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There Is No Reason to Use a Shock Collar. In Fact, It Should Be Illegal

The Pet Professional Guild posted an "open letter" denouncing shock collar use, and I could not agree more.

Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA  |  Jan 21st 2016


There is no need or valid reason to shock, poke, hang, hit, or throw chains at your dog, or to spray water in his face or hurl him to the ground on his back (called an alpha roll). None. Please read that sentence again. If someone in your circle insists that a dog is attempting to “dominate” you and thus needs harsh training, please invite them to read this column as well as the “open letter” at the bottom of this column, written by one of the world’s largest groups of dog industry professionals. Please also invite them to Google “dominance theory debunked.”

Shock collars are quickly becoming illegal in other countries, and one day — I hope sooner rather than later — they will be illegal to use in the United States as well. Why wait for that day when there are thousands of well-trained professional trainers who can — right now! — train your dog to behave (or compete) exactly how you want?

Countless studies point to the damage and anxiety done to dogs when trained with pain and fear. There are also many studies demonstrating that dogs learn easily without having such tactics. Please hire up-to-date dog trainers who can successfully train and teach behavior modification without using force — such as those who are members of the Pet Professional Guild, the Karen Pryor Academy, Dognostic’s E Learning, Pat Miller’s Certified Trainer program, Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Dog Training Licensed Trainers, or Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers.

Can harsh techniques work? Yes, they can. But why use them when so many other non-harmful ways to teach dogs exist? Why scare or harm your dog when we know how to get every behavior we desire from dogs without hurting them?

I have no doubt that those who still rely on painful, outdated methods will roar and call me all kinds of names in the comments. They can do that all day long, and it will not change my professional opinion — an opinion based on scientific study and facts (and, yes, I have been fully trained to use a shock collar).

Furthermore, I am not writing to them. I am writing to YOU, the dog owner. You as the owner are the first and last line of defense and have the final word on how your dog will be treated by anyone. Please read widely and do your homework before you ever allow anyone to put his hands on your dog. Ask a potential trainer these two crucial questions before starting any training:

  • What will you do if my dog gets it right?
  • What will you do if my dog gets it wrong?

I love what veterinarian and trainer Dr. Ian Dunbar has to say about using a shock collar:

“To use shock as an effective dog training method you will need:

  • A thorough understanding of canine behavior.
  • A thorough understanding of learning theory.
  • Impeccable timing.

And if you have those three things, you don’t need a shock collar.”

The Pet Professional Guild — an organization comprised of more than 4,000 trainers, behaviorists, and veterinarians who train animals without fear or force — recently issued an important open letter regarding the use of shock collars in dog training. Here are my interpretations, minus the scientific jargon (as I am writing for the non-trainer), from this letter:

  • Shock collars inflict pain and stress on dogs. Studies show that dogs who have been trained with such a device strapped tightly to their neck display stress signals as they approach the training area. Studies show these dogs frequently work slowly, deliberately, and reluctantly. In essence, if you were given a sharp pain in the neck when you made a wrong guess or a mistake in front of your teacher, your heart rate might increase around that teacher and you might very well shut down altogether as you learn to fear making a mistake. Some owners and trainers make a grave mistake in assuming that a shut-down dog is a well-trained dog.
  • What happens in training after the trainer has thoroughly taught the dog to “sit” and the dog does not sit? Let’s say he doesn’t sit because he’s in a highly aroused situation — perhaps he’s on a walking path and several loose and/or leashed dogs have come up to him or galloped past him. Many who use a shock collar choose in this common scenario to increase the level of the shock — they escalate the punishment in an attempt to stop the unwanted behavior. Some animals acclimate to the pain level on their neck and endure it (I’ve seen countless photos and videos of dogs outfitted with TWO shock collars, and sometimes the second one is around the dog’s genitals), and if they are still not doing what the trainer asked the animal to do, the trainer often increases the rate of stimulation from the collar. Other dogs just resort to becoming very still in an effort to avoid the pain.
  • Studies demonstrate that pain can cause an aggressive response. Additionally, fear or anxiety can lead to poor performance. We’ve moved far away from the old days in schools where kids were hit by adults with rulers, paddles, or their hands to “teach the child a lesson.” It is past time we stop using antiquated, fear- and pain-causing devices to train dogs.
  • Dogs who are repeatedly subjected to a shock — whether it comes from a collar or an underground fencing device — can suddenly “redirect” aggressively on whoever or whatever is closest to her when she receives the shock.

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 10.39.36 AMAn excerpt of the open letter follows. Keep in mind: The reasons behind the group’s statement are based on scientific facts, and while people are of course permitted to have opinions, a fact is a fact is a fact.

I hope you’ll take the time to read this important letter and give it to those who still want to argue for this outdated and unnecessary training tool. Your dog is counting on you to educate yourself on the most up-to-date information we have about the best, fastest, and fairest ways to train.

AN OPEN LETTER REGARDING THE USE OF SHOCK IN DOG TRAINING 

By Susan Nilson, Niki Tudge, and Angelica Steinker (copyright 2015).

The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) believes unequivocally that the pet-owning general public needs – and deserves – to have increased access to better education to help ensure that all pet animals live in safe, nurturing and stable environments. Such environments can go a long way towards preventing behavioral issues.

However, depending on an individual dog’s genetics, environment and early learning experiences, behavior problems may still occur, in spite of an owner’s best efforts. Pet owners need to be aware that such issues can be consistently, reliably and effectively resolved – or at the very least successfully managed – with the implementation of humane, modern, science-based training methods based on positive reinforcement, and without the use of any form of so-called electronic stimulation.* A positive reinforcer is a stimulus such as food, games, treats, toys (i.e. anything that the dog considers to be a reward) that, when presented following a behavior, makes it more likely that the same behavior will be repeated.

(*Note: For the purposes of this statement, electronic stimulation devices include products often referred to as: e-collars, training collars, e-touch, stimulation, tingle, TENS unit collar and remote trainers.)

Numerous respected scientific studies confirm the efficacy of positive, reward-based training, as does the collective experience of PPG’s highly skilled and qualified membership worldwide. To this end, PPG’s official position is that the use of electronic stimulation, “shock” or “e-collars” to train and/or modify the behavior of pet animals is completely unnecessary for effective behavior modification and has no place in ethical animal training. Such practices are also inherently damaging to the animal, as we will outline below.

Read the entire letter or download a PDF version.

Let’s hear from you, readers. Do you use a shock collar on your dog? Please share your experiences in the comments.

Read more about shock collars:

About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She is also working on a book due out in spring of 2016: The Midnight Dog Walkers, about living with and training troubled dogs. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.