Monday, March 08, 2010

Temple Grandin on E-Collars and Prey Drive

Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human and Animals in Translation, was recently interviewed on National Public Radio.

Host Terry Gross asked her, "Would you ever use negative reinforcement punishment as a way to discipline an animal?"

Grandin's reply:

Most of the times I would not, but I would never say never. I would never use punishment on something that's fear-based behavior because that will worsen it. If you want to teach the animal a new skill - like if you want to teach a dog a trick, I want to do that all with positive reinforcement. You want to teach the lion or the dolphin at the marine park or the zoo to cooperate with veterinary work, that's all done with positive reinforcement -totally, totally, totally.

There's only one thing where punishment is - you just about have to use punishment and that's stopping prey-drive behavior. You've got a dog that's killing cats or you've got a dog that's killing sheep and they've already done it. I absolutely despise shock collars and I despise a lot of the things that hunters are doing with shock collars. I think it's totally wrong. But there's one legitimate use for it: Car chasing, jogger chasing, cat killing, deer chasing, anything that's prey-drive behavior. And this is not aggression and it's not fear. It's a very special other kind of emotion that the animal has. And you'd want to put the collar on, have the dog wear it for two days, and then - because you never want him to find out that the collar did it. And then one day a thunderbolt from the sky blasts him for chasing deer. And that's one of the few situations I would use a punishment. For all kinds of other things, no.

As Temple Grandin says, there are better ways to do most things, but there is no better tool for busting a dog off of deer, sheep, cats, or cars than an e-collar.

Failure to bust a certified deer-chaser or cat-killer off of its prey is eventually fatal to one side or the other, one way or the other.

This point cannot be stressed enough: those that want to ban all use of e-collars, as some seek to do in the U.K., are affirmatively saying they are OK with dogs dying from vehicle impact, are OK with sheep being savagely wounded, are OK with cats being mauled to death, and are OK with farmers shooting stock-worrying dogs.

Anyone who salutes that is a fool, plain and simple.

An e-collar is like a monkey wrench; it appears to be a useless and thuggish tool you will never need, right up until the minute you need it, and then its use becomes both transparent and necessary.



Moop said...

A wasp sting on a dog of normal temperament produces avoidance without fear. The dog simply avoids touching wasps again. Dogs with abnormal temperaments are different, and as in all training, might need more careful training. Used correctly, an e-collar teaches dogs of almost any temperament that deer, jackrabbits, feral cats, etc., are in the same category as wasps; "things that sting". They are removed from the "prey" category in the dogs' perception. Thus, a dog can track a human trail calmly while a jackrabbit flushes out from the track. The rabbit means nothing to the dog except "avoid touching this: no reward is possible, and pain is inevitable". I once talked to an old hound hunter who took up hunting again after a 20 year break. I asked him why, and he said,"Oh, I quit because it got to me, I just couldn't stand beating those poor hounds anymore to break them off deer. But now with an e-collar, they learn so fast and I never have to be cruel." His hounds had the happiest attitudes.

Jonzie said...

Thanks so much for this post. I have a crazy cattle dog with a self feeding prey drive and was about to order an ecollar but was still dubious and thought could do more damage than good.

Also, I saw those few video you posted on Cesar and can't really see what's wrong with his techniqes. If you know even a little bit of dog behaviour you know that is the ONLY approach with certain dogs.

an American in Copenhagen said...

Shock collars are already illegal in Denmark. I know a couple of country people who have lost dogs to prey drive behavior--the dogs either had to be put down or taken to the shelter. It's no life for a dog to live out in the countryside if they can't ever be let out of their kennel. :(

Donald McCaig said...

I have used shock collars in extremis and would do so again. I have seen sheepdogs ruined by the use of shock collars. If you have excellent dog reading skills, timing and an experienced teacher they can be a useful tool. If you're not already a pretty good dog trainer they are a dangerous powerful technomachine.I'd hate to see them banned, but I would like to see them licensed.

Mark McCabe, Canine Behaviorist said...

You know, the biggest problem with e-collars in my opinion, and I use them ) situations and uses lots of positive reinforcement for desired behaviors with small levels of positive punishment to deflect the dog from the mild unwanted behavior.
The main benefit of e-collars should not be viewed as bigger punishment but rather the ability to have a dog be more free while still having the ability to provide low level +p and -r. If the dog needs more than low level stimulation it has not had sufficient, or sufficiently good, training at lower levels of stimulation (from distrations, not from the collar).
It is for this reason that I refer to them as remote trainers since that is their primary benefit, to bridge the gap from onlead control to off lead, in or out of the house.
The idea that some dogs can "ONLY" be controlled by the use of e-collar is simply wrong headed and implies that some dogs can only be trained by heavy punishment. This is simply untrue. I support humane use of punishment. The biggest key to such use is that the dog is trained progressively from minimally stimulating situations to more stimulating situations consistently being rewarded for good/calm behavior at every level and only progressing to a new level when the dog is about to consistently meet criteria (be calm) without correction. Following this protocol the dog will only ever need low level punishment, if any, at the next level and will easily be able to earn AND accept rewards at each level. This will ensure training be minimally stressful for both handler and dog and will create a training environment where the dog gets many times more rewards than punishments and is never subject to harsh punishment.
Mark McCabe
Canine Behaviorist
Baltimore, MD USA

PBurns said...

Well said Mark.

I found the next to lowest setting on the collar was all I ever needed to but a dog off of deer, and pretty soon the tone itself was enough. Dogs WANT to do right. A little goes a loooong way and mostly it CAN be done with pure positive training. But not every time.

I was explaining this to my son, who has a new dog, and I did the instruction on HIM by simply tapping him on the side of his nose with one finger, and not very hard (just enough to move a pencil on a desk). He was not expecting a nose tape, and he did not like it! But it did not hurt. I asked him if he wanted to have that done again. No! You see, I said, it's not about pain; it's about instruction. You will not forget that nose tap, and you will want to avoid it even if you are full up on ice cream and have cash in your pocket.


Unknown said...

I have an 8 month German shepherd with a high prey drive, she wants to Chase the cat ALL the time and will stay focused on it the whole time she's in the house!!! So we must keep them seperated, if the cat runs, the dog is in full pursuit, I'm afraid her brain will step out and her drive will step in and kill our cat!! I really don't like the shock collars, but could this be a way of stopping this behavior before someone gets hurt?? She will also ignore my come command to Chase anything outside and I could loose her if she wasn't leashed. Also she is extremely mouthy/bitey with me and my children and will never stop when we tell her no, roll her on her side...nothing I do stops her biting!! I failed beginers obedience class because she bite me the whole time through figure eights, fast time (she will not let me run without biting my pants,shoes, or legs). Could this be my only option left to have some control with her, she's not aggressive, just dominant n naughty!!! Please help!!!!!

PBurns said...

If a dog is biting you while you are walking it, what did you do? What did the trainer tell you to do? Seriously, use common sense and clearly discipline the dog with decent timing. Also get a check cord and a muzzle. Ecollars are great tools but they need to be put in the hands of people who are disciplined and who will learn and spend a lot of time teaching the dog. You are looking for magic and quick fixes. Ecollars are just a tool. The most important tool however is a willingness on your part to spend time and be disciplined. Muzzle and check cord and an understanding of TIMING and clear consequences are what you need.

lori7 said...

Similar to what Mark stated above, an ecollar should be used in a "carrot and stick" fashion. We've trained two dogs, a neutered male Rottweiler and and uncut male Cane Corso, to exist peacefully with 5 ducks. First the stick (the shock, at the lowest setting to which they were responsive), then the carrot (Leave! Come! Good boy!). Prey drive reduced to a call off of, "NO! Leave!" Correction of prey drive is the only behavior we've adjusted with the use of ecollar.