Should You Use A Shock Collar?
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, remote “training” collar, prong collar or choke chain, etc.) this dog training guide is for you.
How to Use a Shock Collar Correctly
There are many euphemisms for shock collars because it turns out that electrocuting your dog doesn’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.
It’s important that we are all on the same page and don’t get confused with the names for-profit corporations use in their marketing. Beware, businesses will often try to sell you something ineffective and extremely damaging to your dog and your relationship.
You want an obedient dog that you don’t have to bribe with dog treats. 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 the real question is, 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.
Right off the bat, you should understand that anyone recommending or using a shock collar, choke chain, or prong collar is not a certified dog trainer or behaviorist. Because not only is it unethical and immoral to recommend and use punitive devices but it is inhumane and not allowed by any reputable certification body and organization.
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.
“Should I use a shock collar for dog training?” This is a common question I get from parents because I get such fast results when a dog stays with me for my dog training boot camp. Los Angeles pet parents aren’t impatient or any different than other parents, they simply want their dog to behave. So do we! This is exactly why we don’t use shock collars.
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 don’t 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 (dog barking, lunging, dog aggression, puppy biting, leash pulling, separation anxiety, 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? An even more important question to ask is, what other training, behavior, and emotional problems arise by shocking a dog? If a parent wants the cessation of a behavior, and therefore shock a dog when they do something “wrong,” what other health and behavioral processes are affected by this acute pain? We know that shocking a dog and using punishment causes fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS). All organisms experiencing fear, anxiety, and stress manifest those toxic conditions and emotional states through a host of maladaptive behaviors, coping mechanisms, and compromised immune systems.
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.
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 the problem behavior could be counter-surfing, jumping on the bed, dog running bolting or running away, ignoring you, 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 behavioral effect, and why it’s faulty advice.
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 problem 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 the fear and pain they just experienced with the shock. The next time your dog sees them or other people, your dog will likely lunge aggressively or become unpredictable around people or dogs.
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 or person) is scary and your dog will likely become more fearful or aggressive the next time they lunge. The biggest problem with punishment is that it doesn’t consider the dog’s feelings, quality of life, welfare, or emotional fallout of the animal and how that causes a dog to behave in the future.
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 touching, 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 in your dog and also make your dog more reactive and aggressive towards these stimuli. This is the problem with dogs and generalization.
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 these common examples, now your dog’s initial fear or aggression is intensified, created, or justified regardless of why your dog was lunging, to begin with. This is an oversimplification of a much more complex behavioral process and training problem however it illustrates some of the many reasons why not to use a shock collar if you want your dog to be well trained, healthy, happy and to listen to you.
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 a new behavior. The dog is not acquiring any new dog training skills or information. Therefore shock collar use does not fall under teaching at all because 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 behavior.
However, besides shock collar training being inhumane, there are many more reasons why you cannot use a shock collar to train a dog if you want your dog to learn to behave and listen to you. As previously mentioned, using a shock collar will have the opposite training results that you want. Here’s are more evidence-based scientific reasons why it is impossible to use a shock collar effectively or humanely.
Shock Collar Training For Dogs: Does It Work?
In order for a shock collar to “work”, the electrical vibration 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 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:
- 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 current delivery (even if we wear the shock collar ourselves it would feel entirely different to another unique person or dog), this step alone is impossible to accomplish.
In addition to equipment malfunction, if a trainer adds too much electricity/pain, the dog dies, too little electricity/pain the dog habituates and desensitizes to the shock/vibration and you need to keep increasing the shock/pain in order for it to have an effect on the dog.
- 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 dog’s behavior/stimulus the dog will not associate the behavior/stimulus with the pain/shock and instead will associate it with anything present in the environment (a 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 (not after) the problem behavior, a dog will not associate the behavior 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 training consistency and impossible task makes the problem behavior even stronger and more difficult to stop.
- 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.
Conversely, 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 is an ineffective aversive stimulus and falls under abuse.
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, pinch/prong collar, leash popping, 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, prong 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 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, every single time and immediately after every problem behavior presents itself. Impossible.
Shock Collar Tips And Advice
Some confused people claim, you only need to shock the dog once in order for it to “work”. Theoretically yes, but not practically as mentioned above in PIE. Otherwise, why would a dog ever need to wear a shock collar more than one brief iteration? Other than for that one application of electricity it would be completely useless and a dog wouldn’t wear a shock collar ever again.
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. Therefore if a parent continues to use the shock collar it is abuse not the cessation of a behavior.
More importantly, what happens after the cessation of a behavior? Now, there is a void and you need to teach your dog an appropriate behavior. But ironically, you could have simply taught a dog an appropriate behavior from the very beginning with high-value dog treats with no risk of emotional, medical, or behavioral fallout and without hurting a dog and putting them in danger.
Sometimes a client will ask, “What about using a shock collar one time while the dog is counter-surfing?” The answer is still, nope.
All of the same PIE conditions must be paired concurrently with any behavior. The laws of learning do not change for the behavior.
In addition, in this scenario, the problem is that counter surfing occurs also when you’re not there. So the dog simply practices the counter-surfing when you’re not present. This also occurs with many other behaviors such as when a 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 With A Shock Collar 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, growls at a child, etc. We don’t want to reduce our dog from, counter-surfing, or eating our shoes, we want those behaviors to stop in addition to learning a new appropriate behavior! So this type of punishment is not very practical to begin with.
Should The Military And Police Use Shock Collars For Working Dogs?
“Nothing made by brute force lasts.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)
No, not if they want well-trained police dogs and care about a dog’s welfare and health.
Many people mistakenly believe that larger dog breeds like German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, 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, military or the Navy Seals want their working dogs to be more obedient and to listen more attentively, perform skills with greater precision, accuracy, speed, and improved latency, the training used 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 (SAR), service dog training, bomb or narcotics detection dogs, all roads lead to no shock, no choke chains, no prong 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, inhumane, and will have the reverse dog training effects 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, prong collar, or choke chain, please consider the emotional, behavioral, and 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 establishing healthy relationships and friendships. Which are both built on trust and authentic love. Trust and love are violated and dissolve when someone forces you to do something, incites fear, anxiety, and stress 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.
You can easily experience this for yourself. When was the last time anyone got bullied or forced into being someone’s best friend? This same principle holds true for our relationship with dogs.
Someone with great power does not lead by force, intimidation, or fear. As Albert Einstein duly noted, “Force always attracts men of low morality.” Compassion equals power and courage. Force is used when fearful.
Consider this human analogy to reflect on and to relate to how we teach, help, and relate to dogs.
To experience this directly, consider these two scenarios. Which comes more naturally and easily?
Being kind, compassionate, and loving to someone we don’t like.
Being judgmental, mean, and hating someone we don’t like.
Clearly, being kind to someone we like is easier than someone we don’t like. Therefore it is much more difficult and requires more courage to practice love, understanding, kindness, and compassion towards beings we don’t like than to practice hatred, force, and bullying.
Reflect on who needs more compassion, love, and care. Someone who is suffering deeply and displays this via their discriminatory or abusive speech, thoughts, or behaviors or someone who is mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally healthy?
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 a dog’s homeostasis more out of whack.
There is a direct correlation and relationship between punishment, shock collars, choke chains, and prong collars to increased dog anxiety, fear, stress, and 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.
What Equipment Should I Use To Train My Dog?
Train your dog not with a shock collar, E collar, prong 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.
Also, consider that it’s illegal to use and sell pain-inflicting devices such as shock collars in many cities and countries. In Miami Beach, for example, 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, by their own choice, 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 than 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?
Lastly, you’ll also probably be surprised to hear that a simple flat buckle dog collar is not recommended to attach a leash to, because it can do severe damage to your dog’s neck, emotion, and medical condition when dog training or just by walking your dog.
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!
Dog/People Shock Collar 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 poke them in the ribs, leash pop “correct” them, use a choke chain, pinch 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” and corporal punishment in schools is not acceptable.
Traditional dog training or balanced dog training methods are condemned and not sanctioned by any certification body, or educated contemporary behaviorist, pathologist, 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!
Expediency, frustration, dog sports, proofing, and finishing stages or not understanding how to train a puppy properly are not reasons to resort to 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. 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, act aggressively by poking, punching, shocking, or yelling at them make them understand any quicker?
All of these scenarios are unhealthy and 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 would I learn or perform? As previously mentioned, stress, not eustress (good stress), is harmful to the mind, body, emotion, and spirit, and something we often have the ability to mitigate.
“Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun (force) begins.” (Ayn Rand)
Get Professional Help
Even though the answer is clear, the wrong question is 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 children and adults helps portray an important visceral and visual understanding.
Pet professionals and dog guardians should take an oath to compassionately 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.
We are dog training experts and have been successfully helping parents of dogs who have fear, anxiety, aggression, obedience, and all behavior disorders and complex behavior problems for decades! For an expert certified dog behaviorist and trainer to help you with your dog’s behavior and training today.
“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.”