Are Dog Shock Collars Harmful? The Dangers of E-Collar Training
What Are the Best Dog Shock Collars?
This is a trick question. The word "best" and "shock collars" should not be associated with each other. Maybe you would want to search "safest," "most reliable," "least dangerous," but in reality, if you are resorting to a shock collar for use on your dog, you might need to do some reevaluating. These collars are often referred to as:
- shock collars
- remote training collars
- training collars
- electric anti-bark collars
- electronic collars
- bark collars
What Are They Used For?
I do want to make a distinction here—for people who have large property, open land, and livestock, you may need methods for deterring your dog from running off, getting trampled, disappearing off your property, or chasing wildlife. But unfortunately, electronic fences can create barrier aggression. I am inexperienced with alternatives in that area having grown up in suburbia, but I have provided some alternatives below. If you have knowledge on how to contain a dog on big property humanely, please share!
Today, shock collars are used for:
- obedience training
- behavior modification
- service dog training
“To use shock as an effective dog training method you will need: A thorough understanding of canine behavior. A thorough understanding of learning theory. Impeccable timing. And if you have those three things, you don’t need a shock collar.“— Dr. Ian Dunbar, DVM
Are Shock Collars Inhumane?
Yes, they are. Here's an image of an injury from a misused collar. If you would not want to wear a collar for correcting your bad behaviors, then you can certainly rationalize that electronic collars are inhumane. If you are having that much trouble training your dog you either:
- Have not worked with the right trainer or employed the correct techniques
- Are not suited to care for the complexities of your dog
- Have your dog in the wrong environment
- Need a second opinion
- Should rehome your dog to an experienced owner
Do Shock Collars Hurt a Dog?
Yes. These collars are considered an aversive training technique and they were widely used in the 1960s on hunting dogs. While some view training collars as a deterrent, they can actually increase behaviors like food aggression or excessive barking.
Electronic collars are a form of punishment, and not a gentle one. Approved training collars can malfunction, and any claims that such collars will not harm the dog are unreliable. There have been plenty of cases of dogs receiving electrical burns through their fur. Scarier yet, you won't be aware of these electrical burns until the injury finally appears–the fur does a good job of masking it!
How Do They Work?
Most collars give a preemptive "beep" before firing. This is often used in conjunction with verbal commands, or the beep will sound as the dog is approaching the underground electric fence wire. Many of these collars:
- have adjustable intensity
- work whether the owner is home or not
- range from 30 dollars to over 350
- work between 30 too 400 yards
Electronic collars are often set to "mildly uncomfortable" levels and are often said to deliver "static shock" but in reality, these collars deliver alternating current upon contact with skin. Humidity and coat density affects how seriously the dog feels the shock. This means that the sensation being felt by an individual dog cannot be accurately reflected in studies or product analyses. Dogs have different skin, coat types, and pain tolerances, and live in different climates.
Even the best training collars can malfunction and cause severe electrical burns. Such injuries can be physical and psychologically damaging.
Reports of Severe Burns and Injuries
Dating as far back as 1980, the US Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) put a halt to the certain manufacturing of a bark collar. Such data reports:
"Complaints received, which were later corroborated by our own testing, included severe burns in the collar area and possible personality adjustment injuries to the dogs. The shocking mechanism was found to be activated not only by barking but by vehicle horns, slamming doors or any other loud noise."
Currently, electronic collars are not regulated and there are no set standards for evaluation. Patenting, too, varies between manufacturers.
Do Shock Collars Work?
Certified trainers of contemporary times will tell you that not only are electronic collars unnecessary, they are harmful and have negative impacts on your dog's behavior and temperament. Some trainers argue for "fair use" meaning, not abusing the use of electronic collar, but using it only in appropriate circumstances—this includes regular schedules for training and established desired outcomes. Better behavior modification systems have been developed.
To use shock collars correctly, however, takes great understanding about effectiveness and requires minimal delivery. Very few people are able to achieve this desired effect, and it is certainly not for the average dog owner.
Bans in Various Countries
- Australia (some territory)
- New South Wales
- Southern Australia
Video: Humans Test a Dog Shock Collar
A Humane Alternative
POP VIEW makes a great anti-back collar that DOES NOT USE SHOCK, rather, it uses sound and vibration to correct behavior. I've used this successfully on my dog when he is out in the back yard and gets triggered by our neighboring dogs along the fence. Show compassion and consider this alternative.
Alternatives to Electric Collars
- Ultrasonic bark controllers: A humane way to control your dog's undesirable behavior. Most products have a 50 foot spread. It is unobtrusive and not physically punishing.
- Citrus spray collar (citronella, orange): This is a more human alternative for barking dogs or dogs exhibiting bad behavior. We actually used one of these on our dog (20 years ago!) because she was quite territorial and defensive in the morning (and loud). It's not a solution but it is a great alternative. It's the lesser evil, if you will.
- Dog whistle: Some breeds just simply need training. Some dogs have excellent recall and can be trained with a whistle—much like those that are used with herding breeds and for herding commands. They are cheap and fairly effective. Just be sure to read up on training methods.
- Adaptil: Anxious dogs may benefit from Adaptil—this is a mothering canine pheromone that is excreted during the nursing days, so it is especially soothing for anxious dogs.
- A good trainer: A good trainer goes a long way. Positive reinforcement is the best method for coaching dogs out of undesirable behaviors. If you haven't worked with a trainer to address the ongoing issues, this is where you need to start.
- Fencing: Maybe it's time to bite the bullet and just go ahead and put fencing on your property.
Video: An Owner With a Deeper Understanding of Use
Safety and Precautions for Current Users
If you are currently using an electric collar on your dog, please consult a professional behaviorist for alternatives and abide by these safety tips:
- Do not leave the collar on for long durations
- Reposition the collar frequently (every hour or so)
- Make sure the collars is fitted appropriately and not causing excessive pressure
- Leads should not be used with these collars
- Practice good hygiene over the neck area and prongs of the device
- Check for sores and rashes frequently; if found, stop use immediately and take your dog to a veterinarian for treatment
When considering whether or not shock collar use is worth it, ask yourself, would you want to be corrected with a shock collar? No. There has to be a better solution. If you've found a better solution, please share in the comments below!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2019 Layne Holmes