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Dogs and electricity

Many years ago Pc. David Clayton, John Rogerson, and I went to see if we could fix Davidís fathers central heating. We found that the wires to the capacitor on top of the pump had corroded from their connections. We could do nothing to make the pump work again. However, we did discover that in trying to reconnect the capacitor, we did succeed in charging it up. When we accidentally touched the wires, we received a very hefty electrical shock.

We then went on to wrapping two metallised bands round the capacitor, attached to each wire. Once we charged it up, we would hand it to inquisitive friends who then received the same shock. All good fun but it did get us thinking about its use for problem dogs. Could giving a dog a similar electric shock deter it from attacking people etc?

We discussed all the possibilities at length. We even thought how to make it remote controlled. In the end, we finally considered that for a dog, receiving pain from out of the blue was inconsistent with its view of the world. If a dog can see where the pain comes from like fire or lightening, then it can keep clear. To simply receive a shock on its body and not know who or what did it would only make the dog look for someone or something to blame.

Our belief remained that there are better ways to retrain a dog than having to use remote controlled electrically induced pain. In the end, we finally filed our ideas into the waste bin.

For John Rogerson and me, what we thought about and dismissed so many years ago there now exists all sorts of electrical equipment to shock our dogs into changing their ways. In all this time, the RSPCA has continually fought a hard battle in insisting on a total ban of such devices because they consider them cruel.

The reason no ban currently exists is that professionals, including the police and security forces still feel such equipment has a place in canine training. Mind you, this may well change if you have heard of current amendments to the Animal Welfare Bill in the United Kingdom. If passed, it could mean the total ban of all types of electric shock collars for all dogs.

There will remain such electrical devices as the cattle fence, used to keep livestock confined to certain areas, along with electric prods needed to move livestock from one place to another.

Such products work by inflicting a required level of pain to achieve the desired result. At least the livestock knew where the pain came from and were able to see it and keep clear of it.

I have though seen some cattle learn to listen for the click of the charger. Whilst eating greener grass at the other side of the electric fence, hearing that click, they learned to move away from the fence before receiving the shock.

Herding up cattle was normally the work of dogs that naturally controlled them by nipping their heels. Using cattle prods seems more common today and we even have such similar equipment for use on humans. That is progress for you but it must be better to subdue a criminal than have to shoot them. Which method would you approve of?

For our pet dogs, we have electric collars bark activated so when a dog barks it receives an electrical shock through two prongs touching under the dogís neck. The idea is that doing something that gives you pain will deter the dog from barking.

We also have the hidden fence that consists of a long cable buried in the ground round a property or garden. Any dog approaching this invisible boundary will receive an electric shock that should make it back up and remain inside the designated area. Sometimes dogs have jumped the cable and then been unable to get back in again. Roaming dogs have even chased dogs out of their own gardens.

Available to all dog owners now are remotely controlled electric collars. Some come with variable voltage and some that can operate different collars for different dogs. In this way, Professional trainers say they can train more than one dog at a time.

One problem is that many of these collars can operate outside of our sight range, like one or two kilometres. I then do wonder what is the point of pressing the remote to give the dog pain when you do not know what it is doing.

An example is your dog does not come back to you on command so you send it a shock if it faces any other direction but the right one. That might be fine if you can see your dog but what if it is over a hill and far away, you cannot know in which direction the dog is travelling. This could mean the dog is on its way back to you and then it gets a shock that would send it off in another direction.

The problem remains that dogs do not know where the pain is coming from and cannot comprehend such science. An example could be a dog aggressive towards children. A trainer places such a device on a dogís neck and next time the dog is aggressive towards a child it receives an electrical shock. For the dog, the question is why the pain and who did it. This could mean the dog during training sees children and gets shocked. Its simple logic could well be it wrongly learns that seeing children they give him the shock. It then could conclude the only way to stop more pain is to attack children instead of leaving them alone.

Look at the invisible fence. A dog now has to remain inside an open plan garden with no perceptible barrier. The child from next door comes home and the dog wishes to go and see him. To do so it must cross the hidden cable. The dog receives a shock and backs off. After a number of days for the dog, every time it sees the child from next door, it receives pain. For the dog, the logical culprit is the child, and with each day, the same shock the dog could well jump the fence to attack the child.

In my early days of training, the old choke chain was the order of the day. Indeed pain works and its use will quickly make your dog more subservient and fearful towards the handler. Such training is quick and easy but not all dogs and handlers are the same. Whilst a good hard bang on a choke chain could well make the average dog walk by the handlerís side quickly, some dogs could learn to resent it. They may not attack the handler but if taught using pain it could well think it too can use pain on people and children it sees lower than it in any human/canine pack.

Whilst I learnt that for any chance of my winning with my dog at Working Trails, any chastisement was out of the question. You had to learn to teach the dog quickly and for the dog to succeed every time. If it made a mistake, it was the handlers fault, not the dogs. Dogs that had to work could never attain the accolades achieved by those dogs that loved to work. Just look at Border Collies and you will know what I mean.

Not everyone wishes to reach such heights in competition, preferring just a normal companion dog. Looking at dog ownership in general, is it better to have dogs under control by any method that works best for both dog and handler than having dogs out of control.

Looking at the bigger picture of society does it really matter by what means of training the handler uses so long as it works.

The question before you is does the end justify the means?

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