The Comfy Chair It Ain’t

The Pet Safe Stay Mat has absolutely no place in positive reinforcement dog training.

Usually on the Three Dogs blog we like to bring you guys notices of classes, updates to the web page, and items of interest that may help you and your dog(s) live a happier, healthier life.  However, sometimes we have to warn you about things and this is one of those times.

Imagine you have gone to visit your neighbor because you are new to the neighborhood.

They kindly offer you a necklace as a house-warming gift and they then proceed to go make some tea.  You are sitting in a chair in the neighbor’s living room and notice something outside the front window.  You get up to investigate the commotion out the window just across the room.

Suddenly, you hear a funny noise then the pain begins and at first you can’t tell where the pain is coming from.  You begin checking yourself and find the pain is coming from the “necklace” your new neighbor just gave you.  You try to get it off but it doesn’t come off.  The pain is non-stop.  You begin to run around to see it you can find something to help get it off, something to make it stop – something to stop the agonizing, confusing, scary pain.

As you are running, you brush the chair where you were sitting before this all began and for a brief second the pain stopped.  That couldn’t be it – no.  So you keep running; keep pulling at the necklace, now you are screaming and asking any deity to help you make it stop.  You ask yourself, “What have I done to deserve this?  What lesson could this possibly be teaching me?”  But no good answer comes in the language you speak.  The pain just won’t stop.

Unexpectedly the new neighbor grabs you and forces you back into the chair.  You sit in the chair shaking and breathing heavily – afraid to move; afraid even to breathe too hard for fear it will start all over again.  Even though the pain is stopped, the fear, the anguish, and confusion are all still there.  What the hell was that???

It was the “Pet Safe Stay Mat”* brought to you by the people at Pet Safe who encourage shocking a dog into scared submission  rather than easily rewarding them for doing what is fun and makes everyone happy around them.

Here’s their explanation:

The Stay! Mat functions by detecting your dog’s weight on the mat. If your dog leaves the mat while the unit is turned on, the mat will send a radio signal up to 6 feet in all directions. The receiver collar will receive the radio signal and produce a beep or beep and static correction until your dog returns to the mat. The correction type depends on the setting you choose. Once your dog returns to the mat, the beep and static correction will cease. (Two week training period required.)

In the words of Karen Overall,  M.A, V.M.D., Ph.D from Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals:

“Shock collars are seldom used correctly, are more often overused or inappropriately used, can make any aggressive animal more aggressive, and may tell us more about the people who feel that they have to rely on them than about the pet’s problem…”

In the instructions for the cold-hearted “Stay Mat” it says there is a two week training period required but I can easily train a dog to hold a position on a mat for rewards in an hour or less.  I can proof that behavior in a couple of 10 – 15 minutes sessions and have it reliable with distance and distraction in a couple days.  So, why spend more time, more money and torment your dog in the process by using this device?

When looking at various training methods we have to consider what is the scientifically best proven approach – it is and always will be positive reinforcement because it has been proven to be both more effective and more humane than coercion.  AND we have to ask ourselves:  how would you like this done to you?  Yes we are talking about dogs not people.  But when we are talking about dogs we are talking about animals whose capacity to feel, emote, love, fear, and forgive is equal and sometimes greater than we humans can produce.  And it is necessary to keep in mind that the way a dog’s brain and our brain processes pain and fear are almost identical – fight or flight.   So it is valid to ask if this is something you would like to endure.

Please tell Pet Safe, PetSmart, and others who are carrying this product; tell your friends, your neighbors and anyone who will listen – this is not the way to teach an easy settle command.  But it is a great way to torment your dog, teach them fear, and break down any hope at a trusting relationship with them since you will be the one putting them back “into the non-comfy chair.”

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