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Shock Collars and Dogs

I recently observed a dog training session at a local PetSmart. Positive reinforcement signs and methods were everywhere. The dogs are rewarded with praise and the occasional treat. So, I was surprised to see shock collars on sale in the store. I’m not picking on PetSmart. I shop there often, and I love the fact that they host adoptions from local shelters.  Other pet shops sell shock collars too. To me, they seem cruel.

Eric uses positive reinforcement training.

So, I’ve asked a few trainers and pet shop owners about them.  Many comments were off-the-record; no one seems to like them–even the stores that sell them. Eric Goebelbecker, CPDT-KA and owner of Dog Spelled Forward LLC, a dog training program in Maywood, NJ, was willing to answer my questions.

Pet News and Views (PNAV): Why don’t you approve of shock collars?

Eric Goebelbecker: “Shock collars are tools that are designed to deliver an averse stimulus from a distance or at least without any effort by the human. I think this makes it very easy for someone to deliver a high rate of an aversive stimulus without any regard for side effects. My real problem with the collars is how they are sold.

“Some manufacturers and retailers sell them as a panacea for a variety of ills, playing up the high tech training aspect without explaining the high risk of fallout. It is possible to create some very serious behavior problems with these collars, if you don’t know what you are doing. Invisible fences and no bark collars also use an aversive shock to stop an unwanted behavior–such as crossing a boundary or barking.”

“In the case of the bark collar, dogs often bark because of an external stimulus such as another dog, noise, people passing by, etc. If they are repeatedly shocked when barking at these things, they may start to associate the shock with what they see. This makes what was a barking issue a serious behavior issue.”

“Concerning an invisible fence, if a dog spends a lot of time on the boundary getting shocked or even anticipating the shock, she can develop–barrier frustration–or develop the same sort of negative association the bark collar can create. Selling these items retail to an inexperienced pet owner is very irresponsible.”

“Some trainers play down the aversive aspects of the collars with euphemisms like tap, stim, and push. It may very well be possible to make the stimulus from the collar feel very light, but at the end of the day it is an electric current and they don’t really know how it feels to the dog. I’ve seen videos of trainers proudly demonstrating the same basic obedience training with shock collars that most of us train with treats and it makes me feel ill. Treats are described as a crutch, while having to shock the dog is somehow virtuous? Please.”

PNAV: Tell me a little bit about the benefits of positive reinforcement training.

Eric: “Positive reinforcement is easy. By rewarding the behaviors you want, you get a dog that happily does what you want. It’s really that simple. The techniques don’t require any special skills or tools.”

PNAV: Cesar Millan uses aversive techniques. Can you comment?

Eric: “Cesar Millan has done a good job of showing people that dogs with serious behavior problems can and should be helped. He does seem to have good handling skills, but sometimes his descriptions of canine body language would be laughable if the dogs were not in such distress.”

“Millan uses very aversive techniques and suggests a version of ‘wolf pack theory’ that is not only inaccurate in regards to dogs, but also inaccurate when used to describe wolves.”

21 comments to Shock Collars and Dogs

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  • Over a year ago, we used an electronic collar on Ty and Buster. Our trainer recommended them and spent several sessions training US on how to use the collars. Ultimately, we stopped using the collar because it wasn’t creating the training partnership we wanted with our boys.

  • I’m not a fan of the invisible fences. It may keep your dog in your yard, but doesn’t keep other animals out of your yard.

  • Training with dogs takes time. Electronic collars seem like a short cut in the training process. I agree with Eric, “positive reinforcement” is a heck of a lot easier and more rewarding for both owner and dog.

  • Good point Karen,
    A neighbor has an invisible fence, and her dog was found on the other side of it. I don’t know exactly what happened, but it didn’t teach the dog to stay.

  • I have no idea why someone would want to hurt their best friend! I’ve been writing about this subject since RSC, who makes PetSafe shock collars, merged with Premier Pet Products. I also found pictures of dog injuries from defective shock collars — http://www.bestfriendsgeneralstore.com/dogblog/2010/04/08/dog-shock-collar-injury-photos/

    In April’s Your Dog Journal, Pat Miller responded to a pro shock collar comment (by the director of the Animal Behavior Clinic @ Cummings School) — “I respectfully disagree that there is ever a time or place for shock collars. While some dogs seem to tolerate them, you often don’t know until too late whether your dog will — or not — and by then the damage is done. I believe there is always a more positive and more humane alternative to shocking your dog.”

  • […] Humane’s Be Kind to Animals Week! This week Michele Hollow of Pet News and Views published an interview she did with me about shock collars. Shock collars are a polarizing topic in dog training circles and I do my best to stick with facts […]

  • I myself have never used a remote collar for training, though I have had an invisible fence. Though I have no issues with the remote collar, I would never recommend an invisible fence.

    People have mentioned in the comments about why would you shock your best friend, though I think these people fail to realize that we are not strictly our dogs friends, but we are their /owners/ and are responsible for their lives. If it takes a small electric shock that doesn’t cause pain to keep my dog from chasing a car and getting killed, you better believe I’d do it.

    Positive reinforcement training also takes longer, this has even been said by many professional R+ trainers. So why take the risk of training your dog not to chase cars with R+ when the situation is life and death?

    My training is currently based on a balance of positive and negative methods. Including positive punishment, and negative reinforcement. Though I am transitioning into using myself and my dog to train. No tools such as clickers, choke chains, remote collars, etc.. I feel this creates a more ‘intimate’ training session by you working with your dog, not you working with your dog from a distance, or including some advantage for the handler. But I do realize sometimes people need a physical advantage over a dog.

    Overall, I think the negative feedback on remote collars is highly over rated. Most of it is false information and coming from an extremely biased mind set. The only true information you can get is if you dig and research yourself, instead of getting others opinions. Try forming your own opinion from the /facts/, it will truly help!

  • Remote collars have been around since the mid 60s’. They started in the retriever world because those trainers/dog owners needed a way to get their dogs attention and stop them from *running trash* (chasing unwanted prey) when the dogs where long distances from them. Unfortunately in those days the technology was new and crude and it had basically one level… that level was high and startling to the dog.

    Things have changed in 50 years. Just like our cell phones have advanced (remember those HUGE things! lol) so have remote collars. The technology employed today is virtually the same as in the TENS unit (trans electrical nerve stimulator) which is used in humane medicine for healing muscle tissue and alleviation of pain. The use of voltage with very low amperage makes the electricity totally safe (it CAN NOT burn tissue). The levels of collars can be adjusted so low most people are actually shocked (pun intended!) when they feel one and find out just how mild they can be.

    Many trainers today are becoming educated on how to use low level stimulation to get a dogs attention. This ability to get attention (a tap from the collar, which is like a tap on the shoulder) is used to divert a dog’s attention when distracted and return that attention to the owner. When the dogs attention comes back to the owner, the owner rewards the dog.

    It is a simple matter of being able to teach the dog faster, easier and more reliably around distractions and for those in the know of how to do this, their dogs can run and have real off leash freedom in a VERY short amount of time. (typically less than two weeks) It is not harmful to the dog physically or mentally, provided the user of the tool takes a little time to learn how to train with it.

    Unfortunately it is a tool that can be easily critisized because the word *Electric* is scary to most people. And most have very little knowledge of how e-collars actually work or how to use one. This limits possibilities and potential for lots of people and their dogs. Very sad. 🙁

    Here’s to encouraging open minds and open discussion.
    all the best,

  • Supervise him when he is in the yard. When he starts to get interested in chewing, digging, etc., call him away and get him interested in a toy or ball or some other activity. Make sure he’s getting plenty of exercise every day (hint: running around the yard on his own isn’t adequate exercise).

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  • […] Shock Collars and Dogs « Pet News and Views […]

  • […] Shock Collars and Dogs « Pet News and Views […]

  • […] Shock Collars and Dogs « Pet News and Views […]

  • […] Shock Collars and Dogs « Pet News and Views […]

  • […] Shock Collars and Dogs « Pet News and Views […]

  • […] Shock Collars and Dogs « Pet News and Views […]

  • Dog housebreaking is an art that will involve loads of determination and firmness and that is much easier to implement while your dog is young. Still, I don’t like shock collars.