How to Use a Shock Collar Correctly
So, you are considering using a shock collar (euphemistically referred to as a vibrate 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, but at what and whose expense?
Stress and quite possibly your dog’s life!1 Stress is as debilitating for dogs as it is for humans.2 As a Miami dog trainer we constantly clean up and repair broken relationships, poor behavior and shoddy training advice given by uneducated, abusive, and outdated “traditional” dog trainers.
Being a pet parent, dog trainer or educator is about friendship, and friendship is about trust and authentic love. Both are violated and dissolved when someone forces you to do something, incites fear and puts you in pain. Friendships and relationships are about empowering one another, not disempowering someone, which is exactly what abuse does. Bullying is the antithesis of sacred relationships and weakens, not strengthens, the bond you share with your pets. When was the last time you got bullied into being someone’s friend? Did you want to be around that person? 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.”
There is good reason why it is illegal to use and sell pain inflicting devices such as shock collars.3 Now also illegal to use in Miami Beach. There are far more humane and effective methods to teach with rather than by inflicting pain and abuse.14-15 There is never an instance where teaching through pain and force is warranted. We teach dogs which behaviors and cues we want them to learn with rewards, engagement, fun and interest, not what we don’t want them to do with pain, force, intimidation, and bullying which leads to shutting down, learned helplessness and generalization.4 However, the argument is moot; does it really matter which method works better? Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and placate Machiavellian, Cesar Millan dog training ignoramuses and intransigent buffoons and just pretend that outdated, traditional dog “training” worked the same or even better then force-free positive reinforcement dog training.16 Of course that is patently false and has been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.5 The real question becomes at what expense are you willing to achieve “results” from your dog?
Stress Manifestations on a Dogs Health and Behavior
Let us find some common ground. First, I think we can all agree that stress is a killer!6-7 You can look up the plethora of scientific data to support this claim8, 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, and just about every life threatening disease known to human kind. Luckily, stress can be measured. Cortisol is the hormone that increases when 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 out. When this occurs all of the previous 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.18 When humans use shock collars, choke chains and/or pinch collars on 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.9 The negative consequences induced by stress are all avoidable.9 This reminds me that “Nothing made by brute force lasts,” (Robert Louis Stevenson).
There are innumerable dangers that can occur when electronic collars, punitive, painful and forceful dog training methods. 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 manifest often times with graver consequences and more intense occurrences. Punishment does not work to heal nor addresses 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.10 There are innumerable dangers that result from using punitive, painful and forceful dog training methods. Some of these methods can lead to death of another human or dog.11-12 Fear feels bad to all species and given the choice dogs try to avoid these feelings.17
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 actually dangerous and likely to make behaviours worse.”13
Dog & Human Analogies
If you are trying to teach a 2 year old toddler or an adult how to behave and learn a new skill, would you kick them in the ribs, use a choke chain, dominate them, stare at them, pop their harness, or grab them by the collar and force them to the ground? If you said yes to this question you are likely reading this from prison. There is a reason this crude, uncivilized, abusive style of dog “training” or teaching is not accepted in civilized societies and why we also do not teach our children or adults to teach or behave in this fashion. As a result, these methods are condemned and not sanctioned by any educated, moral ethologist or dog trainer. What is encouraged is the preferred method and industry standard for teaching animals: force-free positive reinforcement, and the least intrusive, most humane treatment of teaching possible. 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 and not understanding or knowing how to train a dog are not reasons for abuse, or to stress or harm an animal.
If you ever went to the dentist, visited a doctor, took an aspirin or any over the counter medicine when you were ill, 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 by the least intrusive, least abusive, most pleasurable way of learning possible, so should your pets. At some dog shelters, rescues and clubs, ignorance is rampant. We do not support and recommend that others boycott organizations that save dogs just to subject them to abuse while hiding under a veil of ignorance. Here are some pertinent questions to ask oneself:
- 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 scarred, crying, shaking and protesting 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 cave 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 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 starring into their eyes confrontationally, being aggressive, poking, punching or yelling at them make them understand any quicker?
Imbibe on all of those examples. All of these scenarios are proven to cause cortisol levels to spike to very high levels. Levels at which shut-down occurs and where operant conditioning (learning) does not occur! If someone pulled out a shotgun and held it to your head and then asked you if you would like your favorite food or tried to teach you a new theory or behavior how do you think you would react or perform? As previously mentioned, stress is bad for the mind, bod, emotions and soul and something we have the ability to mitigate. Remember,”Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where force begins.” (Ayn Rand).
So even though the answer is clear, it’s not about what dog training method is most effective or achieves the quickest results (as dog sport enthusiasts sadly state). Even science shows that force-free positive reinforcement not only achieves the fastest, long term results in the most humane, effective and efficient way possible, I would still not abuse my dog for any reason! As responsible pet parents it is imperative to teach at a dog’s own pace and in as much comfort as possible, not on your time or to win a dog sport competition.
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 for abuse 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 pet 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.
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).
We have provided one last short video in case our point was not clear enough.
“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, PhD, 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.”