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Accueil veterinaires comportementalistes Publications internationales veterinaires comportementalistes How to Stop Aggression and Other Behavior Problems in Horses Using an Electronic Collar

How to Stop Aggression and Other Behavior Problems in Horses Using an Electronic Collar

M. A. Kennedy

Congrès : 50th Annual Convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, 2004 - Denver, CO, USA

Publisher: American Association of Equine Practitioners, Lexington KY.

Trademark Farms, Delta, CO, USA.

1. Introduction

Aggressive behavior in horses often results in injuries that are career-or life-threatening either to the victim or the aggressor. These injuries can occur when new horses are introduced, at feeding time, or in the establishment and enforcement of a pecking order. Injuries also occur when horses, housed separately, kick or strike at a neighboring horse through a fence or stall wall. These injuries are as varied as the horses that receive them and can include lacerations, punctures, abortions, seromas, and fractures.

Depending on the severity of the injury, these injuries may result in the euthanization of a horse. These injuries may be the result of one horse's lucky kick when running away or two mares engaged in a kicking duel.

Veterinarians are often consulted after an injury has occurred to prevent future incidents, but traditional methods fall short of providing a solution. Until recently, the owner's only alternative was to separate the aggressive individual so that they would not have contact with other horses.

This option takes extra time and space and therefore, is not an option for many owners; also, it does not address the actual problem. Owners have tried various methods to try to ensure the safe introduction of new horses including holding two horses with lead ropes so that they could be pulled apart if they started to fight, trying to get between two horses with a whip, tranquilization, and throwing rocks to try to break up a fight or to interrupt a chase. These methods are not only ineffective but also can be extremely dangerous to the horse and owner. Although aggressive behaviour is commonly the most threatening to the animal's health, there are many other behaviors such as weaving, stall kicking, pawing, and cribbing that can
result in health problems and are intolerable to many horse owners [1].

The electronic collar allows the owner to interact with the misbehaving horse from a safe distance. In this way, the horse can be disciplined immediately while performing the undesirable behavior. This instant cause and effect [2] is the most effective way to teach animals. As a breeder, I have found the electronic collar to be an invaluable tool in correcting many problem behaviors but especially in the correction of various forms of aggression. As a veterinarian, I now have a viable option to recommend to clients who have horses with these types of problems.

2. Materials and Methods

The population of horses that were tested were primarily Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, and Appaloosa. They included nine broodmares, three geldings, and three stallions. The population was divided into four groups depending on the type of aggressive behavior they exhibited:

Group 1: Pasture Aggression. Six mares exhibited aggressive behavior in a pasture when a new mare would be turned out.

Group 2: Aggression With Barrier. Three stallions, two mares, and one gelding exhibited aggressive behavior directed at a horse on the other side of a fence. These behaviors included charging, kicking at the fence, and attempting to lunge over the fence to bite.

Group 3: Paddock Aggression: Two geldings exhibited aggressive behaviour in a dry lot situation where free choice hay was available in two feeders. Both geldings would prevent other horses from eating.

Group 4: Aggression Associated With Feeding: One mare exhibited aggressive behavior only at graining time. She was in a pasture with yearlings that were grained twice daily. She would move from bucket to bucket, keeping the yearlings on the move by biting or kicking, and grab a bite of grain at each stop until the grain was gone.

The materials used consisted of an equine electronic collar [a]. Please note that an equine electronic collar is not interchangeable with a dog electronic collar. Dog collars have significantly higher levels of stimulation intensity than horse collars. The basic procedure for use is to place the waterproof receiver that is attached to an elastic and leather collar around the horse's neck. You carry a small transmitter that allows you to choose from six levels of intensity with a dial. When the horse misbehaves, you press a button on the transmitter, and the horse immediately receives a brief stimulation up to one-half mile away. Levels 1 - 4 are low-level intensity with small incremental increases in stimulation between levels. There is a larger increase in intensity from level 4 to 5 and again between 5 and 6. For reference purposes, most of the people that volunteered to feel the receiver could begin to perceive some sensation at level 3 but could not feel anything at levels 1 or 2. The collar should be placed on the horse 24 h before being used. This allows the horse to become desensitized to the collar and decreases the possibility that the horse will become "collar wise" (a phenomenon known in dogs where the animal will behave appropriately when the collar is on and misbehave when it is removed).

It is recommended that you start at level 1 and work your way up as necessary to find the lowest level that is effective for an individual horse. The exceptions to this rule are the cases of aggression where an immediate response is necessary to avoid injury to an individual (i.e., no barrier between the horse and the person).

In the pasture situation, all horses were started at level 3 and adjusted up or down as necessary. Horses were not corrected for aggressive posturing (pinned ears) but were immediately corrected when an aggressive charge or an attempt to bite or kick another individual was made. If necessary, the level was raised one increment at a time until the aggressor ceased its attack. The level was considered too low if the behavior continued. It was considered too high if the horse exhibited a strong reaction, such as rearing or striking out. This process was repeated until no further aggressive behavior was noted. The collar was turned off (from a distance) to save battery life when the horse would not be observed for a length of time. The collar was left on the horse for several days after the last correction was made to ensure that it was in fact the last correction necessary and to eliminate the possibility of the horse becoming collar wise. The test was considered successful if there was cessation of the aggressive behavior that did not resume when the collar was removed. In aggressive horses that were alone in a stall or paddock or that had a barrier that prevented them from contacting another animal, the same procedure was followed except that all horses were started at level 1.

3. Results

Group 1: Pasture Aggression (Six Mares)
Number of times stimulated: 1 - 4
Time between first and last stimulation: 10 min - 1.5 h
Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 wk for all horses Levels used: 3
- 5 Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0*

Group 2: Aggression With Barrier (Three Stallions, Two Mares and One Gelding)
Number of times stimulated: 2 - 4
Time between first and last stimulation: 15 min - 2.5 days Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 wk for all horses Levels used: 3 - 5 Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0*

Group 3: Paddock Aggression (Two Geldings)
Number of times stimulated: 2 - 4
Time between first and last stimulation: 1.5 - 2 days
Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 wk for all horses Levels used: 2
- 4 Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0

Group 4: Aggression Associated With Feeding (One Mare)
Number of times stimulated: 4
Time between first and last stimulation: 2 days
Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 wk
Levels used: 3 - 4
Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0

*Other observations that were made in the pasture and over fence groups were that the results, although long lasting for that particular neighbor or new horse, did not extend to a new neighbor or additional new horse being introduced and the process had to be repeated.

In most cases, it appeared as though the aggressor thought that the correction had somehow come from the intended victim. Their posture immediately changed from head down, ears pinned, and teeth bared to head up and ears forward. After the first correction, they closely observed the other horse that was obviously exhibiting submissive behavior. The aggressive horses seemed to be baffled by the mixed signals, and most attempted to attack a second time. It was also noted in the pasture group that when the aggressive behavior was stopped, the aggressive horses appeared to want to graze close to and bond with the new horse.

4. Discussion

The results indicate that the electronic collar was extremely effective in stopping aggressive behavior in all four groups. Although this was a relatively small number of test animals, the results were so overwhelmingly positive that I would expect to see similar results in a larger test population. The primary reason that the electronic collar is so effective in dealing with unwanted horse behavior is the fact that you are able to instantly discipline the horse while it is still performing the undesirable act. With traditional methods, there is a delay of varying duration between the horse performing an act and receiving a punishment. This delay makes any discipline less effective, and if the punishment is delayed for a long time, the horse does not know why it was punished and may becomes fearful of the handler.

The second reason that the electronic collar is so effective is that the horse cannot see or in any way anticipate the discipline coming. In this way, the horse cannot avoid the punishment. With traditional methods, the horse may know why they are being disciplined for a particular behavior, but they also know that the discipline is coming from you and not the behavior itself. One way to illustrate this is with horses that chew wood. The majority of these horses know the exact distance that a rock can be thrown and will continue to chew until an approaching person crosses into that range. Only at that point do they stop or run away. These horses obviously "know" they are not supposed to chew wood, but because they can see the discipline coming long before it reaches them, they can avoid it. The electronic collar eliminates the human from the equation and quickly reinforces in the horse's mind that a particular behavior itself is unpleasant. This is classic conditioned-response training [3].

Clients regularly seek advice from their veterinarian for various behavioral problems in horses, and although some problems are suited for referral to a professional trainer, the majority of them, especially aggression, have not had a solution until now. The electronic collar is safe for both horse and owner, extremely effective, and a viable option for owners that had previously unmanageable horse behaviors.

The author thanks Tri-Tronics, Inc. for veterinary consultation.

1.. ViceBreaker H1, Tri-Tronics, Inc., Tucson, AZ 85731. References
a.. 1. Evans JW. Considering basic factors. In: Horses. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1981; 1-58.
b.. 2. Mackay-Smith A, Edwards EH. The mind of the horse. In: Encyclopedia of the horse. New York: Crescent Books, 1977; 176-179.
c.. 3. Kiley-Worthington M. How horses learn. In: The behavior of horses in relation to management and training. London: JA Allen, 1987; 168-188.

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