The Science on Shock Collars

dog with shock collar

Electronic Dog Training Collars, also known as e-collars, shock collars, bark collars, stim/stimulation collars and boundary training collars are a topic of hot debate. Some swear by them and use them in a professional capacity and others hate them and actively seek to have them banned.

If you know me, or have seen any of my social media posts, you can pretty much guess which way I lean (more like fall). But, this isn't about what I think. This post is about facts; documented Scientific studies that show the effects of Electronic training collars. At the end of the article, all of the links to the studies are posted. Facts and proof matter, especially if it concerns a living being.

As a Dog Trainer myself, I've heard many opinions from trainers and non trainers about E-collars. I've always heard trainers that use these tools, tell clients various things about these tools that studies show differently. Whether you're a trainer or someone with a dog looking to learn more about these collars, it's important to know what Science says.

What are E-collars for dog training?

Electronic Training Collars vary in use, type and configuration, but all of them go around a dogs neck like a regular collar. Some types deliver an electric shock, while others give a static zap. Different models have varying degrees of intensity, and some collars come with a vibration mode to deliver a vibration.

Do E-collars hurt dogs?

Dogs in pain or experiencing fear give out common pain/stress/fear signs. To learn more about these, click here.

A quick google search of "Do Shock collars hurt dogs" will produce hundreds of results, with some being studies done and lots of opinions. One study done in 2003 (source below) observed 32 dogs receiving shocks; Of those 32 dogs, 22 lowered their body posture, 17 gave high pitched yelps, 13 squealed, 5 gave a barking scream, 18 gave tongue flicks, 14 moved away (avoidance), and 13 lowered their tails. Dogs also circled, trembled and licked their lips. All of the listed behavioral responses are signs of pain, fear and/or stress.

A question I always ask of people who claim that shock collars don't hurt dogs, is if it doesn't hurt, why do the dogs stop doing the unwanted behavior?

Do E-collars have any negative long term effects?

A study was done in which two groups of livestock Guarding dogs were trained with either shock collars or other methods. Researchers noted that dogs who where trained with shock displayed many stress signals a year after the training stopped.

Is there risk of fallout with associations?

If you're going to use these devices, timing is crucial, or you run a real risk of the dog associating the punishment with the wrong thing. This can lead to fearfulness or even aggression. I've worked with many dogs with various fear or aggression issues after they've gone through shock collar training. Some dogs had become aggressive towards people or other animals, and many had become extremely fearful in general.

Can E-Collars make my dog aggressive?

Dogs learn, in part, by Classical Conditioning.

Classical Conditioning is where two stimuli are linked together to produce a new response in a person or animal. For example, if there's a knock at the door, followed by a person appearing behind it, dogs that learn that the knock means people appear.

Or, a dog hears a treat bag being crinkled, followed by receiving a yummy treat; The dog learns that the treat bag means he's going to get a tummy treat.

If a dog is being shocked while another person or animal is around, there's a very real risk of them associating the shock with the person or animal, leading to fearfulness or in some cases, aggression.

At the end of the day, I think most people just want what is best for their dogs. Dog owners call Dog Trainers when they are stressed out beyond belief, and trust that we know what we are doing and have the dogs best intentions in mind. My advice to dog owners is to research both Positive Reinforcement/Reward based training and Balanced Training. If you decide to go with something other than rewards based training without punishment, ask the trainer what tools they will be using and research those extensively.

Jaime Devereaux owns Jaime Doolittle Dog Training, in Palm Beach County, Florida. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed and trains in the following cities:

Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Wellington, West Palm Beach, Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee, Palm Beach Gardens, North Palm Beach and Jupiter. 786-521-5023

Polsky, R.H. (1983) Factors influencing aggressive behaviour in dogs. California Veterinarian 10.

Schalke, E., Stichnoth, J. and Jones-Baade, R. (2005) Stress symptoms caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs (Canis Familiaris) in everyday life situations. Current Issues and Research in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine: Papers presented at the 5th International Veterinary Behaviour meeting. Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Schilder MBH and van der Borg JAM (2004). Training dogs with the help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 85 (3-4), 319-334.

Seksel, K. (1999) Comments on collars policy: No. Aust Vet Journal

Solomon R. L., Kamin, L.J. and Wynne L. C. (1953) Traumatic avoidance learning: The outcomes of several extinction procedures with dogs. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 48 (2), 291-302

Tortora, D.F. (1982a). Understanding Electronic Dog Training Part 1. Canine Practice, 9 (2), 17-22

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