At Kingsbrook Animal Hospital in Frederick, MD, our staff is noticing an increase in the number of visiting dogs wearing shock collars. One of the most ubiquitous training devices found today, they are also known as training collars, electronic collars, or “e-collars.” Shock collars are marketed to well-meaning pet owners for training purposes including obedience, recall, and hunting, and to correct behaviors such as barking. Several high-profile board-and-train programs in Maryland use these collars. These programs guarantee their training results and promise to correct any future behavior issues, all via a shock collar.
Anyone who has ever received any sort of an electric shock, even a mild one, will state that it is unpleasant and uncomfortable–and most people do not care to repeat the experience. An electric shock is exactly what is happening to a dog wearing one of these collars! While most owners understand this, they defer to professional trainers regardless of their discomfort. More unfortunately, after spending hundreds or thousands of dollars, many feel trapped by their contracts and continue to forge ahead with additional lessons; after all, it is “guaranteed to work” and future sessions with the trainer are included in the package.
The most appealing premise of shock collars is that they result in a “quick fix” of the undesirable behavior. The truth is that shock collars do not eliminate behavior, they suppress it – there is a big difference. Behaviors that are suppressed are still there, and the things that cause them are still there too. For example, if a shivering person in a cold room puts on a coat, he or she will be warmer, but the real problem is that the thermostat is set too low. Likewise, a quick fix may not be the best idea for owner-canine bonding or a well-behaved dog in the years to come. Training with shock collars can have unintended consequences. Sensitive dogs may develop generalized anxiety and related behavioral problems, including self-mutilation and even aggression. Dogs wearing bark-triggered collars may become fearful of the front door or other places where they bark. “You end up trading a nuisance behavior — barking — for fear and anxiety, which is much harder to deal with,” says Jean Donaldson, a California-based dog trainer who opposes the collars’ use. Most dogs do not know why they are receiving a shock, and that uncertainty in itself can create even more anxiety. People from the Midwest can relate; anxiety levels persist long after the tornado sirens sound, whether the tornado touched down or not. Other problems that can arise include pain and stress, escalation of level of stimulation, generalization, and global suppression of behavior (“learned helplessness”).
Fortunately, there is a better way to train our beloved fur babies—positive reinforcement! This method of training uses rewards and helps build a relationship of love and trust between dog and owner. For further information on positive-based training, speak with one of our caring veterinarians here at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital. They have every dog’s best interests at heart!