Speak Now: Petco paves path for pets

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photography of three dogs looking up
Looking to train your pet? Stay clear of shock collars. These collars are known to aversively reinforce pets, which in according to Harvard studies is not as effective as positive reinforcement. Photo by Nancy Guth on Pexels.com

If you train dogs for a living, you’ve trained your family dog or you know someone who helped train a dog, you probably know it’s a lot of work. From teaching them not to chew furniture (or your fingers) to basic commands like sit and stay, training dogs takes time, patience and a lot of positive reinforcement. 

Petco recently decided to focus on the positive reinforcement aspect of dog training by discontinuing the sale of electronic “shock” collars, which have previously been used to curb unwanted behaviors.  

winking black and brown puppy
According to research, the best way to train or teach a new behavior to a pet is by voluntarily allowing them to participate in the learning processes. In addition, owners must reward pets for preferred behaviors in order to encourage their likelihood. Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

This is a good step forward and all pet stores should discontinue these collars. Although shock collars may be helpful when used properly, they are often used for negative, abusive purposes. In addition, positive reinforcement is shown to be much more effective in teaching. 

The idea of “positive reinforcement” in psychology was first used in the 1930s by behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. Positive reinforcement essentially rewards people or animals to encourage good behaviors. An example of this would be rewarding students with extra credit for showing up to class, or rewarding a child with a lollipop for using their manners — in these cases, the extra credit motivates students to attend class and the lollipop encourages children to be polite. With dogs, examples of positive reinforcement could be giving your dog a treat every time it goes to the bathroom in the correct spot, or praising and petting your dog every time it follows a command.  

Shock collars, on the other hand, use a form of punishment. Instead of praising a dog for a good behavior, shock collars punish the dog so that a bad behavior does not continue. 

A study by Harvard University suggests positive reinforcement is much more effective than punishment. Positive reinforcement also creates a better environment for the dog being trained.  

“Shock collars have been shown to increase fear, anxiety and stress in dogs, and we believe that there is a better way — positive reinforcement training,” said Petco CEO Ron Coughlin in a Petco news release

Shock collars were first developed in the 1960s to help train hunting dogs. Clearly they are outdated modes of training that should not be used anymore. Websites that give information for people considering buying a shock collar often warn of adverse effects of using the collars, such as creating fear in dogs and over-correction. These warnings should be heeded because they can lead to a harmful change in the dog’s emotional state. 

“Science shows animals will learn a new behavior faster and more successfully if they are allowed to voluntarily participate in the learning process and are rewarded for preferred behaviors. Punishment is not only less successful in changing unwanted behaviors, shock collars have been known to actually reinforce negative behaviors and cause anxiety within pets,” said Dr. Whitney Miller, Petco Head of Veterinary Medicine, in the Petco news release

“Science shows animals will learn a new behavior faster and more successfully if they are allowed to voluntarily participate in the learning process and are rewarded for preferred behaviors. Punishment is not only less successful in changing unwanted behaviors, shock collars have been known to actually reinforce negative behaviors and cause anxiety within pets.”

Stopping the sale of shock collars is one way to encourage the use of positive reinforcement when training dogs. Yes, it may be frustrating to train your dog to stop certain behaviors, but it can be done without using a shock collar. Instead of using a shock collar, consider using positive reinforcement for good behavior and teaching them the command “no” or “stop” in order to put an end to certain behaviors without the adverse effects of a shock collar. 

Hopefully more pet stores will follow suit and the use of shock collars will be prohibited everywhere. Having a dog means welcoming it into your family in a positive way, and shock collars do not create the positive environment that our furry friends need. 

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