A question of ethics – part 2


I heard Kathy Sdao talk about this clip and ClickerExpo last year

Let’s look at this video clip for a few seconds (please ignore the annoying sound effects) and think about the following questions. Magnussen is the bad guy and John Watson on the right is the good guy.

Is this aversive to Watson?
Is Magnussen abusing his power?
Does he know Watson is powerless here?
Is it painful to Watson?
Would Watson rather he wasn’t in this postion or subjected to this treatment?
What is the relationship here?
What is Magnussen trying to achieve?

Although this is a scene from a TV programme all these points are worth considering when we apply them to dog training.

If we are using a tool or technique where the dog is either working to avoid the application of the tool or working to have it’s application removed, it is, by very definition, aversive. Pain shouldn’t be the entire barometer of whether to use a tool or not.

Years ago I had a boss who used to micromanage and nit-pick everything. When he was around, our actions were constantly subjected to the most detailed scrutiny. Nothing he did was painful to us but it was very stressful working under him. The results were that some of us started to push back against his authority and other shut down. Productivity went up hugely when he was on holiday. His very presence was aversve to the team and his absence was a huge relief.

If you are going to use any training tool, these are things we need to consider and consider with much thought rather than using the bog standard “it doesn’t hurt” response. I once heard an e-collar trainer describe the low level stimulations (shocks) as being like an insect bite, nothing more, just a bit unpleasant. Would you rather not be bitten by an insect. Have you ever been in your bedroom at night and can hear a mosquito buzzing around? Do you leave it be or do you get up and try to remove it? Even the slightlest unpleasant consequence can accumulate to something very stressful. A stone in your shoe? Remove it or walk around with it all day? It doesn’t hurt, right? So it can’t be that bad.

We hear e-collar and prong collar trainers justify the use of their tools by saying it doesn’t hurt the dog, it’s merely information to the dog. Would the dog rather you didn’t apply the stimulation (shock) in the first place?

To quote Dr Susan Friedman – “Effectiveness is not enough”


Oh, Magnussen gets his comeuppance in the end.

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