Why Not To Use A Shock Collar

I am not a betting person but if I had to bet, I’d wager you got a dog because you wanted a companion, a family member, something to love and nurture – not something to control with force, fear or pain. Whether it is out of desperation, poor guidance from unqualified trainers or lack of education, many people still turn to the use of shock and other aversive tools in dog training, despite the growing research and evidence against its use.

Learning shouldn’t hurt.

And we know there are better, more effective and more humane ways to train dogs. Many countries in the world ban the use of shock (and in some cases, prong collars also). Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Wales, some parts of Australia, and the province of Quebec in Canada yet in the US, it’s still completely legal. There is a recent legislation being proposed in NY but widely in the US, shock collars are legal. In 2020 Petco became the first large scale retailer to stop selling remote controlled shock collars but still sells electric fence and containment systems.

There’s a lot of research on this topic, but a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, concluded “there is no credible scientific evidence to justify electronic collar use and the use of spray collars or electronic fences for dogs.” This study looked at the top 3 ways dogs are shocked in the name of training – remote controlled shock collars, anti-bark collars and electric fence/containment systems.

And yes, electric or “invisible” fence is electric shock and I lump this squarely in with other types of aversive training. My friend Eileen has a great post on this topic but I will add this. I’ve had client dogs on invisible fences that had increased fear towards people and dogs. I’ve had clients who were previously pro-social and friendly and became aggressive as a result of using an invisible fence. I’ve had clients lose their dog because the dog busted out chasing wildlife and then never came back. I even had clients become fearful of just going outside because of the invisible fence. The fence manufacturers and salespeople will not tell you about the fallout effects of using these products but I see it in my practice time after time.

So why do people turn to shock collars? The study gathered responses, many of which I’ve seen in my own practice. Some of these include, people turn to these methods because it looks like it is a quick fix, they think it’s cheaper than hiring a qualified trainer, they feel the ends justify the means, they tried it on themselves and “it didn’t hurt that much” or they just don’t know better.

And this brings me to a critical point, at least here in the US, which I have mentioned before. Dog training is an unregulated industry. You need more licensing to cut someone’s hair than you do to train a dog. Dog training is unregulated in the US. Not only does this mean consumers have no protection and anyone can do practically anything to your dog in the name of training, including hurting your dog, but it also means there’s a lot of muddy language around credentials and titles.  Demand transparency and ask questions. There’s also recent legal filing against one of the manufacturers of a popular shock collar alleging they’re falsely marketed as safe.

If you’ve fallen victim to predatory training methods or were convinced aversive methods are the solution, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. This is a symptom of an unregulated industry, with people posing as “professionals” with no recourse. But, you can change how you do things NOW.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

So while some people turn to things like shock collars, thinking they will save money, we know from other research that aversive methods can (and often do) result in increased fear, aggression, or learned helplessness, and fixing those long-term issues properly will cost you more money in the long-run, not to mention the emotional cost to your dog and the damage to your relationship with him.

For more about this topic, you can read these other posts where I’ve addressed the topic of Behavior Suppression Isn’t Behavior Modification, Fear Is Not Disobedience and that dogs very rarely “bite out of nowhere.” The common thread in these posts is behavior issues getting worse with punishment based methods of training.

Interested in learning more? Download my free guide: 3 Reasons Not To Use A Shock Collar. I talk more about why not to use these tools, a deeper dive into regulation and give you citations to research if you’d like to look at it for yourself. You can also check out the Shock Free Coalition and sign the pledge to never use shock.

There are better, more humane, more effective ways to get results and I can help you. Contact me and schedule a session if you need help.

Happy training!

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