Because training is a long process of learning the right techniques to correct, motivate and reward pets, many of the tactics for training have been called into question over the years. Certain products create serious controversies as to whether or not the use of them is ethical for dog owners. Among such products is the canine “Shock Collar.” The devices were originally developed in the 1960’s to train hunting dogs to be disciplined while working. Shortly thereafter, they became ubiquitous at pet stores, and have been used on domestic pets since that time. Shock collars are worn by the pet so that when he transgresses the limits of his yard, or barks incessantly, the owner can press a button on a hand-held device and “zap” a minor electric shock to the dog. The shocks can range from 110 volts, to 6000 volts depending on the brand; and there are over 150 products available on the market. Though it is designed to be corrective (not painful) and convenient in use for when the dog is out of reach or earshot, many believe that electric shocks are a cruel physical punishment for a dog. Review the comparisons below to consider the positive and negative aspects in the shock collar controversy.
- Shock collars can help protect a dog from other hazards in the wild. The use of distance warnings achieve what nothing else is able to, when a dog is out of reach and possibly in danger. This is particularly important for hunters who might watch their dog race off into the bushes after the prey, which could have traps, briars, holes, or other animals that could be a threat. Instead of chasing after the dog a shock collar would give a little uncomfortable buzz to let the pup know he has gone too far.
The same applies when a dog lives on a property without fences, or in a large rural area.
- The shock collar helps establish the human as the one in control, or the pack leader even if the dog is wielding his disobedience by running amuck. When working with dominant alpha dogs who are vying for leadership, the use of a shock collar reminds them who is boss, and keeps their behavior in check, even when they are not in arm’s reach.
- Shock collars are as effective as the owner is attentive. There are settings on a shock collar that do not hurt the dog, but associate an itchy/uncomfortable buzz that merely makes his ears perky up and realize he’s overstepped his bounds. While many of the shock collars have what may be deemed as unnecessarily high shock settings, they all have low option which are instructive without being painful. The control is, entirely in the hands of the dog trainer.
- Shock collars are less aggressive and painful than other methods of corrective training, such as choke collars, chain leashes (both of which are meant to discourage the dog from pulling away from the owner’s lead). Such constraints turn a pleasant walk into an unbearable exercise wherein the dog develops a dislike for exercising with his owner, and usually increases his instinct to pull away and fight the leash and its choking.
- A recent study conducted in 2014 shows that the use of shock collars causes stress in dogs. By measuring the cortisol levels in the saliva (related to stress) of dogs accustomed to training with a shock collar, animal behaviorists at the University of Lincoln (UK) found negative effects. The dogs under analysis showed more signs of fear and tension, yawning, and appeared less engaged with their surroundings than dogs without shock collars. In worse case scenarios, the dogs can become accustomed to the shocking, which then becomes ineffective in correcting the behavior. This would then encourage a dog owner to increase the voltage settings to get the desired response, which in turn will only exacerbate the negative effects on the dog.
- Training with shock collars doesn’t prove to work better than other training methods. Jonathan Cooper, the professor who spear-headed the study at the University of Lincoln, found that using shock collars to train dogs seems less effective than other tactics such as positive reinforcement. He said, “training did not result in a substantially superior response to training in comparison to similarly experienced trainers who do not use e-collars to improve recall and control chasing behavior.” He went on to express that even when used within the correct parameters for the product, that shock collars present a risk to the well-being in dogs.
- The manuals on several shock collar products warn about skin irritation which may follow using the collar, and several manuals fail to encourage dog owners to turn the monitor level down if the dog vocalizes (expressing distress) after shock. Failure to provide proper instructions on the manual, protecting a dog’s safety in the use of shock collars, could subject many animals to increased pain levels, while their owners believes this to be a “normal” reaction. The lack of proper warnings on manuals puts dogs at risk.
Note: The results of the above study have created such an unrest about the use of shock collars, that the United Kingdom is considering banning the use of them altogether.
In short, shock collars are meant to provide behavioral correction, to adequately let a dog know his limits. By giving a “gentle warning” many believe that a dog will quickly learn boundaries and commands associated with the zap, and will have their behavior corrected more quickly than other methods of training. Certainly it is rational to believe that perhaps, with the right settings on the collar, and with careful (limited) use, there might be some benefit for some dog breeds under such training. However from a behavioral perspective, since shock collars often result in the dog being agitated, fearful and less responsive, it seems as if shock collars might create more of a challenge than the one they are seeking to correct.