On Shocking Our Dogs

Just because we can….doesn’t mean we should

I want to eat.  Actually, I need to eat in order to survive.  However, eating has become a battleground between my need for sustenance and my desire to avoid pain.  At each mouthful, I could taste food, or an electric shock could hit the side of my face like a hot, burning, lightning bolt, causing me to gasp and pull back.  But, often it doesn’t, in which case, I can take the next bite.   But do I want to take the next bite?  Need and pain fight each other.  The end result is that I eat very carefully, one bite of soft food gently following another.   I don’t snack and, while I can’t say I don’t enjoy my food (it still tastes good!) it comes at a price that is difficult to pay.   This, by the way, is what happens when you have Trigeminal Neuralgia, a fairly rare condition that was once called “the suicide disease.”

What does this have to do with dogs and dog training?  A lot, as it turns out.   Over the last decade or so, the use of shock collars (also called e-collars) has been on the rise.  No longer the purview of hunters and professionals, their price has come down and the general public has been buying them…and using them.  You see them on dogs being walked on sidewalks, on trails, and in dog parks.  You see them on aggressive dogs and unruly dogs.  They come with a page or a booklet of instructions (which a good many people probably don’t read), and that’s about it. 

After my latest bout with TN, I am more even firmly against them than before. 

Imagine you are a dog with a desire to sniff – you need to sniff, it’s in your nature.   Sometimes, you can sniff, but other times, when you are on your way to an attractive bush, you are hit by a painful electrical jolt on your neck.  You immediately stop in your tracks, and turn back to look at your trusted boss, who tells you that you are a “good dog” for coming back.  You trot back to him, and go on your way.   The next time you’d like a good sniff, you may think twice.  Or not.   It may take many repetitions for you to associate the shock with the sniff.  Even so, you still have this need to sniff!  Multiply this association by any number of behaviors, all natural, all not desired by humans, and all of which can be punished by unexpected, hot pain.  Puling on leash, not coming when called, eating stuff on the ground, jumping on counters, you name it.  

But what about the observation that when e-collars are used on dogs, the dogs still seem to be happy?  They still want to be with their owner, their tails still wag, and they still like to run around and play.  Doesn’t that prove that the collars are benign?  Well, there are studies that show that cortisol levels rise with their use, but I have another observation as well.   When you are hit by an electrical shock, it is finite.  When it ends, it ends.    You cannot remember the pain – you just remember that it was very painful – and you go about living your life as though you were pain-free. Which you are!   This is very different from having chronic pain, during which you are always reminded that it hurts.  I think chronic pain can make one more irritable, even aggressive.  Electric shock pain, on the other hand,  is acute, horrible, and then gone. 

However, after a shock, many of your behaviors are tentative, as you explore the possibility that they will cause pain.   In just the way that I am careful about talking, because I don’t know which movement of my mouth will cause pain (if you know how much I like to talk, you can imagine how punishing this is for me), a dog being taught to heel using a shock collar is afraid to go anywhere except where safety is proven – right beside the owner.  When he is there, he is praised, and his tail wags.

There are a few videos on You Tube in which men put shock collars on themselves and then roll around laughing when the shock hits, and they fall sidewise.   Maybe this is funny during the videoing, in a perverse sort of way, but what would happen if the shock collars were always on, and they could not predict when the pain would hit – when they took a swig of beer, or lit a cigarette, drove a car, or took a bite of food?  Eventually, they would be afraid to do anything.    They would be under control.   But we don’t do that to people – we do it to dogs, our pets, because we can and they love us anyway.  



I blogged about a similar thing this morning; "electric shock football" - it was quite enlightening, seeing people who didn't really know what why they were being shocked; definitely worth a look: https://pawsitivelytraining.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/on-electric-shock-c...

Because "Because I'm worth it" isn't an excuse. Not now. Not ever.

Growing up I had a horse and we used electric fencing to keep her in the field in lieu of barbed wire which was popular back then. One day I was riding her and my Dad handed her cornstalks over the fence to eat while she had her bridle on with the metal bit in her mouth (I know, dumb). She accidentally touched her bit to the electric fence and I'm sure by her reaction got the shock of her life. It was terrible. Forevermore she was leery of being fed cornstalks. This is a lesson of how animals associate negative force in unforeseen ways.

Folks the collars can and are used at LEVELS THAT DO NOT HURT.  Which is why their tail continues to wag and they are happy and not afraid to play (and continue to take treats).

I don't care whether other trainers use them or not, especially if they are not going to become knowledgable about them.   But making up bogus explanations that don't make sense, does not change the facts.  

My dogs don't "forget" experiences no matter how short lived.  A tool can be used humanely, effectively, consistently, and fairly without being "horrible".  

I think there is too much room for error for people who think just because the collars are sold on the open market they are benign. I personally know of three horror stories, two of which happened to friends of mine, where one dog was hit by a car and killed chasing a deer out of its e-fence, one owner forgot to take the collar off when a mobile dog daycare person picked it up and when they drove off with the dog it shocked it so severely it was screaming and defacating all over the car and now refuses to get in the car with the daycare person, and another story I read where there was an electrical storm and the owners had left their dog in the outside kennel with the collar turned on and it fried its neck. For these reasons alone, I don't believe e-collars should be so accessible to the general public and advertised as a method to "train" (?) out bad behaviors.

Pit-mix mom, so in the dog chasing deer, clearly the dog was never trained to not go into prey drive, or was simply unsupervised by their owner.   Sounds like the same thing would have happened with this dog/owner team with or without the e-fence.   Second story, apparently they needed to screen out their mobile dog daycare person.   Any number of things can happen when handing your dog off to someone so unqualified.

As to the third, sounds like the dog was hit by lightening?   The properties of two AA batteries don't change into lethal weapons during an electronic storm.   Now if the people did not know any better than to take their dogs out of the rain, put the collars on so they wouldn't rub, and never leave them on a wet neck because the rubbing gets worse that way, again any number of non-e-fence related things could have happened.  owners that did not seem to make the greatest decisions for their dogs.

As you know of course, remote collars are quite difference than e-fence collars.   E-fences are designed so that the dog never wants to experience that sensation again, modern remote collars are designed to work differently.

You are actually illustrating my point exactly: The majority of the public and dog owners are not qualified to use e-collars and mistakenly believe they will keep their dogs safe whether the owner is around or not, believe they are a magic training tool, or prevent bad behaviors. There are reams of studies and stories from trainers, scientists and behaviorists that lead me to believe e-collars and/or remote collars have a great potential for misuse, whether intended or unintended. As to the dog daycare person, the owner was the one who left the collar on the dog, not the daycare person. The owner's response to the incident: "Oh, well, he lived through it, didn't he?" In other words, no skin off my neck, so no big deal.

I am one of those people you mentioned whose dog "was never trained to not go into prey drive." My 2 yr. old pit-pointer chased a deer on an off-leash hike and was hit by a car. Believe me, if I could have shocked him at the time and dropped him I would have IF I believed in shock collars. He came out of the incident with a gash on the head. Still, I will never resort to a collar--he is simply not allowed off-leash anywhere within at least a mile of a road now and we are working on recall methods. At any one time we can have up to 5 deer browsing in our front yard in a fairly residential area next to a large park where deer, coyotes, raccoons, bunnies and squirrels live, most of which hang out in our yard at times. It drives the dogs nuts, so it is proving to be a hard thing to train out. But I'm not willing (or experienced) to resort to a shock collar.

Here's a link for you to explore that will illustrate the reason behind my stance: http://www.hollysden.com/say-no-to-shock-collars.htmQuote: "Shock is not training - in the vast majority of cases it meets the criteria for abuse" says Dr. Karen Overall.

Here's the link to Pat Miller's poor Lab story. I guess it wasn't an electrical storm but simply a rainstorm, the collar got wet, malfunctioned and the dog got electrical and/or chemical burns. http://www.kerryblues.info/WDJ/SHOCKING.HTML

Trish King

To me, there is a big difference between shock collars, invisible fences and hot wires.   It has to do with predictability.  Dogs can learn that approaching the latter two is dangerous, and thus they learn to avoid pain by avoiding the area where the pain is located.  This is very different than having an unexpected shock when they are doing something that has had no association in the past.  A very good dog trainer who has already taught appropriate behaviors and then uses the shock as punishment for disobedience can get good results (I still don't like it, nor would I use it, any more than I would use corporal punishment on a child). However, most people don't have a clue, they use it in anger, and they can cause major physical and psychological distress.  

Pain is pain.   If one is using a vibrating collar, that is not pain, so it's not relevant here.  If the dog cries, shakes her head or grunts, she is feeling pain.  And knowing that pain can happen but knowing when or where makes it so much worse..


The working level on an e-collar does not "cries, shakes her head or grunts".   The modern electronic collars are designed so they can be used as a marker much like the clicker.  When I use a verbal "no" it is used in the same way that a working stim is used.  

Punishment is not used in obedience training per my definition.   This continues to be the misunderstand of the use of the e-collar.   You could follow a trainer like Martin Deeley for instance, and see this type of method used with an e-collar (working communication not punishment).


The working level on an e-collar does not "cries, shakes her head or grunts".   The modern electronic collars are designed so they can be used as a marker much like the clicker.  When I use a verbal "no" it is used in the same way that a working stim is used.  

Punishment is not used in obedience training per my definition.   This continues to be the misunderstand of the use of the e-collar.   You could follow a trainer like Martin Deeley for instance, and see this type of method used with an e-collar (working communication not punishment).


The working level on an e-collar does not "cries, shakes her head or grunts".   The modern electronic collars are designed so they can be used as a marker much like the clicker.  When I use a verbal "no" it is used in the same way that a working stim is used.  

Punishment is not used in obedience training per my definition.   This continues to be the misunderstand of the use of the e-collar.   You could follow a trainer like Martin Deeley for instance, and see this type of method used with an e-collar (working communication not punishment).

The working level on the e-collar does not produce pain.   If you want to follow a trainer that trains at a working level, all you need to do is follow Martin Deeley for instance.

These web site links are old news and have been discussed to death on many boards, and maybe even on this board before.  Regarding the story on the kerryblue.com, it says:

"Meanwhile, Rufus was confined to his pen, wearing his collar, while the family was gone all day. One rainy day afternoon that week, upon arriving home, Darren Ashby, an electronic engineer, sent his oldest son out to the pen to take Rufus for a walk. The boy came back in and said Rufus wouldn’t let the boy get near him. Dad went out to help, and was horrified by what he found. “What I saw made me sick,” says Ashby. “Rufus had this sickly green color around his neck, under the training collar. There was this nasty wet/burnt hair and flesh smell. Something was obviously wrong. I carefully removed the collar to find a huge gaping hole in Rufus’ neck, right under one of the training collar prongs.”"

This is what happens when the collar rubs, and it sounds like they (in their laziness) did not take it off.   Rain especially dampens the fur, which loosens the collar, and then those nodes rub the skin that is now becoming softened due to the damp.   In any case, an infection like they are describing can NOT happen in one day.   Sounds like a family just as likely to allow a martingale to become imbedded in their dogs necks.

Also if left on too long (like a watch or other things we put on ourselves), it can create an itchy spot on the dog.   The dog itches the collar, the nodes rub back and forth.  Glad this family is not using this anymore, but it sounds like that dog could use a more thoughtful and caring home in general.

Not to mention, why would you leave it on in the pen? 

It's too easy for laypeople to purchase the collars and misuse them to the detriment of their dog. IMO, the companies that manufacture the collars do not give the appropriate amount of training to the human. As you know, you can order them over the Internet. An acquaitance with a rambunctious Doberman bought one online. He actually put it on his neck and shocked himself at the highest setting. He said it floored him. Dumb, huh? I met another guy who was using it at the dog park.

Anyway, you correctly point out that dog owners do dumb things with the collars like leave them on the dog when they shouldn't. That's why unless you're a very experienced trainer, I don't think these collars should be so accessible.

And regardless of whether my links are "old news," that doesn't change my opinion. I was backing up how my opinion was formed along with personal anecdotes, which all lead me to stick to my opinion. The only time I considered a collar was when I almost adopted a deaf pit bull and was concerned because I do a lot of wilderness hiking/mushroom hunting. I was worried the dog would get lost. A CPDT who owns a dog daycare and evaluates dogs for our humane society mentioned that the vibration collar might be something to consider. Instead, I decided that it wasn't worth the risk of losing a deaf dog in the wilderness and adopted another dog. My friends who were fostering the deaf dog kept her, so it was all good in the end.

Off for the holidays. Have a good one everyone!

Great story Trish but those who use them will continue to justify thier use. and those that don't choose another way.

I really liked Sammi's link tho I wish I understood the commentators. HHHMMM FRUSTRATING not knowing what is being marked. Interesting to see the level of joy and fun from the guys with the control and the level or frustration and confusion from the ones wearing the collors. Does it remind you of dogs and trainers. Anyone who thinks their isn't that same level of frustration in the dog and excitement in the handler hasn't really watched. Science has proven this over and over in studys.Not just with dogs and rats but humans. I wish we could make a law that anyone using a shock collar must start by using it on each other. Like the clicker game we play when learning how to use a clicker effectively and efficiently, learning timing and marking approximations.No words are spoken, a behavior is chosen and the person playing the dog has to figure out the behavior with clicks and treats for moving toward the right behavior or in the case of shock collars punish the wrong behavior.Does that sound like fun e collar users?

If you hover over the vidoe, in the bar along the bottom there is a "CC" button, click that & it will turn on English subtitles, thouhg as far as the commentators saying what they're marking, it's mostly a case of "I didn't like that!", "don't do that!" etc


Because "Because I'm worth it" isn't an excuse. Not now. Not ever.

Thanks Sammi, just another example of people not setting out with a clear criteria.

At a recent conference I attended a demo on the use of e collars, just for insight. I would love to play that football game with several of the people that attended and ONLY train with e collars. I would of course be fair and have clear criteria.

Stshack, you highlighted ONLY with the e-collar.   I am not sure what the point of that would be.  I don't train with ONLY anything.   I use my voice, body language, positioning, rewards, corrections, leashes, collars, not leashes, not collars, distractions, non distractions in order to train my dogs no matter what equipment is used.

I think that statement shows a fundamental lack of understanding about dog training in general.

Regarding the video, I don't know one trainer that delivers a stim after the fact of something or to say I don't like that.   Some people who do not understand dog training might do that, but that is simply not a dog training method that conveys information and learning that I am aware of.

In general a "don't do that command", cue, or signal is too vague in the first place to properly guide most.   After the fact is certaintly an opportunity lost as most dog trainers would kno no matter what the method.   The fact that this is not caught by any dog trainer no matter what method they use concerns me.

I attended a conference where the makers of e-collars brought in an "expert" to prove that using these collars is a viable training option. He demonstrated that his dog would sit, heel and come all with the aid of the collar. He first showed us that his dog would sit by pulling up on the leash and pushing on his rear. Then he showed us that his dog would sit by using the collar. He never once just said the word, "sit." My question is, if a dog can sit, why don't you just teach him the word? What is the point of the collar? Are you not confident enough in the sound of your own voice?


Since dogs do not understand Engish, before the verbal cues can be understood training (or teaching) needs to occur.   Do you think clicker trainers or treat trainers are not confident in their own voice?

Just other tools that are used in training, before they no longer need to be used.   They no longer need to be used if the training is consistent, and then consistently maintained...however their are safety factors involved, and dogs are no more perfect than you are.   I am sure that you have accidentally stepped into a street without looking or daydreaming for instance.

These are basic concepts in dog training.

Sadoop, you are of course welcome to use any training tool you wish. Many of us dislike e-collars because of the principle by which they operate. You can argue how much they hurt, how quickly the dog forgets, etc, however there is no arguing the fact that they are P+. That is the basis for their efficacy. If the dog did not want to avoid the shock the collar would not be effective. The dog clearly does not forget that the shock is unpleasant, else a change in behavior would not take place. It's that simple.

How unpleasant it is for any individual dog is certainly up for debate but folks like myself don't care. I don't like them nor the princple behind them. There are other, less unpleasant ways to train dogs. And of course because they do operate on the fact that they are unpleasant, when misused or abused they can do a lot of damage. Misuse a clicker and you get a dog that might be fat and unruly but probably still happy. Misuse a shock collar and you could end up with something a whole lot worse. 

As for a "don't do that" cue, I prefer what we call a "pleasant interrupter". It's a "do something else" cue (generally, look at me) which has proven quite effective.

That's some line of logic there. Gynocology exams don't hurt, but they're intensily uncomfortable. Again, no pain but highly aversive. But since they don't hurt, I must be happy when I'm going through one and even look forward to them? I'd rather take the pain of a blood draw any day.

Shock collars work because they cause discomfort and pain. If they didn't, then they wouldn't work. They wouldn't suppress behaviors and non-compliance. Dogs work to avoid the shocks. 

I want to eat.  Actually, I need to eat in order to survive.  However, eating has become a battleground between my need for sustenance and my desire to avoid pai


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