Study shows difference between dog training with e-collars and positive / negative reinforcement techniques / via Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog / all about English cocker spaniels, puppy tips, grooming, diet, training, breed information (C) Natalia Ashton

No pain, no gain? New study begs to differ

When I was five, I got really interested in physics – and electricity, in particular. My dad had a degree in it and could make or fix anything from a mesmerising microelectronic plate to a car. Naturally, one day I asked him what the electricity was exactly. He explained that there are loads and loads of tiny “bubbles” called electrons and protons that run through a copper wire and create energy for tv, radio and other things around the house. This sounded solid enough. The only missing part was the actual electrons. I really wanted to see them… In a way a kid wants to meet gnomes or some other mystical creatures.

So one cosy winter evening I pinched a pair of scissors and used them to quietly un-do a few screws on a lamp switch. Somehow I thought that the switch was the destination where all the electrons and protons would meet up and sit around swinging their tiny legs and having a chat.

Sadly, the reality was a bit of a shock, a combination of initial disappointment and an actual crisp painful hissing ache that left me crying. But nothing a chocolate wouldn’t fix. I forgot about the incident quickly and filed the story in the back of my mind for future reference.

Never in a million years I would imagine that one day I’d link it to an e-collar! I’ve learnt about them pretty late in life. In 2010, to be precise. Some woman in the neighbourhood used one to stop her dog barking. The collar was recommended by the dog’s vet. Until then I was completely unaware that some people use aversive devices to train their dogs. E-collars, citronella collars, collars that cause physical pain… the list went on. It felt so wrong and made me wonder what these people would be like if they experienced the pain and shock of such a device themselves just like I did when I played with that lamp! Alas, the collars are still around despite campaigns, legislations and previous studies that show their negative impact on dog’s emotional and physical health.

Before we move on, allow me to explain how these collars work.

Imagine you visit a foreign country and don’t speak the language. You are excited and looking forward to the experience. You have no idea what people are saying to you, it’s just noise. You want to find a place to eat, but you can’t read the signs or ask for directions.

You pop into the first place that looks good. As soon as you walk in, the person inside jumps at you out of nowhere and punches you in the face. As far as you are concerned, you’ve done nothing wrong! You are stressed out, in pain and still hungry! Your brain struggles to understand anything because the stress naturally stops it from processing any new information efficiently. So you try another place and the same thing happens… and again… and again… Eventually you get it right, book a table and order a meal. But you are in pain and frightened. You can hardly remember how you got here and why. You swallow the food because stress affects your digestion, so you can’t really taste anything that well. For the rest of your life you remember this day as a nightmare and do your absolute best to prevent it from happening again. You suppress the memory and never return to the area unless you are made to. This is how an e-collar works.

But what if it was a different scenario? You walk in, a person appears with a smile, maybe gives you a hug (people hug a lot in my native country, especially if you are a lost foreigner) and even offers you a snack (people do this a lot where I am from), then tries to show you directions… If you get it wrong again and walk into another place by mistake, you meet another person who comes out with a smile and does his best to help…

For the rest of that day and beyond you will not only remember the place where you ended up having your meal and everything you ordered, but you will be able to recall everyone you met on your way, what they did and maybe even their names. You are also likely to return to this place because you felt so good and made some wonderful memories!

This is what dog trainers call “positive reinforcement” – a type of training that involves praise and rewards whenever something (even the tiniest thing) is a step in the right direction towards the goal. There is no pain or stress involved here, only love, endorphins, oxytocin and a handful of biscuits!

Imagine how delighted I was to see another research that compared the use of e-collars and positive reward-based method for training dogs. Conducted by Daniel Mills, Lucy China and Jonathan Cooper, the study included 63 dogs that were split into three groups and trained recall and “sit” with the use of e-collars and training techniques (including both positive and negative reinforcement) (e-collar), same training techniques but no e-collars (control 1), and positive reinforcement (or rewards-based) coaching (control 2). Each group was trained for 150 minutes over 5 days in total.

The study clearly demonstrated that even though all groups achieved results, it was the “Positive reward” group that not only succeeded but also developed higher long-term response to the cue without unnecessary suffering and risks to the dog’s well-being associated with the use of aversive devices.

Now, all we need is to get them banned for good.


Image credit: robot dog by Kittipong Jirasukhanont via

Children and dogs / how to introduce children to your puppy / how to teach children play with dogs / how to avoid dog biting children / first puppy advice cocker spaniel puppies / first published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog (C)

On happiness & falling in love

First of all, do you know there is a publication called Journal of Happiness Studies?! I am most definitely not making it up as a weekend joke. It’s a scientific magazine that dedicates its entire existence to researching psychology of happiness.

Last month they shared a new study about our relationship with dogs and how we, as human beings, benefit from it emotionally. Termed “pet effect”, our need to support our dogs can apparently not just make both parties feel good whilst engaging in caring activities. According to the study, dog parents experienced ‘greater closeness to the dog, beyond the contribution of receiving need support”, followed by a heightened and improved sense of well-being and long-term reduction of emotional stress. However, the study also specified that these positive changes only occurred in people who maintained a real connection and regularly engaged with their pets, perceived them as a part of their family, not treated the dogs simply as guardians or domesticated animals.

This theory blends nicely with the Stanton & Levin 1988 study I’ve been in love with for a while because it gave me a beautiful little insight into the subject of love… Not just any love, but the love that our dogs grow for us. The authors based their study on Pavlovian response and showed that dogs who were trained through positive methods, including affection and social interactions, naturally produced oxytocin towards the person who was engaged with them. In other words, they fell in love in the most harmonious and natural way.

So here we go… Every time we enjoy life together with our pups, play together or teach-learn new tricks, our own bodies get rid of stress and our dogs’ little hearts fill with affection towards us.

Things can’t get better than this…

Are dried, raw and dehydrated treats safe and good for my dog / Bully sticks, pizzles, rabbit ears, pigs ears, rawhide treats, liver treats, fish skins for puppies / Nutrition advice for dog owners / How to choose dog treats safely? / Dangers of raw and dehydrated dog chews / Perfect cocker spaniel (C) dog blog, cocker spaniel advice, health tips, grooming tips, puppy training, diet, questions / Natalia Ashton

Q&A | Can I give my puppy dried & dehydrated treats?

Once upon a time, when Cooper was a little puppy, we took him for a walk in the wild where the boy met another cocker spaniel. And as all pup parents we stop and chatted about the way our pups are raised, groomed and fed. At one point the other pup’s dad mentioned that he swears by natural treats…. freshly shot pigeons, rabbit ears covered in fur, raw bones, dried chicken legs… the list went on. At the time I never heard of those.

I did a bit of googling upon return, found a few things, but never felt convinced enough to give them to my puppy.

A few years on, and there is a huge array of treats available around to keep the dogs happy.

But are they actually safe?

The first thing you need to bear in mind is that very few of those treats would be suitable for a cocker spaniel puppy. The only exception is sweet potato but even those need to be looked at with caution because, as it happened last year, they can arrive covered in mould due to poor manufacturing or storage.

Any dehydrated body parts may suit an adult dog with a robust digestive system, but they contain too much protein (pigs ears, for example, contain 73%) for a little puppy and thus can increase the risk digestive upsets as well as skeletal problems in the future.

Additionally, not every company can guarantee complete product safety, so the chews and treats may be contaminated with bacteria, toxins (as a by-product of bacteria lifecycle or from the animal source), pathogens or chemical residue (unless you can absolutely guarantee that the animal has never been treated with antibiotics or fed a pesticide-free diet, just to give you an idea)

For example, when a study published in Canadian Veterinary Journal examined 26 random bully sticks, all 26 were found to be contaminated with bacteria including Clostridium difficile, MRSA, and E. coli. It followed the 2019 case when FDA issues a recall for all pig ear treats due to salmonella outbreak.

An adult dog may show no symptoms and have no side-effects, but the puppy’s gut defences are still weak and can be affected.

There is also a possibility that the asymptomatic dog will shed salmonella for about 7 days, potentially passing it onto his human family.

Some animal body parts can contain high levels of specific minerals and vitamins, which can potentially cause vitamin and mineral imbalance in the dog’s body.

Others, like pig ears, are naturally high in fat and can lead to weight gain, diarrhoea and even increased risk of pancreatitis.

Certain body organs can naturally contain hormones. If a dog regularly consumes such treats, his own endocrine system can be affected.

Treats add calories. It is known that a typical 20cm raw hide chew can contain as much as 100 calories, which is roughly 15-20% of your dog’s daily requirement. Considering that all treats should fall below 10%, anything on top can lead to weight gain and obesity. Reducing the amount of food your dog eats for a sake of giving him a chew can create a deficit or excess of major nutrients and cause problems.

Not every chew is safe. Some can splinter, others can cause blockages or perforations of the gut.

Antlers, hoves, horns and bones may be extremely popular among dogs, but they are also  a major concern among vets because these can cause jaw dislocation and broken teeth, especially in dogs who really do love to chew hard.

Fish skins are suitable for most dogs, but not puppies under 4 months of age.

Liver treats appeal to all dogs, but they are incredibly rich in vitamin A and can cause toxicity if used frequently or generously. Liver is also a detoxifying organ, so any residue from those toxins can end up in your dog’s body.

So what can you do if you want to treat your dog safely?

Choose a trusted UK-based (or EU-based) company that  follows strict guidelines for product safety, happy to provide you with additional details and inform of any food recalls should the worst happen.

All reputable UK pet food companies should be registered with PFMA

All UK companies that produce any treats made from by-products must be approved by APHA. Depending on their set-up, they are often required to obtain a licence from a local authority, too.

Any pet food manufacturer should have at least one nutritionist who holds a veterinary degree and/or is trained in small animal clinical nutrition.

Check the packaging label for any age restriction. If you can’t find any, contact the company.

Always check the treats for signs of mould and odd smells (even though some can be a little smelly, but they should not stink)

Give these chews once a week at most, not on a daily basis.

Always supervise your dog when he is busy chewing.

If in doubt, bin – don’t feed.

Make your own treats or indulge your dog’s need to chew by giving him crunchy slices of carrots and apples.

If your dog has diagnosed health conditions, is genetically predisposed to such illnesses as pancreatitis, or requires a special diet, always consult your vet before you use these (or any) treats.


Photo credit: image by Mikhail Dmitriev for