Monday, October 08, 2007

Can We Assume... ?

Although the use of Tasers by law enforcement officials has been linked to some highly publicized deaths nationwide, the devices are safe and cause a low occurrence of serious injuries, according to a nationwide study. In the full review of nearly 1,000 cases, 99.7 percent of people subjected to a Taser had mild injuries, such as scrapes and bruises, or no injuries at all, the study found. Only three subjects (0.3 percent) suffered injuries severe enough to need hospitalization.

So, you use a shock device strong enough to bring a man to his knees, and the device is "safe". The injuries sustained are not a direct use of the Taser, but injuries that are concurrent and incidental to the use of the device. In other words, the Taser might bring the man to his knees, but the bruises he got were from falling on his knees, not from the stimulation of the device. If that is the case, and that is what this study seems to indicate, then can't we assume that a properly used electric collar on a dog, or an electric hidden fencing system, is also safe for use? In other words, can't we assume proper use of an electric collar or other such electrical device won't cause a medical problem for a dog?

I have three levels for determining whether a training method or technique is humane. I think the first level of determining whether something is abusive is determining whether there is a reasonable likelihood the method would cause injury or health problem or disease, needing medical care to the dog or family. If injury is known to be the result, then the method shouldn't be used.

Second, and more subjective, is whether it is psychologically harmful. I feel that the methods we use should tend to make the dog and handler work according to the ideals of what an obedience trained dog should look like in competition. I would say that any method that would not tend to cause a dog, in the long run, to perform according to the obedience rules of AKC or Schutzhund should be ruled out. Those rules generally state that the dog should perform precisely and willingly, and the handler should not have to be harsh with the dog. Our focus on the ideal performance of a dog should dictate the methods we use. You can’t get this kind of ideal performance by abusing a dog in training. According to the AKC obedience regulations: “This “perfect picture” must comply with these Regulations and shall combine the utmost in willingness, enjoyment and precision on the part of the dog with naturalness, gentleness and smoothness on the part of the handler. Speed alone does not necessarily indicate willingness and enjoyment. Lack of willingness and enjoyment on the part of the dog must be penalized, as must lack of precision in the dog’s performance. Roughness in handling, military precision or harsh commands by the handler must also be penalized.”

Should a dog be locked in a cage 24 hours of every day as a method of preventing dog bites? Would this tend to make the dog behave according to this ideal picture? No, it wouldn't. Should a dog be so confined by electronic devices in the home and yard that the dog lives in a maze? No. Should a dog be subjected to 24 hours of non-stop training? (I know I’m putting out crazy examples, but you get the idea). No. We should eliminate methods that are psychologically harmful. Methods that wouldn't tend to cause the dog to obey according to the picture given by the AKC should be avoided or eliminated from your training toolbox.

Third, is a quality of life evaluation, which is even more subjective. Let's assume we are talking health instead of behavior. If a dog is miserable because of a debilitating disease, and there is no way of alleviating the dog's misery, I have no problem recommending euthanasia. It is in pain all the time. So, let's consider a behavioral situation that is so bad that the dog that just can’t be a dog without implementing a specified training method, and would have to live in a cage all the time to be safe in the home. Then, I’d try the method if that is the only solution left. On the other hand, if the training method is so harsh that it makes the dog scream, run and hide under a bed, never wanting to come out again, then I’d start asking other trainers for advice or not take the case, and refer them to someone else who I might feel could address the problem better. And if all that failed, and the dog's continued existence is going to be flat out miserable, then I'd consider recommending euthanasia.

Electric training devices, such as electric collars and hidden fencing systems aren't inhumane, provided they are used by people who know how to properly use them. On the other hand, they aren't the only training tool you should try. Traditional training incorporates a myriad of methods, both positive and correctional, for addressing a variety of training and behavioral situations.

One last piece of advice. Hire a professional before you consider using an electric training device. Have someone show you the proper, humane way to use them.

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