For nearly 60 years, people have debated the ethics of using shock collars on dogs. Some people say shock collars do not emit enough electricity to injure or distress the dog. Other people say any amount of electric shock is inhumane.
A collar is one of the most important pieces of equipment for a dog, along with a No-Pull dog harness and a durable leash. The collar acts as a place to hang the dog’s license, rabies tag, and identification tag. But does an essential piece of dog equipment need to be painful? Does it need to instill fear in your dog? In this article, we will discuss the debate between pro-shock collars and anti-shock collars followed by expert words deciding if shock collars are acceptable training mechanisms.
The Debate Over Shock Collars for Dogs
People in favor of shock collars for dogs declare they do one of three things to train or protect a dog. First, shock collars work with invisible fences to prevent a dog from leaving the designated area. As the dog approaches the underground wire, he feels an electrical charge, which deters him from getting any closer.
Second, shock collars teach a dog to be quiet by producing an electrical shockwave every time the dog barks. The dog will realize that every time he barks, he gets shocked. Eventually, he will learn to stay quiet.
And third, shock collars work with a remote – operated by the handler – who can administer an electric shock when deemed necessary. Usually, shock collars are used in Positive Punishment training in which a physical force is utilized when the dog performs a behavior incorrectly. In this case, the dog feels an electrical shock when he does not correctly obey the command given.
Typically, people in favor of shock collars for dogs claim that the collar does not deliver enough electricity to harm the dog. The collar only delivers enough shock to get the dog’s attention. During an adrenaline-fueled chase, a dog may not listen to spoken commands from his handler. Other dogs, passing cars, and wild animals are often more exciting to chase as opposed to obeying a Sit or Come command. A shock collar, people say, grabs the dog’s attention and brings him back to reality.
People who disapprove of the shock collars argue that the electricity is ineffective against bad behavior. It does not reduce or remove the bad behavior, but does instill a sense of fear towards training and/or the dog’s handler. And when a dog begins to fear something or someone, they begin to show signs of aggression. Causing pain through the use of electricity does not properly train the dog.
Many anti-shock collar people also argue that the use of electricity on a dog is inhumane, no matter how many volts it may be. Additionally, some shock collars irritate the skin and cause inflammation of the neck if left on the dog for too long. If the dog has allergies or sensitive skin, inflammation is more likely to occur.
One alternative to electric shock collars is the much gentler yet effective vibrating collar. This type of collar has a vibrating mechanism that responds to remote control, quite similar to a shock collar but without the use of electricity. The vibrating movement gets the dog’s attention when needed but does not instill fear of training or his handler.
Articles Declare the Truth About Shock Collars
We sought after the knowledge of a few experts on the matter for further reference. The majority of our research on shock collars claimed they were inhumane and ineffective. The first article referenced is published by the Humane Society.
The Humane Society describes shock collars as “electric current passing through metal contact points on the collar to give your dog a signal. This electric signal can range from a mild tickling sensation to a painful shock.” Most commonly, shock collars are used for training, which is the least humane and most controversial use of the collar. The handler can administer the electrical current from a remote at a distance. The chances of abuse (administering shock as punishment) or misuse (administering shock at incorrect times) is infinitely higher in a training scenario. Henceforth, the dog may begin to associate the painful shock with people or training and thus develop aggressive behaviors.
The Green Acres Kennel Shop published a comprehensive article discussing the unintended consequences of shock collars. Essentially, shock collars cause pain, stress, and aggression. There are humane alternatives that deem shock collars unnecessary.
“We know from the science of operant conditioning that the aversive stimulus (electric shock) must be sufficiently aversive (i.e. painful) in order to cause a change in behavior,” writes The Green Acres Kennel Shop. Therefore, proponents might call it a mere “static charge” but we know better than to believe that claim.
A study on guard dogs, Green Acres reports, shows that shock collars cause undue stress on a dog which results in guard dogs associating their handlers as aversive even outside of training sessions. Dogs learn that their handler’s presence and commands announce the administration of electric shocks, regardless of context.
Dog owners with electric fences usually do not have ill will in utilizing such a containment system seeing as they want to give their dog freedom at less of a financial cost. However, dogs can see, hear, and smell what lies beyond the invisible “fence.” If they are attracted to something beyond the fence, they may run for it, endure the shock, and continue running. The shock only occurs when the dog is on top of the underground wire. They do not feel a shock beyond the wire. Once outside the fence, the dog is comfortable and free. Now there’s a new problem: the dog knows he must endure the electrical shock again to return to his home. If nothing inside the invisible fence is attractive enough, he will not return to his home by his own free will. Therefore, while electric invisible fences have good intentions, the unintended consequences can be detrimental.
Lastly, Green Acres notes a statement by veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall:
“To understand people’s willingness to shock their dogs and cats (and sometimes horses), one important association needs to be acknowledged: people reach for tools such as shock when they feel helpless to address their pet’s behavioral concerns and when they feel that this is the only way that they can keep their pet safe and alive. Unfortunately, companies that make and market shock collars prey on these concerns, claiming that their products keep pets safe and save lives. There is no published evidence to support these claims, but there is now considerable evidence published in the peer-reviewed literature that refutes them. Anyone considering the use of shock for behavioral problems— whether it is a remote/ bark activated shock collar, a remote-controlled collar, an invisible fence, or a device such as a Scat Mat that shocks anyone who touches it— should know:
- The use of shock is not a treatment for pets with behavioral concerns.
- The use of shock is not a way forward.
- The use of shock does not bring dogs back from the brink of euthanasia; instead, it may send them there.
- Such adversarial techniques have negative consequences that are dismissed/ ignored by those promoting these techniques.”
Plos One published an article titled “The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training” written by J. Cooper, N. Cracknell, J. Hardiman, H. Wright, and D. Mills. The group studied the welfare consequences of training dogs with manually operated electronic devices. The study consisted of three groups of dogs. Treatment Group A was trained with professional dog trainers who utilized shock collars. Treatment Group B was trained by the same trainers without shock collars. Treatment Group C was trained by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, UK without shock collars.
Dogs participated in 15-minute training sessions per day for four to five days. Scientists tested saliva to examine cortisol levels over the training period. The group found negative changes in dogs’ behavior upon application of electric stimulation and elevated cortisol post-stimulation. The dogs trained with shock collars received low electrocution levels with a warning function – a beep, perhaps.
Group A dogs spent pointedly more time in a tense state, yawned more (a dog’s attempt to reduce stress or anxiety), and engaged in less environmental interaction as compared to Group C dogs. After the training sessions, 92% of dog owners reported improved behavior but there was no significant difference between groups. Owners were not confident enough to utilize the shock collar in their own training sessions. Overall, these findings suggest that there is no reliable evidence of shock collars being beneficial. Positive reward-based training showed much greater results.
Thank you for reading our article on such a fragile topic. At K9deb.com, we do not promote or encourage the use of shock collars on dogs. We want our pups to be as comfortable with us as possible. We do encourage humane methods of training, such as a reward-based method where a dog is motivated by a treat, praise, or a toy.
Please remember, we are not veterinarians, so please consult a doctor or professional trainer for deeper information on training methods, or specifically shock collars. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions you may have and we will answer to the best of our knowledge!