Why Shock Collars Do Not Work

It’s amazing how many items intended to correct a dog’s behavior only cause him fear and pain. There’s a product called the SimpleLeash, a leash and shock collar combination that automatically shocks your dog every time the leash tightens — every time she wants to smell something, investigate a new person, or lift a leg on a tree out of leash range. In other words: normal dog behavior. Behaviorist Patricia McConnell’s “Simply Wrong” examines just some of the many problems associated with these tools, including the slick buzzwords meant to fool well-intentioned owners into purchasing products that are likely to cause more problems rather than solve them.

There are now collars that shock your dog when he barks, collars that shock your dog at the press of a button for any reason you like, and mats that shock your dog when they place their paws on them. You can even get a handy-dandy Stay! Mat Wireless Crate, which shocks your dog if he gets up from the mat until he returns to it and lies down. Yeesh! If I am reincarnated as a dog, please don’t let it be to a home where I have to use one of those.

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These tools are often sold to well-intentioned pet owners swayed by a variety of euphemisms — a shock is referred to as a “sensation,” a “tickle,” a “tap,” a “stimulation.” They would probably be a pretty hard sell if “shock” were used, or if you were told this tool would hurt your dog. If a dog is “man’s best friend,” we sure have a funny way of showing it.

For some dogs, these tools seem to create few unwanted side effects. Like with people, tolerance for pain varies widely among dogs, and for dogs that have a higher pain tolerance and a strong prey drive, a shock of a few seconds is easily trumped by the joy of chasing a deer — in other words, it’s worth the trouble.

For others, the side effects may be more subtle and only readily apparent to someone well-versed in reading dog body language: a succession of lip licks, yawns, and head turns, which are saying, “Please make it stop.”

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For other dogs, the fallout is more readily apparent, as in the following situations:

1. Inappropriate urination

A client called me because her dog was suddenly frequently urinating in the house. After a vet confirmed that the dog was not physically ill, we discussed the times that this was most likely to happen. “He pees every time he hears a digital beeping sound,” she told me.

When the phone rang, the microphone dinged, or a timer went off, the dog would squat and pee. This behavior did not start until after the owner had begun using a shock collar to control her dog’s barking indoors. The dog associated the beeping sounds with a resulting shock — and urinated in fear at sounds that were similar to those made by his collar.

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2. Fear of doorways

Another client had a 80-pound Weimeraner who bolted through the door to chase traffic, prey, or other dogs. She installed shock mats at the front and rear entries of the home to ensure safety.

After only a few shocks, the dog refused to approach the door — on-leash or off-leash — even after the scat mats were removed. She had to try to pick the dog up and carry him over the threshold just to get him to go for a walk.

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3. Unwanted aggression

I worked with a Bouvier des Flandres who was reactive to visitors and my client’s grandkids. She was instructed to shock the dog for growling or nipping. The dog’s reactivity soon launched into full-blown aggression that required treatment by a veterinary behaviorist.

Another client used an electric fence to contain her friendly, socially gregarious Golden Retriever. He would rush to the fence line with a wagging tail to greet visitors, only to receive a shock. Within weeks, he was growling and barking as people approached because he associated their visit with unpleasant things and had adopted a “the best offense is a good defense” strategy.

All of these owners purchased shock tools in desperation, not knowing how to improve their dogs’ quality of life. Some were hoping for a quick fix to long-standing behavior problems. Instead, they ended up having to address the original problem and also repair the damage done by inappropriate training tools and techniques.

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Meanwhile, as the number of tools used to inflict pain on dogs in the name of training increases, so do the tools available to those of us who choose to build better dogs through compassionate training techniques. (Automated tennis-ball launcher? Genius!) You have a choice in how you want to approach training your dog, but you should know that not all techniques are equal in terms of the potential for fallout and unpleasant side effects.

Moral of the story? I know there is a better way. Your dog is your partner and friend, and will gladly do what is expected of her if you only teach her what you want her to do. The truth is, it is never, ever ethical to punish your dog, if you haven’t first taught her how to stay out of trouble by teaching her.

Be proactive about preventing training problems and intervene at the first sign of an issue — dogs don’t grow out of behavior problems, they grow into them. Consulting a qualified behavior professional at the first sign of trouble will save you a lot of money, a lot of grief, and maybe the life (or at least the quality of life) of your best friend.

Photo: Boxer puppy in shock collar by Shutterstock

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This post was written by Casey Lomonaco, regular contributor to Dogster Magazine.


Darla H.
Darla H2 years ago

not sure if properly used is wrong to use,but should never be handed out to just anyone.Especially hot heads,who think they know all and do things there way. This one guy has temper out burst and he keeps this collar on his pup at all times,even through has two small sores.One day I took it off,he had it so tight against the skin,but w some effort to get finger under it,told him about sores,but on next day I came back,but not so tight.Still I thought these things were not to be left on?So what idiots allow just anyone to own these weapons?Shame on them!

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla5 years ago

I would never use one, it is animal abuse!!! Shame on the idiots that believe it is ok!

Andy Whiteman

I took Red Dogg to a trainer who was a real brute. He kept shocking her for not obeying a command. She had no clue why she was being shocked. All that he accomplished was to teach her to stand on her hind legs and air bite at me. She even did that without the shock collar on the command of "HEAL." We left that trainer and never used the shock collar again.

Debbie Tate
Debra Tate5 years ago

I rescued a boxer. He was easy to train except for jumping on me at a full run! He weighed 91 and I weighed 100. After many hits to the ground by me and injuries to me, I bought a shock collar. It vibrated also which was the setting I used. It took about 10 times of vibrating it. He no longer jumps on me and I no longer use it, as that was all I bought it for! I have never shocked him, I just needed a distraction so he would not knock me down again as I am 60 years old and live by myself.

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Camilla Vaga
Camilla V5 years ago

shockcollar is nothing but animal abuse, those who think dogs should have it can put the shockcollar on themselves period.

Hugh Martell
Hugh Martell5 years ago

We know dogs are very popular in our society. And there are therefore a lot of idiot dog owners who are too damn lazy to properly train their dogs, so they buy shock collars as a quick fix solution. Shame on you! You don't deserve a dog. In fact I'd very much like to put a shock collar on you and crank up the voltage. Lazy schmucks!

Fred Hoekstra
Fred H5 years ago

Thank you Dogster, for Sharing this!

Michelle M.
Michelle M5 years ago

If I poison cues and keep repeating them, I'm teaching my dog that I want them to come whenever they get around to it. There are countless ways to err when you train. So instead of blaming the dog for "blowing you off", give them the benefit of the doubt and consider what they may not have complied. And fix the medical problem, be reasonable in your expectations, teach them better.

To get the best possible guess at how dogs perceive shock collar training, learn and study dog body language. Know their stress, appeasement and displacement signals. Watch what they're trying to say when undergoing shock training. This is NOT humane training.

Michelle M.
Michelle M5 years ago

Shock collars DO work on some things. There's no denying that. Even with that being the case, consider the following.

Undesirable symptom behaviors are due to a cause. Barking due to anxiety. Growling due to fear. Jumping up from not knowing how to relax around people. Leash aggression due to insecurity, possibly from being attacked from another dog. The list goes on. Most of these misbehaviors are merely the dog's attempt to COMMUNICATE to you the best way they know how. Shock collars suppress these SYMPTOMS but they do not address the CAUSE for them. You are shocking your dog's attempts to communicate with you into silence. Your dog learns it's not okay for them to tell you when they're not comfortable with something, and that they must endure EVERYTHING without protest.

The dog not complying with cues is due to a cause also. The dog who wouldn't sit might be suffering from burrs in their fur. The dog who wouldn't stay in a heel might have joint problems. The dog who wouldn't come when called might have a back condition. The dog who won't perform in the ring might have an anxiety disorder in need of medication. Beyond the dog's possible medical problems, there's also the training to consider. If I mumble when I train, no wonder my dog will mess up and I won't get the results I want. If I'm unclear in my hand movements, no wonder my dog will do poorly following my instructions. If I raise criteria too fast, no wonder my dog can't keep up. If I poison cues and keep repe