There might be times when our furry friend gets out of line and all we want to do is correct our dog’s behavior to get the most out of your training sessions. To come up with a solution, you might consider the use of a shock collar, but have you considered whether shock collars hurt dogs? In this article, we discuss all you need to know about this training device, its pros and cons, and other options you might want to look into.
What are Electronic Collars?
An e-collar, or a shock collar is a training device for dogs that uses a remote control to send electrical impulses of various intensities to the dog’s neck. There are many models to choose from, and some will only come in vibration settings but we’ll be talking strictly about the ones that deliver a shock. The first electric collars were first developed during the ‘60s but delivered a high level of shock, leading to much pain.
While modern shock collars aren’t as harsh, they’re still powerful enough to send electrical pulses strong enough for physical harm. Some manufacturers will claim that their electronic training collars only produce a static shock but this is misleading. In truth, a dog shock collar uses alternating currents (AC) which causes a dog’s muscles to contract.
How Shock Collars Work
This type of collar is meant to reduce or prevent excessive barking while providing obedience training and pet containment. Unfortunately, it has been used as negative reinforcement to suppress or change undesirable behavior from dogs by pet owners. There is a wide range of e-collars in the market and each will come with distinct mechanics for its operation.
In general, these collars pick up vibrations in your dog’s throat when it barks to deliver a quick electric shock to your dog’s neck. Most devices will range from the lowest level to the highest levels of shock, along with other settings such as beep mode and vibration mode. They are also operated through a remote control, which allows users to activate them whenever they want — not just when a dog misbehaves.
They’re commonly used with an invisible fence that can deliver a shock to contact points located on the collar whenever your dog crosses the boundaries you have set up. The level of shock your dog receives can range from a sensation that tickles to a painful shock. Some devices will start off with a vibration or warning beep, which can then be followed by a quick shock if your pup continues to do the bad thing it’s doing.
Why Are Shock Collars Used?
Fortunately, when set up and used appropriately, shock collars can be quite gentle. The idea behind it is to teach your dog the connection between their undesired behavior and the shock so that it refrains from doing that particular thing. However, there’s always the chance that your pup fails to associate the bad behavior when it gets shocked, in which case the remote training collar won’t dissuade your pooch from it.
While it’s considered to be among the most aversive training methods that result in negative reinforcement, it can still be useful for pets that are resistant to other forms of training. This can be particularly helpful for dogs that routinely leave their yards while living on busy streets — the use of shock collars may save them. However, some dog owners may use this feature as a form of punishment, but professional dog trainers will know that this approach will only lead to failure.
Pros of Dog Training Collars
While this tool is meant to teach our dogs to associate the shock with a lesson they need to learn and to encourage a behavior change, many owners would be appalled just thinking about shocking their dogs. However, they can actually be an effective training tool as long as they are used correctly. Below are just a few reasons why some dog owners feel that e-collar training works for them.
Works at a Distance
Despite having a bad reputation, some dog owners feel that shock collar training allows them to fix their dog’s behavior from a distance. While other training methods will work when you’re right next to your dog, you won’t always be there when they display unacceptable behavior. Using an appropriate collar will let you get your dog’s attention even if it’s far away from you.
Quickly gets Their Attention
You may have already been through a situation where your dog suddenly runs off after something while barking its head off. While you might yell, it won’t always listen and come back to you — this is where the use of electric shock collars will be useful. Because it can help to get your dog’s attention and help stop bad behavior, shock collars can also be effective for dogs that don’t react to voice commands.
Keeps them Safe
Another reason why dog owners favor this choice compared to other types of collars is they can keep your pooch safe even when you’re away from them. When used in combination with invisible or electric fences, you can keep your dog contained within a specific area when you can’t keep an eye on them. As such, you won’t need to have a physical fence within your yard, which is especially useful when you have a big lot.
May Help Improve Dog Behavior
When walking our dogs in a dog park, we need to quickly shut down barking, aggressive behavior, or their urge to run throughout the neighborhood while dragging us around with them. If we’re unable to address these problems, other people may take action and this isn’t ideal — when dogs constantly show such behaviors, they could become a threat to people and other animals. This could lead to a need to legally euthanize your pet, which is something no parent ever wants to do to their pet.
Provides Instant Feedback
Apart from helping to suppress negative behaviors, shock collars can also provide instant feedback to your pup. When you see your dog doing something you don’t like, you can quickly let them know by sending a small shock to communicate your disapproval. What’s more is that you can do this even if you’re not around, so that your pooch doesn’t associate you with each negative feedback.
Cons of Dog Training Collars
Now that we’re aware of the pros of using these devices, it’s time to move on to its cons. To set the record straight, positive reinforcement training has been scientifically proven to be the most effective method for training dogs. Because it’s hard for many owners to cause their pets any sort of pain, they prefer positive reinforcement methods to everything else.
Here are just a few reasons why professional trainers never use shock collars.
It Doesn’t Address the Problem
The biggest issue with using shock collars is that they don’t address a dog’s underlying problems. While they can suppress unwanted behaviors, it’s up to you to understand what’s really causing your dog’s bad behavior. One of the best things you can do for your dog is to give them a time-out or ignore the bad behavior.
However, you can also use gentler ways of teaching your dog, such as distracting them a loud noises, ordering them to sit, or saying ‘no’. Some owners use a spray bottle to lightly mist their dogs with water to quickly snap them away from the bad behavior. When your dog is wearing a leash, you can also give a swift pull to their leash to take them off whatever is distracting them.
It’s Often Misused
Just like with everything else, shock collars can potentially be misused and even abused. It’s not that owners might shock their dogs too much (even though this can happen), but it’s more to do with the frequency of the electric shock. Unfortunately, you won’t have full control over the electric fences or automatic bark collars which may deliver too much pain or provide shocks without your knowledge.
According to the University of Lincoln, such incidents may increase the risk of injury and may even lead to more behavioral problems. Research also found that instruction manuals don’t contain enough information regarding the right way to use e-collars. Moreover, pet owners won’t always follow the included guidelines, and some products won’t have any at all.
It Can Reinforce Undesirable Behaviors
As mentioned, getting too many shocks may lead to even more behavioral problems, and will only achieve the opposite of the behavior modifications you wanted. It’s also important to remember that an electric fence will shock your dog when it leaves the designated area and when it returns. This can discourage your dog from wanting to come back once it has left your yard — as a result, it can push your dog to stay away from your home.
When this happens, it can become even more confused with what you expect from it, and it could become anxious whenever it strays close to your property. Once your dog begins to associate fear with objects, people, and situations as a result of using an e-collar, it could develop more behavioral problems. One such example is your dog developing a fear of leaving your house because it doesn’t understand why it gets shocked, and may only associate the sensation to leaving the house.
It Inflicts Burns and Physical Pain
Experts on dog behaviors, including the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) don’t recommend the use of e-collars and other tools for training that cause pain. Scientists agree that reward-based training can yield better results while exposing your dog to fewer risks. While shock collars are advertised to be ‘safe’, they’re not approved by many experts.
According to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), an electric shock can burn your dog’s skin and lead to heart problems such as an increased heart rate. Moreover, these tools can leave bleeding wounds and may lead to scarring and infections.
It Has Been Linked to Health Problems
A big concern over using shock collars is that they’ve been linked to respiratory, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular problems. When shock collars are placed tightly around a dog’s neck, it can interfere with your dog’s breathing. The worst-case scenario may lead to severe injury and even death when the electric shock is too severe and the collar is fit too tightly.
There are also long-term effects; such training devices can have an impact on a dog’s cardiovascular function and may put a lot of strain on its heart. Using shock collars on dogs may also lead to digestive distress, respiratory problems, and atrial fibrillation, which may put them in danger.
It May Malfunction
According to experts in the field, there have been reported instances when electrical shock collars have become embedded into the dog’s neck. Vets have also seen cases of burn marks on their pet’s necks, while other collars have malfunctioned so badly that they simply delivered continuous shocks without stopping. Veterinary experts can only describe such instances as animal cruelty, and they warn that when shock collars are set at the highest level can knock dogs off their feet.
It Could Cause anxiety and Psychological Stress
More and more evidence suggests that training collars for dogs may take a toll on their mental health, leading to extreme stress and anxiety. For instance, a study from 2004 observed the behavior of 16 police dogs trained using e-collars to dogs that received the same training but no electric shocks. Scientists concluded that the e-collars had short and long-term effects on their behavior, including pain, fear, anxiety, and stress.
These dogs further exhibited behaviors such as:
- Lowering their tail
- High-pitched yelps or barking screams
- Crouching whenever they’re fearful
- Hunching towards the ground
- Making whining noises
- Changing the position of their head to avoid shocks
- Starting to walk in circles
- Flicking their tongues out
- Trembling for no apparent reason
The study was able to conclude that the behaviors above indicate pain and anxiety. Lowered tails indicate nervousness or stress while high-pitched noises show pain, fear, or other negative feelings. Furthermore, the dogs in this study started to associate the presence of their owners with receiving electric shocks, even when they were no longer training.
As anyone might expect, such interaction can have a negative impact on the relationship between people and their pets. A different study investigated how using dog training collars every day affected dogs. However, after just 4 weeks, the group that wore shock collars experienced a significant increase in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
It’s Pointless and Cruel
Shock collars and similar tools may help suppress your dog’s negative behaviors but they come with risks that may outweigh the benefits. There hasn’t been any research to suggest that they’re a more effective option compared to positive reinforcement training. According to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, clinical studies that use positive reinforcement during training have been proven to be superior.
However, using e-collars has been linked to a higher risk of developing negative behaviors as well as escaping. A survey conducted in 2004 revealed that dog owners who used punishment as a way to train their dogs noticed more problematic behaviors. Experts suggest implementing positive training methods that will help encourage dogs to listen and obey your commands without the need to hurt them.
A different survey confirmed that when dogs didn’t receive punishment-based training, they would have lower chances of developing unwanted behaviors. For instance, attending early socialization classes with your puppy can help them develop a better attitude towards other dogs. Furthermore, positive reinforcement training is connected to lower rates of fearful, aggressive, and attention-seeking behaviors.
Other Options to Avoid
There are other kinds of dog training collars that should also be avoided; even with proper use, these options can inflict a lot of pain and suffering on your beloved pet.
According to veterinarians, even if choke collars work, they apply much discomfort and pain — if they didn’t use such a strategy, they wouldn’t have any effect on our dogs. These will often be made from metal and the choke chain is intended to be placed tightly around a dog’s neck. But in doing so, they can cause problems such as injuries to the esophagus and trachea, neck sprains, fainting, nerve damage, transient paralysis, burst blood vessels in their eyes, and even death.
This is also known as a pinch collar and is a temporary tool used to limit a dog’s offensive or dangerous behavior. However, they can cause dogs severe pain and aren’t an effective training method — they will often be marketed as a gentle option that’s safe to use. This couldn’t be further from the truth, which is why they’re illegal to use in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Austria, and Quebec, Canada.
Better Alternatives to Shock Collars
Because there are various drawbacks to using shock collars, the Humane Society of the United States has declared them to be an inhumane way to train dogs. It will also give the wrong idea to rescue dogs, who feel that they’re only being tortured again after being removed from an unsafe and harsh environment. Similarly, an older dog or a small dog will feel the pain even more since its body is already frail and tiny compared to bigger and younger dogs.
Luckily, there are better ways to help our dogs eliminate negative behaviors that can be replaced with good behavior without causing adverse effects.
A spray collar is lightweight and made of plastic that is worn around your dog’s neck. It contains a small circuit inside that triggers a tiny valve that releases a spray of citronella when your dog barks. It will also house a sensor that picks up on a dog’s bark and then uses the spray as a consequence. There are no loud sounds or shocks delivered, which makes it a much safer and more humane way of teaching our dogs how to behave.
Some dog collars will also use lemon juice or water; when used consistently, they can teach dogs that barking will result in getting sprayed in unpleasant mist. However, they should only be used when there are no other dogs close by. Moreover, there are high-pitched barks that its sensor can’t detect, making it ineffective for dogs that have this kind of bark.
Fortunately, there are non-shocking kinds of collars that won’t have negative side effects such as vibrating collars that can get your pup’s attention through vibration rather than shock. These options can be just as effective and are ideal for deaf dogs who are unable to hear clickers or voice commands. There are also other options that emit ultrasonic sounds that only dogs can hear.
Do Shock Collars Hurt Dogs?
While it’s important to ensure that you raise a well-trained and good-natured dog, animal welfare should also be prioritized. No matter the build and size of your dog, or whether you think it can handle a few shocks during training, it should never be exposed to pain of any kind. Don’t forget that you can also work with professional dog trainers to ensure that your pooch learns good things and that you always have a happy dog at home waiting for your love and affection.