When we apply an aversive to a dog we are talking about the application non-injurious physical force applied to the dog at or slightly above the dog’s threshold of discomfort as evidenced by a small yip or yelp.

Whilst some people prefer to use the words ‘punishment’ or ‘correction’ instead of aversives, I prefer not to use these words as they are overly emotive and technically incorrect.

When applying an aversive it must be applied following three very strict rules in order to meet the definition of a valid aversive;

1. The aversive must be applied at the time of the unwanted behavior and no more than 10 seconds after it.
2. The aversive must be perceived as an aversive by the dog, as evidenced by a small yip or yelp.
3. When delivering an aversive during an unwanted behavior, the aversive must stop when the unwanted behavior stops.

Aversives are never delivered with anger and whenever possible they should be delivered without directing the dog’s attention toward the handler….. rather we want the dog to perceive (as much as possible) that the negative consequence it received was caused by the undesirable behavior that it was doing when the aversive was delivered to it. This alone highlights the advantages of things like a Remote Training Collar where the trainer has no direct apparent link to the aversive that the dog receives as a result of doing an unwanted behavior. This way the dog still receives the negative consequences for doing the undesired behavior but the aversive itself does not damage the trainer-dog relationship.

Many people who follow the ‘Politically Correct’ dog training ideology perceive aversives and the use of any force in training as evil, cruel and inhumane and often use overly emotive words (such as ‘hitting’ and ‘hurting’) when describing them to convince others that aversives are not valid. Sadly the one they have to convince is not me, nor other people…. It is Mother Nature, as aversives are a normal part of any canine’s life. Dogs deliver aversives to each other and have done so since they were pups within the litter. In their daily lives aversives are part of the normal mechanisms of behavior control within their social groups.

To deny the use of aversives to dog owners is to deny them the most natural means of extinguishing unwanted behaviors in their dog. Not only are aversives natural but they are by far the quickest and most efficient way to extinguish unwanted behaviors in the canine. Unlike the management strategies of the positive-only trainers who typically apply either distraction, interruption or redirection, aversives are clearly understood by the canine and the correct application of aversives will quickly extinguish, and not just ‘manage’ undesired behaviors.

Were first dogs our best friends, or mutant vermin? The tale wags on

Clive D.L. Wynne heads up Arizona State University’s Canine Science Collaboratory and is director of research at Wolf Park in Indiana.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dogs are traditionally seen as “man’s best friend,” but an expert on canine cognition says the origin of the species may not have been all that warm and fuzzy: Dogs could have started out as mutant wolves that rooted around in the garbage like rats.

“Those dogs are not our best friends,” says Clive D.L. Wynne, who heads up Arizona State University’s Canine Science Collaboratory. “They are vermin, along with other nasty things that are in the trash. But then a second phase kicks in.”

Humans discovered that dogs could be very useful. And tasty, too.

Wynne, who is writing a book about canine evolution, outlined his scenario for dog domestication this week at the ScienceWriters2013 conference in Gainesville.

Rise of the mutants
His tale begins with wolves — evolutionary cousins that are so closely related to dogs that they’re considered variants of the same species (Canis lupus). But here’s where the tale wags in a different direction: In Wynne’s view, the first dogs weren’t just domesticated wolves.

“You couldn’t go hunting with a wolf,” said Wynne, who has studied wolf behavior as director of research at Wolf Park in Indiana. “That cannot be part of the story of domestication of the dog.”

Instead, he favors the view that mutations in the wolf genome gave rise to a population that was willing to come closer to humans — say, 16 feet (5 meters) rather than the wolves’ standard 650 feet (200 meters). “As paradoxical as it sounds, wolves are actually scaredy-cats,” Wynne said.

Wynne noted that the dog genome shows evidence of a mutation that’s linked in humans to a rare disorder known as Williams-Beuren syndrome. People who have that mutation are unusually friendly with strangers. Could the genetic change have had the same effect on mutant wolves? Wynne says he’s no geneticist, but he’s working with colleagues on that piece of the scientific puzzle.

He suggests that the mutants became scavengers about 15,000 years ago, hanging around human settlements and looking for yummies in the trash. That was the vermin phase of the dog’s domestication. The second phase kicked in when humans started to figure out what to do with them: A dog could bark out a warning. It could be trained to help a hunter. And it could be eaten.

“It’s big enough to be worth slaughtering,” Wynne said. That’s taboo in most parts of the world nowadays — but in some countries, ranging from South Korea to Nigeria to Switzerland, dog meat is still on the menu.

No big doggy deal
Are dogs uniquely suited for cohabitation with humans? To some extent, it’s worked out that way. For example, Wynne said “dogs are every bit as effective as rifles” when it comes to hunting. He said the average hunting dog can bring in 40 pounds of meat per month — but not without a human handler.

“Dogs need the humans to complete the kill,” Wynne said. “It’s a beautiful symbiosis.”

That doesn’t mean dogs have a unique ability to read the actions and intentions of humans, Wynne said. Some experiments have indicated that dogs can figure out when humans are pointing to a hidden treat, while wolves can’t. Wynne, however, pointed to research suggesting otherwise.

Brian Hare, co-director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, said it’s a healthy sign that researchers are airing their differences over dog evolution. “Anytime you have a field in its infancy, this is a great thing,” he told NBC News. “It’s always a little nerve-wracking when everybody agrees.”

In any case, dogs haven’t taken so big of an evolutionary leap from vermin to best friend that the leap can’t be reversed. About 75 percent of the world’s 500 million to 1 billion dogs are living as scavengers, much as their ancestors did 15,000 years ago.

“Dogs hanging out on the streets are all over the place,” Wynne said.

The characteristics of electronic training collars for dogs

J. A. Lines, K. van Driel, J. J. Cooper

A wide range of electronic dog training collars (e-collars) is available in the UK, but information enabling purchasers to compare the important characteristics of these collars
is not available. In this research, the electrical characteristics of 13 e-collar models were examined, and an approach to ranking the strength of the electrical stimuli was developed. To achieve this, the electrical impedance of dogs’ necks were measured so that e-collars could be tested under realistic conditions. This impedance was found to be about 10 kΩ for wet dogs and 640 kΩ for dry dogs. Two replicates of eight e-collar models and single copies of a further five models were then examined. The stimuli generated by these collars comprised sequences of short high-voltage pulses. There were large differences between e-collar models in the energy, peak voltage, number of pulses and duration of the pulses, but little variation between the replicates. The peak voltage varied with the impedance, from 6000V at an impedance of 500 kΩ to 100V at 5 kΩ. The highest voltages were generated for a few millionths of a second. Stimulus energy levels at the maximum strength setting with a 50 kΩ load ranged from 3.3 mJ to 287 mJ. A stimulus strength ranking indicator was then developed to enable the strengths of e-collars with diverse electrical characteristics to be ranked. This ranking shows a wide range in the stimulus strengths of collars, and that the relationships between ‘momentary’ and ‘continuous’ stimuli for various models differ significantly.


Despite substantial interest and concern about electronic training collars (‘e-collars’) for dogs, little information is available about the nature, strength or repeatability of the stimuli they generate. This lim- its attempts to compare collars and to interpret dog responses properly.

E-collars are widely available through shops and the internet. An internet search in 2007 found 170 models marketed under 14 different brand names available for purchase in the UK. All these collars were able to deliver an electrical stimulus to the neck of a dog in response to a radio signal from a remote control handset. Other types of train- ing collars are also available, including those that deliver non-electric stimuli, such as vibration or aerosol sprays, and those that automati- cally deliver an electrical stimulus in response to barking or leaving a defined area. These were outside the scope of the investigation.

Most e-collars have three functions which can be individually con- trolled from the handset. These are: (1) a tone or vibrator, (2) a ‘nick’ or ‘momentary’ electrical stimulus and (3) a ‘continuous’ electrical stimu- lus, which lasts for as long as the button on the handset is pressed, but usually limited to less than 15 seconds.

The collar units are typically 50–70 mm long, and 30–40 mm wide and deep. They are attached to a collar and have two stainless steel electric probes which protrude through the collar to make contact with the dog’s throat. These probes are 30–50 mm apart, 10–15 mm long and about 5 mm diameter with smooth rounded ends. Longer probes may be supplied for dogs with thick fur. The remote control handsets have a communication range of between 50 m and 3 km and usually have four controls, one button for each of the three stimuli and a dial or pair of buttons to select the stimulus strength.

Information available at purchase is normally limited to the com- munication range of the handset and manufacturers’ claims about the suitability of the e-collar for dogs of a certain breed, size or demeanour. No information about the electrical stimuli that would enable e-collars to be compared in a meaningful way is given.

In this investigation, the stimulus strengths of e-collars were meas- ured and compared. This was achieved by a series of investigations. First, a technique was developed to measure the electrical impedance of dogs exposed to e-collar stimuli. Then the electrical impedance characteristics of 27 dogs were measured. Next, 21 e-collars were test- ed and characterised using the dog impedances identified. Four human volunteers then experienced samples of these stimuli and ranked their perceived strength. These results and earlier published research were used to identify an algorithm for ranking the perceived strengths on the basis of their voltage, duration and repetition. The use of human subjects at this stage is justified on the assumption that dogs are likely to rank the strength of these short stimuli in ways similar to human subjects even though they may rate them very differently. The rank- ing algorithm was then used to examine the stimuli produced by the collars using their middle and maximum strength settings for both ‘momentary’ and ‘continuous’ stimuli.

Electrical impedance of dogs

The impedance of a dog’s neck between the contact points of the e-collar significantly affects the voltage and current delivered by the

Veterinary Record (2013)

  1. A. Lines, BSc, MSc, PhD, MIMechE, CEng,
Silsoe Livestock Systems, Wrest Park, Silsoe, Bedford, MK45 4HS, UK
K. van Driel, BSc, MSc,
Formerly at Food and Environment Research Agency, Sand Hutton, York YO41 1LZ, UK
J. J. Cooper, BSc, PhD,
Animal Behaviour Cognition and Welfare Group, School of Life

doi: 10.1136/vr.101144

Sciences, University of Lincoln, Lincoln LN2 2LG. UK;

E-mail for correspondence: jeff.lines@silsoeresearch.org.uk

Provenance: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Accepted December 19, 2012

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collar. Electrical impedance has two components, an in-phase (resis- tive) component and an out-of-phase (inductive or capacitative) com- ponent. When presented with a high resistive impedance, such as 1 MΩ, some collars generate peak voltages in excess of 6kV, while with an impedance of 500 Ω the same collar may generate a peak voltage of only 20V. Despite the importance of impedance for the electrical out- put of e-collars, it does not appear to have been directly measured. Klein (2000, 2006) estimated resistance of dogs based on measure- ments of pig and human skin. He concluded that a dry dog was likely to present a resistance greater than 80 kΩ and a wet dog 20–40 kΩ. Lindsay (2005) follows Dix 1991 in using a value of 500 Ω, while an expert witness in an Australian court case expected this value to be in the order of 100 Ω (NAIA 2012).

In this investigation, direct measurements of the impedance of the dogs’ necks were made. Since biological materials seldom have linear impedance characteristics, the measurements were made under volt- age conditions similar to those which occur with e-collars. A commer- cial electronic collar was modified for the purpose. In its unmodified state it delivered a ‘momentary’ stimulus comprising eight short volt- age pulses in quick succession. Each pulse lasted 1ms, and the interval between the pulses was 16 ms. This collar was altered to allow only one of these voltage pulses to be delivered, and to enable both voltage and current to be measured. Tests on human volunteers indicated that this modification significantly reduced the perceived strength of the stimulus to a level where it was not considered painful. They also showed that when the pulse sequence was not interrupted there was no significant variation in electrical impedance of the skin between the first and subsequent pulses. This approach enabled impedance to be measured on dogs at representative voltages without administering a full electrical stimulus. Technical details of the measurement and analysis method are given in Appendix 1.

The electrical impedances of 27 dogs were measured. The meas- urements were approved by the relevant institutional ethical review panels, and discussed in detail with the local Home Office Inspector who was satisfied that it did not require a project licence under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. All the dogs were privately owned and were volunteered by their owners who gave informed con- sent and, in most cases, interacted with their dogs during the meas- urement session. Inclusion criteria for the trial included that the dogs had a known background history, were over six months old, readily played or interacted with people, were not nervous, fearful or aggres- sive and had not been trained with e-collars. These conditions were to help safeguard the dog’s welfare. The dogs comprised four spaniels, 10 labradors and other retrievers, seven terriers, two German shepherd dogs, and four other dogs of working breed. Their sex, status, age, hair length, body condition, neck circumference and height were meas- ured. Where possible, six single-pulse stimuli were applied to each dog: three when the coat was dry and three when it was wet. To pro- vide distraction from the potentially perceptible stimulus, dogs were enticed to play or otherwise interact with their owner or a researcher while the single-pulse stimuli were applied (Notermans 1966, Kleiber and Harper 1999). After every single-pulse stimulus, an assessment was made as to whether there had been any behavioural response from the dog which might indicate discomfort or pain. If any such responses were noted by the project team or owner then the sessions with that dog were stopped.

Sixty-four useable measurements were made on the 27 dry dogs, and 53 measurements were made on 22 wet dogs. In the majority of cases, the dogs did not react when the single-pulse stimulus was applied. Where they did react, their responses were limited to ear or eye movement, momentary attention redirection, and in one case both licking of lips and reluctance to re-engage in play. While these behaviours may have been a reaction to the single-pulse stimulus, the stimulus was also always preceded by a tone, and some dogs showed similar reactions (except lip licking) to the tone alone. In the dog which exhibited lip licking and reluctance to re-engage in play, the sessions were discontinued; in all other instances, sessions were con- tinued by agreement of all present. The number of measurements col- lected is lower than the number of stimuli applied, since stimuli were also required to select the measurement range of the equipment. There are fewer wet measurements than dry measurements because the dry

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measurements were made first and some dogs lost interest in play or interaction during the test session. This was taken as a sign of disinter- est rather than pain, fear or distress, as it did not occur immediately after the single-pulse stimulus was applied.

The results indicated that the impedance of the dogs could be described as a simple resistive load without a significant capacitive or inductive component. The distribution of values was highly skewed, so median values and percentiles were identified rather than mean values. For dry dogs, the median impedance was 640 kΩ, and the 10th and 90th percentile values were 22 kΩ and 950 kΩ, respectively. For the wet dogs, the median value was 10 kΩ, and the 10th and 90th percentile values were 4 kΩ and 150 kΩ, respectively. For some dogs, there was little variation between the replicate measurements, while others resulted in very different values. The median ratio of lowest to highest measured resistance was 1.8 and 1.7 for dry and wet dogs, respectively. This variation was probably due to changes in the con- tact area and amount of hair between the probes and the skin that occurred as the dog played. Similar changes are likely to occur when a collar is in normal use.

The high impedance presented by dry dogs was probably due to the properties of dog hair, the air gaps between the hairs, the layer of grease covering the skin and the high resistance of dry epidermal skin layers. The finding that resistance was lower in wet dogs is con- sistent with Klein (2006) and Lindsay (2005) as well as human data (IEC 2005). It was likely to be due to improved electrical conduction through wet hair using water pathways, and larger area of contact with the skin due to conduction of the electricity through the surface moisture on the skin surface.

Because of the variation between successive measurements and the small number of replicates, it was not possible to determine whether the resistance of individual dogs differed significantly. No significant trends between resistance and any of the measured fac- tors, such as dog size, neck circumference or hair length and could be identified.

Electronic properties of collars

Thirteen different e-collar models from nine brands were examined. For eight of these models, two examples were examined, and for the remainder, only one. Seventeen of the collars were new and four were borrowed from dog trainers. Collars were bought anonymously and duplicate collars were bought from different suppliers. All collars were available to purchasers in the UK, and all except one were bought via the internet. The collars included the two best selling models manu- factured by Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association (ECMA) members as advised in 2007. ECMA is a self-regulatory industry body which sets publicly available standards to which its members’ products should adhere. Selection of most of the remaining models was based on information obtained from e-collar users participating in a related study (Blackwell and others 2012). One e-collar was selected outside these criteria because of its unusually large number of strength settings.

Each e-collar model was assigned an identity code. Collars E1 to E4 were brands from ECMA members, while N1 to N5 were brands from non-ECMA members. Where more than one model from a brand was examined, they were identified as ‘a’ and ‘b’ (eg, E1a and E1b represent two different models from the same brand). After pur- chase, collar N5 was found to be a counterfeit. It was included in the assessment as it may be attractive to consumers due to its low price. Collar E1a was donated to Defra some years before this research and is no longer available for purchase. Collar N4 was bought in the UK from a supplier based in the USA.

The voltage time histories generated by these collars were meas- ured while they were loaded with resistive impedances of 500 kΩ, 50 kΩ, 5 kΩ and 0.5 kΩ. The upper three of these resistances were selected to represent the range of resistances likely to be found when the collars are in use. The lowest resistance was included because it is the resistance used for output current measurement tests by ECMA members (ECMA 2008). Almost all the collars offered the user at least eight different stimulus strength levels. Measurements were made with the e-collars adjusted to give maximum stimulus, the minimum stimulus and the value closest to the middle of the range. The repeatability



TABLE 1: Description of collars tested. Collars are identified as ‘E’ or ‘N’ for ECMA/non-ECMA members, respectively
Model Identity Condition Number of collars tested Number of stimulus levels available Number of voltage pulses in momentary stimulus Duration of momentary stimulus (ms) Voltage pulses per second in continuous stimulus Maximum duration of continuous stimulus (s)
N1 New 2 16 2 12 285 8
N2a New 2 64 272 420 514 10
N2b Used 1 4 131 131 475 10
N3 New 1 15 15 80 90 11
N4 New 1 10 6 16 21/110 8.5
N5 New 2 1 n/a n/a 10 >60*
E1a New 1 8 8 120 n/a n/a
E1b New 2 8 n/a n/a 17 7
E2 New 2 9 120 120 1000 11
E3a New 2 127 3 or 6 10 or 20 80/119/255 12
E3b Used 1 127 4 18 70/88/133 13
E4a New 2 8 2 4 73 7
E4b Used 2 8 2 4 57 7
Where more than one duration or number of pulses is given, the value increases as the strength of the stimulus is increased on the remote handset. *N5 was tested for 60seconds; it is presumed there is no cut-out.
ECMA, Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association.
TABLE 2: Maximum voltages (V) recorded with collars set to maximum stimulus strength and with various resistive loads from 500 to 0.5 kΩ. The bottom line of the table shows T50, the duration in microseconds (μs) for which the voltage in one voltage pulse exceeds 50% of the maximum voltage. This duration was measured using the 500 kΩ load and maximum stimulus level
  N1 N2a N2b N3 N4 N5 E1a E1b E2 E3a E3b E4a E4b
500 kΩ 4116 3569 2856 2491 5490 7350 4754 4864 950 5757 3888 4990 4527
50 kΩ 1450 2210 2330 2150 1730 4026 692 786 430 1300 910 966 990
5 kΩ 154 379 480 700 169 732 129 105 99 186 95 104 104
0.5 kΩ 24 45 37 93 20 80 17 15 12 20 15 13 13
T50 15 13 14 12 32 3 10 10 39 23 24 20 24

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of each collar was estimated by making at least 10 repeat measure- ments while it was set at the mid-range stimulus value and loaded with a 50 kΩ resistance.

The measurements showed that all the collars changed the volt- age generated in response to electrical impedance of the dog and that the number, duration, frequency and voltage of the impulses varied widely between collar models. The ‘momentary’ stimulus comprised a short sequence of identical short but relatively high voltage impuls- es (Table 1). The ‘continuous’ stimulus comprised a much longer sequence of the same voltage pulses. Stimulus strength adjustment was mostly made by changing the peak voltage of the impulses, how- ever, some collars also changed the number of voltage impulses used. Table 1 summarises some of these characteristics.

Fig 1 shows, for illustration, a single voltage pulse recorded from collar E3b set at maximum stimulus strength and loaded with a resist- ance of 500, 50, 5 and 0.5 kΩ. A ‘momentary’ stimulus with this collar comprises four of these pulses at 4 ms intervals. This type of pattern was generally representative of all the e-collars tested.

Table 2 shows the maximum voltages recorded for each e-collar model tested. Where two collars of the same type were tested the aver- age of the two maxima is given. These results show that the maxi- mum voltage is dependent on the resistance presented by the dog, and

that there were large differences between collar models. Although the maximum voltages can be very high, they were generated for very short durations.

The complex shape and very short duration of pulses together with the variable number of voltage pulses means that a simple peak voltage measurement cannot adequately describe electrical stimuli. A calculation of the electrical energy dissipated during the stimulus, however, integrates the voltage and current over the time of applica- tion. Industry literature clearly implies that this is considered to be a better measure of the stimulus strength (Anon 2007). The electrical energy dissipated in one ‘momentary’ stimulus is given in Table 3. These results show a wide range of energy levels with the most ener- getic stimulus usually occurring at neither the highest nor the lowest impedance.

The ratios of the energy dissipated by the e-collars set to their most powerful and least powerful levels had a median of 81 (range 8–1114). This contrasts with the ratios of the maximum to minimum energy dissipated when the impedance was varied over the range from 500 kΩ (typical dry dog) to 5 kΩ (typical wet dog) for which the medi- an ratio was 2.8 (range 0.6–32.9). The energy delivered by e-collars varied much more with the stimulus strength setting than between wet and dry dogs. If dissipated energy is an indication of stimulus

Fig 1: A single voltage pulse from collar E3b set to maximum stimulus strength and loaded with a resistance of 500, 50, 5 and 0.5 kΩ. A ‘momentary’ stimulus from this collar comprised four identical voltage pulses spaces at 4 ms intervals. Note the change of the ordinate scale

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TABLE 3: Electrical energy (mJ) delivered by a ‘momentary’ stimulus from collars set to give maximum stimulus level. The bottom row, marked ‘ratio’, indicates the ratio of the energy per second delivered by a ‘continuous’ stimulus to that delivered by a single ‘momentary’ stimulation. E-collars E1b and N5 have no ‘momentary’ stimulus function, so results are given for a one-second ‘continuous’ impulse
  N1 N2a N2b N3 N4 N5 E1a E1b E2 E3a E3b E4a E4b
500 kΩ 1.4 60 24 1.2 6.8 2.6 3.3 7.3 16 7.6 2.7 1.4 1.6
50 kΩ 3.5 287 152 12 18 13 5.0 12.4 54 17 4.4 3.3 3.4
5 kΩ 5.0 285 154 40 17 8 4.7 6.5 30 27 6.5 2.4 2.3
0.5 kΩ 2.2 223 196 44 4.1 0.9 0.7 1.6 4.1 3.9 2.1 0.4 0.4
Ratio 143 2 4 6 19 n/a n/a n/a 8 43 33 37 29
E1a has no ‘continuous’ stimulus.

strength then this would indicate that stimulus strength is relatively constant regardless of whether a dog is wet or dry.

Most of the e-collars were able to deliver both a ‘momentary’ and a ‘continuous’ stimulus. It is of interest to compare the strength of these two stimuli since either may be used at any time. Table 3 indi- cates the ratios of the energy delivered per second by a ‘continuous’ stimulus to that delivered by one ‘momentary’ stimulus. This shows that for a given dog and stimulus strength setting, a ‘continuous’ stimulus will deliver in one second between two and 143 times the electrical energy of a ‘momentary’ stimulus depending on the model of e-collar. This indicates that swapping between ‘momentary’ and ‘continuous’ stimuli has a much greater impact of a dog with some collars than with others.

Most of the e-collars were purchased in duplicate, to allow a lim- ited assessment of individual variation of collar properties. The mean difference between the maximum voltages and between the energy outputs for the replicated e-collars was less than 10 per cent. To assess repeatability of the stimuli of each collar, at least 10 measurements were made of the energy dissipated into a 50 kΩ load with the collar set to deliver a mid-level stimulus. The sd of the energy dissipated was on average only 2.5 per cent of the mean energy dissipated.

Reliability was not examined directly, however, faults were observed in two of the new e-collars. In one case, this resulted in a maximum strength impulse being delivered regardless of the level cho- sen via the dial. This occurred intermittently and appeared to be relat- ed to the direction of the force which was exerted on the dial during stimulus strength adjustment. This indicated a significant design fault since not only should the components be appropriately robust, but the electronics should also have been designed to prevent such inadvertent high stimulus levels. In another e-collar, the stimulus strength adjust- ment dial could be set to a value between the allocated levels. When this occurred, the resulting stimulus was substantially lower than that produced when set to either of the adjacent levels.

Development of a stimulus strength ranking method
Given their basic physiological similarities, it seems reasonable that short stimuli, such as those provided by electronic training collars will be ranked (but not rated) similarly by human beings and dogs. Human tests were therefore used to identify a ranking index to facilitate com- parisons of e-collars and comparisons between modes of operation. No attempt was made to determine what electrical stimuli are percep- tible or noxious to dogs.

The detection and pain thresholds of electrical stimulation have been shown to vary greatly between human subjects. Rollman and Harris (1987) reported that under closely controlled resistance con- ditions, the electrical current required to reach either the detection threshold, the pain threshold or the tolerance threshold varied by a factor of at least eight. This corresponds to a factor of 64 in energy. Slightly smaller ratios were reported by Laitinen and Eriksson (1985). Melzack and Wall (1965) suggested that these interpersonal differ- ences were related to impedance, sensory, motivational and cognitive factors, habituation and sensitisation. Duker and others (2004) found that sensitisation to an electrical stimulus may occur at stimulus intervals of a few minutes, but that over a longer period the effective- ness of the electric stimulus decreased. Within a subject, the percep- tion of electrical stimuli is likely to vary with physical factors, includ- ing the pathway of the current, the number and/or the frequency of

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the pulses, the total exposure time, the voltage and the current (IEC 2005).

With contact resistance maintained constant, Ekman and others (1964) showed that single 0.85-second exposures to a 50Hz alter- nating current stimulus of varying voltage resulted in a perceived intensity that correlated closely with the square of the current (and hence energy). Rollman and Harris (1987) also controlled the contact impedance and showed that if the voltage of a stimulus was varied then the rating of pain was almost proportional to the square of the current although there was some variation between subjects (median power index 1.73, inter quartile range 1.24–2.58). However, Tursky and Watson (1964) showed that when electrode contact impedance changes, the perceived stimulus strength varies in a way which is not consistent with the use of either current or energy as an indicator of stimulus intensity.

Reanalysis of data presented by Notermans (1966) provides some information about the effect of short, repeated, voltage pulses of the type used in electronic training collars. Rapid sequences of between 1 and 24, 5ms pulses were applied to human subjects, and the cur- rent in these pulses was adjusted so that each sequence resulted in the same subjective stimulus strength. Analysis of this data indicates that the square of the current multiplied by the number of pulses raised to the power 0.6 remained constant. Notermans (1966) also found that for short impulses of 0.15 ms to 15 ms, the perceived pain increased at a rate slightly lower than the increase in impulse duration. This increase is not necessarily valid for longer exposure times. Price and Tursky (1975) found that increasing exposure period from one second to 2.5 seconds did not result in significant change in the perception of a stimulus.

Under conditions of constant resistance (R), voltage and current are proportional to each other, so dissipated energy E (in Joules) can be calculated as

E=P∫V(t)2R−1dt=P∫I(t)2R dt (1)

where P is the number of voltage pulse repetitions, V(t) is the voltage which may vary with time, I(t) is the current and R the resistance.

In order to assess stimulus strength, the literature cited above sug- gests: firstly that the use of V2 or I2 in this equation is correct, but that the factor P should be raised to the power of 0.6; second, that a linear integration of time is not correct; and third, that the resistance R has a complex relationship with perceived stimulus strength and so must be held constant.

A short trial was conducted to assess whether these research findings might be relevant for the human perception of the relative strength of the stimuli produced by electronic training collars. Two male and two female members of the research team gave voluntary, informed consent for this study. They were exposed to pairs of stimuli at varying stimulus levels, and were required to identify which of the two stimuli was the strongest. The electrical stimuli were applied to the dorsal surface of the subjects’ forearms. This location was selected because preliminary investigations indicated that both the imped- ance and the stimulus perception were relatively independent of the location of the contact points in this region. The devices were moved slightly between each stimulus to avoid potential sensitisation.

Using the same procedure as had been used to assess electrical impedance of dogs, the electrical impedance of the dorsal surface of



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the forearm was measured on the first (male) subject. This was found to be in the range 35–50 kΩ. The stimuli used in this part of the study were generated by four e-collar models: E2, E3a, E4a and N2a. These collars were selected firstly to achieve a spread of stimulus types, and second to ensure that in this impedance range the dissipated energy was relatively constant and its ranking between collars did not vary. In this way, even if the exact impedance presented during tests did vary a little, the consequent variation in the energy output should be small.

The subjects were exposed to a ‘momentary’ stimulus from one collar and then immediately afterwards to a comparison ‘momentary’ stimulus from another e-collar. The order of testing was randomised between subjects. The subjects identified which of the stimuli in the pair felt stronger. Strengths settings on the four collars were varied to generate 16 stimuli that ranged in peak voltage from 138V to 680V, and in the number of impulses from two to 136. A total of 146 com- parisons were made in a random presentation to control for order effects. Differences could be felt between the stimuli caused by the various collars with some feeling ‘sharp’, rather like a pin prick, and others more like a short cramp. However, regardless of these qualita- tive differences, it remained relatively easy to judge which stimulus was stronger.

The results of the comparison trials were used to generate a rank- ing of the stimuli used. Since the rankings provided by the four sub- jects were very similar, the individual comparison results were pooled to identify a single optimal ranking. This perceived strength rank- ing was then compared with the electrical properties of the devices derived from bench-testing using a 39 kΩ resistive impedance.

The results (Fig 2), show that where the number of pulses was similar, the perceived stimulus strength increased with energy, but that where the number of voltage pulses varied, dissipated energy was a poor indicator of stimulus strength ranking. The Pearson correla- tion between the energy and the subjective rank was 0.72. Stimuli from N2a and E2 were perceived to be considerably less strong than the energy would indicate. These two devices delivered stimuli com- prising 136 and 120 pulses, respectively, while E3a and E4a deliv- ered stimuli comprising six or less pulses. In response to this obser- vation, the energy calculation (1) was replaced by the more general relationship:

Ranking indicator =Px ∫V(t)y dt (2)

The resistance R has also been removed from the calculation since measurements were made at a constant resistance. The calculation is, therefore, specific for a particular value of R.

The best fit for the data using this relationship is obtained using values x=0.6 and y=2. This is shown in Fig 3. The Pearsons correla- tion between the rankings of subjective stimulus strength and this ranking indicator was 0.98.

Fig 2: Dissipated electrical energy in one ‘momentary’ stimulus plotted against ranking of perceived stimulus strength, for collar E4a with 2 voltage pulses (open diamond), collar E3a with 3–6 voltage pulses (open square), collar E2 with 120 voltage pulses (solid diamond) and collar N2a with 136 voltage pulses (solid triangle). Only the first half of the N2a stimulus was used to ensure all stimuli were short

Fig 3: Stimulus Strength Ranking Indicator (SRI) calculated at
an impedance of 39 kΩ plotted against the subjective rank of
the stimulus strength for collar E4a with 2 voltage pulses (open diamond), collar E3a with 3–6 voltage pulses (open square), collar E2 with 120 voltage pulses (solid diamond) and collar N2a with 136 voltage pulses (solid triangle). Only the first half of the N2a stimulus was used to ensure all stimuli were short

Although Fig 3 shows that there remain some inconsistencies in the ranking, it represents a marked improvement on the ‘energy hypothesis’ illustrated in Fig 2. Use of the number of pulses raised to the power 0.6 agrees well with data published by Notermans (1966). Since the resistance was constant, the current was proportional to the voltage, therefore, the use of voltage raised to the power 2 is in agree- ment with Ekman and others (1964) and Rollman and Harris (1987). Further refinement of this approach could result in the inclusion of non-linear time integration in the model as suggested by the results of Notermans (1966); however, the additional complexity of this refine- ment cannot be justified at this stage due to the small amount of data available.

On the basis of these results and their conformity with ear- lier work, we therefore provisionally propose the use of a stimulus strength ranking indicator (SRI) calculated as

SRI=P0.6∫V(t)2 dt


In order to be comparable, SRI values must be calculated at the same resistance. Stimulus strengths would be ranked following the ranking of the SRI values. It must be emphasised, however, that the results presented are based on a small sample of human subjects and collar stimuli, and would benefit from validation in a larger popu- lation using a wider range of stimuli. We do not know how far this algorithm is applicable outside the parameter range of the trials.

Ranking of electronic training collar stimuli

SRI values were calculated for each collar at maximum and mid-range setting strength with a ‘momentary’ stimulus and one second of the ‘continuous’ stimulus (Fig 4). Calculations are based on the e-collar measurements made using an impedance of 50 kΩ. It is assumed that stimulus strength ranking calculation remains valid for stimuli lasting up to one second.

Fig 4 suggests considerable variation in the electronic training col- lar stimulus strengths. For e-collars, like the E2, N2b and N2a, the mid-range strength setting of the ‘momentary’ stimulus exceeds the maximum strength available on some other collars. Another differ- ence between the e-collars is the relationship between the ‘momen- tary’ and ‘continuous’ stimulus. For six of the 10 e-collar types where this comparison could be made, the predicted strength of a one-second ‘continuous’ pulse with the collar at its mid-level setting exceeds the most powerful ‘momentary’ stimulus that the e-collar is capable of generating. For the remaining four e-collars, the predicted strengths of these two settings are more similar. If the difference in stimulus strengths between ‘momentary’ and ‘continuous’ is as large as indi- cated here, then some warning in the operation manual regarding this difference would seem to be prudent.

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Fig 4: Stimulus strength ranking index (SRI) values calculated for the ‘momentary’ (open bar) and ‘continuous’ (solid bar) stimuli for the 13 e-collar models tested, showing the stimulus strength of collars set to the mid-strength level (lower end of bar) and to the maximum strength level (upper end of bar). Measurements were made at an impedance of 50 kΩ, and the ‘continuous’ stimulus lasts for one second


A dog training aid should produce repeatable stimuli and be reliable, easy to use correctly and difficult to misuse. E-collar industry informa- tion states that the primary purpose of e-collar stimuli is to attract the attention of a dog rather than to punish it. It is therefore important to be able to reliably and rapidly identify a suitable stimulus strength for a particular dog and then to apply it consistently regardless of the variations in the resistance that will occur as it moves or gets wet. The two types of stimulus, ‘continuous’ and ‘momentary’ should also be of a similar strength without adjustment of the handset. The range of stimulus strengths available should not significantly exceed that required to compensate for the range of sensitivities of individual dogs and as a result of differing levels of activity and motivation. Ideally, stimulus strength information identified for a dog using one collar model should be transferable to another collar model.

While the electronic characteristics of an e-collar are undoubtedly important, this alone will not be enough to determine its impact on dog welfare. This also depends on how the e-collar is used.

This investigation indicates that, generally, e-collars produced stim- uli with little energy difference from pulse to pulse when the resistance remains constant, and with energy levels that remain similar over large changes in resistance. It is not clear, however, whether this results in a constant stimulus strength since the resistance presented by the dog has been shown to change significantly from application to application of the stimulus, and to change by more than an order of magnitude when the dog becomes wet. Human sensitivity research has shown a poor correlation between stimulus perception and energy, current or voltage when the resistance changes. There are various possible changes in the current path that could result in changes in resistance, and each may have a different effect on the perception of the stimulus strength. An investigation into this variation and its effect on stimulus perception under e-collar conditions would therefore be valuable.

Human perception of electrical stimulus strength has been shown to vary so that, with resistance held constant, a 64-fold change in energy can result in similar strength assessments by different subjects (Rollman and Harris 1987). There is good reason, therefore, to expect considerable differences in the perception of electric stimulus strength between individual dogs. The e-collars tested were all adjustable in stimulus strength. The median for all the collar models tested, of the maximum to minimum energy ratio, was 81. However, the range was from 8 to 1118. This suggests that there may be less adjustment than is ideal on some collars, and more than is necessary in others.

The peak voltages delivered by e-collars can be very high, particu- larly when the resistance between the probes is high. However, the highest voltages are present for only a few millionths of a second, and much of this voltage is dissipated across hair, fat and dead skin layers that are not innervated. Peak voltage alone does not indicate the power of the device, and on its own is not an obvious welfare concern.

E-collar models have large differences in stimulus characteristics, such as the number, frequency and duration of pulses and the electrical energy dissipated. This makes comparison of different collar models, comparison of ‘momentary’ and ‘continuous’ stimuli strengths and the transfer of settings known to be suitable for a dog from one collar

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to another impossible without further information. The small-scale investigation of stimulus strength ranking resulted in a method which was consistent with previous research and resulted in a good ranking of the perceived strength of electrical stimuli on human skin. The SRI developed from this information may facilitate comparison of differ- ent e-collars, however, it should be used cautiously until validated in a larger test. The method has potential to enable the outputs of collars to be compared and ranked. It suggests that the stimulus strength of the collars that use a large number of voltage pulses is overestimated by the dissipated energy metric.

Energy tests used by industry representatives stipulate that collars should be tested to identify the maximum energy they deliver over an impedance range from 0.5 kΩ to 100 kΩ (ECMA 2008). This seems a reasonable test range, although this study suggests that a range from 4 kΩ to 1000 kΩ would be more relevant. These tests should perhaps be replaced by SRI calculations over the same range. The ECMA’s ‘fixed output current test’ is specified for 0.5 kΩ. Since this impedance is an order of magnitude lower than that measured in dogs, it has little relevance.

A cut-out function, limiting the time for which a ‘continuous’ stimulus can be applied is important because it provides some protec- tion against both poor collar use and accidental collar activation. All the collars except for e-collar N5 had such a function, however, in one of these the limit was described in the manual as eight seconds, whereas tests showed it to be 11 seconds. Although reliability was not assessed systematically in this study, two faults were found in the new e-collars, one of which could result in unexpected application of the highest stimulus level. A test to search out faults under conditions that may be encountered in the field should be part of a welfare-oriented e-collar quality assurance scheme.

During this investigation, contact between the research team and both sides of the dog collar debate was avoided as much as possible in order to protect the independence of the work. The only significant piece of information requested of the industry was an identification of the most frequently sold collars. This information was used in our selection of collars to be investigated. However, the lack of contact with the industry means that we are not aware of what unpublished information about dog characteristics is held and used by the industry. However, since the resources were not available to properly validate any such information, the use of such information could have com- promised the integrity of this investigation.


E-collars of the same model produce repeatable stimuli, with little dif- ference from pulse to pulse, and little difference from collar to col- lar. However, different e-collar models have large differences in their stimulus characteristics. It cannot be assumed that a given strength set- ting provides a similar stimulus when moving between collar models or brands. Similarly, the relationship in strength of ‘momentary’ and ‘continuous’ stimulus varies widely between collars.

The peak voltages delivered by e-collars vary significantly with the resistance of the dog and can be very high. However, the highest voltages are present for only a few microseconds, and do not indicate an obvious welfare concern.



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The impedance of a dog varies from stimulus to stimulus. It also depends significantly on whether the dog is wet or dry. E-collars gen- erally deliver stimuli of similar energy when the impedance is varied, however, it is not known whether the perceived stimulus strength remains constant. The effect on stimulus strength of these variations should be investigated and, if necessary, methods to improve consist- ency explored.

Human beings vary significantly in their sensitivity to electrical stimuli, we may therefore expect individual dogs to exhibit signifi- cant variation. The available adjustment of stimulus strength on some e-collar models may be too small to properly accommodate this varia- tion, and on other e-collar models it seems to be excessive.

Objective information about the electrical stimuli differences is not available at the point of purchase—and is not accessible without the use of sophisticated measuring equipment. Further information on collar characteristics should be made available. The implicit assump- tion of the industry is that the strength of the electrical stimulus is related to the dissipated energy. This appears to be an oversimplified assumption which does not enable collars to be properly compared.

Further development and validation of the SRI scoring algorithm is recommended since this approach may be useful for characterising and comparing collars, and for comparing different modes of opera- tion of collars.

Faults were found in the design of two of the 13 e-collar mod- els tested, which resulted in an unexpected change in the stimulus delivered. A more robust examination of collar design is therefore recommended.


This work was funded by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs. We gratefully acknowledge the help of many dog owners who vol- unteered their dogs for measurements; our contact and ethical com- mittees of the institutions where the testing was carried out, and our team that helped out in all respects. We are also glad to acknowledge the advice and assistance of Emma Blackwell, Rachel Casey and their colleagues at the University of Bristol.


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with Regard to their use in Training Dogs. Monographic study, University of Muenster KLEIN, D. (2006) Telereizgeräte. Sachkunde zur Anwendung in der Hundeausbildung.

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of cutaneous sensibility. Pain 22, 139–150
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society-for-the-prevention-of-cruelty-to/. Date accessed October 18, 2012 NOTERMANS, S. L. H. (1966) Measurement of the pain threshold determined by elec-

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ments of nociceptive electrical stimulation. Psychophysiology 12, 663–666 ROLLMAN, G. B. & HARRIS, G. (1987) The delectability, discriminability, and perceived magnitude of painful electrical shock. Perception and Psychophysics 42,

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The characteristics of electronic training collars for dogs

  1. A. Lines, K. van Driel and J. J. Cooper

Veterinary Record published online January 12, 2013 doi: 10.1136/vr.101144

Updated information and services can be found at:


These include:

This article cites 11 articles, 2 of which can be accessed free at:


Published online January 12, 2013 in advance of the print journal.

Dominance is alive and well so let’s get over it and understand what it’s all about

When I began studying dogs and other canids many years ago, I also was studying classical comparative ethology and getting ready to begin a field project on the social behavior and ecology of coyotes living in the Grand Teton National Park that went on for almost nine years. I retained my interests in learning about the behavior of domestic dogs and this has remained on my research agenda for many decades.

When I first began focusing on dogs I was told—as were many others I’ve learned—it was a waste of time to study dogs to learn about other nonhuman animals (animals) because dogs weren’t a real species, but rather artifacts of human selection. Indeed, when I applied for one of my first jobs, after the search committee discovered that I was interested in dogs as well as wolves and coyotes, I was told they weren’t interested in my application because dogs just weren’t a suitable subject for comparative research in animal behavior. I ignored these “warnings” as did others, and I’m sure glad I did. And, over the past decades, it’s become clear that what we learn about dogs can be extended to other species, and vice versa.

The damned “D” word: Dominance is not a myth and dominance deniers offer nothing substantial in their arguments against it

One important aspect of the social behavior of numerous species is called dominance. In earlier essays I’ve written about the ways in which ethologists and others students of animal behavior view and define dominance and there’s no reason to repeat the details here. For more information on comparative aspects of dominance please see “Social Dominance Is Not a Myth,” “Dominance and Pseudoscience: Making Sense of Nonsense,” and renowned primatologist Dr. Dario Maestripieri’s outstanding essay called “Social Dominance Explained: Part I” (in which he mildly takes me to task for trying to accommodate the deniers) and many links therein.

A large number of colleagues have told me over the years that dominance is ubiquitous and deniers don’t know what they’re talking about. Denying dominance is like denying the force of gravity on Earth. Species-wide surveys show clearly that dominance hierarchies in animals are real, as do rigorous science and well-received evolutionary theory. Dr. Maestripieri writes: “Bottom line: dominance between two individuals helps keep the peace and increases stability and predictability in the relationship, thereby allowing both partners to benefit from their relationship.”

Dominance relationships in dogs are real and can be linear

“Our results suggest that dominance remains a robust component of domestic dog behaviour even when humans significantly reduce the potential for resource competition.” (Rebecca Trisko and Barbara Smuts 2015)

“Agonistic-dominance relationships in the dog group remain stable across different competitive contexts and to the behaviors considered … The findings of this research contradict the notion that free-ranging dogs are ‘asocial’ animals and agree with other studies suggesting that long-term social bonds exist within free-ranging dog groups.” (Simona Cafazzo, Paola Valsecchi, Roberto Bonanni, and  Eugenia Natoli 2010)

… formal dominance is present in the domestic dog, expressed by context-independent unidirectional formal status signals. Consequently, formal dominance (e.g., submission) plays an important role in assessing status in dog–dog relationships …  the dominance concept might be useful to explain the development of certain problems in dog–dog and dog–human relationships. However, enforcing a dominant status by a human may entail considerable risks and should therefore be avoided.” (Matthijs Schiller, Claudia Vinke, and Joanne van der Borg, Dominance in domestic dogs revisited: Useful habit and useful construct?)

As I’m writing a book on dog behavior, I’ve been very interesting in keeping up with the literature in a wide variety of fields, and in the past few days I’ve been focusing on dominance. As I went through my notes, I re-discovered a comment from a dog trainer I received on one of my former essays that got me thinking about dominance in dogs. The comment read as follows: “And, yes, Marc, I still insist that dominance in animal groups is a myth. For one thing, there are far too many inconsistencies in how these behaviors fail to conform to a single coherent model. For another, the concept of the dominance hierarchy is antithetical to Darwin’s thoughts on the nature of social animals.”

These sorts of denial are thoroughly inconsistent with available comparative data and well-accepted evolutionary theory. Note that the person who commented wrote “dominance in animal groups is a myth,” and did not limit his comment to dogs. The above three essays and countless others make it abundantly clear that denying the existence of dominance can be taken to constitute pseudoscience, as do the three essays about which I write below. (The author of the comment also wrote, “There is no such thing as a ‘dog pack.'” This also isn’t so, as made so very obvious by the work of researchers who have been studying feral dog packs for years. But that’ll require another essay that’s in the works.)

As I went through piles and piles of papers, I came across three that are worth mentioning here, although there are many more sitting on my floor, published in journals and in books, that make the same argument, namely, that dominance in dogs is real, not a myth.

In an excellent and comprehensive review essay available online called “Dominance relationships in a group of domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris),” Rebecca Trisko and Barbara Smuts write, “Our results suggest that dominance remains a robust component of domestic dog behaviour even when humans significantly reduce the potential for resource competition. The possible proximate benefits of dominance relationships for dogs are discussed.” I highly recommend this essay to everyone, especially perhaps, to dominance deniers.

The second essay that caught my eye, also available online, is called “Dominance in relation to age, sex, and competitive contexts in a group of free-ranging domestic dogs” by Italian researchers Simona Cafazzo, Paola Valsecchi, Roberto Bonanni, and Eugenia Natoli. They write, “We investigated the existence of a social-dominance hierarchy in a free-ranging group of domestic dogs. We quantified the pattern of dyadic exchange of a number of behaviors to examine to what extent each behavior fits a linear rank-order model. We distinguished among agonistic dominance, formal dominance, and competitive ability. The agonistic-dominance hierarchy in the study group shows significant and substantial linearity.”

The researchers also note, “Agonistic-dominance relationships in the dog group remain stable across different competitive contexts and to the behaviors considered. Some individuals gain access to food prevailing over other dogs during competitions.” Finally, they conclude, “The findings of this research contradict the notion that free-ranging dogs are ‘asocial’ animals and agree with other studies suggesting that long-term social bonds exist within free-ranging dog groups.” These researchers also have done excellent research on feral dog packs.

Moving beyond ideological turf wars

The third essay that’s relevant here is called “Understanding Canine Social Hierarchies” by Dr. Jessica Hekman. She recognizes that social relationships among dogs are complex, that “The question of how dogs understand and assert rank has provided fodder for ferocious contention among dog trainers,” and agrees with noted student of dog behavior, Patricia McConnell, who called dominance “one of the most misused and misunderstood words in the English language, at least in relation to dog training.”

It’s time to move beyond the ideological turf wars among some trainers and look at the facts. Thus, I’m glad Dr. McConnell highlighted the debates that occur among some dog trainers, because no one who’s actually studied the social behavior of dogs in detail could possibly claim that they don’t display dominance or that dominance hierarchies don’t exist. It’s just that they usually don’t understand what “being dominant” means, as Dr. McConnell notes.

Dr. Hekman goes on to report on a study done on a group of dogs in The Netherlands about which she writes, “this group was not particularly egalitarian. Division between ranks was nearly always strict, requiring a dog to greet his superior, even one just a single rank above him, with deferential behavior such as lowered body posture.” And, in agreement with the study done by Simona Cafazzo, Paola Valsecchi, Roberto Bonanni, and Eugenia Natoli, Dr. Hekman writes, “Indeed, the social hierarchy in this group did look ladder-like. Some species have a dizzying hierarchical structure, in which rank order may loop in an entirely nonlinear fashion. In this dog group, however, the hierarchy was strictly linear: if dog A was higher ranking than dog B, and dog B was higher ranking than dog C, then dog A would always be higher ranking than dog C. No weird circular messes—occasions, for example, when dog C was surprisingly dominant over dog A—were observed.”

“We won’t know until we ask:” Myth-busting and paying attention to facts will be a win-win for dogs and humans

Dr. Hekman also writes the following, about the reality we all must thoroughly embrace: “The dominance theory of dog training depends heavily on the hypothesis that dogs consider humans to be part of their social hierarchy. This hypothesis remains to be investigated. In some species, males and females occupy two completely separate hierarchies. Similarly, dogs may see humans as living in their own separate rank order, or they may see us as part of their societies. We won’t know until we ask … There is so much more to know about our closest friends, and we are just beginning to learn.” Thus, as I wrote above, it’s time to move beyond ideological turf wars and look at the facts.

To sum up, it’s high time to do some serious myth-busting and to get things right. All of the above researchers note that more research is needed, but it’s abundantly clear from what they and others have learned that debates about whether dogs display dominance don’t really get us anywhere. The real questions at hand center on why has dominance evolved, how it differs from group to group, and how and why these differences emerge.

It’s also abundantly clear that dogs, like other animals, display wide-ranging individual differences, and talking about “the dog” or “the dog group” can be very misleading. Paying attention to individual differences and facts are critical for understanding, appreciating, and training/teaching dogs: Variability is the name of the game. I get incredibly excited when I expect to see something happen, say, in a group of dogs at a dog park, and it’s the varying and fleeting dynamics of different groups of dogs that always caution me about speaking about prescriptive rules of social interaction. Just when I think I’ve got this pegged, something happens that makes me revisit what I really know. Sure, there seem to be some general “rules of thumb” that might apply in many, but surely not all, situations. But, it’s the exceptions to these “rules” that keep me going. And, I know I’m also speaking for researchers who have studied the same animals for years on end. Just when you think you know it all …

I’ll end here because as I search for more examples, not only of dominance in dogs but also dominance in other animals, I’m overwhelmed by how much information there is from detailed comparative studies. There are absolutely no credible reasons why dogs should be uniquely different from other species in which dominant individuals and dominance hierarchies have been observed. .

Beliefs don’t substitute for facts

Beliefs don’t substitute for facts, and it’s time to put aside beliefs, pay close attention to what we know, and let the facts speak for themselves. When we do this, it’ll be a win-win for dogs and humans in all of the social venues in which their and our lives cross and become intimately entwined. And, just in case it’s still not clear, let’s remember that there still is so much to learn about the cognitive and emotional lives of these most amazing beings, and there are no substitutes for watching and studying dogs in the various contexts in which they interact with their friends and foes and with us. What could be more exciting? In my view, clearly not much.

Note 1: After this essay appeared a few people asked me my views on using dominance in dog training/teaching, because, as I’ve noted here as have others, debates about dominance come primarily from trainers. Just because dogs (and other animals) dominate one another in different social situations, this does not mean we should when we’re trying to teach them to live harmoniously with us. I’ve made this clear in a number of essays including “Did Cesar Millan Have to Hang the Husky?“, “The Kindness of Dogs: New Book Explains Why Cesar’s Gotta Go,” and many links in these essays.

Note 2: After I wrote this essay I discovered that a special issue of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior is devoted to “The ‘dominance’ debate and improved behavioral measures.” Many of the papers point to misunderstandings of what dominance means, and John Bradshaw and his colleagues note “there is no evidence that dominance is a character trait of individual dogs, but rather that it is a property of relationships, that can arise due to asymmetries in any one of at least 3 distinct personality traits.” Indeed, I agree that dominance hierarchies are all about social relationships, however, I have lived with dogs I would call “dominant individuals” and have observed dominant dogs at dog parks and other venues. I also discovered an essay devoted to ethological analyses of dominance relationships in dogs called “Dominance in Domestic Dogs: A Quantitative Analysis of Its Behavioural Measures.” I still maintain there are absolutely no credible reasons why dogs should be uniquely different from other species in which dominant individuals and dominance hierarchies have been observed.

Note 3: A comment from Dr. John Bradshaw:

I agree that it’s possible to construct dominance hierarchies from the way that groups of dogs interact – I’ve done so myself.  That shouldn’t be an issue, or at least only one of semantics.  For me, the real issue is an ethical one, how concepts of “dominance” impact on the treatment of dogs by dog trainers and the owners they advise. What you appear to dismiss as ” ideological turf wars among some trainers” has real implications for the welfare of dogs, and should not be taken lightly by anyone who believes that animals have emotional lives. Many trainers use ‘dominance reduction’ to justify the routine infliction of pain on dogs. For this reason, I believe that all responsible ethologists should take great pains to distinguish between their technical (and, of course, well-established) concept of dominance, as one method for describing social interactions, and the everyday use of the word ‘dominant’, which denotes a tendency to be aggressive, threatening and/or controlling. Many dog trainers use the two interchangeably, and some take great delight when academics appear to do the same. As a direct consequence, dogs suffer. (There’s more on this in the paper of mine that you cite in your post.)

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in early 2017. (Homepage: marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)


An article by Grant ‘The Paw Man’ Teeboon

Force is one of the most misunderstood aspects of canine communication. Many a time I have had quite heated exchanges with people who are positive-only trainers who are vehemently against the application of force to a dog…well they ‘think’ they are against the application of force to a dog but actually they do it all the time without even realising it. They did not actually understand the principles of force in canine communication.

What is your dog’s primary means of communicating with other dogs?

If your answer was anything other than Body Language then you may have a bit more learning to do before this article will make sense to you.

Whilst dogs do have a verbal language it is their secondary means of communication. Humans of course are the reverse of this, our primary means of communication is verbalisation and our secondary means of communication is body language.

Let’s look at human verbal communication first and then draw parallels to the dog a little later.  In a typical situation where a parent wants to make a child clean up their room the parent may be walking past the child’s room, look in and see the messy room and the child sitting on the end of the bed and say to the child “Clean up your room.”

Ten minutes later the parent may walk back past that child’s room again and see that the room is still messy and that the child has not even moved off the bed, so the exasperated parent will repeat that exact phrase to the child again but the second time the parent says those exact same words to the child, the words will sound ‘very’ different to how they were said the first time.

How has the parent changed the delivery of those words? They have added ‘emphasis’ which is typically done by raising the volume and lowering the tone of the words…. So the first time it was just “Clean your room” but the second time is was delivered to the child with added emphasis it sounded more like “CLEAN YOUR ROOM!!!”.

An interesting way to look at this is to say that more verbal ‘force’ was added the second time to create emphasis.

Now whilst it may be true that the human’s body language would also have been more emphatic the second time round.The primary communication emphasis was delivered verbally.

Because dogs are primarily body language communicators they add emphasis to their primary means of communicating in a similar way to us but it is not by raising volume and lowering tone. No prize for guessing how dogs alter their body language to add emphasis to a message they are sending…I’ll give you a clue, it starts with ‘F’ (and no it’s not THAT F word) and it is the title of this article.

Force is how dogs add emphasis to their communication. Now the moment people are told this they automatically think about one particular end of the canine communication spectrum; the discipline end, because that is where we assume that all the force is needed… But let me take you on a journey to the other end of the spectrum.

Imagine your dog sitting in front of you, looking up into your eyes with its tail wagging gently back and forth. My question to you at this point is; What state of mind is your dog currently in?

Your answer would most likely be ‘Happy.’ So what happens to the answer to that question if we double the force with which the dog is wagging its tail so that it is now wagging back and forth quite briskly? Your answer would most likely be ‘Very happy’.

And if the dog now adds so much force to the wag of its tail that its entire back end is also swaying from side to side then now what state of mind is the dog now in? Answer: extremely happy!! Essentially the dog just wagged its tail at you…

But it was the amount of force that the dog applied to that body language gesture that added the emphasis that went from Happy to Very Happy to Extremely Happy. The only difference in the message from the dog was the amount of force applied to it.

OK, so let’s now look at the other end of the canine communication spectrum, the negative end. A bitch has just given birth to a litter of pups and like all pups the moment they are born they seek nourishment… so all of the pups are happily feeding off the bitch. But one of the pups is biting the teat too hard causing the bitch great discomfort so she moves to extinguish the discomfort by applying an aversive to the pup in question. At this point in time it is worth pointing out that the newborn pup is completely defenceless and the bitch is a fully mature adult canine… physically capable of killing a pup with a single bite if that was her intention.

So how does she deliver her body language message to the pup to extinguish the unwanted behavior? She applies carefully measured, non-injurious force to the pup. But how does she know when she has delivered the correct amount of force to the pup to extinguish the unwanted behavior and not just interrupted it? The answer to that question is very interesting because both dogs and humans have what is known as a Threshold Of Discomfort or ‘TOD’ and that is the level of tolerance of physical force before the recipient perceives that force as a negative.

Both dogs and humans have a behavioral indicator that is usually present when our Threshold Of Discomfort TOD is reached…… we verbalise, we say Ouch or we cry, and dogs give a little yip or yelp.

When you watch a bitch discipline a pup you can see that the bitch releases her disciplinary nip of the pup the moment the pup vocahalises. When you see two young dogs playing energetically with each other, play fighting if you will, and one of the dogs applies just a little too much force to the other dog, that dog will give a yip or yelp and the play will immediately cease.

Parallel that with two young boys play fighting in the back yard exuberantly, until one boy applies force above the other boys TOD and all of a sudden we hear a cry, the play fight immediately ceases.

When we physically discipline a child, what is the behavioral response that we get from the child the moment the child recognises that the applied non-injurious force is a negative? They cry.

Now at this point I would ask anyone reading this that is of the Politically Correct ideology and thinks that smacking a child is not necessary….. please don’t bother contacting me, your argument will fall upon deaf ears. I am not Politically Correct (PC).

I do not believe that PC has any place within dog training and I also believe that children should be smacked when they are disciplined and I don’t care to hear your argument to the contrary. I have already raised my children and whilst I am far from the perfect parent and whilst I did make mistakes in raising my children, they turned out OK and I am proud of them and I know that if I was not allowed to smack then to discipline them then I would have done a far worse job of raising them.

I remember the first time I ever smacked my son, the first time I smacked his bum his reaction was to smile at me and giggle….. so in attempting to deliver an aversive, that was a ‘fail’. But one second after that, I succeeded with my second smack….. how did I know I succeeded? Because he immediately cried….. message received and understood.

OK, let’s get back to dogs….. Let’s say that a dog handler is very clumsy with his feet and stands on the dog’s paw three times. The first time he does it the dog will most likely yelp and show a degree of avoidance, which is a very low force response.

The second time he does it the dog will yelp and possibly growl at the handler (a little more force directed toward the handler), and the third time he does it the dog will escalate the force significantly and maybe deliver a protest nip to the handler.

Now that protest nip is not designed to injure the handler. It is not done with the intention of tearing flesh from bone….. it is just a front mouth bite with the canines…. a disciplinary nip. Designed to send a message with non-injurious force…. However if that message is not heeded in the dog world, the next time that same message is sent it will be sent with more force.

Another example of force in canine communication; You are sitting in your lounge in your favourite chair with your arms resting upon the chair’s armrests. Your dog approaches you, sits to the side of you and looks at you….. but you are so engrossed in watching the TV that you don’t notice the dog.

After waiting patiently for a response from you the dog gets frustrated and gently nudges your arm with its nose. You briefly look at the dog and then return your gaze to the TV….. the dog’s frustration grows so now it nudges your arm twice and a lot harder. You can clearly see by these examples that force is part of all canine communication to each other and also to us.

Likewise our communication with the dog also involves the use and application of force to the dog. Here are a few parallel examples; You are teaching your dog to sit and you say the word Sit, guide the dog into position (using force) and then when the dog is in position you praise the dog verbally and apply more physical force to the dog in the form of patting. You continue teaching the dog to sit, following the above methodology and then the dog sits on the verbal command alone without you having to guide him into position, so now the amount of physical force you apply to the dog is a lot greater, showing the dog you are a lot happier.

So the teaching point here is that in all canine communication increased force equals increased or greater emphasis.

By far the most contentious area of dispute amongst trainers is the use of force for the purpose of extinguishing unwanted behaviors. Force applied to the dog for this purpose is referred to as an ‘aversive’.

Words like ‘punishments’ and ‘corrections’ and ‘hitting’ are not technically correct and are overly emotive. I should again point out here that ALL force that we apply to a dog as an aversive is non-injurious force; we do not want to physically harm the dog.

Every time I do a consult with a new client I ask them some standard questions, one of which is; “When your dog does something very wrong, what is your normal means of disciplining it?” Or alternately “What is the harshest discipline this dog ever gets?” The answers I get to this question are often amazing and leave me open mouthed in disbelief. Here’s a couple of them;

‘Oh, I’ll do better than tell you what I do, I’ll show you what I do.’ At which point the client walked over to their refrigerator, opened the door, reached in and pulled out a cooked lamb chop. She then walked over to the dog, leaned forward and held the lamb chop directly in front of the dogs nose and said “See this? Well you’re NOT getting it!!” and then she withdrew the lamb chop and returned it to the refrigerator.

Another client’s answer was to point to a doorway off the kitchen and say “Oh he goes straight to the time-out room!” The amazing thing about this answer was not so much what the client said but what her dog did the moment she answered…… as soon as she pointed to the door the dog leapt to its feet and happily trotted over to the door and waited to be let in to the ‘time-out’ room.

The error in both of these client’s answers was that the dog’s owners were disciplining their dog from a human perspective and not from the dog’s perspective.

The correct way to extinguish an unwanted behavior is to pair it with what the dog perceives as an aversive. If done correctly you will only have to repeat that aversive three times and the dog will understand the message and choose not to repeat that behavior.

The application of non-injurious force to a dog for the purpose of extinguishing undesired behaviors is not something that we have just thought up, but rather it is how dogs control unwanted behaviors within their own social groups and when we include ourselves within the dogs social group then communicating with the dog using force as a normal part of that communication is actually speaking to the dog in its own language.

Post Script: I recently had a discussion with someone on my Facebook page and they were very much anti-force but I said to them ‘But you do use force on your dogs, yes? To which she replied ‘No I don’t use force on them. I never use my hands in a harmful way.’ Her incorrect assumption here was that all force must be negative and it must also be harmful. I replied back to her ‘So you have never patted or stroked your dog?….because that is force, so you have never put any of your dogs on leash?…. because that is force.

I think you do not understand what force actually is and you are incorrectly assuming that all force is violent in nature.’

This person is yet to get back to me to continue the discussion but hopefully this article will answer a few of their questions about Force.