Updated: Feb 19, 2022
Shock collars, e-collars, stim collars, whatever you want to call them. Some are activated by noise such as when a dog barks, others when they meet a physical barrier such as with an invisible fence, others by a remote held in the trainer's hand. Regardless of how the shock is activated, these collars are all designed to deliver a pulse, like major static electricity, to a dog's throat. They work based on pain, startle, fear, or avoidance - pure and simple. Don't believe me? Sit tight, we'll get to that.
As a dog trainer, I don't believe that there is one tool that is better than another. I like to keep an open mind when it comes to the techniques and tools in my toolbox. That said, I will never personally use a shock collar or allow one to be put on my dog. The more I learn and the better my skills become, the less wiggle room I see for the use of shock collars. I can think of very specific and rare situations where shock collars could really improve a dog's quality of life. However, those exact scenarios I conjure up can always be more effectively resolved with good, reward-based training. I cannot think of a single scenario where reward-based training won't work.
What I can think of, though, are the cases I've worked on where dogs were previously trained with shock collars. Owners came to me after the behaviors got worse, or when other behaviors popped up months after the training occurred. And that, my friends, is the problem with aversive training. It may seem to work in the moment, but the future fallout cannot be predicted and it may just be worse than the original problem.
One example comes from a case where a dog was shocked for growling at other dogs. He didn't like other dogs near him, so he growled. And he was shocked for it. The growling stopped, he seemed "cured." Several months later he tore open a toddler's face when the child got too close. Mom was right there. There was no growl. Why? Because the dog had previously been very effectively trained to not growl. You see, he wasn't trained to be ok with other dogs around. He was trained to stop communicating.
In many of my cases, the dog's bite history and unpredictable behavior mean it cannot stay in the home and cannot be placed in another. So, in sick and twisted irony, I guess you could say in some cases the shock collar certainly cured the behavior from ever happening again.
My innate moral compass and personal ethics physically prevent me from intentionally causing pain to a dog. Or to any animal for that matter. That is my opinion and I think everyone has a right to their own and there is definitely no shortage of opinions on shock collars! You know what they say about opinions, right? I also think opinions should always be based on information.
In the upcoming series of blogs, I will be sharing some information. I hope you will bear with me as I share parts of a blog written by my friend and colleague Don Hanson. You don't have to take either of our words for it. There are plenty of others who opposed the use of aversives, and they say so in words much more eloquently than I can. The idea is also backed up by peer reviewed, published research. All of that and more will be provided to you, the content of which some may find.....SHOCKING!
(sorry, couldn't help myself)