably lost them. If you haven’t, you’ll definitely lose them at the word “abuse” associated with their methods. Not that you’re wrong, but I fully believe that people should read this – but I couldn’t send most of my clients here because they are converted trainers and they’d be hurt and offended.

    Also, have you guys ever worn a shock collar? I actually have, if for no other reason than curiosity. At the right level – punishment fitting the crime and all – the collar isn’t, HONESTLY isn’t, meant to hurt. ….And it doesn’t. Put one up to your neck someday; it’s not bad. (I once had a traditional trainer “train me” not to do something. It was kind of like the satanic clicker game, if you catch my drift. The pain didn’t bother me, and I didn’t need many corrections to figure out what I was meant to avoid. It’s not that aversive – I find bitter spray to be far more aversive, and yeah, have had that squirted in my mouth. Ew.)

    And – whether training positive or traditional – you have to learn the skill set of knowledge, very good timing, and keeping your head on your shoulders. Dogs will always manage to frustrate people, and even positive trainers can be abusive. I’ve seen a woman nearly break a dog’s neck with a head collar. Any equipment can be misused.

    With shock collars, it’s really the association between the pain and the human that’s the worry. If the dog associates you with the pain, you’re going to lose a lot of his trust. (Also, even with perfect timing, you run the risk of him associating the shock with something undesirable…like another dog or people in hats, but you guys know this.)

    If I were you guys and I was trying to change the way people train their dogs, I’d tell them that I am using sound, scientifically proven methods that are based of current findings and years of experience. I’d even tell them that I came from exactly where they did (because I have) and that not only do these methods work just as well – if not better – but they’re more enjoyable to boot.

    I’d also be sure to mention that their methods are perfectly valid. You, nor I, can deny that traditional training works. Shock collars work. I would never deny that.

    But I would be sure the mention, also, that they tend to tell a dog what not to do and leave it at that. The other method – our method – not only tells a dog what not to do, but teaches him what TO DO…and he has to use his own head to figure it out. You aren’t guiding (okay, forcing, but I never use that word) him, essentially babysitting him – you’re allowing him to figure it out on his own, and rewarding the heck out of him when he gets it right,making that behavior much more likely.

    We get a number of those shock-collar-lovers, and very few of them walk away from our facility still using the same methods. Most of them fall in love with what we’re doing – but we had to present it in a way that told them that they were valid, that they were not bad people harming their dogs, and if they’d like to try something new….

    Well, we’ve made lifetime clients out of them.

    Just food for thought.


    PS: I truly hope that I haven’t insulted anyone. That’s not my intention. It’s also not my intention to spark an argument. My only intention is to give you … well, food for thought, as I stated above. This is just my own bafflement. I truly think you guys are trying to do a good thing, but I’m confused as to why the information is presented in such a manner that… well, even I’m a little insulted by it.

    Anyway, I appreciate your cause; I just want more people to follow it … not just people who already believe in it, but people who don’t, as well.

    • Thank you very much for your thoughtful and thought provoking (in the best sense of the word) comment. I especially appreciated your sharing your experiences with traditionally minded people who bring their dogs to your training center wearing shock, pinch, and slip collars and the challenge you face in persuading them to try reward-based training. It sounds like you have to walk a delicate line sometimes. I can certainly see that if you approached prospective clients in a way that made them feel wrong, bad, guilty, hurt, or offended that they would be more likely to become defensive than to give your training a chance. That would be a shame. I’m so glad there are trainers like you out there who have been on both sides of the training fence and have chosen the reward-based training path.

      In some ways the dividing lines between traditional compulsion training and reward-based training reminds me other polarizing issues in American life, for example, abortion. Once ideology takes hold and people dig in on either side of the issue it’s unlikely that they will change their minds regardless of how reasonably (scientifically) and unemotionally the other side presents its case. I don’t expect dyed-in-the-wool traditional trainers, or dog owners who are satisfied with using those methods and tools, to read NSAP or it’s affiliated sites, if they do at all, and suddenly have a “You-mean-I-could-have-had-a-V-8!” moment.

      Still, I do hope that NSAP can reach people who are not entrenched, or who are ‘on the fence’ and might be open to considering reward-based training. In order to do that I agree that it’s important that we do not leave people with the impression that we are making negative value judgments about them personally, or that we are condemning what, from their point of view, works or doesn’t, is humane or isn’t. (Your story about clients who recoil at the thought of using a head harness because it seems more inhumane to them than a shock collar was food for thought for me.) I can say with confidence that it is not our intention to offend or hurt anyone’s feelings. Sometimes, I’ll speak for myself here, when I’m deep into in my own perspective I miss the unintended impact my message might have on others. And, sometimes no matter well the facts are presented, some people are aggrieved simply because others disagree with them. That can’t be helped.

      Still, NSAP has a point a view about reward-based training theory and practice. I think it needs to be stated clearly and contrasted with traditional approaches using scientific findings, and where helpful, anecdotal data so that people can make informed choices about how to train their dog. I think counterweights to the current celebrity and media saturated climate that endorses dominance and force are needed. Without them it’s hard to imagine how people, especially those new to dog training, can make informed choices or, for that matter, even know they have a choice. It’s positively pea soup out there!

      How we train our dogs is indeed a very emotional, often volatile issue, that does tap into our core beliefs and values, but I don’t see that as a reason to leave how we feel out of the conversation for fear of offending so long as we speak for our selves and do not impugn others. Personally, I support NSAP not only because I believe the science tips the scales way, way in favor of reward-based training, but because I LOVE seeing my dog happy and enjoying learning and trying new behaviors. I can’t imagine that she would be the joyful dog she is, especially given her fearfulness, if I used a shock, choke or pinch collar on her neck to correct her. I’m not a crack trainer by any means. If my timing is off with my clicker, that’s not a big deal. But it scares me to death to think of the damage I could inflict if I screwed up the timing hitting the button on the remote control for an e-collar. Honestly, I feel sick inside at the mere thought.

      Your comment prompted many more thoughts, but let me wrap up by saying just one more thing. Thank you for sharing your story about being a crossover trainer and how traditional trainers think about their tools and methods. It caused me to reflect on my assumptions about traditional training and on my own story about how I came to reward-based training, about which I new NOTHING when I brought Sadie home as a puppy. I’ve done a lot of work over the years in my other life as a communication consultant with groups of people who are ideologically opposed to each other. In my experience telling our stories is a powerful vehicle for conveying how and why we believe as we do in a way that is personal and non-confrontational. I’ve witnessed time and again how listening to each others stories can help us to turn down the heat and turn up the light—especially in the midst of entrenched polarization. We all have a story. Maybe we should tell them. Maybe I’ll write a post about my story. Thank you again for telling yours.

      Actually, I have just one more ‘one-more-thing.’ Just so you know, I did not feel insulted by your comments at all, nor did I read them as argumentative. To the contrary. I deeply appreciate the time and effort you took to write to NSAP with your concerns and to express them with the understanding that you did.

    • JJ — Thanks so much for your note. First, I want to say that I appreciate your insights and that I’m so sorry you felt attacked or insulted. That certainly was not my intent. I do, however, see through your eyes how certain phrases in the launch and mindset posts might seem harsher than intended. In the coming weeks, as we talk about the top 5 reasons people turn to shock collars (and choke/pinch collars) and how else those behaviors/skills can be taught, I hope you’ll find the suggestions more palatable.

      It’s a bummer to hear you think we’re squelching the conversation from the get-go. In a campaign like this, often there isn’t space in the main messages for caveats and nuance. We hope those elements will evolve as we continue. Thanks for starting the conversation.

      What I’d like to encourage you (and anyone else following along) to do is to check out the “blog hop” at the bottom of each weekly post. There you will find links to all of our Never Shock a Puppy coalition members (and others) who are blogging on that week’s topic. It’s my hope that with our diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and communication styles that everyone will find someone who “speaks their language.”

      For example, I would read this study about shock collar training on guard dogs and have a much more emotional and emphatic response than others might.

      When I read in the abstract … “The conclusions, therefore are, that being trained is stressful, that receiving shocks is a painful experience to dogs, and that the S-dogs had learned that the presence of their owner (or his commands) announces reception of shocks, even outside the normal training context. This suggests the welfare of these shocked dogs is at stake, at least in the presence of their owner.” … I would read that and think … well, these dogs certainly are not delicate flowers when it comes to temperament. Their normal training isn’t exactly a clicker day in the park, so if these dogs feel stress during and after training using shock collars, then what on earth must the use of one on a regular dog or a sensitive one like mine do? I go immediately to the experience and feelings of the dog.

      But, others in our coalition would more than likely focus on the science behind the study or other elements, like the cortisol measurements or other clinical signs of stress. (As soon as I eek out the time, I’ll be posting a resource page of links like the study above.)

      So, discussions will happen here and elsewhere throughout the campaign. You are more than welcome, as we go along, to be like … “Geez! I wouldn’t have said it like that. Here is how I explain that particular point.”

  4. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully.
    It’s unfortunate that you have felt insulted by the website, that was
    not intended. I will share why I chose to be part of this ‘coalition’.

    What might be called ‘traditional’ training is part of a cultural
    belief system, and for sure there are people who will never change,
    regardless of any evidence presented to them which challenges or even
    discredits their beliefs. The same is true in other aspects of our
    lives; religion, politics, our judicial system, how we educate
    children,etc. There are some cultures which have very different
    belief systems, and feel just as strongly about theirs, as we,
    individually and collectively feel about ours. Traditional dog
    training, as it has come to be called, is steeped in an archaic
    understanding of how learning happens and a cultural acceptance of
    using violence as a means of controlling behaviors, including those
    which are fear based. Corporal punishment is still allowed in schools
    in almost half of the States in the U.S. and there are no legal
    restrictions on its use domestically with children. Just to note, I
    understand the use, benefits and pitfalls of using positive
    punishment to train both dogs and humans. I am also aware of the
    distinctions in its qualitative and quantitative use.

    Many Americans (although the NSAP website is globally accessible, its
    main target is the U.S.) learn cultural norms from television and
    other forms of popular media and marketing. What we are seeing today
    is a strong push for the use of pain and fear inducing techniques for
    managing and training dogs. Few pet owners fully appreciate the fall
    out possible from these techniques. E-collars are being sold in a
    growing variety of products, for non-professional use. The NSAP’s aim
    is to present the potential risks of using them and make owners aware
    of the alternatives available to them not only in training products
    but also in training culture.

    It is usually those that feel strongly about something who actually
    put the time, energy and resources into action. It may be inevitable
    that when one feels strongly about something that their views and
    even their mere presence will be upsetting to some, regardless of how
    they present their case. When I meet people who are passionate about
    making life better or less painful for anyone or anything, and their
    methods are not intended to damage or harm anyone or anything to get
    the desired results, my hat is off to them, even if I do not share
    their passion (otherwise I’d spend a lot of time feeling insulted). I
    hope that I am not in the minority.

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond. It’s always good to know
    that there are trainers like you helping pet owners learn about
    effective and humane ways to train their dogs.

  5. JJ says:

    You’re right about one thing – traditional trainers who are not going to cross over are not going to cross over; and it wouldn’t matter what science, emotion, guilt-trip, love-covered whatever any of us have to offer… they simply aren’t going to be moved.

    Although, you may be surprised as to how many people can/will have that “I could have a V8!” moment. I did. I also know a number of people who have, which is why I brought up a few of the points that I did. And even so… even if it’s just in the off-chance that someone does, why take the risk of accidentally pushing them away?

    In that, I have a funny story (well, also heartbreaking, but there you have it…traditional training usually has quite a bit of that.) One day, a traditional handler came in to our facility to see the guy who is seen by both sides of the training coin as a go-to guy for behavioral issues. Though these people don’t want their methods bashed, they’re usually at the end of their rope with their dog and they will basically listen to anything you have to say – especially from a guy who has this kind of credentials/recommendations.

    So, they used a slip collar…and their timing was poor, and … their dog was done with them and their popping of him. He growled at them once, and stunned, they backed off. After that, every time they brought out his collar, he told them off, and they were afraid.

    Here’s a sad (I find it funny as per their reactions, not as per the advice they were given) bit of advice: There are two options with this… either change your ways… or force the collar on the dog and pop/choke him until he shuts the hell up.

    Can you do that? Choke a dog who is clearly trying to communicate his discomfort until he quiets down (think Caesar Millan) ….? I can’t.

    That’s what most traditional handlers don’t realize they have to do should their dog choose to take that path. Worse yet is the obvious fact that it shouldn’t have had to go there. The deal with corrections is that … Well, let’s say I’m walking my dog and I have to pop him a few times for stepping out ahead of me. They key there is “a few times.” We all know that if you have to use a correction more than say four or five times… you’re not doing it right, and you need to quit while you’re ahead.

    The people were mortified by the idea of choking their dog into submission. …And when they were told why it went there, they tentatively decided to try something else. Now, they wouldn’t dare do anything else. They really prefer the symbolic leadership over the domination factor. For that, I’m glad. Their dog is a very good dog.

    Yeah… it sure is pea soup out there! …And certain types of trainers and behaviorist scare the crap out of me… because some are allowed to certify themselves by whatever means they feel necessary and don’t have any outside policing, so to speak. Yikes.

    …Fortunately, many people know what’s right by them, and when they enter a classroom that tells them to “submissive roll” (nice cover for alpha roll, idiots -_-) their dog at the beginning of every class, they may decide to find someone else. We get a lot of those, too.

    Also, part of the deal is that traditional training done right should not be traumatizing. The punishment should never be connected with the handler or any other animate force – like using bitter spray, it should magically pop out of the environment to “get the dog” when she’s barking or whatnot, and never be seen or known. Just, “hmm. whenever I bark, yucky stuff gets in my mouth… I’ll just … not bark.”

    Although, I’d rather put away my trash can than have my dog a little wary about going near it, if you know what I mean.

    And PLEASE write a blog of your story. That’s one of those things that always tugs peoples’ heartstrings and makes them reconsider. (I’ve used my dog Kittie’s story as a buffer many a time. She’ll shut down at a business-like “no” and she’s never been corrected traditionally… she’s just a funny dog…one who can’t be trained that way because it doesn’t suit her needs.)

    Top 5 reasons, huh? That’ll be interesting for sure. =] (If only because I don’t know what they are.)

    You know, I’d like to help, but I’d also like to do it almost from the reverse…write about how you’d correct said behaviors traditionally and why you shouldn’t choose that way.

    To that study, I would (and haha to me for being such a pompous ass) say that they weren’t training right. As I said before, like with bitter spray – the punishment should never be connected with the handler; if it is, they screwed it up. It should be so fast and so consistent that the avoidance behavior is taught as though the … trash can, stairs, barking, or whatnot is the thing dishing out the punishment. Any punishment is supposed to be a secret….which is generally why I don’t recommend it. People can’t keep secrets!!!

    Also, I wanted to add as an end-note that my very own (okay, yeah, I think I’m clever; sue me lol) way of conning people into harnesses or headcollars is as follows:

    You can have your dog trained in a perfect heel with any equipment, be it flat buckle collar, choke, pinch, shock, leader, or harness.
    Here’s the kicker: No matter how well trained your dog is, s/he will humble you. There will be a day when a scary person comes out and spooks your dog during her walk, or when a really fun looking squirrel darts across the road. Your dog will instantly try to escape/chase.
    If your dog weighs 30+ lbs and is on a flat buckle, pinch, shock, or slip collar, you’re more than likely going to get pulled right along with her, perfect heel or not. Worse yet, most dogs couldn’t care less if they’re being pinched, popped, or shocked if something too exciting or too scary is going on. They only connect the pain with the scary object, or with the fun one (enhancing prey drive.)
    Now, for those exact reasons, we generally recommend a harness or head collar. The deal is that both of these devices eliminate a certain percentage of the dog’s strength, and should these would-be catastrophic incidences happen, your dog isn’t going anywhere. Maybe to the end of the leash, but these give you control that a neck collar simply won’t.
    (And that gets most traditional-minded people thinking. I subtly said that their way just doesn’t work quite as well, but really told them that I am more concerned with the doggie’s safety and the possibility of a very-bad-thing happening than anything else. Training styles be damned, I care more about the dogs.)

    Anyway, sorry this is so long.
    More food for thought.

    And thank you both very much for the responses; I greatly appreciate them! They also gave me very much food for thought! …And makes me wonder why it seems that more traditional people misuse their tools than positive… I bet it’s all about the attitude.

    Thanks much!


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