Use of
shock or e
collars with
dogs
The use of shock collars with dogs, copyright (c) 2021 Frania Shelley-
Grielen. All rights reserved.

Should you be using electric shock collars on your dog?  How much do these collars
hurt?  And are they any better at controlling problem behaviors than positive
training methods?  Electronic shock collars or “training” collars are readily
available in much of the world but that’s changing.  In 2018, Scotland and
England banned the use of shock collars.  The devices are already banned in
Wales, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia and in
parts of Australia.  Should the United States be next?

Whatever side of the electronic fence you’re on the use of shock collars on dogs
are on the rise.  Well intentioned dog owners turn to trainers and pet store
personnel on advice to control a dog that pulls or barks or gets up on furniture
or any other unwanted behavior.  Rural or suburban dog owners with dogs
that chase or worry livestock chase cars and joggers and attack dogs off lead
have a whole other set of behaviors to contend with. Head halters, choke
chains and shock collars (which work by delivering an electric shock) are
frequently recommended and used.  Newer versions of shock collars now
feature vibration and noise settings (in addition to electric shock settings) that
manufacturers advertise as aids in “training”.  Theoretically, the “training
collar” would never be dialed past those noise and vibration settings and such
settings would be set at the lowest possible levels. Vibration settings on these
collars can be increased sevenfold in intensity, which can harm the neck area
(an added concern for small breeds with fragile and sensitive trachea's) in
addition to causing great discomfort.  But again, just how effective are these
collars?  Do they work?  And does hurting your dog to change a behavior
actually make sense scientifically?  When I originally wrote about shock
collars reader response was high and controversial.   With the growing
popularity of shock collars it makes sense to look at them again:

The vast majority of these products work by delivering positive punishment
or negative reinforcement.  In the case of negative reinforcement an aversive
or unpleasant stimuli such as pain or discomfort is caused by for example, the
tightening of a prong collar due to a dog pulling on a leash. When the dog stops
pulling the pain ends.  The goal is for the dog to learn to associate the pulling
with the pain and not pulling with the lack of pain. Positive punishment
introduces the unpleasant stimulus when an unwanted behavior occurs, such
as kneeing a dog in the chest when it attempts to jump on a person or applying
an electric shock on approaching a sheep or running after a car.

In a review of shock collar literature commissioned by the RSPCA,
Emily Blackwell
and Rachel Casey write that shock collars are used as both agents of positive
punishment and negative reinforcement, a feature that is of benefit to proponents
of their use. Misuse of the collars has welfare concerns.

Blackwell and Casey note inherent difficulties in the use of shock collars and
unintended associations, the shock may not necessarily be linked with an unwanted
behavior rather a trainer, location or situation. Therefore, an attempt to control
excessive barking at the dog run using a shock collar may turn into a situation
where the dog run is now associated with the shock and not the barking. Even
when a shock collar is no longer used dogs have been known to continue to
associate the shock with the trainer or situation and exhibit signs of stress.

A study by
Schilder & van der Borg observed that when trainers were working with
dogs wearing shock collars: “the command was followed by a shock so quickly that
the dog was unable to prevent a shock. This leads to unwanted conditioning: the
dog has learned that getting a command predicts a shock.” In reference to this study
Blackwell and Casey write that if this occurs with professional dog trainers it is
even more likely to occur with the general public.

Timing is the essential component in training, whether it is positive or negative
reinforcement it must occur at the exact moment of the behavior to create an
association. Blackwell and Casey say the danger of unwanted associations exists in
both scenarios. The difference with unintended associations caused by unpleasant
or painful stimuli is that the avoidance learning (demonstrated by our fictional
dog that now refuses to enter the dog run) lasts a very long time and is very
difficult to correct.

The use of a shock collar as a successful training device is problematic at best. For
starters, studies have shown that training with positive reinforcement is more
successful than the use of negative reinforcement (only positive reinforcement is
used training assistance dogs in the UK). The study also found that the use of
punishment correlates with a rise in the number of unwanted behaviors.

A study by
Cooper, Cracknell, et al compared training methods using shock collars
and those using positive reinforcement with dogs exhibiting problem behaviors
with recall and livestock (sheep and chickens) worrying and chasing.  These are
the sort of behaviors that are notorious for justifying the use of shock collars.  
However, the Cooper study found that the rewards based training was equally
effective in changing those unwanted behaviors. The study further found that
the difference between the methods resulted in shocked dogs exhibiting increased
known responses to pain with vocalizations such as whines and yelps.  No such
vocalizations were observed in the group trained with positive methods. Stress
related changes in behavior observed in the shocked dogs and not in the positively
trained dogs included an increase in body tension, yawns, paw lifts, panting and
other “distinct changes in behavior including sudden changes in posture, tail
position and vocalizations that are  consistent with pain and/or a version in dogs.”

When researchers compared citronella collars with shock collars the citronella
collars were found to be more effective (and preferred more by owners) and when
dogs are trained with other severe training methods such as physical punishment
they were found to exhibit fewer stress related behaviors than when trained with
shock collars.

Owners instructed in continuing the training methods used in the Cooper study
expressed greater confidence in being able to implement the rewards based
methods as opposed to using the shock collars.

Shock collar advocates contend that there is an art to the use of the collar with
some researchers calling for a licensing system for qualified users and that properly
used the dog responds in a manner that would indicate no apparent discomfort.
Blackwell and Casey raise two issues in response; working dogs with high levels
of excitement may tolerate shock more readily in order to perform the task at
hand such as herding sheep or tackling criminals. Additionally calibrating the
appropriate level of shock for an individual dog requires knowledge of breed,
nature, present temperament, past experiences with shock, thickness of the
coat and how moist the skin is at the moment of delivery.

The Cooper study observed five experienced shock collar trainers at work using the
devices.  Results showed only one trainer out of the five attempting to determine an
initial setting for a dog’s response to the device.  Two trainers fitted the collars onto
the dogs without any attempts to test a response to any settings or determine if the
devices were working.  One trainer started with a low level setting while the
remaining trainer started with the highest level of shock available on the collar.

The potential for abuse exists with shock collars as well. The devices are able to
deliver extremely high levels of shock which have been found to leave neck
lacerations particularly in inclement weather. Deliberate abuse due to anger or
for entertainment has also been observed such as repeatedly shocking a dog for
running away when the animal returns or is captive.

The authors point out other issues including the use of shock collars to control
aggressive behavior countered with numerous studies showing “that pain caused
by an electric shock is a well documented stimulus for aggression in a wide variety
of species”. Fear can found aggression as well as anxiety over separation from an
owner. Shock collars have also been shown to exacerbate fear and fear based
behaviors.

Now that the number of countries and municipalities limiting the use of electric
shock collars is increasing along with their availability and use; knowing more
about them needs to be the first step to consider in taking either step further.

This article is an original work and is subject to copyright. You may create a link
to this article on another website or in a document back to this web page. You may
not copy this article in whole or in part onto another web page or document without
permission of the author. Email inquiries to info@animalbehaviorist.us

References
Blackwell, E. and R. Casey. (2006).  The use of shock collars and their impact on the welfare of
dogs:  A review of the current literature.
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Cooper, J. J., Cracknell, N., Hardiman, J., Wright, H., Mills, D. (2014).  The welfare consequences
and efficacy of training pet dogs with remote electronic training collars in comparison to reward
based training.
PLOS ONE. 9, e102722. doi: 10.1371/journal. pone.0102722

Electric Shock Collars. (2018, February 10). Retrieved from https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/
our-resources /kennel-club-campaigns/electric-shock-collars/

Schilder, M.B.H. and J.A.M. van der Borg. (2004). Training dogs with the help of a shock collar:
short and long term behavioral effects.
Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 85, 319-334
The use of e collars or shock collars create fearful dogs
Jeffrey W
"studies have shown that train-
ing with positive reinforcement
is more successful than the use
of negative reinforcement (only
positive reinforcement is used
training assistance dogs in the
UK). The study also found that
the use of punishment correlates
with a rise in the number of
unwanted behaviors".
The use of punishment correlates with a rise in unwanted behaviors
GMilldrum
Request an individual consultation
The potential for abuse exists with shock  collars due to emotion and timing
UK Home Office
Frania Shelley-Grielen is AnimalBehaviorist.us
info@animalbehaviorist.us
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813

Website copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
AnimalBehaviorist.us
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"A study by Cooper, Cracknell,
et al compared training methods
using shock collars and those
using positive reinforcement
with dogs exhibiting problem
behaviors with recall and live-
stock (sheep and chickens)
worrying and chasing.  These
are the sort of behaviors that
are notorious for justifying the
use of shock collars...the study
found that the rewards based
training was equally effective
in changing those unwanted
behaviors."


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