Shock Collars

11March 2013

The term “shock collar” refers to many types of dog training collars including:  remote training collars, shock collars, Zap collars, Ecollars, or e-collars.  Using a remote, these devices deliver varying degrees of electronic shock to the dog’s neck (some may also be used on other places of the dog’s body).  Some collars may include a tone or vibration mode, or a GPS tracker to locate the dog.


Originally used to train hunting dogs in the 50s and 60s, the shock collar really gained popularity in the 1970s.  Early electronic collars were used to break dogs of unwanted behaviors like chasing livestock and not coming in with the party after the hunt.  These collars were very powerful and many dogs that were frequently jolted often became afraid to work and lost spirit.  The fear of doing something wrong and of being punished with pain made many dogs react to corrections with panic.

New versions of the shock collar are now widely available.  Today, shock collars are used for a large variety of things including:  military, police, and service training, obedience training, behavior modification, and pet containment.  Proponents of this method of training state that using the shock teaches dogs avoidance and eventually cessation of a behavior.  This tool “works” by instilling fear, distrust, and pain.  This method of training only marks the bad behavior, what the dog does wrong.  A dog will be punished for doing the wrong action, but he is never rewarded for doing something correct. Sensitivity to shock varies by each individual dog.  Dogs who are more sensitive to the shock will shut down sooner.  There is no current standard level of shock for the many brands of shock collars today.

Used appropriately, correctly, and with proper training, a shock collar can be a very effective and helpful tool.  However, it is a tool.  A shock collar should not be viewed as a “quick fix,” and should never be used as the first method of training.  Many trainers today widely promote the use of shock collar training and even have their own brand of collar you can buy directly from them.  Be very careful of these so-called “trainers.”  Many times these people have no formal training or background in other methods of dog training (such as positive reinforcement, energy balance, and dominance).

The decision to use this tool should not be taken lightly!  I am not a huge fan of the shock collar, but I do believe they can be useful in certain situations, if properly used and combined with positive reinforcement training.

Again…I like to look at it this way…
Think of your job, no matter what it is…
Would you rather go to work and work really hard to get rewarded?
Would you rather work really hard to not get punished?

If using a shock collar is truly something you are thinking about, do your research.  Make sure you find a professional dog trainer that is trained in how to properly use the shock collar AND in positive reinforcement dog training.  Remember, no matter what your dog’s behavioral issue may be, there are many other methods of dog training to try before using a shock collar.  It is very rare that positive reinforcement training will not work to improve your dog’s behavior or issue.  This is why good professionals will tell you to only use an electronic collar after all other methods of training have been used.  It is much better to encourage our animals to enjoy their training so they will become more confident and-well adjusted members of society.

Studies have shown that misuse of shock collars in dog training can cause long-term damage that may make your pet less trusting and more reactive.  Aversive training such as the use of shock collars can add serious stress to the dog and may result in psychological damage.  Generally speaking, hurting an animal creates a barrier to learning and causes distrust.  People who train large animals such as lions, killer whales, bears, and walruses use positive reinforcement training.  Using pain/punishment training in these large animals is considered highly dangerous and foolish.  These are also wild animals, whereas dogs have been domesticated.  If all these professional trainers can train such large, un-domesticated animals without using pain, don’t you think we should be able to do the same with our dog at home?

The real problem with the shock collar is that it is widely mis-used.  Again, this is not a “quick fix” answer to your current dog problem.  The real answer to your dog problem is training.  When we take an animal into our home, we take on the responsibility of caring for its needs.  Many behavior problems arise because the humans have not properly fulfilled the needs of the dog.  Lack of proper exercise and lack of proper leadership (by the owner) are the two main causes of behavioral issues in dogs.  So why are we punishing our dogs for something that is our fault?

There are a vast array of problems that can arise from improper use of shock collars.  A few of these include:  infliction of stress and pain, suppression or “shut down,” escalation, redirected aggression, generalization, and unintended dog injury.

But what about the damages you can’t see.  Your dog may not show physical signs of pain, but that does not mean he is not experiencing any pain.  Stress is very harmful to humans and dogs alike.  Stress can affect our eating and sleeping habits, as well as over-all health.  Escalation can easily occur in many cases when pain is added.  The dog that used to growl will now bite without warning.  Or maybe your dog will just shut down.  A dog that does this is so terrified of being caused pain, he is unwilling to make any decision, for fear it will be the wrong one.

It’s never too late!
Training can start today!

I don’t care if your dog is 3 months old or 12 years old, it’s never too late to change behavior.  You CAN teach an old dog new tricks!  Besides, did you forget why you got your dog in the first place?  You got a dog to have a buddy, a friend, a companion…someone to hang out with and play with, someone to love, and someone to love you back!

Don’t forget all the many reasons you love your dog.  Yes I love my dog, but I also want him to behave…that’s what you’re thinking right?  Well guess what, it all starts with YOU, the owner!  If we give our dogs what they need, they will do what is asked of them.

So…what does my dog need?
First, dogs need Proper Leadership

Duties of the Leader:
1)  Establish the rules
2)  Enforce the rules
3)  Maintain social order

It is vitally important the owner takes the leadership role right away and maintains it!

Other important things your dog needs:
Proper exercise.  Dogs need regular amounts of daily physical and mental exercise.
Rules & Boundaries.  All dogs must be taught was is acceptable behavior and what is not.
Routine.  Dogs need a regular schedule of daily activities.
Consistency.  All members of the family should have all the same rules ALL the time.  Changing rules from person to person, or place to place is confusing for dogs and curbs their training progress.
Proper Motivation.  This is where that “positive” part of positive reinforcement comes in.  We all need motivation right?  You wouldn’t go to work if they didn’t pay you would you?  Our dog’s need motivation too.  Motivators are different for each dog, so you must find what works best for your dog.  Common motivators include:  treats, toys, attention, praise, and petting.
Socialization.  Dogs must be properly socialized.  A dog that has been exposed to many different situations with many different people and other animals will remain calm and confident in new situations.  Dogs who are not properly socialized become overwhelmed when outside their normal environment and react in undesirable ways (barking, lunging, shying away, hiding).
Patience.  One of the biggest things our dogs need from us is our patience.  Dog training can be very stressful for both humans and dogs alike.  But if you remember to stay calm, it will help keep your dog calm and learning can continue.  Dogs will not follow a leader who is stressed, fearful, or angry.  Be sure to always be calm, but firm when training.  Remember, all good things take time and practice.

Start practicing Responsible Dog Ownership with your dog today!