There has been a drastic shift in the dog training industry due to extensive research in how dogs learn. Prominent researchers in canine behavior have found that dogs learn more effectively by being rewarded for a behavior as opposed to avoiding punishment. Many sensitive dogs and puppies have been psychologically harmed using the old style of training and many of end up in shelters such as the one where I volunteer. Only in the last 20 or so years has this shift in training philosophy changed.
Unfortunately, many dog trainers using the old style punishment based methods have stubbornly refused to adapt or educate themselves. They throw thunderbolts trying to discredit all the research that has taken place over the years. They feel that the only way to train a dog is to hurt a dog first and, many times, try to cover up that their method doesn’t actually hurt your dog.
One of those old style methods is the use of shock collars. I’ve done my own research going to various trainers’ websites who use shock collars throughout the country and, oddly, most of them say the same things. Here are a few things they tend to say:
Shock collars don’t hurt the dog and they let their clients try the collar on their hand to see what kind of pulse they feel.
But check out this link on YouTube that showing scenes of people having fun with a shock collar. One person has the controller and the other is wearing the shock collar. Warning: this is hard to watch. The person being shocked in each clip is physically buckling from the pain. They are able to laugh about it but the point is if this can physically make a 170 lb. man wince in pain, what can it do to your 60 lb. lab. You can’t laugh to your Lab and say, “ha, ha, just kidding.” Yes, there are settings on the collar and the majority of these people probably have it on the highest setting. However, the problem is, in the old style of training, for unwanted behavior and in order for a dog to fully comply with your commands, you must cause enough of a pain threshold to stop the unwanted behavior the first few times in order for it to be affective. Otherwise, the dog desensitizes to the pain and you have use an ever increasing pain threshold.
The shock also has to be timed perfectly or the dog could get the wrong message. For instance, you decide to call Rover while he is sniffing around and you say “come”. He ignores you. Then you get your remote to shock him but, at the instant you shock him, he starts coming towards you. Then the message will be “if I walk towards my owner, I will get this nasty shock.” Sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it? Here’s another example. Let’s say in the above example you shock your dog and at the same time a person in a wheel chair is passing . Rover could associate that pain with the wheelchair and, in the future, whenever he sees a wheelchair, he acts aggressively. In reward based training, timing is important, too, but if the owner mistimes the reward, the worse that will happen is the dog continues to do the unwanted behavior. The dog isn’t physically harmed and we can pause and try it again.
Shock collar trainers also say that they can’t use them on puppies 4 to 6 months of age or younger. Many of them revert back to reward based training for puppies of this age.
This is a good idea because this is the most impressionable time for a puppy. What the puppy experiences at this time in his life will most likely affect his entire social development. If the puppy is poorly socialized or experiences pain such as a shock collar during this time, these dogs can be adversely affected psychologically for the rest of their lives. My question is, if a trainer reverts back to reward based training; why not use that method all the time? There is proof that shock collars hurt and can break a dog’s spirit permanently. Reward based training works and is humane for a young puppy or more mature dogs
My advice is don’t fall for these guys who use these antiquated devices and don’t buy these devices without getting proper training yourself. If you insist on seeing a trainer who uses a shock collar, insist that you try it on your neck first on max power. If he refuses, you have your answer as to why you shouldn’t use one and that he is lying to you that it is not harmful. There now are many more reward based force free trainers now than ever before and there is a reason for that. Many old school trainers have re-educated themselves reflecting the new research. And now that the research is out, I would stop just short of saying shock collars are an example of animal cruelty.