This is an open letter from the Association of Responsible Dog Owners (ARDO) in response to proposed New York State legislation put forward by Rep. Linda Rosenthal, namely Bill No A10700 in relation to electronic training aids.
We have recently been made aware of L. Rosenthal’s proposal to:
“Prohibit the sale or distribution of any electric shock dog collar in the state; [and] provide a civil fine up to $500 for each violation.”
The justification for the Bill is as follows. For ease, we have numbered [highlighted] specific areas of concern and we shall address each sequentially throughout this letter.
“Shock  collars used on dogs send an electric current through contact points on the collar to deliver an electric shock  to their necks, an outdated  training method used to curb excessive barking, jumping or other unwanted behaviors . Shock collars usually come equipped with a range of settings, allowing an owner to adjust the intensity of the electric shock. These collars, which are purchased and used by dog trainers and/or dog owners, can be used in an attempt to train dogs to suppress  undesirable behaviors by threatening  them with an uncomfortable or painful  electric shock. These collars can result in burns  to the skin and cause stress and anxiety to dogs, resulting in aggression  or other behaviors .
Many Countries , including Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany have already implemented bans on shock collars. This legislation would make New York State the first in the nation to ban the sale of electric shock dog collars.”
[1 and 2] The word “shock”
What is common to almost all reports written against electronic training collars is the use of wholly inaccurate, highly charged emotive language to describe both the products themselves and their effects upon the animal.
This isn’t coincidental, but rather a common, deliberate means of capturing the attention and securing the support of an audience by appealing to their emotions above their logical reasoning – the visceral appeal – where irrefutable evidence of the claims themselves is lacking. The dangers and errors of visceral provocation as a means to present an argument have been documented in multiple instances throughout recent history.
Once powerful emotions have been stirred, it becomes increasingly difficult to encourage the audience to listen objectively and dispassionately to facts. People ‘trust’ their feelings and so become very resistant and quickly dismissive of additional evidence showing their feelings to be wrong. Alarmingly, this ‘appeal to emotion/defence of emotion’ interplay of shared ignorance exists way beyond the naïve, loving companion dog owner. It extends into the animal welfare charities and organisations and on through academic institutions, influencing much of the research of ‘impartial’ scientists responsible for producing the studies being cited to support the narrative in the first place.
Let’s take the word “shock”, used here 7 times in just 14 short lines of text.
The use of the word “shock” is common to all anti-electronic training aid speech and literature, deliberately used to present the false image that the products serve to “shock” the animal and nothing else.
This would imply that electronic training aids have and need only 1 level of static stimulation since they have just 1 function and 1 purpose – to ‘shock’ the animal. We know that this is untrue, and Rosenthal admits that “collars usually come equipped with a range of settings, allowing an owner to adjust the intensity”. Why would this be necessary where the sole purpose and intention is to ‘shock’ the dog? Research into electronic training aids conducted by Defra (an English government body) deliberately avoided the use of the word “shock”.
“Shock” would perhaps be accurate where electronic training aids are used at higher levels of stimulation intensity as part of a programme intended to cause a deliberate, negative association between the dog and an aspect of its environment known or likely to represent a harm. Even here, the use of the word “shock” would refer to the psychological sudden, intense but momentary surprise or alarm effects upon the dog, not the electrical impulse itself.
The levels of static stimulation on electronic training aids can be more accurately described as ranging from imperceptible to perceptible, through tickling and irritation, on to annoyance and increasingly aversive.
We MUST acknowledge and appreciate however, that such perceptions are entirely subjective. We simply cannot say that such self-reported experiences remain consistent amongst individuals within a species, certainly across species. Video evidence reveals dogs experiencing high level stimulation on an electronic training aid yet paying no attention to the sensation whatsoever. In such instances, it is neither possible nor accurate to describe the electronic stimulation as being perceived by the dog as an aversive, let alone “painful”.
The fact that this sensation is made possible using a remotely operated electronic device which stimulates tissue including nerves through electrical impulse does not meet the criteria for the everyday understanding of giving the animal ‘electric shocks.’
During UK government funded research, human participants described the physical feeling of the collars as ranging from a “pin prick” to a “sudden short cramp”. Nowhere did the researchers report being “shocked”. Researchers reported that peak voltages were only present for thousandths of a second.
 Electronic training aids are not ‘outdated’
No evidence exists to support Rosenthal’s statement that electronic training aids are ‘outdated’. In fact, research advances into the humane use of collar-mounted electronic training aids is currently revolutionising the control, protection and free-movement of livestock animals and their ability to assist in vital environmental conservation efforts.
 It is inaccurate and untrue to state that electronic training aids are solely used to stop ‘unwanted behaviours’
Disappointingly, Rosenthal demonstrates a clear lack of diligent research here. The majority of responsible electronic training aid use – certainly handheld training aids – is centred not around stopping ‘unwanted behaviours’ but creating desirable, acceptable behaviours. Handheld electronic training aids are used to reinforce appropriate behaviour as much as they are used to stop dangerous or welfare compromising behaviours.
 “Suppression of undesirable behaviours”
We note that Rosenthal’s use of the word “suppress” in the justification paragraph is loaded with condemnation, as if to imply that conditioned behavioural suppression can only ever be an anti-welfare, anti-safety, irresponsible course of action.
We say long-term (often lifelong) suppression of behaviours representing a significant threat to the well-being of the dog, third-party persons or animals directly affected by the behaviour of the dog – where the dog is simultaneously taught appropriate and acceptable alternative behaviours – is not representative of irresponsible or inhumane action.
We say that focusing exclusively on only one of these obligations (suppression of undesirable or teaching of desirable behaviours) is insufficient in ensuring the interests and safety of the dog, third-party persons or animals directly affected by the behaviour of the dog.
Many ‘veterinary approved’ medications and means of behaviour modification rely entirely on suppression of undesirable behaviours, including muzzles and surgical cones, even despite the fact that such approaches are shown to compromise the welfare of the dog:
“The majority of the 434 participants (77.4%) reported a poorer quality of life in their companion animals while the collar was worn.”
We say that it is a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of behavioural psychology to suggest that ‘undesirable behaviour’ can be reduced without the dog experiencing appropriate, negative consequences directly associated with the expression of those behaviours.
Learned behaviour cannot be forgotten, and the future expression of that behaviour is based on associated consequences. Where a dog has experienced highly enjoyable consequences despite the behaviour being harmful or potentially harmful, suppressing that ‘undesirable behaviour’ is a fundamental duty in ensuring safe, acceptable, social coexistence. Decision-makers are quick to punish transgressions from familial, social or legal expectations and obligations.
As evidence shows, for dogs who are unable to ‘suppress’ undesirable behaviours, the price to pay is often premature destruction. It is ethically grotesque that we are more comfortable with killing healthy dogs with problem behaviours than we are with suppressing the problem behaviours that cause the death of a healthy dog.
 “Threatening” dogs
We find this claim to be lacking any valid evidential basis whatsoever. We know of no credible scientific research covering the responsible inclusion of electronic training aids where “threatening” the dog with electronic pulse is either observed or documented as a means of influencing the behaviour of the animal. We emphatically call for evidence to be made publicly available.
We must be very guarded against making sweeping, false generalisations where, without evidence to substantiate the claim, the effect of an individual is presented as synonymous with the effect of a training aid. To simplify, an individual’s character, approach and intentions are arguably of greater importance in terms of effect upon the subject animal than the training aids they choose to use.
Indeed, Peter Sutcliffe threatened and murdered multiple innocent women with a hammer and a screwdriver, however it would be entirely ludicrous to state that users of hammers and screwdrivers threaten and murder innocent women.
In fact, it is the detached, impersonal, non-correlative association between electronic stimulation and operator, that enables electronic training aids to establish clear and consistent associations between the dog’s behaviour towards, or specific aspects of the dog’s environment, not the operator.
In direct opposition to “threatening” the dog, the user guides and assists the dog in successfully avoiding electronic stimulation through their own behaviour. In doing so, the dog is purported to acquire positive associations arising from the resultant experiences of ‘relief/relaxation’ not negative associations resulting from threats.
Electronic training aids provide the only safe, consistent, sophisticated means of influencing a dog’s behaviour towards aspects of its environment without their knowledge and at considerable distance from [and thus unrelated to] the owner/trainer. The role of the operator is not to “threaten” the dog, but to provide valuable information via signal or instruction, thereby allowing the dog to effectively predict and control events in accordance with their behaviour. The dog comes to know which behaviour will help it achieve the best outcomes and when.
This is something that is simply impossible to achieve if we deny the dog the opportunity to experience anything and everything it might perceive as negative, purely because we might disagree with the idea of doing so. It takes little imagination to appreciate just how dangerous and short-lived a life would be if an animal lacked the ability to experience and learn from unpleasant events and situations, and so it follows that to deny an animal this natural necessity, this welfare imperative, is flawed from any welfare promotion perspective.
“Threatening” the dog is entirely unnecessary and counterproductive and forms no part of any ethical training or behaviour modification program.
In presenting electronic stimulation as “Painful”, Rosenthal steps outside of the defined realms of scientific, impartial objectivity and into vague arena of unsubstantiated, emotionally charged subjective assumption.
We simply cannot speak of “painful” because our subjective conclusion cannot be validated by the self-reporting of the dog. We can talk in terms of objective, measurable data – of what the dog does or does not do in response to a stimulus presentation or non-presentation. When it comes to electronic training aids, we can say that many dogs produce responses that lead us to believe that electronic stimulation is considered aversive at individually determined levels. But this is all.
As Perone succinctly explained in 2003 when talking of aversive control and scientific accuracy:
“A stimulus is aversive if its contingent removal, prevention or postponement maintains behaviour – that constitutes negative reinforcement – or if its contingent presentation suppresses behaviour – punishment”.
“There is no mention in these definitions of pain, fear, anxiety or distress, nor should there be. It is easy to cite instances of effective aversive control in which such negative reactions are absent .. The presence of aversive control in these cases clearly works to the individual’s advantage”. [Emphasis added]
Now look at the AVSAB (2021) statement on ‘humane training’:
“Aversive methods, which by definition, rely on application of force, pain or emotional or physical discomfort” [Emphasis added]
“Pain” and “emotional discomfort” – The exact subjective attributes that behavioural science rejects as unnecessary and unscientific when describing an ‘aversive’ stimulus.
 “These collars can produce burns”
False. Despite requests internationally, there is no evidence whatsoever to confirm that quality, sophisticated electronic training aids can “burn” skin. In fact, we would urge Rosenthal to retract this claim in light of the fact that a similar such claim made by Dr H. Wirth RSPCA (Victoria) in 2002: Namely:
“The potent likelihood exists that burns and more extensive injuries can result” from their use”
resulted in the Federal Court of Australia ruling that the claim was false and awarding substantial damages to the complainant.
 [electronic training aids] “Result in aggression”
We state that there is no credible evidence whatsoever to support any claim that the appropriate, proportionate use of quality electronic training aids “results in aggression”. Where research tenuously links the two, that research fails to establish a direct correlation. Consequently, early to mid-20th Century research involving electrified floors in research chambers is instead used to make untested, hypothetical correlations appear scientifically credible in attempts to support an unsubstantiated narrative.
In one of the only scientific research projects where electronic training aids have been studied in respect of their presentation and aggression in dogs, Tortora (1983) found that rather than “result” in aggression, their inclusion:
“Resulted in complete and permanent elimination of aggression in all of the 36 dogs tested .. produced extremely extinction-resistant prosocial avoidance responses, significant increases in the dogs’ emotional stability, an avoidance-learning and safety acquisition response set, and improvements in measures of the dog’s “carriage.” [Emphasis added]
 “Other behaviours”
We would ask Rosenthal to elaborate on the meaning of this claim since in itself it is meaningless. Any and every experience can result in “other behaviours” so we would ask what behaviours specifically is Rosenthal attributing to the appropriate, proportionate use of quality electronic training aids and are those behaviours a certainty resulting from any and all use of such aids?
 “Many Countries”
Out of 195 countries in the world, we note that Rosenthal cites just 5. This is because only a handful of countries throughout the world have seen fit to put legislation before education. A ban on electronic training aids in New York State would therefore not represent a positive step towards the majority, but a departure from that majority towards the minority.
What we know from countries that have chosen to ban electronic training aids are two consistent truths:
Bans/attempts to ban have consistently followed extensive lobbying from animal charities and animal rights groups presenting partial information based on ideologically, financially or politically motivated objectives, not public outcry.
Bans/attempts to ban have been based entirely on inconclusive research, hypothetical scaremongering and visceral appeals as opposed to a body of independent real-world evidence drawn from extensive ‘victims’ of abuse or cruelty prosecutions based entirely on the use of an electronic training aid.
In short, Rosenthal’s proposal to legislate against electronic training aids is based entirely on a hypothetical, unrealised pseudo animal welfare risk, woefully lacking real world evidence of any actual harm. As is always the case in relation to electronic training aids, the motivation is not promoting the interests of animal welfare but promoting the political agenda of the animal rights lobby.
Here, as elsewhere around the world, The Association of Responsible Dog Owners, supported by our survey of circa two thousand electronic training aid users (the largest ever conducted) stand firmly opposed to the bill proposed by Linda Rosenthal. We will always prioritise the welfare of the dog above ulterior motives and welcome engagement with stakeholders and decision makers with regards to increasing education and encouraging responsible dog ownership.
In the absence of independent robust, repeatable research and a body of real-world prosecutions to corroborate sensationalist claims that electronic training aids pose a proven, realised threat to canine welfare, our position is based on extensive collective experience, ‘the whole science’ and the findings of our own research. This research reveals that 99% of almost 2000 respondents report “No negative effects” on the welfare of their dogs, with 92% reporting that electronic training aid inclusion “Resolved the problem behaviour.” It is worthy of note that the majority of such behaviour-resolution relates to welfare-compromising, life-threatening behaviours which had otherwise proven intractable to alternative, reward-based efforts.
The Association of Responsible Dog Owners
Committed to welfare and safety