How to Use a Shock Collar Correctly

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If you are considering using a dog training collar such as a shock collar (euphemistically referred to as a vibration collar, static collar, pager collar, tingle collar, tickle collar, E collar, recall collar, electric collar, positive reinforcement collar, stimulation collar or remote “training” collar, pronged collar or choke chain, this dog training guide is for you.  There are many euphemisms for shock collars because it turns out that electric collars shocking your dog don’t sell products well. So new names pop up daily, such as dog bark collar, e-collars, electric collar training, puppy shock collar, etc., but here’s the thing, they are all the same. ANY electrical current delivered to your dog’s neck or body via any mechanism or device is a shock collar, plain and simple. It’s important that we are all on the same page and don’t get confused with for-profit corporations and their business marketing trying to sell you something ineffective and extremely damaging to your dog and your relationship.

You want an obedient dog. A dog that listens to you while building a strong bond and loving meaningful relationship. Every relationship is a dialogue, not a monologue. We must acknowledge that all animals have a voice, rights, preferences, autonomy, and feelings. These are the universal foundations of any healthy relationship. The relationship with your dog is no different. Your dog wants to be free, loved and happy just like all living beings. Not in pain. So how do you train your dog to listen to you and to turn to you for guidance when they are unsure about something instead of reacting fearfully or aggressively? I’ll cover that and more, but first, let’s talk about how to use an E-collar, remote collar, shock collar, or bark collar.

How To Use A Dog Shock Collar Or Bark Collar

The first thing you should know is that there are no regulations in dog training and behavior. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or behaviorist. Scary, but true. Many archaic and confused “trainers” would have you believe that you have to dominate your dog for a dog to learn who’s boss and in charge. However, the opposite is true. Dog’s learn quickest (while remaining healthy and happy) by implementing positive reinforcement dog training with food rewards and desensitization and counterconditioning (D/CC)  and not punishing your dog or relying on a shock collar, E collar or a dog bark collar that are all designed to inflict pain.

What Are The Best Shock Collars?

There are none if you care about your dog’s training, welfare, happiness, and wellbeing. Keep reading to see why they are vastly inferior and dangerous compared to other positive reinforcement dog training methods.

Do Shock Collars ‘Work’?

The sad irony is that shock collars cause more dog training and behavior problems than prevent. Because emotions are attached to every dog behavior and do not happen in a vacuum. When a dog (cat or any animal) gets shocked or punished, it doesn’t teach them anything new. Trainers just hope that it stops an underlying problem behavior (barking, lunging, aggression, leash pulling, etc.,) without looking at the fallout. That fallout is emotional, behavioral and medical. I’ll discuss more of this below.

To determine if shock collars work, we must first look closely at what we are trying to accomplish when using an e-collar. What’s your desired training result? But even more important to ask is, what other training and behavior problems arise by shocking a dog? If a parent wants the cessation of a behavior, and they shock a dog, what other health and behavioral processes are affected by this acute pain?

Dog Shock Collar Training Example

A dog parent wants their dog to stop doing some behavior, let’s say your dog lunges towards other dogs when on-leash dog walking (but it could be counter-surfing, jumping on the bed, recall, etc. or any behavior you want your dog to stop doing). A confused trainer might say to ‘buzz’ the dog (AKA shock) every time the dog lunges towards another dog.  Let’s investigate what happens here, to see why it doesn’t work, might have the opposite effect and why it’s faulty advice.

  1. Why was the dog lunging in the first place? Before we can help solve a behavior problem we need to looks at the ABCs (Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequences) of every behavior. This is called a Functional Assessment in Applied Behavior Analysis. We don’t know why the dog was lunging to begin. Was the dog lunging to get closer to another dog to play, mate, socialize, sniff or say hi or was your dog overstimulated in that environment, too close to the other dog, scared, overwhelmed, displaying fear aggression or dominance aggression? Here’s the thing, regardless of the reason/s your dog is lunging towards another dog, if you shock a dog when they lunge (or perform any behavior), your dog now has associated pain with whatever your dog happened to be looking at/perceiving at the exact moment when they got punished/shocked. In other words, if your dog was lunging to meet a friend or loved one, now your dog has associated them with fear and pain and the next time your dog will likely lunge aggressively or become unpredictable around the person or dog. If on the other hand your dog was fearful and trying to create distance to the stimulus or it was an aggressive lunge, and your dog gets shocked for lunging, now your dog will be justified that the stimulus (the other dog) is scary and your dog will likely be more fearful or aggressive the next time they lunge. The biggest problem with punishment is that it doesn’t consider the dog’s feelings and emotional fallout.
  2. What was your dog looking at or somatosensory perceiving, when he got shocked? We can never be 100% certain because we are not the dog.  Was your dog looking at a baby, a cat, a tree, a man, a woman, a bird, or YOU? What was your dog smelling at the time? What was your dog hearing at the time? What surfaces was your dog standing on or feeling at the time of the shock? What was the temperature, time of day, or location at the time of the shock?  All of these are now potential and likely triggers/stimuli that will now elicit fear anxiety and stress and also make your dog more reactive and aggressive towards these stimuli. Dogs are associative learners which means that the delivery of an eclectic shock (aversive/pain) to a dog is associated with whatever the DOG associates it with and was sensing (looking at, smelling, hearing, feeling, etc.)  at the time of the pain and not what we want them to associate the pain with. This is vital to understand and are two very different realities!

As you can see in this simple example, now your dog’s initial fear or aggression is justified for being afraid of the stimulus (the other dog) regardless of why your dog was lunging, to begin with. This is an oversimplification of a much more complex behavioral process and training problem.

What Does A Shock Collar Teach?

It’s important to remember when we use a shock collar (or any aversive/punishment) we are not teaching the dog anything new. The dog is not acquiring any new dog training skills or information. Therefore shock collar use does not fall under teaching at all. Nothing new is acquired or learned.  Stopping or reducing a behavior is not teaching the dog anything new. It is the cessation or reduction of a behavior.

However, besides shock collar training being inhumane, there are many more reasons why you not only should not, but cannot use a shock collar to train a dog if you want your dog to learn to behave in a certain way. Because using a shock collar will have the opposite training results that you want. Here’s why.

Shock Collar Training For Dogs: How Does It Work?

In order for a shock collar to “work”, it must cause a dog’s behavior to be reduced or completely stopped. If this does not occur, it doesn’t fall under the definition of punishment and is abuse. In order for an e-collar to work (or any aversive stimulus), ALL of the following three conditions would have to be present and occur together, simultaneously in order for the shock collar to be an effective punisher. The three conditions that must be present concurrently in order for a vibration or an E-collar to stop a dog’s behavior are easy to remember with the acronym PIE:

  1. Pain – (Or punisher) The punishment (shock/vibration) must be painful and aversive enough to stop or reduce the dog’s behavior from occurring but not painful enough to kill the dog. Since feelings and pain are individual-based and impossible to know what anyone else is feeling and the “correct” level of electrical delivery is (even if we wear the shock collar ourselves it would feel entirely different to another person or dog), this step alone is impossible to accomplish. If a trainer adds too much pain the dog dies, too little pain the dog habituates and desensitizes to the shock/vibration and you need to keep increasing the shock in order for it to have an effect on the dog.
  2. Immediate – Dogs are associative learners. If your delivery of the shock/punishment contingent upon a stimulus/behavior is not paired immediately (under one second) and contingent upon the dogs behavior/stimulus the dog will not make the pairing that his behavior or the stimulus is actually causing the pain (and not the baby, tree, grass, wind, man, YOU, etc.,) Hence, in that brief second when you stumble for the remote control to shock the dog, reach into your pocket, look at your phone, read this blog post, go to work, the bathroom, to sleep, etc. and you can’t punish/shock your dog immediately during the problem behavior, the dog will not learn that his behavior has caused or is associated with the pain. Worse off, from a training perspective, is that the dog has now learned that sometimes the behavior works and sometimes it doesn’t. This lack of consistency and impossible task makes the problem behavior even stronger and more difficult to stop.
  3. Every single time – As mentioned above, you cannot punish a dog once for something and be done with it. If a dog gets punished (or reinforced, depending upon your dog’s perception and frequency of their behavior decreasing or increasing contingent upon the stimulus) every so often that he performs a behavior, the shock won’t reduce or stop the problem behavior.

The stimulus may even increase the problem behavior or encourage your dog to keep trying as he knows that it works every so often if the aversive is not strong enough or not aversive at all.  If the shock is not punishing, it could be an ineffective aversive stimulus.

Again, depending upon if your dog’s behavior increases or decreases and how the dog behaves contingent upon the stimulus determines whether the stimulus is a reinforcer or punisher. Also, of great importance is the phenomenon of Recovery From Punishment. This is an Applied Behavior Analysis term that’s defined as, “Stopping the punishment or penalty contingency for a previously punished response causes the response rate to increase to its rate before the punishment or penalty contingency.” Thereby having the opposite effect of what you intended and increases the unwanted behavior not decreases it.

Lastly, of equal importance is understanding what and how a Conditioned Punisher works. A Conditioned Punisher is an aversive (shock collar, choke chain, pronged collar, etc.) that loses its effectiveness through unpaired presentations. In other words, when you are not available or too slow to push the remote shock collar button, every single time, the punisher (shock collar) will lose its effectiveness on the dog’s behavior.

The same three PIE conditions must be met for all punitive dog training equipment such as choke chains, pronged collars, bark collars, citronella collars, etc. which is why no contemporary behaviorist or trainer recommends using any of those punitive devices. All punitive dog training equipment is designed to inflict pain. And, they all work the same way in that the principles and laws of learning and how a dog learns do not change based on the piece of dog training equipment used by a trainer.

Remember that in order to train a dog “successfully” with a shock collar, all three of the above PIE conditions must be met.  However, we can all agree that it is impossible for any one of the three conditions to be met, let alone all three! It is impossible for an expert certified dog trainer and behaviorist such as myself to deliver any one of these conditions flawlessly, nevertheless all of them.  Remember, not once, but every single time and immediately after every problem behavior presents itself. Impossible.

Shock Collar Tips And Advice

To those that claim, you only need to shock the dog once in order for it to “work”? Theoretically yes, but also, theoretically you might kill your dog in the process or damage your dog emotionally for the rest of their lives. Otherwise, why would your dog ever need to wear a shock collar more than one brief second? Other than for that one application of electricity it would be useless.

Also, it is not true that you only need to punish a dog once in order for a problem behavior to stop. That is a misunderstanding and an oversimplification of how punishment and training work. If there is not a reduction in the dog’s frequency/rate of response to the punishment, by definition it is not punishment, it’s abuse. Also, what happens after the cessation of the behavior? Now, you need to teach your dog an appropriate substitute, a preferred behavior. But you could have simply taught your dog an appropriate behavior from the very beginning with high-value dog treats with no risk of emotional or health fallout and without hurting your dog and putting them in danger.

What about using a shock collar one time while the dog is counter-surfing? Nope, all of the same PIE conditions must occur with any behavior. the laws of learning do not change for the problem behavior. The problem is that counter surfing occurs also when you’re not there. So the dog simply practices the problem behavior when you’re not present. Think about how a dog doesn’t jump on the bed or couch when you’re home but does the second you go to work or leave the house. If you haven’t had the chance to see your dog do this, get a dog camera webcam. You’ll crack up to see what your dog is up to when you’re not home.

Dog Training Practicality

How practical is a shock collar? First, let’s define some terms. Although the definition of punishment is to reduce or stop a behavior the reality is that’s NOT what parents want. Slowing down or reducing a behavior is not enough and I have never met a parent in 30 years of dog training that just wants their dog to reduce the amount of time their dog pees or poops in the house, destroys the rug, pulls on the leash, or growls at a child.  We don’t want to reduce our dog from, counter-surfing, or eating our shoes, we want those behaviors to stop! So punishment, in general, is not very practical to begin with.

Should The Military And Police Use Shock Collars For Working Dogs?

Many people mistakenly believe that larger dogs like German Shepherds, American Pit Bull Terriers and other large working dogs need shock collars to “behave” in stressful environments where training errors could cost lives. That is a common fallacy that is not founded anywhere in evidence-based training and behavior. In fact, just the opposite has been proven here, here, and here.  If a police officer or the Navy Seals want there working dog to be more obedient and to listen more attentively, perform skills with greater precision, accuracy, speed, and improved latency the training should be only positive reinforcement dog training, and not some other methods of dog training.

It doesn’t matter whether you are training a military dog, a German Shepherd Schutzhund, and I.P.O. champion, hunting dogs, police patrol dogs, guard dog protection training, K9 search and rescue, service dog training or a bomb or narcotics detection dogs, all roads lead to no shock, no choke chains, no pronged collars and the use of positive reinforcement dog training with high-value rewards. No dogs should be trained with shock collars because they are ineffective and inhumane and will have the reverse dog training affects that you want.

Shock Collar Dog Training And A Dog’s Emotion

If you are considering using a dog training collar such as a shock collar (euphemistically referred to as a vibration collar, static collar, pager collar, tingle collar, tickle collar, E collar, recall collar, electric collar, positive reinforcement collar, stimulation collar or remote “training” collar) pronged collar or choke chain, please consider at whose expense and what’s the emotional, behavioral, psychological fallout?

Stress kills, and so does equipment designed to inflict pain and suffering. There are many instances where dogs are injured or die from the use of punitive equipment. Stress is as debilitating for the dog-parent relationship as it is damaging to the dog’s behavior, emotional, and psychological state. As a Los Angeles dog trainer I constantly clean up and repair broken relationships, poor behavior and shoddy training advice given by confused traditional or balanced dog trainers.

Being a pet parent, dog trainer or educator is about relationships and friendship, and friendship is about trust and authentic love. Both are violated and dissolved when someone forces you to do something, incites fear or causes you emotional or physical pain. Friendships and relationships are about empowering one another, not disempowerment. Bullying is the antithesis of sacred relationships and weakens, not strengthens, the bond you share with your pets. When was the last time anyone got bullied or forced into being someone’s best friend? Someone with great power does not lead by force, someone with great weakness does. As Albert Einstein duly noted, “Force always attracts men of low morality.” Compassion = power and courage. Force is used by cowards. This reminds me that “Nothing made by brute force lasts,” (Robert Louis Stevenson).

It is illegal to use and sell pain-inflicting devices such as shock collars in many cities and countries. In Miami Beach shock collars are illegal. There are far more humane and efficacious dog training methods to use rather than by inflicting pain and fear. There is never an instance where teaching through pain and force is warranted. We teach dogs behaviors and cues we want them to learn with rewards, engagement, fun, and interest, on their own volition, not by shocking them or causing fear and pain when they do something that we don’t want them to do. Pain, force, intimidation, and bullying leads to shutting down learned helplessness and generalization. However, the argument is moot; does it really matter which method works better? Pretend that outdated, traditional or balanced dog “training” worked the same or even better then force-free positive reinforcement dog training. Of course, that is patently false and has been repudiated by decades of scientific and behavioral research but for argument’s sake let’s entertain this notion. Now the real question becomes, at whose expense?

You’ll probably be surprised to hear that a simple dog collar is not recommended and can do severe damage to your dog’s neck, emotion, and medical condition when dog training or just by walking your dog a flat buckle collar.  And maybe more surprised to hear that there is no reason to use a collar at all other than to be worn as a necklace, to hold your dog’s tags and license. The danger to your dog’s neck is very high when using a dog training collar (even without electricity). And did you know that the position statement of the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology recommends that ALL European countries strongly oppose the use of e-collars in dog training? Nice!

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Stress Manifestations On A Dogs Health And Behavior

I think we can all agree that stress is a killer!  You can look up the plethora of scientific data to support this claim, or just look at your own life. Stress causes or contributes to everything from high blood pressure, hair loss, depression, neurological damage, psychological damage, cancer, heart attacks, emotional damage, and just about every life-threatening disease known to humankind. Luckily, stress can be measured. Cortisol is the hormone that increases when the stress levels increase in the body and the limbic system helps regulate and measure that level of stress. Your adrenal gland secretes cortisol and sends it spiking higher when the body or mind is stressed. When this occurs all of the previously mentioned health ailments, and countless behavior manifestations occur.

Now, let’s take this a step further. At the risk of being anthropomorphic, dogs have roughly the same sentience of a 2-3-year-old child. When people use shock collars, choke chains and/or pinch collars to train or walk their dogs or kick, poke, punch, alpha role, force, dominate, smack or yell at their dog, science shows that cortisol levels spike and stress ensues. However, the good news is that the negative consequences induced by stress are all avoidable.

There are innumerable dangers that occur when electronic collars, punitive, painful and forceful dog training methods are used. Beyond the obvious that the conditioned emotional response (CER), specifically the conditioned fear response (CFR) is not addressed, punishment makes the CFR worse, and other behavioral problems often manifest with graver consequences and more intense occurrences. Punishment does not work to heal nor address the underlying fear and emotion the dog is going through and only throws the homeostasis more out of whack. There is a direct correlation and relationship between punishment, shock collars, choke chains and prong collars to increased behavior problems. So if you want your dog to be obedient and listen to you, vibration collars and all forms of punition will have the opposite effect and not the desired outcome of a well-trained dog.  There are innumerable dangers that result from using punitive, painful and forceful dog training methods. Some of these methods can lead to the death of another human or dog. Fear feels terrible to all species and given the choice, dogs try to avoid fear.

Dominance, choke chains, prong collars, and other forceful training methods are at best worthless and at worst deadly as scientists explain, “training approaches aimed at ‘dominance reduction’ vary from being worthless in treatment to being dangerous and likely to make behaviors worse.”

What Equipment Should I Use To Train My Dog?

Train your dog not with a shock collar, E collar, pronged collar or choke chain, but with a properly fitted dog harness. If your dog has no loose-leash walking training skills and is straight out of a shelter, you may also need to begin with a head harness in addition to a dog harness. However, in either case, these are all training tools and not teaching. If you are having trouble teaching your dog appropriate behaviors please do not resort to shock collars but instead seek out a qualified certified dog behaviorist. See all of the dog training products we recommend for pets https://www.amazon.com/shop/funpawcare

Dog/People Shock Collar Analogies

Why anthropomorphize? Because science shows that a dog’s emotion and intelligence are comparable to a 2-3-year-old child. If you are trying to teach a 2-year-old toddler or an adult how to behave and learn a new skill, would you poke them in the ribs, leash pop “correct” them, use a choke chain, pronged collar, dominate them, stare at them, pop their harness, or grab them by the collar and force them to the ground? There is a reason we don’t do this. This abusive style of dog “training” or teaching is not accepted any longer and neither is corporal punishment in schools.  Traditional dog training or balanced dog training methods are condemned and not sanctioned by any certification body, or educated, contemporary behaviorist, ethologist or dog trainer. What is encouraged is the preferred method and industry standard for teaching animals: fear-free and force-free positive reinforcement dog training and behavior modification. Want to have some fun with your family or friends? This works for humans as well as seen below.

Expediency, frustration, dog sports, proofing, and finishing stages or not understanding how to train a puppy properly are not reasons to use a shock collar.

If you believe in gravity, ever went to a dentist, visited a doctor, took aspirin or any over the counter medicine, then you believe in science. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is also a science, just as the field of medicine. Your innocent, loving, loyal, sentient being, and best friend deserves nothing but the best. Just as your children are taught with patience and compassion in the most pleasurable way of learning possible, so should your pets. At too many dog shelters, rescues and clubs, ignorance is rampant. We do not support and boycott organizations that save dogs just to subject them to training abuse while hiding under a veil of ignorance. Here are some pertinent questions to ask oneself before using a shock collar:

  • Do you smack your 2-3-year-old toddler in the head or squirt them in the face with a water bottle when they are scared or are not listening to you?
  • If your 2-3 year toddler was deathly afraid of water and couldn’t swim, would you get them to stop being scared and teach them to love the water by picking them up and throwing them in the ocean?
  • If your 2- 3-year-old daughter was scared of the dark and even more terrified of bats, would leaving her alone in a dark room with bats flying everywhere cure her of this fear?
  • Do you expect your 2-3-year-old toddler to understand French, Spanish, English, Mandarin, Cantonese or Swahili and all of the accompanying accents and dialects? Would that be a reasonable expectation for a parent before attempting to teach a child linguistics?
  • If your toddler didn’t understand the answer to your question or god forbid answered incorrectly, would holding them down on the ground forcefully, looming over them staring into their eyes confrontationally, being aggressive, poking, punching, shocking, or yelling at them make them understand any quicker?

All of these scenarios are proven to cause cortisol levels to spike to very high levels. Levels at which mental and emotional shut-down occurs (learned helplessness) and where operant conditioning (learning) does not occur. If someone pulled out a shotgun and held it to my head and then asked me if I wanted my favorite food or tried to teach me something new how do you think I would learn, react or perform? As previously mentioned, not eustress (good stress), but bad stress is harmful to the mind, body, emotion and soul and something we often have the ability to mitigate. Remember, “Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun (force) begins.” (Ayn Rand).

Dog Shock Collar Training Conclusion

So even though the answer is clear, it’s not about what dog training method is most effective or achieves the quickest results (as some dog sport or military enthusiasts incorrectly state). Even science shows that force-free positive reinforcement dog training not only achieves the fastest, most effective, efficient and long-term results but it accomplishes this in the most humane and compassionate way.  As responsible pet parents, it is imperative to train at your dog’s own pace fear-free, not on a preconceived schedule, expectation, or to win dog sports. On your dog’s time.

Scientists try to be as objective and unanthropomorphic as possible but making these analogies to your children portrays an important and visual understanding that makes everything more relatable.

No rational, caring, intelligent, loving, humane individual, veterinarian or rescue organization would ever recommend doing the aforementioned to a human or non-human animal and may even be locked up if they tried, so why on earth is this acceptable to do to an innocent dog or cat (or any animal)? Pet professionals and dog guardians should take an oath to care for their pets until death, in the most humane, efficient, pain and stress-free way possible. Being a guardian for a pet is a privilege, not a right or entitlement.

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There really is no argument to use anything other than force-free positive reinforcement dog training, and the debate has been over for decades. Those stuck in the past are doomed to repeat past atrocities. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” (Søren Kierkegaard).

 

“Absolutely, without exception, I oppose, will not recommend, and generally spend large amounts of time telling people why I oppose the use of shock collars, prong collars, choke collars, and any other type of device that is rooted in an adversarial, confrontational interaction with the dog.”
~Karen Overall, MA, VMD, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVB, CAAB
“Until these devices are illegal, consumers must protect themselves and their dogs by looking beyond the marketing messages of those who profit from their sale and use. It is not necessary to use electric shock to change behavior. It is not necessary in humans, in zoo species, in marine mammals or in dogs.”
~Jean Donaldson