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As a professional dog trainer, it’s hard to believe that we are still having a discussion about whether it is okay to shock a canine on his vulnerable neck in the name of training.
It’s not okay. Here’s why: A shock inflicts pain. It’s meant to do just that. Yes, there is a “tingle” button. but people don’t generally buy this device for that option. Even many trainers often use the shock collar incorrectly, and that’s based on a recent study done by actual scientists.
Why would you purchase and use a device that is designed to hurt your beloved pet? Are you cruel? Lazy? Somehow blissfully unaware that the purpose of a shock collar is, in fact, to shock an animal? I ask these questions in earnest because there is no legitimate reason to shock your dog -– no more reason to do that than there is a reason to strap one of these collars on your child.
I am not alone in my understanding that this type of collar is outdated and uncalled for. Countless trainers (Victoria Stilwell, Pat Miller, Bob Bailey, Sarah Kalnajs), groups (The Pet Professional Guild, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Best Friends Animal Society) and vets and animal behaviorists agree with me as well.
Shock collars exist to inform a dog: NO! WRONG! ZAP! PAIN! GUESS AGAIN! NOPE! WRONG GUESS!! ZAP. ZAP. ZAP.
Would you want to learn by getting a pain to your neck every time you were trying to learn a new skill and you made a wrong guess? Or would you rather be motivated to learn? If you are positively reinforced when you do make the correct guess, you are much more apt to keep on guessing because you do not fear pain for a mistake. Dogs shocked tend to shut down and stop guessing. I would do the same. Furthermore, we humans have a choice and can complain or walk away from pain inflicted upon us. Dogs are trapped.
Shock collars have the unique ability to ruin the trust you might have had with the most trusting creature on earth.
I worked with a client once who refused to throw away her shock collar, so I declined to work with her. She liked to tell me about her “perfect” dog who minded her so well so often that I finally asked: “If he is perfect then why do you need to shock him?” She also asked me why it was that her dog was only affectionate with her in the mornings when she allowed him up on the bed. The answer was obvious to me: “It’s the only time you don’t have that collar strapped tight to his neck.”
I know how to “properly” use a shock collar. It was required study for months at the dog-training “academy” I attended. I will never use one even though I know more about this device than your average owner, who can waltz into any big box store and order one of these “tools.” No one is required to oversee a dog owner’s (or a trainer’s) use of this device. No one can stop sick people from shocking a dog for the thrill of it (I’ve seen it happen). What you do with that collar and your dog is up to you, and sadly, most people use this tool incorrectly. In short, it messes with a dog’s mind, affects their cortisol levels and can give them every reason to distrust humans … all humans, even that neighborhood child who innocently rides by your dog on a tricycle.
I watched several dogs who had been “in training” with a shock collar at the canine academy run away from their handlers to attack another dog, even as the handlers chased behind, screaming and turning the shock controller to HIGH. Good trainers know that dogs learn by association. What associations do you think a dog makes as he is shocked when another dog — or a skateboarder or a child — walks past them? Many dog owners and trainers put the exact wrong association on the dog as they are shocking it.
One trainer even went so far down the illusionary road as to inform me that someone could actually hurt a dog with a clicker. “How’s that?” I asked, perplexed. “Well, you could hit the dog over the head with the clicker,” he responded. Sigh. This ignorant comment tells me how little understanding the trainer had about how positive reinforcement works. I feel sorry for his dogs, though I do not feel sorry for the scars on his arms and legs he got from his high-powered dogs expressing their frustration for his chosen training method in the only way they could: with their teeth.
I’ve worked with sport dogs and dogs with who possess off-the-charts “drive,” and I have not shocked one of them. And yet they were beautifully trained to do what their owners needed from them. To shock a dog with such natural drive is even more asinine than shocking a garden-variety pet dog, if such a thing is possible. The drive itself is what motivates such a dog. Do you see sheepherders shocking their talented Border Collies? No. Police, military and “sports” dogs don’t need a zap to tell them how wrong they are. You take advantage of that strong drive to motivate and teach such a dog. There is zero need to punish for a canine’s wrong guesses.
I see the question of whether or not to shock your dog as a deeper question. It is one that tests a person’s humanity. Will you be impatient as a coach for your non-speaking companion? Or will you choose to motivate him to learn to live in your world? Will you not give a damn about this sentient, four-legged animal and shock him in your rush to obtain the gratification of winning a sport award?
If you are willing to strap a painful device on a dog in the name of training, what else are you willing to do to the dog? What does this choice reflect back on you and your bigger brain? Please think about this issue deeply -– our dogs friends are counting on you to stop hurting them.
Please let me know what you think about shock collars in the comments.
Read more about shock collars and training:
- Shock Collars for Dogs? They Don’t Work, and Here’s Why
- Would You Subject Your Dog to a Shock Collar if It Would Save Him from a Rattlesnake
- Dog Clicker Training Basics
- Dog Training Techniques
- When It Comes to Dog Training, Breed Size Doesn’t Matter
- Traditional Trainers Almost Killed My Client’s Tiny Pekingese
- Modern vs. Traditional Dog Training: What’s the Difference?
5 thoughts on “Shock Collars, to Me, Are Horrible; What Do You Think?”
You’re incredibly ignorant and have likely never had to train an unruly medium-sized or larger dog. Typical “I feel like this is bad therefore it is” feelings taking over logic.
im the same it is really not nice to put shock collars on a dog if there barking they want you to be there just go and play with them
NO MORE SHOCK COLLARS!
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In my case, I found that a shock collar has given my dog a new freedom and a better social life because he can be trusted off leash. I bought a shock collar with the only purpose of training my young dog to come when called, as he had figured out that he didn’t have to when off leash. Typical teenage stuff… I do agree with you, that many owners don’t know how to use it.
I took him to a new place with lots of smells. Called him, was ignored. Buzzed him and called, was ignored. Then shocked him (low setting), he yelped, ran back to me and was rewarded. Sent him off, called, he came and was rewarded. We repeated the session a week later.
This was two years ago, and since then I have NEVER used the shock function. If he runs out of sight in the fields, I use the vibration function to remind him to stay closer.
Today I see the shock function as very last resort, a way to stop him if chasing a deer toward a busy road for example.
I see people using this tool in the wrong way as you say:
On a walk on an empty dirt road, a group of dogs came running toward us around a corner. Since they were off leash, I released my boy, vibrated his collar to indicate “stay with me”. One of the dogs was a very young great dane puppy with a shock collar on, and just as my boy and the puppy were greeting and sniffing each other, the puppy yelped and ran away. Turns out the owner was around the corner, and was shocking the puppy without even seeing him. I let her have it when she arrived. NEVER EVER shock your dog when you can’t see him ! Of course the puppy thought the pain came from my dog. So instead of a nice meeting with an older big dog, the puppy learned that big dogs can hurt him. How sad.
So I do think shock collars can be a valuable reminder for young dogs that there are consequences for ignoring the come command, even when off leash. I also think they can be a terrible thing in the wrong hands (same reason I dislike electronic fences – you have no idea what your dog is learning when approaching a fence line) and VERY inappropriate for fearful or nervous dogs in ANY situation. /Yvonne
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