Shock Collars…Are They a Good Idea For Your Dog?

Black Shock Collar on a White Dog's Neck

Excessive barking, jumping and other behaviors we humans view as unacceptable has led to the manufacturing of a “quick fix” collar for dogs: the shock collar. Shock collars were originally designed in the 1960s to train hunting dogs to halt on command.  Today these collars have found many other uses, such as stopping incessant barking, controlling aggressive tendencies, or keeping “explorers” within the boundaries of their yards.

Some view this “training tool” as an acceptable way to curb an unwanted action by your dog; others will argue it’s a horrible act of violence against our canine companions, and was designed only for those who don’t want to spend the time with alternate, less invasive means of training.  In this article we will look at the science behind the shock, the pros and cons of the collar, steps to follow when using a shock collar and an alternate reward-based training method.

The Science of the “Shock”

This device is designed with two blunt electrodes on the inside of the collar that make contact with the dog’s skin. There is also a box on the outside of the collar, that picks up the remote control frequency to administer the zap.  

With close to 170 different models on the market, there are a wide range of functions available using the shock principle.  Here is a brief list of the most popular types and functions found on the  shock collar:

  • Tone or vibration can be used alone, or in conjunction with, a shock—giving the dog time to correct its behavior. If a dog corrects quickly enough, no shock is administered. This technique is often-time deployed in shock collars used with invisible fences.
  • Some collars are designed with short electrical pulses that last from a few seconds to minutes or a continuous stimulation that will last as long as the remote is pressed.
  • Shock collars deliver a zap from 110 volts —to 600 volts. To put that in perspective, 110 volts is the equivalent the quick zap you get when you rub your stocking feet on a rug then touch someone; 600 volts is equivalent to voltage an electric eel produces, which can stop a heart. 600 volts can also cause damage or burns to the skin if used improperly.

The science is simple enough, but what about the effects on the dog’s physical and psychological well being?

Pros and Cons of the Shock Collar

There are two very definite and opposing views on the effects of the shock collar and both have their valid points.  Here is a list of the pros and cons of the shock collar:

Pros of those in favor

  • Good training device.  The level of intensity can be set to react with the dog’s vocal cords as with an incessant barker or a deterrent from leaving the boundaries of the yard (invisible fencing).  The remote control can be used for dogs with aggression, jumping or leash-pulling behaviors..
  • Fast results.  Some pet owners report that after only a few initial shocks the dog was deterred from doing the bad behavior and they were then able to use the vibration setting alone.  Those using it with invisible fencing had peace-of-mind knowing their dog was safe in the yard.
  • You don’t have to be present.  Especially effective with dogs who tend to bark continuously when their owners are away from the home and for the invisible fencing – although it is never recommended to leave your dog unattended outside for long periods of time, with or without a shock collar.
  • Affordable.  Although not a good substitute for training, the shock collar is more affordable than a professional dog trainer or a stable sturdy fencing for the yard.  Shock collars can run anywhere from $25 to $200 dollars depending on the features it includes (settings: adjustable warning/shock levels: range: 30 to 400 yards) and number of collars included.

Cons of those opposed

  • The shock.  Causing pain or even discomfort to our pets is not something everyone is comfortable doing.  And. in the hands of an inexperienced owner, the shock collar can cause damage to or even burn the skin.
    • Untimely shocks.  It is difficult to always catch the dog doing the behavior rendering the collar ineffective – a late zap will only confuse the animal.
  • Promotes fear and anxiety.  According to the Association of Pet Behavior Counsellors, the use of a shock collar can create fear in an animal after the shock is administered and also anxiety in anticipation of the zap.  Anxiety can also be present in dogs that get confused as to why they are being “hurt.”
  • Aggression.  When used to curb aggression in a canine, shock collars can have the adverse affect on the dog. This is because aggression is often a fear-based reaction deployed to get rid of the perceived threat. By suppressing that natural instinct the dog will become even more fearful of the situation.
  • Distrust.  Even though the shock collar is being toted as a good deterrent for incessant barkers, it can actually have an alternate outcome. Some dogs may confuse the jolt when barking for something in their environment like a child being present. This confusion can then lead the animal to distrust or even fear certain people, places or objects.

Although there are no hard statistics on what experts are saying about the shock collar, there seems to be mixed reviews.  Some countries like the UK are fighting to ban the use of these devices, while Scotland and Quebec have already prohibited their use.

The Proper Use of a Shock Collar

If you are going to use the shock collar there are best practices that support the safety and wellbeing of your canine companion.  According to wikiHow this can be done in 6 steps:

  • Step 1.  Read all the instructions that come with the shock collar, then put the batteries in and make sure it is working properly.
  • Step 2.  Attach the collar to your dog’s neck according to the instructions.  Make sure the collar is tight enough that it doesn’t fall off.
  • Step 3. DO NOT USE the collar right away!  Your pup should have a week to get used to this device so it doesn’t associate it with pain and fear.
  • Step 4. Start using the collar at the lowest level to gauge your pet’s reactions; this could be a twitch of the ears or the pet trying to get away from it.  Assess this reaction to determine if you need to turn the transmitter up.  Ultimately you want the dog to react to the “shock,” but not be so scared it renders the method useless.
  • Step 5.  Reinforce the commands your dog already knows, then reward with a treat or a pat on the head.  If your dog does not respond press the transmitter, then repeat the command again.  Remember this device is to teach not punish so ALWAYS praise and reward for a job well done.
  • Step 6.  Control the bad behavior by pressing the transmitter each time your dog “breaks the rules” such as digging in the backyard or excessive barking.

Keep in Mind:

  • Do not let your dog see you with the remote as he or she will associate you with the discomfort.
  • NEVER hold the button down for more than 3 consecutive seconds or repeatedly hit the transmitter button – this can cause fear and anxiety in your pet.
  • NEVER let a child use the transmitter unless they are properly trained to do so.
  • NEVER press the transmitter out of anger or frustration as this will project onto your pet and could leave them more anxious and fearful.

Whether you are a fan of the shock collar or not, there are other alternative training methods.  Read on to discover one of the most popular and effective ways to train your dog.

Reward-Based Training Method

We all like to be praised for a job well-done and our dog is no exception.  Showering our beloved companion with a lot of love, affection and a treat can go a long way in teaching him or her the skills and tricks we desire.  

According to the Dr. Becker from Healthy Pets;

“A growing collection of recent studies is proving that positive reinforcement training of dogs is much more effective and ultimately successful than training involving dominance and punishment.”

Training a dog with positive reinforcement really isn’t a difficult task and can be achieved with some patience and consistency.  Check out the following five steps to a well-behaved dog…using positive reinforcement.

Note: for this training method you will want to use pea-sized treats (like Pet Botanics that comes in a wide range of flavors) and verbal and nonverbal affection to encourage the desired behavior in your canine.

  • Step 1: Use one-word commands to teach your dog the corresponding behavior (sit, stay, come, heel, etc.) and be sure everyone in your family uses the same keywords each time they interact with the pet.
  • Step 2: In the beginning stages of the training you will want to reward your dog with a treat each time he or she performs the desired action. This allows your dog to connect the behavior with a reward.
  • Step 3: Be sure to keep all your training sessions short and make them fun.  According to the ASPCA each session should only last 15 minutes or less to prevent your pooch from becoming bored or frustrated. In addition, it is also a great way to bond with your canine companion but he or she will associate training in a positive manner.
  • Step 4: Once a command is mastered you can slowly decrease the amount of times you reward your dog (using treats only intermittently). However, be sure to always praise and love your animal for a job well done.
  • Step 5: Continue to love and praise your dog each time a command is followed.  Positive reinforcement will create a range of desirable behaviors in your pet and will also build confident, trust and loyalty.

The debate over the shock collar will most likely go one for years to come, with people arguing on both sides of the issue. If you are considering a shock collar for your canine companion, please follow the instructions carefully on the package and/or seek a professional dog trainer’s assistance in the proper usage of this device.

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