Instruments of torture on sale in Britain’s High Streets! NIs vs. PIs.

The UK’s pet industry is worth £6.5billion including food, accessories, grooming and veterinary. Accessories alone amounted to £1billion of this total in 2020!

Pet stores, so it appears, will happily sell you a negative (aversive) interrupter (NI). These are in the form of water pistols, compressed air horns, choke chains, ultrasonic zappers, citronella sprays, shock collars etc. What they won’t sell you is a positive interrupter (PI) – there must be an opportunity there!

NIs are based on the principle of positive punishment (P+). It interrupts an unwanted behaviour, for example barking, jumping up or ‘humping’. The problem with punishment is it does not teach the dog (cat, horse, chicken etc) what to do instead. There is also the potential for fallout in the form of learned helplessness and/or a relationship breakdown – not to mention the ethical question.

Positive interrupters (PIs) work on the principle of classical (reflexive) conditioning. The interrupter here could be a click, whistle, shaking of a kibble box, the theme from ‘Colonel Bogey’, or “Yippee”! The PI is previously paired with something the dog finds pleasurable. This could, for example, be a piece of kibble, piece of liver cake or a game of tug. He/she will learn this within about thirty seconds but will need proofing in different environments and with varying distractions. Once the unwanted behaviour is interrupted, the pleasure ensues followed by “look at me – sit – stay – good dog”, followed by – another piece of liver cake! In the words of John Rogerson, “Communicate”.

I should point out that interrupters are used as an exception rather than the rule. Correct training in the first place will negate their use.

NB – Addendum 30.05.21 – Since the time of writing, the sale of electronic shock collars is now illegal in the UK. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act (2021) tightens up the law on animal abuse. Judges now have the power, upon indictment, to impose a custodial sentence of up to 5 years, as opposed to the the previous 6 months.

This Collarless Ultrasonic Pet Trainer (instrument of torture by another name), sold by Pets At Home, claims to have both a
PI and an NI. The question is can the dog tell the difference?

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