Dear Dog Owner,
Recently, we at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital have seen an increasing number of well-intentioned dog owners seek the help of trainers who use electric stimulation or “shock” collars to train their pets. While the response is often quick, we as veterinarians see many dogs that in the long run are adversely affected by this method. It is our position that there are better training methods available that can not only solve the problems at hand, but are also less likely to cause more problems down the road.
It is the position of Kingsbrook Animal Hospital (KAH) that effective animal training procedures lay the foundation for an animal’s healthy socialization and training and help prevent behavior problems. The general pet-owning public should be educated by organizations and associations to ensure pet animals live in nurturing and stable environments to better prevent behavior problems. In this effort, it is the position KAH that the use of electronic stimulation, or “shock” or “e-collars,” to train and/or modify the behavior of pet animals is not necessary for effective behavior modification or training and damaging to the animal. For the purposes of this statement, electronic stimulation devices include products often referred to as: e-collars, training collars, e-touch, stimulation, tingle, TENS unit collar, remote trainers.
Numerous countries have banned electronic stimulation devices, and KAH’s official position is that electronic stimulation can play no part of effective and ethical animal training. Studies and the experience of the doctors at KAH show that training and behavior problems are consistently and effectively solved without the use of electronic stimulation devices. Evidence indicates that rather than speeding the learning process, electronic stimulation devices slow the training process, add stress to the animal, and can result in both short-term and long-term psychological damage to animals.
Some common problems resulting from the use of electronic stimulation devices include, but are not limited to:
- Infliction of Stress and Pain
Even at the lowest setting, electronic stimulation devices present an unknown stimulus to pets which, when not paired with a positive stimulus, at best is neutral and at worst is frightening/painful to the animal. Pets learning to exhibit a behavior in order to escape or avoid fear or pain are, by definition, subjected to an aversive stimulus. Studies indicated that dogs trained with shock displayed stress signals as they approached the training area and frequently work slowly and deliberately. In many instances, electronic stimulation causes physiological pain and psychological stress to the animal, often exhibited by vocalization, urination, defecation, fleeing and complete shut-down. In extreme cases, electronic stimulation devices may burn animal tissue.
For behaviors to become reliable in random environments, they must be practiced in random environments (called “generalization”). When using an electronic stimulation device to train, this means the animal must be repeatedly subjected to electronic stimulation for the behavior to become reliable. To maintain the behavior, the pet will need to be subjected to the electronic stimulation on a periodic but random basis. Often, the behaviors never become reliable when the electronic stimulation device is not present because, as part of the cue system, it is missing when the animal is not subjected to it. Therefore, in addition to being an aversive stimulus, electronic stimulation collars are ineffective if not worn frequently or even constantly.
If results are not immediately realized, many users of electronic stimulation devices will increase the level of stimulation, which often results in the animal attempting to escape or avoid the stimulus and even total shut down where it will refuse to perform. This creates a counter-productive paradigm in which little learning can occur. Additionally, some animals are “stoic” and may fail to show a pain response despite increased levels of electronic stimulation. Other animals may become habituated to the pain and endure it, causing trainers to increase the level and frequency of electronic stimulation. The pain and stress caused in such situations has a significant effect on an animal’s physiology, increasing cortisol levels and heart rate.
- Global Suppression, or “Shut-Down”
An animal repeatedly subjected to electronic stimulation for several different behaviors may go into a state of “shut down,” or a global suppression of behavior. This is frequently mistaken for a “trained” animal, as the animal remains subdued and offers few or no behaviors. In reality, they are afraid to move. In extreme cases, animals may refuse to perform any behavior, called “learned helplessness” and isolate themselves to avoid incurring electronic stimulation. This is counter-productive to training new behaviors.
- Suppressed Aggression
The use of aversive stimuli is counter-indicated in animals with aggression because they suppress aggression and it may resurface at any time, without warning, generally in a more severe display (Hiby et al., 2004). Using electronic stimulation to reduce behaviors such as barking, lunging and growling may suppress behaviors that warn of a more serious imminent behavior such as biting. Without ritualized aggression behaviors, people and other animals will have no warning before the animal subjected to punishment feels forced to bite. It is KAH’s position that desensitization and counter-conditioning is the only ethical and effective paradigm in which to treat aggression in pet animals.
- Redirected Aggression
Animals subjected to repeated electronic stimulation may be respondently conditioned to associate the fear/pain of electronic stimulation with certain contextual cues in their environment. As an example, many dogs trained to honor the boundaries of an electronic boundary (also referred to an “underground” or “invisible” fence) will approach a stranger on the other side of the boundary and encounter the painful/frightening stimulus. Repeated instances of this will generalize to the dog fleeing or acting aggressively toward strangers on the other side of the fence in order to avoid the painful/frightening stimulus. Similarly, animals subjected to repeated electronic stimulation may act aggressively toward the nearest human or animal near them in attempt to escape/avoid pain/fear caused by electronic stimulation.
- Unintended Consequences
Electronic stimulation devices have not been studied in terms of health. There is currently insufficient data to determine whether prolonged use of electronic stimulation devices may pose a long-term health risk. However, there is clear data that electronic stimulation can cause burn injuries.
It is the position of the KAH that all training should be conducted in a manner in which to encourage animals to enjoy training and become more confident and well-adjusted pets.
We encourage the use of positive operant and respondent training methods, both personally and professionally.
Pat Miller, Whole Dog Journal, February 2006 Shock or Awe
Pat Miller, Simply Shocking in Whole Dog Journal 2/03
Polsky R. “Can Aggression in Dogs Be Elicited Through the Use of Electronic Pet Containment Systems?” Click here for the article.
Hiby, E.F.; Rooney, N.J.; Bradshaw, J.W.S. “Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare.” Click here for an abstract of the article.
Schalke E, Stichnoth J, Ott S and Jones-Baade R. “Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situations.” Click here for the article
Beerda, B. 1998 Behavioral, saliva cortisol, and heart rate responses to different types of stimuli in dogs. Click here for the article abstract
N.H. Azrin, H.B: Rubin, R.R: Hutchinson Biting Attack by Rats In Response To Aversive Shock. Click here for the article
Emily Blackwell, Rachel Casey The use of shock collars and their impact on the welfare of dogs: Click here for the article
Matthijs B.H. Schilder, Joanne A.M. van der Borg Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects Click here for the article
Kristy Englert, The use of Electric Shock Collars vs. Other Training Methods: Efficacy, Stress, and Welfare Concerns Click here for the article
David Ryan, Negative impacts of training dogs using an electric shock collar Click here for the article.
Thanks to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior for the above content.
Also, thanks and credit to Susan Nilson, Niki Tudge and Angelica Steinker of The Pet Professional Guild for which some content has been sourced.