Shock Training Session Video Analysis

Catahoula Sonny during his first shock collar session

Catahoula Sonny at 5 minutes into his first shock collar session

(The video that was analyzed in this page has been removed by Fred Hassen/Sit Means Sit. You can still read the transcript and discussion below.)

The video embedded in this page is narrated by and the training is performed by Fred Hassen, the head of Sit Means Sit, a huge dog training franchise that promotes the use of their own proprietary shock collar.  Sonny, a young Catahoula, is getting his first shock collar training session at the request of the owner’s husband.  This dog shows a lot of distress and the video is difficult for anyone who understands dog body language and communication to watch. But you don’t need to be an expert to see that Sonny is frightened, confused, and being physically hurt.

Sonny repeatedly offers multiple signs of anxiety and fear.  For information on dog behavior that indicates fear, you can refer to Dr. Sophia Yin’s poster on the Body Language of Fear in Dogs. For another list of common canine stress behaviors as well as documentation of the deleterious effects of shock training, your can consult this article: Training dogs with the help of the shock collar: short and long-term behavioural effects.

It bears mentioning that Sonny wags his tail a lot, even some after the shock training has started. This does not mean he is happy and relaxed throughout.  The carriage of the tail, whether it is curled over the dog’s back, carried high, medium, low, or tucked, is crucial to understanding a dog’s stress level and emotional state, and hence the dog’s ability to learn in a situation. Also the speed of the tail wag is relevant. Here are a few resources about tail carriage and tail wagging.

It is notable to any science-based positive reinforcement trainer that Sonny is not exhibiting any particularly problematic behaviors at the beginning. He is exploring the space and objects in the training facility and taking the length of leash his handler gives him. He is not lunging,  pulling, barking, or jumping on the handler. There were many many missed opportunities to let the dog know what behavior was desirable, rather than using an aversive. And the behaviors that the trainer is asking for are dead easy to get using positive reinforcement. For instance, here are two videos of teaching previously feral (unrelated) 6-month old puppies to get on a platform:

Several dog trainer friends were very generous with their time and went through the video with me second by second, documenting their observations of the dog’s behavior and commenting on the training techniques. Even with five of us examining the video, only some of the many signs of stress are listed.

Dog Training – Teaching with a remote dog training collar

Observations of Dog

I have included in [brackets] our best guess of what the trainer’s goal was every time he shocked the dog.

I know that the list of observations is long and such things can be tedious (not to mention disturbing) to read. If you don’t care to read the list,  at the end are observations about and interpretations of the actual training techniques.

We counted 74 times when Sonny was being shocked in the course of 8 1/2 minutes of training. However, some of these may have been part of longer continuous shocks, so the number of shocks might be fewer and the duration of the shocks longer. We did witness some shocks that were at least 15 seconds long and some that were likely longer.

0:24-0:54 Owner walks dog around the training space.  Dog explores – sniffs floor & objects.  Tail carriage is high, head freely moving about, down when actively sniffing.  Dog stays with the owner and uses the length of leash given to him. He is not pulling hard on the leash or getting into trouble. The owner’s husband is not looking at or talking to the dog or giving him feedback of any sort.

0:30 Owner’s husband and the trainer discuss the fact that the dog “has no obedience” including that he doesn’t know how to heel.

0:43 – 0:53 Dog walks with owner on a loose leash.

0:54 Owner’s husband says, “He’s so curious.”

0:58  Shock. Dog drops head, tail lowers a bit and mouth opens in a kind of grimace. Head turns toward trainer. Tail drops slightly. [come to trainer]

1:00 Dog curves head towards trainer. Trainer steps back and continues to apply shock (at 1:02 you can see his finger depressing the button while the dog scratches). [come to trainer]

1:01 1st collar scratch.

1:03: Lip lick. Tail held straight from body. Head straight from body, no longer raised. ears pinned.

1:05: Dog is beginning to walk with head lowered.

1:06 – 1:10 Dog whines*. The dog is with the trainer but now he appears to want the dog to sit?

1:07 – 1:38 Trainer starts a pattern of walking, the applying shock when he stops. He apparently wants  the dog to sit when he stops.

1:07 Shock. 2nd collar scratch. [sit]

1:10 Lip lick. Tail lowered, ears flat. Head low and droopy, back rounded. Dog’s demeanor has changed.

1:14 Whine.

1:15 Shock (can clearly see him pressing the button) [sit]

1:16 Front paw lift.

1:17 Whine.

1:19 Shock. 3rd collar scratch. [sit]

1:21 Trainer gives a leash correction for scratching, or to get dog to sit.

1:25 Shock. [sit]

1:26 Dog whines.

1:24 Dog turned his head away from trainer (look away). Front legs drawn up. Back legs tense. Gut pulled in.

1:30 Head low, lip licking, moving in slow motion.

1:32 Shock (you can see trainer pressing the button). Extended front paw lift. [sit]

1:34: Look away again. Tail low. Front and back stiff and pulled together. Ears pinned to the sides of head.

1:36 Dog whines.

1:40 Shock. [face trainer? sit?]

1:42: Look away.

1:50: Shock. Look away. Dog has noticeably shortened commissures. [face trainer? sit?]

1:52 – 2:03 Shock of long duration. [eye contact]

1:53 Dog whines.

2:00 Trainer taps dog, but dog does not look at trainer in response to tap. Dog looks up at trainer in response to trainer’s moving away. When trainer stops moving, dog disengages again. Dog whines.

1:57 – 2:03 Tail comes to a halt a couple of times.

2:04 – 2:07 Dog whines.

2:09 Shock. Front paw lift. [eye contact?]

2:11 Dog tries to back away from trainer leaning over him and pressing on his butt. Trainer is probably applying pressure to get a sit.

2:19 Shock. [sit]

2:25 Shock. [sit]

2:30 Shock. Ears down, look away. [sit]

2:35 Dog continues to move in slow motion and offer multiple signs of stress and anxiety.  Voiceover says “obviously we’re communicating somehow.”

2:36 – 2:39 Shock. Dog sits in slow motion and stops in a crouch, far away from trainer. Ears pinned. [sit]

2:42 Trainer pets dog.

2:50 Another shock or continuation of previous. [eye contact]

2:56 Shock. [sit]

3:01 – 3:04 Shock or continuation of previous. [eye contact]

3:14 – 3:26 Shock. Dog mounts platform. Tail tucked. [mount platform] (compare his body language with earlier exploration of the objects in the room)

3:27 4th collar scratch.

3:28 Shock. [mount platform]

3:41 Shock. Dog vocalizes loudly. [sit, eye contact]

3:41 – 3:44 Multiple lip licks.

3:53 Look away.

4:00 – 4:03 Shock. Dog backs away  from jump, whining, but is pulled over jump. [jump]

4:05 5th collar scratch

4:09: Shock. Trainer pushes dog on rear end and gets no movement from dog. Dog is shutting down and checking out. [sit?]

4:15 Shock. Trainer stops. 6th collar scratch. [sit]

4:17 – 4:22 Shock. [jump]

4:27 Shock. 7th collar scratch (interrupted quickly). [turn with trainer; maintain position]

4:32 Shock. [turn with trainer]

4:30 – 4:36 Multiple lip licks.

4:37 Shock. [sit]

4:38 Look away.

4:40 Shock. [approach trainer? or stay put?]

4:45 Lip lick.

4:51 Probable shock. [stay]

4:57 – 5:15 Appears to be continuous shock. [sit]

4:56 – 4:59 Several lip licks.

4:59 Shock. Look away. [sit?]

5:01 8th collar scratch (of long duration) and vocalization.

5:03 – 5:10 Shock. [turn and stay with trainer]

(Now criteria seem to be different. The dog is not being leash corrected for scratching. The trainer moves away from the dog.).

5:14 Shock is continuing. Look away. [sit]

5:06 – 5:12 Dog’s walking is crabbed.

5:11 – 5:12 Lip licks.

5:13: The dog is following the trainer with lowered head and tail. The dog follows hesitantly, lots of lip licking as he goes along.

5:18 Lip lick, whine

5:20 Dog startles when trainer tosses leash aside and it makes a bang.

5:25 Shock. Dog vocalizes. Dog opens mouth in a grimace. [stop with trainer]

5:26 Trainer adjusts shock level on transmitter

5:27 Dog vocalizes.

5:28: Dog turns head away, probably in response to shock.

5:34 Shock. Lip lick, whine. Hunched sit. [sit]

5:35 – 5:49 Continuous or near continuous shock to get dog over jump. [jump] You can see trainer’s thumb.

5:35-36 Dog vocalizes, licks lips.

5:41 Shock. Lip lick, whine. [jump]

5:44 Shock continues. [jump;  however,  the man was blocking the jump part of that time].

5:46 Long shock. Trainer attempts to have the dog jump the jump off-leash.  Dog repeatedly offers sit (stopped the shock previously).  Dog vocalizes repeatedly and continues to offer to sit. [jump]

5:47 Lip lick, whine.

5:47: Trainer encourages dog to jump over barrier. Dog tries to move sideways in both directions and receives more shocks. Dog opens mouth and lowers head. Tail tucked low. Hind end scrunched under. Gut clenched. Front and hind legs positioned very close together in a defensive posture.

5:49: Dog gives up and backs away from fence.

5:51: Trainer approaches dog. Dog backs away.

5:54 Shock continues. Dog still trying sits to stop shock. [jump]

5:59 Shock. Head down, ears down, lip lick [stop with trainer]

6:00 Dog moving in slow motion with head lowered. Does brief, cowering sit. [stop with trainer or sit]

6:05 Head down.

6:11 Shock. Yawn, whine. [sit]

6:12 Lip lick.

6:14 Lip lick.

6:16 Whine.

6:18 Yawn.

6:25 Trainer puts the leash back on the dog to do the jump.

6:28 Lip lick.

6:35 Shock. Head down, whine, avoidance of jump. [jump]

6:37 Trainer forces dog over jump. Dog is vocalizing.

6:41 Shock. Whine. [sit]

6:46 Shock. [sit]

6:49 Shock. Multiple paw lifts. [sit? stay with trainer?]

6:51 Shock. Head down. [?]

6:52 9th collar scratch.

6:54 Trainer give leash a yank (and probably shocks) when dog scratches at collar.

6:56 Lip lick.

7:00 Shock. Yawn, lip lick. [mount platform]

7:02 Dog rubs head and neck against trainer’s leg, turning away from platform.

7:05 Shock. [mount platform]

7:09 Shock. 10th collar scratch, whine. [mount platform]

7:09: Dog’s hind end is completely tucked under body.

7:15 Shock. Lowered head, tail down. [mount platform]

7:17 Shock. Trainer is also pulling dog up by leash. [mount platform]

7:20 Shock. Lip lick. [sit on platform]

7:26 Shock. [sit]

7:29 Shock. [sit? or mount platform?]

7:33 Shock continues. Avoidance of platform (trainer had to pull up by leash, like in the movie with the stuffed dog) [so it was mount platform after all]

7:38: Shock. Look away. [sit on platform]

7:45 Trainer pop’s dog’s collar with the leash to get him down off platform.

7:47 Shock. [sit]

7:51 Shock. Yawn, lip lick, whine. Backing away from platform. [mount platform]

7:56 Shock. [mount platform]

8:01 Lip lick.

8:07 Shock. Lip lick, ears down, whine. [sit]

8:09 Shock. Backing up, very low tail wagging. [sit–mount platform?]

8:13 Trainer steps into dog’s space to put dog back into sit. [apparently it was a sit stay]

8:19 Shock. [mount platform]

8:22 Lip lick, whine.

8:28 Shock. [mount platform]

8:30 Shock while on platform (this is new; platform used to stop the shock). Vocalizes when shocked (loud whine when dog steps off platform). [eye contact? stay?]

8:32 Loud whine.

8:42 Probable shock. [mount platform]

8:47 Shock, whine. [come with trainer]

8:49 Tail carriage is significantly lower and the amount of wagging is down from the early part of the video.

8:50 Shock. Whine. [mount platform]

8:53 Shock continuing. Whine. [mount platform and??]

8:53 11th collar scratch

8:58 Lip lick, whine, hesitation in movement to walk.

9:00 – 9:20 Same moves as the video with the stuffed dog–pulls dog up onto object while shocking.

9:02 Shock. [mount platform]

9:06 Shock continues. Dog avoids platform (trainer pulls dog up on platform hard with leash) [mount platform]

9:16 Shock. Dog pulls back from mounting platform (trainer pulls him up on platform with leash) [mount platform]

9:20 Whine.

9:26 Shock. [eye contact while on platform]

9:32 Lip lick

9:35 Shock. [eye contact while on platform]

*There is another dog in the facility and a few of the whines may be from that dog. But in most cases you can see Sonny’s abdomen constrict, or the whine coincides exactly with a shock. It is especially clear in the second half that Sonny is the dog whining.

Comments and Analysis of Training

The following comments come from several observers.

The shock is used to elicit about eight different behaviors: approach trainer, walk with trainer, sit, eye contact, mount platform, sit on platform, jump, stay. The trainer is using body language of which he largely appears to be unaware. There are no clear transitions between training one behavior and the next, and he generally switches without giving the dog a clue that he has done so. He changes criteria at will and the dog is left in pain and confusion. For instance, you can see the dog offering a sit when he is asked to jump. The sit was recently the behavior that turned off the shock. The trainer also seems to change from training the dog a default behavior of accompanying him to shocking to get him to stay while he walks away, within the space of a few seconds, with no transition. Likewise, the dog is shocked until he gets on the platform for a good portion of the session. Towards the end, with no notice, the dog is shocked while on the platform when the trainer wants eye contact.

At 1:15 (can clearly see him pressing the button) and 1:19 he shocks for the same thing – he walks away and the dog comes with him (no shock) and he stops -Shock.  He wants the dog to sit.  The pull up on the leash at 1:21 could have been for scratching or it could have been “instructional” – pull up on the leash to get him to sit.   That’s exactly what he’s doing.  He’s trying to get the dog to sit.  All the stops – 1:24, 1:31 (can clearly see him pressing the button), 1:38, at around 1:49 he gives the dog a break.  You can tell when he shocks him – tail goes still.  He taps him on the head to get him to look up (so butt will go down and dog will sit).  Then at 2:11 he just tries to mold the dog into sitting.  2:19, 2:25, 2:30 – that’s all move & stop and shock hoping the dog will sit.  Dog finally sits (with truly miserable body language) at 2:36.

One viewer suggested stopping the video at 2:38 to see the dog’s completely submissive pose as described above.

At around 2:38 the narrator/trainer says, “I won’t be doing any pulling on the leash or doing any tugging.” But later he does just that. He is unable to teach the dog with just the collar. He can’t get the dog to take the jump without the leash on, so he puts it back on. The last third of the training has many instances of him pulling the dog up on objects with the leash. He also can’t always get the dog to stay on the platform with the collar and has to body block.

A BIG problem with this session and technique is that the cues are unclear, the requirements are unclear and unrepeatable. This trainer is giving body cues he has no idea he is giving. The dog is learning to read those. Since the dog is reading the trainer’s specific body cues to avoid shocks, no generalized training can occur. The owner will have to start all over. The dog will have to endure more shocks from a presumably even less talented trainer.

4:05 Dog goes over barrier and gets shocked. (Dog scratches at 4:05.) I don’t understand why the dog was shocked after jumping over the barrier. Perhaps it was because the trainer anticipated the dog might forge? If the human’s cues are unclear to another human, how can they be understood by the dog?

4:40 Shock. [approach handler? or stay put?]  I *think* he was supposed to stay put.  That’s why he got walked back to where he was.  First stay with me to turn the shock off, now stay away from me to turn the shock off.  All in the span of a couple of minutes.

5:02: Again, the trainer shocks the dog. I have no idea what he wants the dog to do. He has left the dog in a stay twice and walked away from the dog. Then he crouches down, inviting the dog to approach. But when the dog approaches, the dog gets shocked as evidenced by scratching.

5:05: Now criteria seem to be different. The dog is not being leash corrected for scratching. The trainer moves away from the dog.

5:28: Dog turns head away, probably in response to shock. Dog appears to have been shocked for not following the trainer. It is difficult to know when the trainer wants the dog to come and when he wants the dog to stop. Confusing.

At 5:44, The trainer shocks the dog for not jumping over the fence. However, dog could not jump over the fence at that point because the trainer was blocking. Trainer’s timing is dreadful.

5:46 Trainer attempts to have the dog jump the jump off-leash.  Dog repeatedly offers sit (stopped the shock previously).  Dog vocalizes repeatedly and continues to offer to sit. Long duration of shock.

5:47: Trainer encourages dog to jump over barrier. Dog is utterly confused. Dog tries to move sideways in both directions and receives more shocks. Dog opens mouth and lowers head. Tail tucked low. Hind end scrunched under. Gut clenched. Front and hind legs positioned very close together in a defensive posture.

5:51: Trainer approaches dog. Dog backs away. Dog cannot understand what man wants. Trainer gets the leash again. He cannot communicate to the dog without the physical modeling with the leash.

6:58 – 8:25 Using shock to get dog onto a platform.  Watch this section to really see how this training works.  How does this dog look to you?  Is he confident throughout the training? Why is it important the dog get on the platform in this session? Is the handler adjusting the training to the individual dog or trying to make the dog fit the training program for this particular franchise’s business model?  Who benefits from the use of the shock collar? Is the dog benefiting or is the person selling the collar benefitting? Is the collar aiding learning or making it more difficult?

7:02: The platform sequence. Dog tucks head into trainer’s leg, turning away from platform. During this sequence, the dog is shocked for approaching the barrier and hesitating as well as for going over and landing on the other side. Cues are muddled and confusing.

7:38: Look away. I note the trainer was unable to get the dog to stay on the platform without using body blocking. The shock collar was ineffective in that regard. As the session progresses, the dog becomes more shut down. The man must resort to leash pressure more and more often as the information from the shocks becomes muddier and more confused.

9:26 Dog was repeatedly shocked for not getting on the platform.  Now the dog is getting shocked while on the platform.  He must offer eye contact. The trainer taps the dog on head while administering shock to him to “explain” this to him.

31 Responses to Shock Training Session Video Analysis

  1. Donna Hill B.Sc. (zoology) B.Ed. says:

    Fabulous analysis! Fred has turned a happy confident dog into a fearful mess!

  2. Marjorie says:

    This really brings tears to my eyes. These devices really need to be banned. Will this dog ever recover?

  3. Lisa Mallory says:

    This is heartbreaking. The general public has A LOT of access to this equipment now, and seems to be using it. I was clothes shopping at Coldwater Creek today when I overheard one of the saleswomen talking to, and getting advice from a customer about how to stop her recently adopted Treeing Walker Coonhound to stop “howling” when it goes outside for the last time at night before going to bed. (Apparently the dog hears noises and bays at them – Ahhhhh, completely natural for a Treeing Walker Coonhound!!!!) The customer told the saleswoman that she has a Yorkie that “has barking issues,” and she uses a “VIBRATION” collar to stop it. I later had an extended discussion with the saleswoman about SHOCK collars. Who knows if it helped??? But we, as trainers, and dog lovers, MUST start standing up for dogs and letting people know this is abuse and not acceptable. Would we let a trainer do this to our own dogs? Of course not! So we must stand up and be willing to accept the scorn and abuse we will get from some other trainers and dog owners who believe this is the way to go…
    Eileen, thank you for your honesty and your talent presenting this issue…

    • Lisa, you are so right. I keep reading about people who use shock collars who even deny that there is a shock!(I realize that there are vibration only collars, but I think those are usually used only by people with deaf dogs.) Since the vibration setting of a shock collar is generally used as a “warning” by shock trainers, there’s no point in having it if you can’t make good on the threat. Thank you for your comments and support.

  4. The trainer was not giving clear signals to the dog in the first place, also the owner gave the dog a long lead with no guidance, what does he expect the dog to. Really I wish you could put a shock collar on the owners husband and everythime he does not understand what you meant, shock him and the same for the trainer, he expected the dog to understand he wanted him to get up on the round platform without any guidance and then shocked him, Cruelty. the amount of times the person shocked the dog is unreal and the owners husband is obviously ignorant of dogs signals of pain, lovely dog pity about the handlers. Ban shock collars

  5. Debra Sterns says:

    Redneck dog training at its worst. That unprofessional looking man was a professional TRAINER? This man who gave NO vocal or hand signals – was he using the Vulcan Mind Meld??? Then he NEVER let the dog finish an exercise before moving on or shifting around on his feet and throwing the dog off – this man was a bully. The shock collar was ineffective used in that way. Now with a true problem child (and there ARE some) – this can be used for shock and awe – I know police dogs are trained with them for the long distance COME-DOWN and long distance RECALL – but they don’t torture them with it. They are used in snake avoidance training in California, Arizona and Texas. It can be effective with a high prey dog chasing chickens, or other farm animals. But that hound was tortured – he had NO knowledge of why he was being shocked – NO positive reinforcement for compliance – and for the first session to be 10 minutes with constant shocks? Just inhumane treatment of that dog. I’d never let my dog go to these FAUX TRAINERS.

    • Hi Debra. Love your passion. I have to admit I flinched at your use of “redneck,” since my home is a poor southern state. Callousness and hubris exist at all socioeconomic levels as far as I can tell. I certainly share your horror at the actions of the trainer. Your criticisms are right on.

      I also can’t condone the use of a shock collar in any cases at this point. I grant that a shock collar set at very low levels is probably less aversive than many other aversives that are commonly accepted, perhaps including some that we don’t even know we are doing (body pressure type actions). However, since there is no quality control on the collars, they can and do fail, and the outcomes of that can be horrific; because they are reinforcing for humans to use; and because using them without causing the dog to fear either the trainer or random untargeted events or things in the environment takes tremendous skill that most trainers don’t have, I don’t support their use ever. (There are several other reasons but I don’t need to preach here.) You may know of the work of Steve White who uses R+ training for police dogs. And don’t forget the study that showed the fallout on German Shepherds who are were already being trained with other kinds of force.

      Snake avoidance training is controversial as you may know, and puts us right up against the question of whether using a shock device is acceptable in a potentially life saving situation. But from what I’ve seen of the companies that do the training, their grasp of learning theory is not great, and there is a huge risk of negative fallout from the method. It’s just not a sure thing at all. For me, I’ll stick with a great recall, the strongest “leave it” I can get, and an emergency distance down cue.

      Thanks for writing, Debra.

  6. Debra Sterns says:

    I am also from the deep south – born and bred – so I feel like I have a good handle on rednecks! There are just too many with that kind of mentality – but the majority have a heart of gold and would do anything to help you or they will pray for you. I love that about the South – only lived away from here 3 times – I couldn’t wait to get back!!

    I had heard good things from the snake training program – I’d rather they fear it than attack and get a face full of venom. I think like anything – knowledge and experience trump all.

    • Hey Debra,

      Thanks for filling in the blanks. I share your affection for the people here. It’s quite a secret how a tradition for rugged individualism can nurture one-on-one respect and tolerance. Not the normal image of such a conservative area but it’s true. I’m a transplant myself but this is my Forever Home.

  7. Margaret Keast says:

    Another observation. When the dog was walking with the owner he walked in a normal gait. When the dog had the shock collar on he was pacing – both legs on the same side moving together.

  8. Nikki says:

    I couldn’t even figure out what he wanted half until the dog did something correct. Wow.

  9. Everyday Joe says:

    Being a trainer myself, I find it funny that you so called “experts” don’t and wont spend a little time speaking with someone to find out exactly what is going on here. It’s very easy for you to feel like you are getting back at the big bad Fred with all your friends on here without actually engaging in an intellectual conversation with both sides.

    I know you folks have gone to this and that “dog training academy of treats, rainbows and butterflies”, but the reality of it is a dog being “uncertain” with a new training device is 100% normal. Have you as a “expert” ever put a leash on a small puppy and had them vocalize? My guess would be yes. Were you hurting the dog, no. It would be very easy for me to find a video of you training a “small, innocent, harmless puppy” who was vocalizing because of the unfamiliarity of a leash, and scrutinize the video with some other trainers. Do you have background on the dog in this video? Do you have an idea if the dog is “traumatized” for life because of this? The answer is no.

    There is a reason why, in my town, my “shock collar” business is kicking the crap out of the “treat and rainbow” trainers”. People that have a dog and actually want to see some results (they know about these results from the referral business of 100s of satisfied, non-traumatized clients) call me up and after seeing their friend’s dog, my dog, and feeling for themselves what the collar we sell actually does, and sign up. When used appropriately remote collars are a great tool, which yields amazing results, and gives people the confidence to have reliable off leash control. With treat training, you get in 1000s of reps of “come” and when the time comes for your dog to be off leash (unless it’s a husky, or one of the other 50 breeds you “rainbow” trainers say can’t be off leash) you hope your dog will recall. The difference, my clients know they can enforce any command they give, on or off leash with any breed. No praying to the treat gods required.

    Unfortunately dogs don’t possess the language and cognitive reasoning a child does, so you have to use other means of communication. When was the last time you saw a dog open a bag of treats and hand that treat to another dog as a “positive marker”? This whole notion of positive only training is disgusting. Dogs deserve to be treated with love, but just like with a child you don’t hand a child an Oreo every time they make their bed or use the bathroom, that’s an expectation of life. AND, just like with children, sometimes a child may “exhibit signs of stress”, but you, as the adult with much more life experience, understand that this “stress” you are placing on the child is for his/her own good, and in the end it is done because you love and care for this child. Unfortunately this “rainbow” training has filtered into or stems from the way most people raise their kids (insert give a child a trophy for everything). I’ll never forget they day my younger sister came home from high school math and the teacher said she didn’t have the wrong answers, they just weren’t the best answers….IT’S MATH there is only one answer, give the kid an F, because she deserved and F. This is they same thing we are doing to our dogs, we are afraid to be stern with them for fear they will be “traumatized”….seriously? There must be both positive and negative in the world of teaching, or we start ending up with “Me Generation dogs”.

    In conclusion, treats aren’t bad, I use them frequently, I was just trying to make a point here, but I think as trainers it’s important to not jump on the positive only side of the isle as well. Michael Ellis (who I have no affiliation with) does a great job of demonstrating the use of marker, remote, and other types of training TOGETHER. I would encourage those of you reading this to at least speak with the other side of the isle when making your decision on who to go with for dog training, I think you will be surprised that it’s not the “dark side” after all and we tend to use treats, toys or whatever works best. This video may not have depicted it, but it’s easy to only pull out only one video of 1000s and scrutinize it.

    • Hi Everyday Joe,

      Thank you for writing. You have made a case for what are seen by many as the advantages of using a mixture of positive reinforcement and aversives (in the form of punishment or negative reinforcement). Although this approach can be made to sound reasonable, like a nice middle road, the science (and the experience of many trainers) indicates otherwise.

      Here is an article that describes the problems with this approach.

      The Poisoned Cue: Positive and Negative Discriminative Stimuli

      Here is some of the research that backs that up.

      The Effects of Combining Positive and Negative Reinforcement During Training

      Here is a piece by Jean Donaldson that clearly and instantly dismantles the idea that including punishment and pain in training is somehow the reasonable, middle ground.

      The Continuum Generator

      I think it is very helpful that you wrote.


      • Everyday Joe says:


        Thanks for your links, I found those sites to be a good read. I guess at the end of the day both you and I could provide “resources” to back up opinions. I personally know folks at CSU(Colorado State University) who agree with my opinion, and they have their colleagues who would tend to agree more with your opinion. So, I’m not really interested in a toss out of links, instead I’m interested in you using your own words to explain why shock collars(or using your logic even a leash if it’s causing any form of discomfort at any level, which would occur almost at its mere presence, thus implying you would be against putting a leash on any dog, further implying you must never leash your own dogs) should never be used under any circumstances. Something that will always trouble me about folks on the “positive only side” is the idea that the best way to stop, say aggression(true aggression), is to wait for the dog to do the correct thing(stop trying to bite someone) and give them a reward. Your idea would be such that, through repetition, this dog would learn that biting got him nothing in return and the lack of biting got him a treat. This assumes every dog has a desire to do what you want. Do you really believe that? And at the conclusion of a positive only trainers assessment of a truly aggressive dog(I’ve seen this more than once by more than one trainer) the dog will be destroyed before they allow someone to teach the dog through pressure to control its aggression if the dog was deemed not trainable with positive only training. While that is a more extreme example, let’s use a bit more realistic example.

        There is a lady in my town with the earned title of Dr. and this following her name,

        IAABC – International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, APDT – Association of Pet Dog Trainers, NADOI – National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors, American Kennel Club Breeder of Merit, Canine Behavioral Psychologist, Author, Speaker.

        Now, from a paper standpoint she would seem to be everything you folks could hope for and more in a trainer, right? I am up to 10 clients, most who have been through not one, but 2 of her levels of programs, most paying in the neighborhood of $500 for the training they had with her. She did a great job at teaching the dog(s) positions(the dog(s) knew sit, down…ect) but all of the clients who went through her had no way of stopping their dog from doing something inappropriate other than withholding a reward. In these cases, and many of the cases of the clients who come to me, the dogs aren’t food or toy motivated to the extent that the absence of a reward causes them to stop a behavior. A great example is a dog who pulls on the leash. What does a positive only trainer do with a dog who is unmotivated by your happiness? Using your (and my in town “expertly trained initial collectors”) logic, working with the leash to control a dog, or even simply restrain it from running away, would not be an option if it causes the dog any form of discomfort, or in any way causes the dog to lick its lips, wag its tail funny, or wink its left eye. I have yet to hear anything from a positive only trainer other than, try harder, or your not making yourself more exciting than your surroundings(btw I like the idea of just saying “come” and not throwing a party for my dog doing something I find to be a basic life skill).

        The reality of training is, you(Eileen) will use a leash to walk your dog.(maybe not all the time if you have done some work, but the next dog will have to start out on a leash), you will tell a dog, or puppy, “no”(or some variant of the word) for eating your laptop cord that your daughter forgot to pick up last night, you might even shake a can of pennies to stop your dog from barking in the house, but all of these are things your dog might not like, and as such are negative, pressure oriented tools. So while you may sound like you only use positive methods, using your logic, if you ever leash a dog(or really even leave them in a house by themselves, because that can be upsetting to them), tell a dog he is anything other than a super star, or pull his attention away from something he is enjoying, you really do use pressure, and even some discomfort in the form of a leash. Btw, why do you call it a leash and collar and not a strangulation device or airway obstruction device, after all some might argue that is what a piece of cloth controlling his or her movements by its position on the neck is….

        I think if you guys really felt strongly about this whole no pressure thing you should consider a ban on collars and leashes of any kind, after all, more collars and leashes have killed dogs than “shock collars” . Oh wait, it’s the “no pull harness” that the Boulder, Colorado folks advocate, that’s right, the one when pulled on collapses the dogs chest cavity not allowing the dog to take a breath. At least that’s what the group from Boulder, Colorado is pushing these days as the “humane approach to shock collars and other corrective devices”.

        Everyday Joe

        • Hi Joe.

          I’m confused by a couple of your statements. You say, “even a leash if it’s causing any form of discomfort at any level, which would occur almost at its mere presence, thus implying you would be against putting a leash on any dog.”

          I’d like to know if I’m understanding you. Are you saying that dogs naturally find leashes unpleasant, and that therefore someone who says they rely on R+ methods is being hypocritical if they use leashes?

          You also say, “Something that will always trouble me about folks on the “positive only side” is the idea that the best way to stop, say aggression(true aggression), is to wait for the dog to do the correct thing(stop trying to bite someone) and give them a reward.”

          Again, I’d like to know if I understand you. Are you saying that your experience of R+ trainers is that they wait for a dog to bite someone, wait for the dog to stop biting, and then give a reward for not biting?

          I’d appreciate any clarity you can provide about your comments.


          • Everyday Joe says:

            Good points Sharon. I will address both of those situations.

            Lets start with the leash question first. What happens when you first put a collar on a puppy (not a leash yet, just a collar). Most puppies scratch incessantly(almost like what the dog in the above video did) and many show the same signs of “stress” as in the shock collar examples supplied by Eileen(change in posture, tail wag, lip licking, maybe even rolling on the floor trying to get the collar off). But by definition this is not positive only, and we haven’t even put the leash on yet, or even administered any input from a handler, we have simply introduced something the puppy is unfamiliar with. At this stage we have ceased to be positive only and have done something our new, cute, harmless puppy doesn’t like. Now, lets snap the leash onto the collar(maybe we gave the puppy a few days to get accustomed to the foreign device we have placed on its neck). (Before I go too far into the leash I would like to establish that if the leash is in your hand and your dog wishes to do anything other than stay right by your side, and he makes the leash tight, and you don’t release the leash, you are applying leash pressure.) For those of you with at least a little experience with puppies(20 puppies personally trained) this is a stage where a puppy will try at some point to avoid leash pressure and unless you immediately cease leash pressure every time your puppy makes the leash tight, you are not R+. AND, if you were to drop the leash, what you have taught your new puppy is that by making the leash tight he gains freedom(something you were stopping him from achieving). Yes, the R+ trainer would have a treat in her had and try and make this experience fun, but at some point this puppy will want to do something other than stay with you. At that point, when he decides he wants to leave your side, if you attempt to keep him with you with a gentle leash tug, you have applied “pressure” and when he returns to your side and you treat him, you have rewarded him for responding to your pressure. Sounds to me like this is the same thing I do, just with a “shock collar”.

            Using my above example, yes, dogs who are not familiar with a leash, either because of age or because of other hosts of reasons, find them to be unpleasant to some degree, at some point in their life. That degree maybe altered by the implementation of a good handler, but I don’t believe the argument can be made that every dog, every time, enjoys a leash. I think for some folks this idea isn’t as easy to swallow because when they pull the leash out their dog thinks, “we are going for a walk” and begins to excite. But, just because the dog has associated walking with the leash doesn’t detract from the fact that this leash(by simple logic) is there to apply physical pressure to the dogs neck to keep him close to the handler, or why else would someone use a leash(yes, there are laws, but there wouldn’t be leash laws if leashes weren’t needed for control). Btw when I pull out my “shock collar” my dogs get pretty darn excited because they know, we are going outside.

            For the second question, yes and no is my answer. I would hope a trainer would have a muzzle on a dog he or she knew had the potential to be dangerous. So, would the dog be truly biting the handler or another individual, no. So, with the muzzle on, the positive only trainer would wait for the dog to stop attempting to bite and then reward. As I said it was a more extreme example, but an example I find to be very accurate. Although using a muzzle to disallow a dog to bite could be considered to be non R+ so maybe the above dog would be biting everyone in the example, but if they did use a muzzle I would have to say a muzzle is far more invasive than any remote collar.

            At the end of the day, everyone uses pressure and everyone has tools at some point their dog is unfamiliar with. But if remote collars are the devil, than why are there companies that do so well with the collars being such a big part of their program? I believe Fred sells 10s of 1000s of collars a year to clients, and has been doing so for over 10 years. Surely their Vulcan Mind Tricks aren’t that good, and surely the word would have gotten out to law enforcement by now if they were being inhumane…..oh wait, law enforcement uses these collars(and some mandate their use), must be a conspiracy (insert Mel Gibson).

  10. Hi Joe. Thank you for your replies. I can tell it’s important to you to be clear and thorough and be heard for your experience training *many* dogs. I’m pretty tired right now so I my answers will not be as long and thorough as yours.

    You said, “Before I go too far into the leash I would like to establish that if the leash is in your hand and your dog wishes to do anything other than stay right by your side, and he makes the leash tight, and you don’t release the leash, you are applying leash pressure.”

    This is an interesting example because I think it’s the way most people — trainers and owners — start out with leash training, and it’s certainly how I started with my first three dogs, yet I have learned another technique that has been much more effective and efficient for long-term good behavior on a leash. I hope you don’t mind if I share it, because I get the impression you really like to learn about what’s out there in terms of dog training. It is a method devised by Sue Ailsby, who has been training dogs for many decades in just about every form of competition, work, and pet behaviors you can imagine. (Seriously, it blows my mind!) The method is to teach the dog NOT to respond naturally with the opposition reflex that all mammals have of resisting when pulled, but teaching the dog to move WITH the pressure. Basically this means tricking the dog into thinking its body is lying to him!

    I can’t do justice to Sue’s step-by-step method at the moment because my fingers are rebelling against typing a lot, but the basic idea is that you put your finger in the dog’s collar and just exert the tiniest, tiniest bit of pressure. With the other hand, you lure the dog toward the pressure with a treat and then mark and reward that moment. Over time you can exert more pressure and do this with the leash. And you can also drop the food lure pretty quickly once the dog understands what you’re asking. This way the dog learns that whenever the leash gets tight, he must always go WITH the pressure, and that doing so may be rewarded. This prevents a lot of the tedious business we have all dealt with of teaching a dog to STOP pulling because we are teaching from the get-go that going with the tension is rewarding, so the dog doesn’t get a chance to practice pulling.

    One thing you are right about, which I would like to acknowledge, is that no trainer can ever be 100% positive. There are aversives in everyone’s lives, dogs included. This can be true even of using R+ methods such as I described. For example, suppose Puppy has been trained to go with the leash and not pull as described above, and most of the time Puppy remembers this and keeps a loose leash. But one day, Puppy sees a bird! Or a dog! Or, you know, when they’re little a blowing leaf is thrilling! Well, you know what’s coming, right? Puppy pulls to get to that exciting thing. And what Sue teaches, which has been very effective for me, is to back AWAY from that thing, very fast, and not to move toward it again until the leash is loose. So, even though you may be rewarding a loose leash when at a standstill with a food treat or you may be rewarding a loose leash by moving toward The Exciting Thing, it is still true that when you are backing up away from the thing that Puppy wants, Puppy is probably a bit frustrated and disappointed to not get that thing the instant he wants it. Oh well! 😉 It’s part of learning.

    In fact, Eileen wrote a great post previously about why she opposes “errorless training,” and I agree with it. We cannot give our dogs a faultless learning experience all the time. Sometimes they will guess wrong, despite our efforts to set them up to succeed. But the occasional “oops” where a dog does not get a reward can actually help them become more confident, because they learn that making an error is not the end of the world, and they can try again.

    I would very much like to address your comments about biting, because I think that’s so important, but I’m feeling too ill to continue right now. (Not because of the topic, LOL! I have a chronic pain and fatigue illness.) So I hope you will be willing to engage on that topic another time.


  11. Mickaella Lozeau says:

    another one of the many !#$^@& in the world that beleive that miss treating an animal for a good behavior is the best way…. WRONG WRONG WRONG!! the dog went from happy wagging tail to a tucked in tail with a whine. Wouldnt people rather want a happy dog doing what you ask it to do or an abused animal hating you and being afraid of you when you ask them to do something! this man should not be encouraged!

    • Hi Mickaella,
      Thanks for your heartfelt comments. I agree with you that this kind of training should be brought to light, and should not be encouraged.I cringed a little at your use of “!#$^@&” because I don’t want to encourage name calling from any quarter. But there already has been some before you, and you didn’t spell anything out! For me, I am going to continue to criticize actions I find objectionable and not label anybody for doing them, and encourage others to do the same.

  12. Everyday Joe says:


    So using your experiences with this trainer, would it be completely out of this world to apply exactly what you have described with a remote collar? Let’s do an exercise, I’ll take the paragraph you typed and change collar to “remote collar” and see if it sounds all that different from how I and other remote collar trainers describe its use.

    …the basic idea is that you put your finger in the dog’s remote collar and just exert the tiniest, tiniest bit of pressure. With the other hand, you lure the dog toward the pressure with a treat and then mark and reward that moment. Over time you can exert more pressure and do this with the remote collar. And you can also drop the food lure pretty quickly once the dog understands what you’re asking.

    Boy, that sounds a lot like how I might describe using a remote collar with a new dog. I think if folks would understand how to use a remote collar properly, there wouldn’t be such a stigma associated with it. The tools don’t matter, they all have the ability to be used incorrectly. The difference…when used correctly, a remote collar will give you the ability to do things a leash never would. When I push the button on my dog’s remote collar, his ears come up, his tail wags and he knows, dad wants to engage. Does that collar have the ability to be turned up, sure, but I wouldn’t turn it up without a valid reason, just like you wouldn’t jerk on your dogs leash. As you said, “Over time you can exert more pressure”. Does that mean you and this trainer were “traumatizing” your dog, no, it means that once your dog had an understanding of the tool, you were able to fully implement it and benefit from it.

    As I said in my original post, it is a shame more conversations like this don’t take place. Flaming posts about evil shock collar people doesn’t help dog training progression, conversation and engagement will. I’m not saying I know it all, but I will say if you are able to get better results than I am with a different method, I’m all ears. I think it’s also important to remember that I train with treats just as you do, they are great…I just don’t have a problem realizing that off leash, a rabbit and a busy intersection creates a situation in which I don’t want to hope my conditioning training set in deep enough. Placed on the dog population as a whole, positive only training, is much harder for folks to learn and less reliable than remote collar training, or people like police officers(folks who’s dog’s obedience is life or death) would use R+. Ask the employees of the most successful computer company in the world if Steve Jobs was R+ and if it got them to where they are now. Pressure isn’t bad, it just needs to be used correctly…by leash or remote collar.

    • mickaella lozeau says:

      Well from where I work, we believe in positive reinforcement letting the dog understand what he is asked to do. And there are no treats in what so ever he is doing. Remote shock collar should never be used for trainning just like it would never be used to educate a child on how to be “potty trained” or how to speak properly with people. Its just really wrong!

    • Hi Joe. It’s taken a while for me to get back to you! I hope this (long) comment makes sense because it’s late and my brain is not 100%.

      Before I respond to your question, I just want to say that when I read this, I felt so happy: “I will say if you are able to get better results than I am with a different method, I’m all ears.” I really appreciate your curiosity and desire to keep learning. That is very important to me, too — I do as much reading of dog behavior and training books and blogs and watching videos as I can because it’s fascinating to me, and there is always more to learn!

      So, this has been an interesting process for me. When I first read your post (last night), part of me was happy, as I said above, and part of me felt confused and disappointed, and I wasn’t sure why. This morning I woke up and realized that I really want understanding, and I didn’t feel understood. And when I reread your response I realized that of course I hadn’t felt understood because I had left out a really crucial — perhaps the most crucial — bit of information about why I think Sue’s method is so effective. And thus why I think your example and my example are not as similar as I made them appear.

      So, thank you for helping me gain some clarity! Sometimes I get so wrapped up in something I miss steps when trying to explain it. (Which happens a lot, because a lot of people ask me, “Why are you doing THAT?” When I train my dog.) And actually, now that I’ve reread my comment, I realize that’s what I’m talking about doing with my dog, too. (Eileen has a post about “lumping” that addresses this very human tendency.)

      So, here’s the really relevant info I left out: skilled R+ trainers start out a behavior at such an easy level that there is no way the dog can fail. In the example of teaching the puppy to move toward leash tension (as opposed to pulling back), I would start by just putting my finger on the collar, click/treat. (I’m going with a clicker approach here because it’s easiest for me to explain and IME is most effective, but a R+ trainer with good timing — esp with treat delivery — could certainly do without.) Then slipping a pinky finger under (but not pulling), c/t. *But not yet pulling.* So, there is nothing for the puppy to feel uncomfortable with. So I am reinforcing every time I have the behavior I want, which in this case is just being calm and happy and not freaking out about having his collar touched.

      Assuming that goes well, I move to the next step, when I use my pinky to pull just the teensiest bit on the collar; it should be so slight that the puppy may not even notice it, but definitely notices, “Hey! There’s a bit of food I want!” and follows their nose/my other hand that just happens to be in the direction toward the “pressure.” The idea is that I am using such a minimal amount of “pulling” that the pup has many successful trials of not even wanting to pull back before he really registers that there’s something going on there. But his body is learning the info even if he hasn’t actually made the mental connection yet.

      Then, when I do eventually pull a tiny bit more so that he notices it, it is not a negative stimulus, not something unpleasant, it is the opposite; it has become a cue — a signal that he has a chance to earn a reinforcer. By this time, in other words, I’m not using a food lure anymore. I’m just letting his positive experience of “Hey! My collar is getting moved a tiny bit and if I move in that direction, I get a treat!” as his information — I no longer need the lure to explain what I want (or rather, in his eyes, what will pay off). So moving toward the slight bit of pressure is not because he should or needs to or will have unpleasant results if he doesn’t, it’s because if he chooses to move toward the pull, he earns a c/t.

      But two other things could happen if I haven’t “banked” enough positive reinforcements before he is noticing this slight collar pulling. One is that the pup just stands there and does nothing, and the other is the pup pulls back (away from pressure).

      If the pup just stands there uncertainly (not pulling back) but otherwise basically seems calm, happy, relaxed, etc., then I would probably just leave my finger there, very lightly, and give him a second to think and see if he moves in the direction I want. If not, I’d bring out my food lure again and explain it to him again by going back to even less pressure and c/t for movement in the direction I want, a few reps back to where we were and probably that would get us over the hump.

      IF the pup pulls back and shows any signs of not liking the pressure, it means I have gone too fast, because the idea is to start *below threshold,* i.e., before the dog has any stress or concern or excitement at all. Just calm and relaxed and showing relaxed, happy dog body language. (This is a major requirement especially for training with fear or aggression or any kind of arousal issue, like you mentioned with biting. And I personally screw up often wrt by forgetting that I have to start much farther below threshold than I do. Then, some reactivity occurs, or my dog is just not “in the game” [happy, engaged, thinking, quick, etc.] and I realize that my criteria are too high and I have to back up. For instance, to work with a dog who bites, you would start training when the dog is relaxed, and biting is the furthest thing from her mind. But more about that another day!) So, if there is any pulling back, I don’t want the puppy to have a chance to practice that behavior, so I would lower the difficulty back to something that he can readily succeed at either by reducing the amount of pull or by bringing back in the lure, or both.

      So, that’s where I think our approaches differ: my goal is to make the option I want so appealing, so desirable, that the dog doesn’t even have to think at this stage about any other option. I’m trying to prevent discomfort or stress in the learning process, as much as possible, especially with something like leash pulling because there is a hard-wired physiological response (the opposition reflex) that I’m trying not to trigger. I want to support the dog to learn easily by not even engaging that reflex.

      Also, if I keep things easy enough and move slowly enough so that we are winning very often, this is much more fun and rewarding for me, because I am constantly focused on what my dog is doing right, so we are winning together, and that is, frankly, a rush. As a person who has always had a tendency to anger easily, this is a really important change for me from when I used force/compulsion methods (choke chains, leash pops, modeling, scruff shaking), and often got very angry with myself and my dogs when things didn’t go right, so I would escalate the punishment/aversive, which almost inevitably led to me getting even more wound up. So, it’s not just about kindness to the dog, it’s hugely about kindness to myself to train in a way that I find rewarding and enjoyable.

      I’m curious what comes up for you with what I’ve written. I hope I’ve made sense, despite my late-night rambliness.

    • It appears that Joe has left for now without responding to Sharon W’s latest post to him. I have written a response to his attempt to draw analogies between leash use and shock and it can be found here: The Claims about Leash Pressure and Shock. Thanks to Sharon for setting an amazing tone to the conversation. It was a real lesson to me that the fact that she took the time really to hear Joe made a difference in his tone and presentation. That should be a lesson to us all. I am ending comments on this page for now since this last round has been very tiring and I’d rather write about something other than shock for a good long while. Thanks everybody for being civil.

  13. mickaella lozeau says:

    Well then, instead of using a shock collar and reward when shocked, why not use a clicker and reward when clicked?

  14. Sarah Adams says:

    Wow, what a super job that guy does of teaching the dog to fear the jump and platforms. That was what he was trying to do, wasn’t it?

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