#1 — “The shock collar doesn’t hurt my dog. I tested it on my arm. it’s just a little vibration.”
I know that it seems like the shock collar doesn’t hurt the dog, because when we test the collar out on ourselves, it might not feel so bad, but unfortunately it can be very painful and scary for dogs. In fact, if the shock is not painful or scary, it won’t work to teach your dog anything.Dogs need motivation to do the things we ask of them -- no different than us getting paid to go to work. We have choices as to how to motivate them: we can give or take away something the pup enjoys, or we can give or take away something he finds unpleasant, scary, or painful.
For example, we can give pups delicious chicken when we call them to us, to teach them that coming back to us is a REALLY good thing, or we can use a shock collar that hurts them until they come to us. One way or another, we have to give them a reason to come.Curious to see how a shock collar feels on people? Watch these videos:
#2 — “My trainer says that I should never use food to train my dog. She says I should only use praise so that he learns to respect me.”
It makes a lot of sense when you hear it, right? But the reality is that there is a lot of misinformation floating around about dogs. The sad truth is that trainers who make this claim are not being transparent. What’s motivating the dog to stop jumping or barking or to come to you is the fact that the dog is trying to keep from being hurt by the electric shock -- not the praise.
So we have a choice: we can give the dog something delicious like CHICKEN for doing what we ask, or we can hurt or scare him to do it. Chicken comes with the wonderful side effect of your dog loving you more for giving him something fantastic. Electric shock comes with the potential side effect of your dog becoming afraid of you, other people, and/or other animals and potentially biting someone.
#3 — “I don’t use the shock feature anymore. I only use the collar with the beep on now.”
If I pull out a gun, and I cock it, are you any less scared than if I fired it? If your dog does what you ask when he hears the beep, it means that he has learned that the beep predicts a painful shock, just like cocking the gun predicts a bullet hitting you. While the collar is no longer physically hurting the dog, it can still be scarring him emotionally.
#4 — “There is no other way I could walk my dog. He is too strong.”
Walking our dogs can be so frustrating -- and even scary -- sometimes. We’re asking these four-legged guys, who can be incredibly strong, to stick by our side and go at our pace, regardless of their natural gate or external factors such as a squirrel darting by or a dog park getting closer.
Old-school dog training methods used devices designed to cut off the dog’s air (i.e. choke collars) or hurt him (i.e. shock collars and prong collars) in order to teach him to walk politely. Thankfully, we have much better technology today that is designed to help dogs walk with a loose leash without hurting or scaring them.
Front-clip harnesses -- such as the Sense-sation Harness or the Freedom No Pull Harness -- clip in the front of the dog (as you may have guessed from the name), to allow physics to take over and teach the dog to slow down. If he pulls ahead of the person holding onto the leash, the dog ends up turned around in the opposite direction than he wanted to go. The good thing that he wanted (moving forward towards something) was taken away from him. In order to be able to keep heading to that good thing, the pup has to slow down his pace.
#5 — “The electric ‘fence’ will keep my dog safe and happy.”
First let’s talk about how electric fences work. The dog wears a shock collar which beeps to tell him he’s approaching a sensor wire buried underground. If he starts to cross over the wire line, he receives a shock to the neck to get him to move away. If he doesn’t find the shock annoying, painful, or scary, there’s no motivation to stop him from barreling through.
Must be more motivating
Shock collars only work to keep the dog on the lawn if the discomfort from the collar is more meaningful to him than the squirrel or bike or soccer ball or dog going by on the other side of the “fence.” Many dogs find the world outside of the containment system worth the pain they will endure to cross the line, and once they are off the property, they can run into traffic or encounter other animals who could hurt them. Sadly, when these dogs try to return, many fear the painful shock and can’t get back home.
People and other animals have free access
Because there is no physical barrier, people or other animals can freely come onto your property and harm your dog. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to read stories about other animals such as coyotes attacking pups who are outside alone, in a yard with an electronic containment system.
Dogs can become fearful of and aggressive towards passersby
With any aversive training device such as a shock collar, there is always a risk of “fallout behaviors” developing. Say your Border Collie, Marcus, is outside every afternoon when the kids next door play soccer on their lawn. Sometimes the ball rolls over to the edge of your property, and when Marcus chases after it, he gets shocked for attempting to cross the containment line. If the boys are right there to collect the ball when Marcus gets shocked, he could associate the pain with the kids and become fearful of children. And when dogs are scared, they use their sharp teeth and powerful jaws to defend themselves, so the odds increase that Marcus will bite a child.
Dogs can become afraid of sounds
Because the shock is preceded by a beep, dogs can develop a fear of similar sounds, which can make life in our highly techie world difficult for those pups and the people around them. The dogs might tuck tail and flee in terror every time an iPhone beeps, for example, or a certain frequency plays on the TV or radio. Sound phobias are extremely difficult for animals to overcome, often requiring assistance from a veterinary behaviorist and medication to help them cope.
Dogs can become afraid to go outside
Some dogs learn to associate the lawn with the pain from the shock and become too scared to go outside or step off the front porch. They were absolutely happy to trot out onto the yard to pee before the collar, but now they won’t step foot onto the grass.
To overcome this newfound fear, we use a process called “desensitization and counterconditioning,” which takes a great deal of time and patience to work. This issue can also become quite expensive, as most people need help from a qualified trainer or behavior consultant to do the training correctly.
Basically, we figure out what location the dog is comfortable starting at (maybe it’s inside the doorway that leads to the front yard, or it could be somewhere on the front steps), and then we give him a party of delicious foods at that spot. When he learns that that location predicts tasty treats, we move a little bit closer to the grass, but once again, only to a spot where he feels safe and comfortable. This is a simplification of the process, but it can, at least, give you an idea of why it takes time and patience -- and an advanced ability to read the dog’s body language -- to help a pup overcome fear.