I originally wrote and published this article on the blog back in November 2018. I’ve had a couple of people ask me about e-collars lately and, since it’s currently National Train Your Dog month, I thought it was the perfect time to revisit this topic.
I’m on a bit of a crusade against the use of e-collars – also knows as shock collars. They are dangerous to dogs both emotionally and physically. When I say “e-collar” I’m referring to electronic collars not “Elizabethan” collars used by Veterinarians (a.k.a. the cone of shame).
There are a lot of well-meaning trainers out there who recommend e-collars as a “harmless” way to train your dog.
Years ago, when I was struggling to get my dog, Jake, to behave appropriately, I thought, well, if e-collars are recommended by trainers, they must be fine. I was desperate, so much of what I had already tried hadn’t helped. So I put a shock collar on my dog. The e-collar did not change his behavior, not in the long term. All it did was let him know that some of his gear shocked him. I regret it and will never again use a shock collar on him or any other dog of mine or a client.
So, what are e-collars?
They are shock collars. Literally. They are electronic devices attached to a collar that deliver an electric shock to your dog when you press a button on a remote.
Shock collars cause both physical and emotional harm to dogs.
Physical Dangers of Shock Collars:
Burns – many dogs suffer burns at the electric contact points
Cardiac Fibrillation – the electric current can cause damage to a dog’s heart.
Psychological Dangers of Shock Collars:
A study published by the Department of Clinical Sciences of Companion Animals at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands found that the potential for harm in the use of e-collars is high. I want to share their findings with you because, lately, I’ve been seeing proponents of this device claim that there aren’t any studies that prove shock collars are harmful and that is simply not true as this study shows.
I am hoping to dispel some of the myths around using shock collars and to educate people on their negative effects.
I admit that I did a lot of questionable things during my journey with Jake. He was my first dog and a troubled dog and I didn’t know any better. I was ignorant and, although I tried to do my best for him, I often made harmful mistakes due to that ignorance. I’ve learned from my mistakes and I hope that you can, too.
The Utrecht study used scientific methodology to examine the effects of shock collars on dogs in every day training environments. What they found were high instances of pain, fear, avoidance, pain-induced aggression and pain-induced submission even after use of the e-collar was suspended!
Do any of us want that for our canine companions?
In direct contrast to the common pro shock-collar argument that the shock is more of an annoyance than actually painful, researchers actually found that shocked dogs exhibited behaviors that are universally accepted as signs of pain and fear.
Vocalizations, especially high frequency squeals, yelps and barks normally associated with pain
Biting attempts that can be interpreted as pain-induced aggression
A swift head movement, down and to the side, often followed a shock – a characteristic sign of pain
This evidence of fear and pain at being shocked led researches to conclude that receiving shocks may “be perceived as a traumatic event by a dog.”
One dog in the study continued to react as if being shocked during training even though the last time it had received an actual shock was a year and a half before! This certainly debunks the argument that the effects of shock collars are temporary and easily forgotten by the dog.
Is the welfare of shocked dogs impaired?
The short answer is, yes. Researchers found that, in comparison to dogs not trained with a shock collar, the shocked dogs:
Are more stressed overall while in the training environment
Are more stressed than non-shocked dogs outside of the training environment – in the park, for example
Shocked dogs DO connect their handlers with getting shocked (another popular argument of e-collar proponents is that dogs don’t realize it’s their handler shocking them. This study dispels that myth.)
Shocked dogs can also come to associate specific commands with getting shocked. For example, one dog in the study who was shocked when receiving the “heel” command, yelped in pain when next required to “heel” even though he had not been shocked that time.
The knowledge that a dog owner, like myself, who repeatedly shocks their pet during training, like I did, can come to symbolize pain and fear to their pet is heartbreaking. I have never met a pet parent who wanted that kind of relationship with their pup. But that is exactly the kind of sad relationship these devices create.
Based on their findings, I’m sure you are not surprised that the Utrecht researchers concluded that “shocks received during training are not only unpleasant but also painful and frightening” to dogs.
The scientific evidence shows that:
Shocked dogs are more stressed during training than non-shocked dogs
Shocked dogs are more stressed in general than non-shocked dogs
Shocked dogs are stressed by the presence of their handler because they anticipate being shocked
Researchers surmised that all of this stress likely has a negative impact on dogs’ long term well-being and that reward based training is healthier and more effective than aversive methods.
I can tell you from personal experience that when I stopped shocking Jake and committed to positive training methods exclusively our relationship AND his behavior improved tenfold.
For an example of how reward based training works, download my No More Pulling ebook to teach your dog how to walk politely on leash so your walks are far more fun and no longer frustrating.