Dog-zapping device raises howls of protest

Garmin has released a device that slips onto a dog collar and can issue "static" to deter "unwanted behaviours". A video commercial posted on Facebook has drawn flak over the controversial training method.
Garmin has released a device that slips onto a dog collar and can issue "static" to deter "unwanted behaviours". A video commercial posted on Facebook has drawn flak over the controversial training method.PHOTO: GARMIN/YOUTUBE

WASHINGTON • Garmin, the company known for GPS devices that help drivers navigate and runners record their mileage, released a new product for dog owners last week that has outraged animal lovers.

The Delta Smart, a small smartphone-compatible contraption that slips onto a collar, can help keep pooches fit by tracking the time they spend active or sedentary.

But the product's primary selling point, according to Garmin, is its ability to "reduce or eliminate unwanted behaviours" and make your dog a "more enjoyable member of the family".

How? By either beeping, vibrating or issuing "static" at one of 10 levels when a dog does something its owners don't want it to do, including barking. In other words, it can function as what is more commonly known as a shock collar, and it can work remotely.

"Dogs aren't born with manners," Garmin declared in a video posted to its Facebook page. But many dog lovers were not amused. As of Tuesday afternoon, the video had nearly 2,800 comments, the most popular of which collectively amounted to a flood of condemnation.

"As a veterinarian, I would NEVER recommend a product like this," a Facebook user named Ella Richardson wrote in a comment that won more than 2,400 likes.

"It is aversive, and these sorts of training techniques have long ago been scientifically proven to be far less effective than reward-based training, and far more damaging to your dog's general well-being. Shame on you Garmin for trying to make outdated training seem modern and innovative."

It is not the first time passions have flared over these kinds of gadgets, which are also known as e-collars. The devices are banned in some European nations, and countries including Canada and Scotland have considered prohibitions. They are opposed by some researchers, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and other national organisations, and by many trainers, who dismiss them as unhelpfully punitive and stressful for dogs. But they also have vociferous backers, who say that they are humane and effective when used correctly.

Garmin, which also makes products called Bark Limiters, said it was surprised by the storm.

"It did come as a bit of a surprise, because we've been selling these products for quite some time," said Mr Ted Gartner, a Garmin spokesman.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2016, with the headline 'Dog-zapping device raises howls of protest'. Print Edition | Subscribe