Background: The use of electronic training devices for dog training is controversial. The aims of this study were to give an indication of the extent to which dog owners use these devices in England, identify factors associated with their use, and compare owner report of outcomes. A convenience sample of dog owners in England was used to identify numbers using electronic training devices and identify reasons for use. Factors associated with use of remote e-collars only were determined by comparing dogs trained using these devices with two control populations matched for reason of use (recall / chasing problems). Comparison groups were: those using other 'negative reinforcement / positive punishment' training techniques, and those using 'positive reinforcement / negative punishment' based methods. A multinominal logistic regression model was used to compare factors between categories of training method. Owner reported success for use was compared using chi-squared analysis.
Results: For England only, 3.3% (n = 133) owners reported using remote activated e-collars, 1.4% (n = 54) reported use of bark activated e-collars, and 0.9% (n = 36) reported using electronic boundary fences. In comparison with the e-collar group, owners using reward based training methods for recall / chasing were 2.8 times more likely to be female and 2.7 times less likely to have attended agility training. Owners using other aversive methods for recall / chasing were 2.8 times more likely to have attended puppy classes than those using e-collars. However, the model only explained 10% variance between groups. A significantly higher proportion of owners in the reward group reported training success than those in the e-collar group.
Conclusions: In conclusion, a fairly low proportion of owners select to use electronic training devices. For a population matched by reason for training method use, characteristics of dogs, including occurrence of undesired behaviours do not appear to distinguish between training methods. Rather, owner gender and attendance at training classes appear more important, although explaining a relatively small amount of variance between groups. More owners using reward based methods for recall / chasing report a successful outcome of training than those using e-collars.