Nothing divides the dog community quite like the topic of shock collar training. Some people find them inhumane and campaign against their use. Other people champion the good they provide and wouldn’t be without them. It’s hard to find a grey zone. Any time emotions get involved, information gets cloudy. In the interest of NOT stepping on toes, my hope with this article is to present truths about shock collar training. Then you can draw your own conclusions.
What is a Shock Collar?
Shock collars go by a lot of different names:
- Electronic training collars
- Remote training collars/Remote collars
- Electronic fence
- E-collars (I won’t use this name as E-collar means something completely different in the veterinary world and to most people)
The collars consist of two prongs or contact points. The prongs come in different lengths meant for dogs with long or short hair. The contact points rest against the skin and deliver stimulation. Modern shock collars have a variety of stimulation settings. Most also have a setting for a “warning.” This warning might be a beep or a vibration that precedes the actual shock. Trainers and owners report the warning is just as effective as the shock itself (FYI).
Now, let’s discuss the shock. Yes, you can hold the contact points against your palm to feel the shock. However, keep something in mind: our hands are EXTREMELY sensitive. We have a lot of nerves in our hands and fingers. Dogs don’t have the same sensitivity in their neck. They have a lot of muscle tissue there. After all, the neck supports their heads. A shock through muscle feels different than a shock through nerves. So your hand doesn’t experience what their neck will. If you want an apt comparison, hold the contact points against your thigh.
Shock Collars and Training
Shock collars are a form of negative reinforcement training. What does that mean? Dogs receive an unpleasant sensation in order to deter the behavior. When they stop the behavior, you remove the unwanted irritation.
Once the dog responds, positive reinforcement should follow. You give a reward for obeying the command to cease. A lot of opponents of shock collar training champion positive reinforcement training. This is how basic commands such as “sit,” “down,” and “stay” are usually taught. Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement.
With both, timing is critical. Dogs cannot make associations if you don’t match your timing to the behavior. That isn’t a failure on their part – it’s yours. Regardless of which training method you opt for, work with a professional. Trainers hone their craft and know how to teach you properly. Your dog is capable of learning – or unlearning – behaviors. You just have to be willing to invest the time.
Which Training Method is Superior?
No one wants to back down on the issue of shock collar training and whether or not it’s best for dogs. People cite stress, fear, ineffectiveness, and pain as arguments against remote collars. Again, there’s a lot of emotion involved. In 2014, a study set out to remove emotion from the equation. They compared clicker training and shock collar training. Then they looked at stress markers in the dogs involved. Want to know what they found?
91.8% of the owners reported improvement in their dog’s behavior – regardless of the training method used. That’s huge! Also, there was NO DIFFERENCE in the stress markers. The study concluded NO difference between training methods. It’s something to keep in mind. Something else to consider? The trainers were all professionals. When asked to continue the practices started, most owners were reluctant to use shock collars. Emotion went back into the mix.
Shock Collar Training Truths
Have people abused shock collars? Absolutely! Were they people who didn’t know what they were doing? Yeah. (Aren’t they always?) Remote collars have real applications, some which people don’t consider.
- Off-Lead: Whether you’re hiking or camping, odds are you don’t keep your dog attached to you when out in nature. But nature isn’t safe. How close is the highway? Does your dog recall EVERY time? Is there a cliff or loose terrain nearby? Are you in a region with bear present? Moose? Will your dog recall immediately?
- Rescues and Breeds: Do you know the complete history of your dog? Do you know your breed’s characteristics? People don’t always do their homework before getting a dog. There are breeds known to bark – incessantly. Not every neighbor appreciates this. Some rescues know histories of aggression, others don’t. Do you want to be responsible for another dog getting injured?
- Police/Military Work: Okay, this might not apply to you. Still, these dogs range out of sight of their handlers. Shocks don’t have to be negative. They can also mean, “I’m still behind you – I’ve got your six.” Or they can signal, “You’ve gone too far.” They’re practical communication tools.
If your dog doesn’t know the basic commands, you can’t use a shock collar. It’s that simple. Shock collars are NOT for training your dog to “stay!” If you can’t manage the basics, you need to find someone to help you. A shock collar is NOT the answer! You WILL cause behavioral problems.
Commands should be obeyed the FIRST time they’re given. (Saying “sit” five times and your dog happens to plop down doesn’t count) Again, failure is on YOUR part, not your dog’s. You don’t have a bad dog. You have a flawed training program. A shock collar isn’t going to fix that. There are professional trainers in your area who will happily train you to work with your dog.
Setting the Shock Collar
Here’s where we get to the heart of the matter. The shock collar has a variety of settings. Start at the BOTTOM. You’re looking for annoyance, NOT pain. It’s the equivalent of an insect crawling on your skin. You don’t like it, and you want it to go away. What’s that look like on a dog? Confusion, usually. What it DOESN’T look like, is this:
- Vocalization of ANY kind
- Ears down
- Tail tucked
Dogs will hide pain, so if you hear a cry, you are WAY too high. Back it down.
Your dog should wear their remote collar all the time. Wearing it gets him used to the collar’s presence. Wait to switch it on until an active training session. NEVER leave it switched on! This can lead to burns at the contact site! Also, the collar isn’t intelligent. It can overcorrect your dog. Remember, he needs to understand what behavior to associate that correction with.
Shock Collar: Pro or Con?
Shock collar training creates a lot of emotions. People stand firm on their side, and finding anyone in the middle is impossible.
Remote collars CAN serve an important function when used correctly. Like a lot of things, people have abused them and created a negative connotation. In the proper hands, shock collars benefit a lot of owners and dogs.
Does that mean time and care? Yes.
Does it meant careful research and consideration? You bet.
But when using negative reinforcement, that should always be the standard.