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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Big SHOCK!!!

If you know me, you won't be surprised that the topic I'm about to engage in is controversial for many dog owners. Wait, let me get my flame suit on....okay the topic is....using an electric shock to train a dog (for example via a collar or an 'invisible fence').

Now before you get your hackles up, this conversation is going to be about my own PERSONAL experience with an electric shock. Let me clarify here to be sure you read the last sentence correctly - I'm not going to talk about using an electric shock on a dog or any other animal. I'm going to talk about when I (me, myself) was shocked. It's a different point of view, but I think it is well worth the discussion.

Let me start off by saying I'm not a fan of shock collars and prefer other training methods. However, as a trainer, I always keep an open mind to different techniques so that I can understand the pros and cons of each method and make an informed decision. In political terms, I'm neither a Liberal or a Conservative.

With that said, here's what happened to me personally.

First, I was in a familiar place and somewhere I felt at ease and comfortable. I'd gotten there early so I wasn't feeling stressed from the drive and it was a beautiful sunny day. In other words, I was in a great mood.

As I was walking my usual route, I noted an electric fence along my path (a first). Unfortunately, I had to deal with it to get to my destination and after not being able to get to the power source, I was left to try and figure out if it was 'hot'. Note for others, using a stick does NOT work as an accurate indicator!! I was doing a great job in removing the fiberglass end post of the fence when the potentially 'hot' wire inadvertently touched me.

There was a moment of nothing and so I thought I was safe. Personally, I think the wire was just gearing up to shock the living *@#% out of me because then IT happened. I swear time froze and went into slow motion. I could hear the electricity coming my way, but by then it was too late to avoid the impact. Much to my surprise, there was an INTENSE stab to my thumb that shot rapidly up my arm and through to my lower shower blade. I vaguely remember the loud & painful howl that came from mouth. I also don't vividly recall the intense instinct that told me to immediately drop the rod and 'hot' wire. What I do remember is being very surprised at the incredibly strange sound I made.

More importantly, I distinctly remember my emotion.

I was PISSED. Mad as all hell and definitely not thinking rationally. Mentally I kept coming back to the pain in my thumb and the surprise of how the electricity had traveled through my arm and into my back area. Again, I was PISSED. I kept coming back to that feeling and I'm very glad nobody else was around. Now this is important...I have no doubt that if the owners of the electric fence would have been there, I wouldn't have been a nice person because logic was out the window. I hurt, it hurt and I was PISSED!

In reality and from the view-point of a trainer, I'm not at all upset with the owners and am actually glad that the situation happened (although I wouldn't volunteer to relive the event!). It is moments like these that are so educational, you just can't learn certain lessons from a text book and they define you as the type of trainer you're going to be.

Bottom line, it better be a life and death situation in order for someone to try and rationalize the use of an electronic shock on ANY living creature. While I would gladly comply with not going near an object that would elicit an electronic shock, it definitely also elicited intense feelings of pain and anger - both of which I view as a negative emotion that could easily fall under the category of intimidation.

The lesson I learned is that I can't help but wonder, is this how a dog feels when it's shocked? PISSED! Wouldn't it naturally blame the owner for putting that darned collar on them? Would or could they potentially turn on their owners...which was my first instinct? These are all interesting questions and I have no doubt the answer is "Depends on the Dog...." Ah, yeah, that's a little too vague for me to swallow as a trainer since I prefer more black and white answers.

As has been said in many studies, Aggression begets Aggression. As a trainer, I would be a fool to ignore the first impulse I had when I was shocked, which was intense and immediate ANGER. While I may have looked compliant on the surface (in an effort to avoid additional & future pain), the fact is that the underlying emotion was there (as the effects of my previous pain continued to throb) and it was quite strong.

It's something for all of us to think about, but I know that based on my personal reaction, I would avoid negative training methods if at all possible.

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