More Evidence Against Using Shock Collars for Dog Training

dog with shock collar

Photo by: Tony Alter

Shock collars: A new study released shows that dogs that are trained with a shock collar exhibit telltale signs of stress that dogs trained without the use of a shock collar do not.

What is a Shock Collar?

Shock collars are collars that use an electrical current passing through metal contact points. The intent is to give the animal a shock to alert them when they are acting in an inappropriate way. The level of the shock can be anywhere from a mild tickling sensation to a painful jolt.

They are a form of operant conditioning (behavior that is learned or modified based on consequences) called positive punishment. The positive in this instance does not mean good or bad. Instead, it means adding a consequence after an observed behavior to reduce the frequency of the behavior (eg: the dog barks and a shock is delivered. The dog learns to associate the barking with the painful stimuli and as a result the behavior decreases). Other forms of operant conditioning include negative punishment, negative reinforcement, and positive reinforcement.

 

Results of the Study

smiling dog

Dogs trained without using shock collars were just as successful and less stressful! Photo by: B Rosen

The dogs in all groups experienced similar success/failure rates in teaching, but the dogs that were trained using a shock collar were more tense and exhibited more signs of stress.

  • 92% of owners reported improvements in their dog's referred behavior.
  • No significant difference in reported efficacy across Groups.
  • Group A (used shock collars) spent significantly more time tense, yawned more often, and engaged in less environmental interaction than Group C dogs (did not use shock collars).

 

Methodology

63 pet dogs were assigned to one of three Groups: Group A, Group B, and Group C.

  • Group A were trained by industry approved trainers using e-collars
  • Group B trained by the same trainers but without use of e-collars (Control)
  • Group C trained by members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, UK again without e-collar stimulation.

Each received two, 15 minute training sessions per day for 4–5 days. Saliva and urine were collected to assay for cortisol over the training period.

Link to study

Alternative Dog Training Methods

It's not about letting your dog get away with whatever they want! Using these methods is simply a way to communicate right and wrong to your dog without traumatizing them. Remember to capture the moment. If a reward or punishment is given long after a behavior has been shown, your dog will not understand what you are trying to tell them and you will not see an improvement in behavior.

Positive Reinforcement

With positive reinforcement, you are increasing the frequency of a behavior by providing a desired outcome (good behavior = attention & treats!) When you give your dog a treat after they've performed a new trick, you have just used positive reinforcement training.

Negative Punishment

Negative punishment is when you remove something desirable to reduce the frequency of a behavior (bad behavior = no attention or taking away a toy) . One example: if your dog barks at you, don't give them any attention. Try leaving the room and don't allow them to follow.

 

Citations: 

Cooper JJ, Cracknell N, Hardiman J, Wright H, Mills D (2014) The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training. PLoS ONE 9(9): e102722. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102722

EF Hiby, NJ RooneyJWS Bradshaw (2004). Animal Welfare - Vol. 13 - 2004 - pp. 63-69 - Universities Federation for Animal Welfare


Images:

Bella & Dottie Ann by Tony Alter and licensed under CC BY 2.0

Happy Puppy!  by B Rosen and licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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4 Responses

  1. Sharon S. says:

    Thanks for sharing this interesting study. Like you, I’m not a fan of e collars, but a dog training company in my city has made them very popular. This morning a couple in my neighborhood were outside with this company and their young dog learning how to use the collar. This company says the collar doesn’t shock a dog, but simply gets their attention so they will listen to commands. I prefer that my dog pays attention to me because of positive reinforcement.

    • Awwducational says:

      They should try getting them a little tired before attempting to train! Just playing or running around the house with them for a little bit can do wonders!

  2. Alix says:

    I saw you post this link over at BlogPaws. Great article. I will be sharing this! I do a lot of positive reinforcement training with my reactive dog, and even without having the studies to back it up, it horrifies me that people use shock collars or any other sort of punishment based training. It just doesn’t make sense. I thought maybe it was slowly starting to dwindle away, but sadly I’ve recently followed some trainers online from their start to creating their training business, and that is the type of training they purse.

    • Awwducational says:

      Glad to have you here Alix! That’s sad to know there are still people that refuse to adopt alternate training methods. It seems like a no brainer to me. All of the training/obedience with none of the bad side effects!

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