The use of shock collars with dogs

By Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.

Should you be using electric shock collars on your dog? Do they work? 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. (Continue Reading Below)