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The AGDT Blog

Don't Use a Shock Collar

Amanda Gagnon

To use shock as an effective dog training method you will need:
A thorough understanding of canine behavior.
A thorough understanding of learning theory.
Impeccable timing.
And if you have those three things, you don’t need a shock collar.
— Ian Dunbar

There is plenty of solid scientific research on this subject (start here), but you don't need to be a scientist to understand the basics. Shocking, hitting, hurting, or any other kind of painful stimuli used for punishment is a bad idea. Would you do it to your kid? I am not being flip! I'm making a serious comparison. Corporeal punishments, like spankings, that are sometimes used to discipline children are very similar to punishments like shocks. Most people don't spank or hit to discipline children anymore, because extensive research has shown that the long term side effects FAR outweigh the benefits.

Basically, the benefits are an immediate cessation of the unpleasant behavior. That seems great, right? My dog might stop barking when I apply a mild shock (as a child might stop mouthing off if I flicked him in the ear), but the side effects are nutso: anxiety, fear, aggression, degradation of the relationship between dog and handler, etc. Do you really want to trade that barking problem in for an aggression problem?

Okay, sure, but what if your dog has a REAL problem? What if you are already trying to solve one of the "nutso" issues mentioned above? 

That's rough. Rehabilitation for aggression and fear can be slow-going and stressful. You might be scared (if your dog is dangerous), confused (by conflicting advice), angry (at your dog or community), embarrassed (by onlookers or family who judge harshly), stunned (by the cost and workload of training) and you are certainly frustrated. You might even feel like you have tried everything else, and perhaps a (well-intentioned) trainer is selling it as the magic solution. I wish it was. In fact, shock collars are especially terrible for issues involving aggression and fear. 

Let me explain by giving you another human example. Comparing dogs to humans has its problems but I find it extremely helpful when trying to simplify complicated training concepts. 

True story: The guy in the video below is a road-rager (read: man with aggression issues) who chased me and my family down the highway after a perceived infraction. We tried to escape by pulling off the road while he was distracted. He circled back, found us, dismounted, and engaged in a lengthy threat display. We had to call the cops. 

WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT in the video below.

I spend a lot of time with dogs. So, whenever someone acts like this...

...I see this:

Clearly the motorcycle man has some anger management issues. If he was my brother, and I wanted to help cure him of his aggression, what treatment would be best? Therapy? Rehab? Medication? Shock collar? 

Putting it like that makes it fairly obvious that the shock collar is the worst possible option. First, it just doesn't seem right. Second, most aggression comes from a sense that things are not safe (fear). If I zap this enraged guy every time he yells, I might see a temporary cessation of the yelling, but it will only make him feel less safe and therefore he will become more aggressive over time. 

You might be wondering what you could try instead. Here are some options for working your dog through a major behavior problem along with the human equivalents for comparison: 

  • Working with a certified dog trainer is akin to working with a therapist.
  • Medication through a veterinary behaviorist is like seeing a psychiatrist and it works best when combined with training (therapy).
  • Overnight camps (sometimes called bootcamps) are similar to rehab. Some training will still be needed after a dog returns to her home environment.
When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.
— author unknown

Please be considerate and kind in the comments section below. Healthy discourse is good for all of us. Snide comments only polarize.