I’m kinda gullible about people. If someone tells me something, I tend to believe it.
After all, why would they lie?
Thanks to a good liberal arts education, I don’t have the same failing when I read something.
And it’s a good thing. Because I got a shocking email recently that set off my BS detector big time.
Shocking Press Release
Do you ever read something and ask yourself, “Is anybody actually fooled by this? It’s so transparently ridiculous.”
Well I got a press release last week that had me saying just that.
The subject was how shock collars will help more pets have loving homes. No really. That’s right in the title.
See for yourself.
It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to push the “benefits” of shock collars.
Oh, and there’s a lie right in the title. The press release doesn’t actually say that 86% of pet owners found static stimulation helpful. It says “86 percent of pet owners who use static stimulation collars have used them for a pet life-saving purpose.” That doesn’t mean they worked. And it’s certainly not 86% of pet owners.
I hate sloppy logic.
Let’s use those critical thinking skills your English, philosophy, and history teachers tried to drum into you.
Testing The Text
(Read the entire press release here. All the emphases below are mine.)
Bring on the BS. Let’s scoop some poop.
BS, paragraph 1: “Shock collars, referred to more appropriately by the industry of electronic collar manufacturers as static stimulation collars, have changed significantly over the last 60 years, yet understanding of the value of the product has remained the same.”
Scooping It Up: First, the sentence doesn’t say what it means. The intention is to tell us that we should call shock collars “static stimulation collars.”
But if you take it at its word, the industry that makes millions of dollars from selling shock collars considers it appropriate to call them static stimulation collars.
Okay, call them what you want. They don’t deliver static. They deliver an electric shock.
Take a look.
Wow, that guy is really sensitive to static.
BS, paragraph 1: “While there are strong and opposing views about the use of static stimulation products within the pet professional community, a recent study conducted by Wakefield Research for Radio Systems® Corporation, the maker of the PetSafe®, Invisible Fence® and SportDOG™ brands, reveals that unfamiliarity and misconceptions of static training products among pet owners are also wide-spread.”
Scooping It Up: So a company that makes shock collars conducted a survey. That doesn’t sound biased. I wonder what it will say?
The survey included 1000 people. In it, 86% said they used a shock collar to protect their dog’s life, such as by keeping them in the yard. Okay, let’s learn more.
BS, paragraph 2: “One pet owner, Tami Kolinsky, said, “We thought about getting [an electronic dog] fence but had mixed feelings about the idea of electric shock collars.” After Daisy, their Jack Russell Terrier, was tragically killed by a speeding car, Kolinsky said, “We were heart broken and promised to not let our other three pups get hurt.” “
Scooping It Up: Let’s bring in an emotional story. Who couldn’t relate with the tragedy of losing a loved one in a horrible accident?
I hate “blame the victim” arguments. My fight is with companies who use BS to sell shock collars.
But if the Kolinsky family had installed a fence, hired a trainer, or started daily, supervised walks with their dogs to keep them safe we wouldn’t be reading about them here.
BS, paragraph 3: “The survey revealed that more than 60 percent of pets are not fully trained and 30 percent are consistently exhibiting an undesirable behavior (such as running away, property damage and/or excessive barking).”
Scooping It Up: The paragraph continues by implying that fewer dogs would end up unwanted in shelters because of poor training if people used shock collars.
Of course there’s no proof of that. Just speculation.
Listen, shock collars do work as a training tool under the same principles of operant conditioning as clicker training. But if 60% of a survey group can’t be bothered to train their dog, why would buying a shock collar give them a sudden interest in learning about operant conditioning and developing split second timing to train their dog to new behaviors?
Heck, if they’re willing to do all that, they could buy a cheap clicker, some stinky snacks, get a good book from the library and train their dogs for a lot less money. And far less pain.
BS, paragraph 6: “Using static stimulation to reinforce a recall, stop jumping or barking could free up owners to take their pets more places which would, in turn, provide exercise and socialization that ultimately leads to a more relaxed and well-adjusted pet.”
Once again, more speculation.
But the crazy thing is that there are many tools to help dog people manage behaviors and train new ones. And some of them are sold by the same company trying to tell us how important shock collars are for keeping dogs in happy homes.
Several years ago, PetSafe bought Premier, the company that sold an extensive line of food toys (great for stimulating your dog and tiring him out), harnesses that kept dogs from pulling, martingale collars that prevent dogs from slipping away and getting lost, and training clickers.
I wonder why PetSafe doesn’t spend more time promoting their less-aversive line of dog tools?
Could it have anything to do with a no-pull harness selling for $14 while “remote trainers” (what they call shock or static stimulation collars on the packaging) cost anywhere from $40 to over $100?
I wonder what the profit margins are on these different items?
BS, paragraph 8: “When asked a series of seven questions about static stimulation products, 69 percent of respondents got three or more facts wrong about the products, and an astounding 97 percent got at least one fact wrong. Unfortunately, these misconceptions have led many pet owners to write off the use of static stimulation collars, and in many cases, training their pets in any form before doing even a little research. 52 percent of pet owners who got at least one fact wrong about static stimulation say that they would only use static stimulation products as a last resort.”
Scooping It Up: Here’s where I really lose my temper. Where’s this survey?
I get several press releases about pet products every day. Lots of them, especially those promoting pet causes, will refer to a survey or study. And most press releases include a link to the study or survey.
So what are these “facts” the survey respondents got wrong? We all know how poll results change depending on how you ask the question. And is it really true that people with “misconceptions” about the value of shock collars write off “training their pets in any form…?”
BS, paragraph 11: “Not-for-profit organizations such as The Partnership for Electronic Training Technology (PETT) are committed to consumer education and advocate for the safe use of modern electronic training collars.”
Scooping It Up: I wasn’t convinced by this press release to believe that shock (oops, static stimulation) collars offer any benefits to my relationship and communication with my dog.
Luckily, the companies have banded together to form a not-for-profit organization to educate me further.
I spent some time on the site looking for educational resources. In the FAQs, the PETT website claimed I could use a shock collar to teach my dog to come to me.
One again, you don’t have to convince me that positive punishment (that’s the scientific term used in operant conditioning) works. But I’m curious. How do you shock a dog to come to you?
The website doesn’t tell you. There are no training tips or information about the science behind the training.
Do you think PETT might be more about increasing profits for the companies than “committed to consumer education?”
But Pam, Why Are You So Cranky
If you’ve read Something Wagging for a while, you know that I try to find a middle ground. I avoid squabbles that do nothing to help animals. I look for gentle ways to approach controversial, and personal choices, like eating animal products.
But this press release really pissed me off. And it still does.
I understand that people have different opinions from mine. They see the world differently. And I can’t fight them out of their beliefs.
But I hate nothing more than seeing people obfuscate, spin, and just plain lie for personal gain.
There is the Republican Senator who argued recently that building a pipeline to transport oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the gulf coast would make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil. (Really? We’ve annexed Canada now? I thought Canada was a foreign country.)
And how about the current presidential administration arguing that any male over the age of 13 killed in a drone strike is a likely terrorist to make the number of civilians killed look lower?
Don’t even get me started on large commercial puppy breeders whose websites claim they raise their dogs in a home setting. Yeah, because you’re willing to live within 200 yards of kennels filled with scared, barking, neglected dogs does not mean they’re raised in a home environment.
If you believe something is true, stand up and say it. Don’t wrap your words in passive language and sentences that imply ideas but don’t really mean anything.
The Truth About Shock Collars
What is the truth about shock collars that was not directly mentioned in the press release? They are an effective way of teaching a dog according to current learning theory.
Lara Elizabeth at My Rubicon Days took on the challenging task of explaining the science of learning theory and operant conditioning in her post about shock collars. She made a graphic with a wonderful quote by veterinarian and dog behaviorist, Dr. Ian Dunbar: “To use shock as an effective dog training method you will need three things—a thorough understanding of canine behavior, a thorough understanding of learning theory, impeccable timing. And if you have those three things you don’t need a shock collar.”
But whether a shock collar teaches a dog something or not is beside the point for me. I follow the Never Shock A Puppy Manifesto. And I believe that dog training is all about the relationship.
There’s nothing about a buzzer, vibration, or shock when you push a button that builds your bond with your dog.
Promoting shock collars to a mass market of uneducated dog owners as an easy way to make life with your dog more happy is irresponsible at best. And total BS.
Making It Personal
I’ve done really dumb things in my life as a dog person. I hope I’m getting smarter.
But even when faced with dogs who fought constantly and destroyed my house, I never felt I should resort to a shock collar for training. I can’t say why. It just didn’t feel right.
Now I know more. I’ve gained some basic dog training skills. And I still screw up.
When I’m using clicker training to teach Honey to close a door with her nose, I mess up. Thanks to my bad timing, I’ve confused Honey and gotten her lifting her paw when she closes a door.
But when I screw up training with my clicker, Honey only gets a treat. Never a shock.
I know people who use remote collars to train their dogs who do understand the science and use them sparingly. I don’t agree it’s necessary. But I appreciate that they’ve thought about it seriously and educated themselves about the collar’s use. And I’m unlikely to convince them to change their minds.
But they aren’t the average dog owner this press release hopes to reach.
I saw a more typical use of a shock collar while vacationing with Honey on Cayuga Lake.
At the lakeshore, we met a man with a Labrador and a golden retriever. Both of them were wearing shock collars.
They were perfectly nice dogs. They said hello to Honey (who remained on leash) and then went off to explore.
Every time one of the dogs got too far away from his person, he’d touch a button and we’d see one of the dogs give a little shake of his head.
The crazy part was watching the owner shock his dogs over and over again. And at different distances.
He didn’t decide that a certain tree was the farthest he wanted his dogs to go. If he felt they were exploring a little too much he shocked them.
The dogs didn’t learn a thing.
I guess the owner got what he wanted. The dogs did move slightly closer after a shock.
But the man better watch out if his batteries die. Because I doubt those dogs would pay any attention to their person without a remote in his hand.
Beyond The BS
Yes, training dogs makes them less likely to end up surrendered to shelters. I have no argument with anyone who promotes training for that reason. Even if they stand to make money by it.
But training is about more than keeping your dog from being a nuisance. It’s about growing a relationship.
Training isn’t pushing a button. It’s building a bond.
And spreading half-truths wrapped in passive language and sprinkled with loaded language about saving dogs’ lives just to make more money selling electronic equipment is just BS.