This guy passed though my back yard last week and it got me thinking about the influx of calls I have had this Spring regarding my thoughts on Snake Avoidance Training with the use of electric shock collars. There are more and more ‘trainers’ popping up around Central Victoria offering this service.
I compare the idea of handing my dog over to undergo this type of training with what my response would be, were my daughter’s day care centre to ring me offering a similar ‘service’ with respect to toilet training.
“Hi Emma, Would you like to put Grace in our new toilet training programme?”
“Who’s running it? What qualifications do they have?”
” Oh he comes highly recommended on social media but unfortunately this type of training is totally unregulated so I am afraid I can’t give you any specifics as to his qualifications’.
“What does the training involve?”
” Well, basically every time Grace wets her nappy she will receive a small electrical shock to tell her she has done the wrong thing. This should, in theory, stop her from doing it again, although we do find that some kids are a bit slow on the uptake and so need more shocks or stronger shocks than a typical child. Don’t worry, though the shocks are totally harmless”.
“How do you define harmless?”
“So will it stop her bed wetting when she comes home and at night?”
“Possibly, although it is hard to know exactly what association she will form when she feels the shock. There is a chance that she will associate the shock with something other than the wet nappy”.
“What happens if she does?”
“She could form a lasting fear of something else such as the kids she was looking at when she was zapped or the room itself at day care…..”
“So the treatment may cause behavioural responses that are more of a concern to us than the toilet training issue you are aiming to treat?”
“Well, we need you to get her assessed by a doctor before the training starts to make sure she is both physically and emotionally robust enough to undergo the training, which should put your mind at rest. Unfortunately it’s pretty subjective and many doctors aren’t equipped to make those assessments’.
‘So, what you are telling me is that if we agree to go ahead with the training it is going to be pretty much impossible to ascertain that my child is both physically and emotionally capable of undergoing such a procedure. The training may or may not work; and if it doesn’t you will simply increase the frequency and strength of the painful shocks until it does (or until you call it a day). You can’t guarantee that the association she forms will be the right one, nor that there will be no unforeseen adverse associations made that may see her develop a fear of other human beings. And lastly, even if it does work, it may very well only ever work whilst she is at day care and not when she is at home or in bed’.
“Sounds fabulous – where do I sign up???”
Obviously, the above is rather tongue in cheek but it does outline the potential pit falls of this type of training.
So what are the alternatives?
I live on a rural property where my dogs and other animals have to co-exist with snakes. My three dogs are restricted to a dog run at the side of the house during warmer months when no one is home. I keep the grass down around the house and in the back yard and I constantly practice a solid recall when we are out and about. I also make decisions as to where I take the dogs for a walk, dependent on the weather and time of day.
Can I guarantee that this will always be 100% effective? Of course not and I am pragmatic that one day things may go wrong, in the same way that I am pragmatic that even with the best fire plan in place, I may not be able to evacuate all my animals when the time comes. These are issues that, as rural pet owners living in Australia, we have to grapple with. Sometimes there are no easy answers to these problems.
But what I can guarantee with absolute 100% certainty is that the methods I use to protect my dogs from snakes are humane and pose no risk to their emotional health.
So I will pass on both the ‘toddler toilet training‘ and the ‘snake avoidance training‘ courses today thank you and I will continue with what science tells us is the most efficient and humane way of teaching both children and animals – the use of positive reinforcement.
Written by Dr Emma Hughes BSc; BVSc; MSc (Animal Behaviour); MANZCVS (Veterinary Behaviour).