(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.
- What Do Dogs Say with their Tails?
- Tail Wagging: How to Speak Dog
- Tail Wagging Direction Holds Meaning
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.
1:15 Shock (can clearly see him pressing the button) [sit]
1:16 Front paw lift.
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.
6:25 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]
9:26 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.