Shock Collars – Is There Appropriate Use?

by Mary Haight on June 1, 2013

shock collarShock collars became a topic of conversation on FB last night — I shared a post on a dog collar that was touted as a GPS system complete with an android app. It looked well-designed, even sleek (not pictured here). I shared it. Long story short, Hilary Lane also shared it, and got notified on her business page that the company had a shock application built into the collars for obedience and invisible fence use. That fact was not apparent in the third party review.

There was some consternation and commenting on the marketing practices of this company when a Vet friend of mine, Jackie Imai, made a case for the use of shock collars as long as they were handled in an appropriate way, and related her experience, having tested them on herself first. Oddly enough, this is what I did back in the 80s when I believed such devices were legitimate training tools. My response ended up being 300 words, so I decided not to publish it there, but bring it here to see what your thoughts are:

I never bank on appropriate use.

First consider I come from the perspective of someone who has seen permanent damage people do to animals from misuse/abuse of training tools, often out of impatience and sometimes out of belief in strict obedience, sometimes out of cruelty – and I agree with you regarding the dangers of improper use of choke collars.

People as a group are not all that into taking the time and effort to figure out what is and what is not appropriate use. Yes, a pretty broad statement, but not unfair. Impatience is a real issue when these devices are in use, and punishment can be meted out for the slightest infraction. Regretting it later does nothing to heal the break in the human-animal bond.

Victoria Stilwell wrote that these collars are unnecessary and cruel, and while I used to think they were not so bad years ago, having done just what you did — shocked myself before putting it on my dog — as we have learned more about dogs’ intelligence and psychology thanks to scientists like Dr. Brian Hare, trainers like Ian Dunbar and clinical psychologists like Dr. Rise VanFleet, my thinking has changed.

Being shocked – well, think of it – you’re noodling along and suddenly out of nowhere, bam, this electric surge hits you. That’s confusing, spooky, and while dogs eventually understand they can’t go beyond the invisible fence without paying the price of pain, or need to stop barking to stop the pain, they still dash through the electrical field or bark when particularly distressed. What are they really learning?

The larger issue to me is how do you want your dog to respond to you, through fear of pain remembered for not responding as expected or through the joy of a cooperative partnership? The more we understand about our dogs’ psychology and the level of cooperation that can be consistently reached through positive training that respects the intelligence of the animal, the less these types of devices will be used — that’s my hope.

And speaking of larger issues and psychology – how are we making our choices? Are we simply taking the easy road, continuing to use and do what we have always used and done? Are we making conscious and conscientious decisions for our dogs given all the new knowledge in the field of dog behavior and training?

I think people will usually choose a short-cut like shock collars over proper training, seen as a longer process. (It’s ironic given that the shock collars will create a need for further training.) One process respects the dog’s ability to learn and his emotional state, while the other is a quick fix that works while the collar is on the dog. Do you disagree?

Real learning or a trick of electronics, what do you think? Have you changed your mind about this type of training method? Have you ever used it? What did your dog’s body language tell you?


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