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As a professional dog trainer, it’s hard to believe that we are still having a discussion about whether it is okay to shock a canine on his vulnerable neck in the name of training.
It’s not okay. Here’s why: A shock inflicts pain. It’s meant to do just that. Yes, there is a “tingle” button. but people don’t generally buy this device for that option. Even many trainers often use the shock collar incorrectly, and that’s based on a recent study done by actual scientists.
Why would you purchase and use a device that is designed to hurt your beloved pet? Are you cruel? Lazy? Somehow blissfully unaware that the purpose of a shock collar is, in fact, to shock an animal? I ask these questions in earnest because there is no legitimate reason to shock your dog -– no more reason to do that than there is a reason to strap one of these collars on your child.
I am not alone in my understanding that this type of collar is outdated and uncalled for. Countless trainers (Victoria Stilwell, Pat Miller, Bob Bailey, Sarah Kalnajs), groups (The Pet Professional Guild, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Best Friends Animal Society) and vets and animal behaviorists agree with me as well.
Shock collars exist to inform a dog: NO! WRONG! ZAP! PAIN! GUESS AGAIN! NOPE! WRONG GUESS!! ZAP. ZAP. ZAP.
Would you want to learn by getting a pain to your neck every time you were trying to learn a new skill and you made a wrong guess? Or would you rather be motivated to learn? If you are positively reinforced when you do make the correct guess, you are much more apt to keep on guessing because you do not fear pain for a mistake. Dogs shocked tend to shut down and stop guessing. I would do the same. Furthermore, we humans have a choice and can complain or walk away from pain inflicted upon us. Dogs are trapped.
Shock collars have the unique ability to ruin the trust you might have had with the most trusting creature on earth.
I worked with a client once who refused to throw away her shock collar, so I declined to work with her. She liked to tell me about her “perfect” dog who minded her so well so often that I finally asked: “If he is perfect then why do you need to shock him?” She also asked me why it was that her dog was only affectionate with her in the mornings when she allowed him up on the bed. The answer was obvious to me: “It’s the only time you don’t have that collar strapped tight to his neck.”
I know how to “properly” use a shock collar. It was required study for months at the dog-training “academy” I attended. I will never use one even though I know more about this device than your average owner, who can waltz into any big box store and order one of these “tools.” No one is required to oversee a dog owner’s (or a trainer’s) use of this device. No one can stop sick people from shocking a dog for the thrill of it (I’ve seen it happen). What you do with that collar and your dog is up to you, and sadly, most people use this tool incorrectly. In short, it messes with a dog’s mind, affects their cortisol levels and can give them every reason to distrust humans … all humans, even that neighborhood child who innocently rides by your dog on a tricycle.
I watched several dogs who had been “in training” with a shock collar at the canine academy run away from their handlers to attack another dog, even as the handlers chased behind, screaming and turning the shock controller to HIGH. Good trainers know that dogs learn by association. What associations do you think a dog makes as he is shocked when another dog — or a skateboarder or a child — walks past them? Many dog owners and trainers put the exact wrong association on the dog as they are shocking it.
One trainer even went so far down the illusionary road as to inform me that someone could actually hurt a dog with a clicker. “How’s that?” I asked, perplexed. “Well, you could hit the dog over the head with the clicker,” he responded. Sigh. This ignorant comment tells me how little understanding the trainer had about how positive reinforcement works. I feel sorry for his dogs, though I do not feel sorry for the scars on his arms and legs he got from his high-powered dogs expressing their frustration for his chosen training method in the only way they could: with their teeth.
I’ve worked with sport dogs and dogs with who possess off-the-charts “drive,” and I have not shocked one of them. And yet they were beautifully trained to do what their owners needed from them. To shock a dog with such natural drive is even more asinine than shocking a garden-variety pet dog, if such a thing is possible. The drive itself is what motivates such a dog. Do you see sheepherders shocking their talented Border Collies? No. Police, military and “sports” dogs don’t need a zap to tell them how wrong they are. You take advantage of that strong drive to motivate and teach such a dog. There is zero need to punish for a canine’s wrong guesses.
I see the question of whether or not to shock your dog as a deeper question. It is one that tests a person’s humanity. Will you be impatient as a coach for your non-speaking companion? Or will you choose to motivate him to learn to live in your world? Will you not give a damn about this sentient, four-legged animal and shock him in your rush to obtain the gratification of winning a sport award?
If you are willing to strap a painful device on a dog in the name of training, what else are you willing to do to the dog? What does this choice reflect back on you and your bigger brain? Please think about this issue deeply -– our dogs friends are counting on you to stop hurting them.
Please let me know what you think about shock collars in the comments.
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