Torture or Training? Everything You Need to Know About Shock Collars

There’s a lot of myth and mayhem about using shock collars to train dogs. Here we narrow down the basics and discuss the pros and cons of shock collars.

What is a Shock Collar?

Also known as an electronic collar or e-collar, zap collar or remote training collar, shock collars were originally developed in the 1960s to be used as aversive training for hunting dogs. Presently, the shock collar has now evolved into a popular dog training tool that can be used to correct certain undesirable behaviors that your dogs may have developed. It also works great to train your puppies to stay within the boundaries of your property or to stay close to you without a leash.

Shock collars may be used for a variety of purposes and applications such as basic obedience training, digging, jumping, up, bolting, etc. Some shock collars are specially designed for sport or hunting purposes and military or police training.

However, the most common shock collars are designed for domestic use; with features easy enough for any pet owner to use for their own dogs. Despite many mixed opinions, many dog owners have discovered the effectivity of shock collar training.

How does a Shock Collar Work?

Essentially, shock collars deliver an uncomfortable electric shock to your dog for the purpose of curbing unwanted behavior. The intent is to let your dog associate the electric shock with bad behavior and for your dog to learn that once they perform the expected good behavior, the electric shock stops.

So, basically it’s this formula: bad behavior = zap, good behavior = no zap.

When used properly, shock collar training can produce fast, amazing results. That being said, dog owners must always follow the manufacturer’s instructions found on the box or manual in order for the shock collar to fit comfortably around the dog’s neck and for the electric shock to be delivered effectively without any pain. Variations in external stimuli such as the environment where you are training your dog can also factor into the effectivity of the shock collar. Your dog’s breed, temperament and overall personality in general may also affect the effectivity of the shock collar. Hunting dogs, for example, that are highly-aroused with the environment around him (sights, sounds, noises, smells, human commands) may have little or no reaction to a shock collar. If you are unsure about using a shock collar, there are many credible resources available online or you may consult your dog’s vet before using a shock collar.

Older shock collar models used to have high and fixed shock levels however recent innovations have introduced several levels of shock settings, from 0 – 100 (that’s mild to extreme) as well as several training modes such as a tone or vibration modes. It’s important to note that you can test the shock collar so you can feel firsthand what your dog feels. You may simply place it on your palm or anywhere against your skin and gradually set the shock levels to a sensation that feels comfortable for you. Whatever works for you should also work for your dog.

The electric shock is administered via remote control. Once it’s on “shock mode”, the trainer can simply press a button to administer the shock. Good shock collars feature wide distance coverages. This means that your dog can roam and explore freely and you will still have total control over their behavior. It’s also great to choose a shock collar that’s waterproof (some are even submersible). That way, you don’t need to worry about where you’re taking your dog so you won’t need to leave your poor little pooch at home when planning a trip to the beach.

Many shock collars do not deliver the shock directly but features a beep or vibration mode to “warn” the dog before the shock is actually administered. You may also give a verbal command with the beep (a tone that is beyond human range and only your dog can hear) or vibration and depending on your dog’s reaction; you may or may not administer the shock.

For example, you are teaching your dog to “sit” on command. Let’s say you have already been training your dog using a shock collar hence your dog is already familiar with the electric shock and has then been introduced to the warning vibration before the shock is administered. You can then say the command “sit” simultaneously with the warning vibration and your dog should already knows that he should follow this command since he is all too familiar with the slight zap or twinge of the electric shock that follows after the vibration if he doesn’t. Pro tip: Always remember to compliment your dog for a job well done with a firm, gentle “good job” or reward him with his favorite doggy treat to reinforce the positive behavior you are teaching.

What’s the controversy?

There are many scientific studies and general public opinion including those of animal welfare rights groups, vets and professional dog trainers that have mixed findings and reactions to the use of shock collars. Indeed, there are some countries that completely ban the use of shock collars. We can discuss all these one by one but your dog might already be wagging right now waiting for you take him out for a walk so let’s keep this part as brief as possible.

The controversy is that some have the opinion that using a shock collar is part-torture/part-punishment. However, many rescue organizations, police departments, competition trainers and search and rescue workers use shock collars due to its immediate effectivity. There are also scientific findings that conclude that shock collars may cause adverse psychological effects on dogs however other scientific research also conclude that the use of shock collars do not indicate any lasting physical harm. Furthermore, there are some professional dog trainers and their affiliated organizations that are completely against their use while a good number support it and highly recommend it.

The negative opinions might probably stem from the fact that the production and sale of shock collars are unregulated. Of course, good shock collar brands follow rigorous quality standards but there is really no single standard in terms of shock levels and additional features that manufacturer’s follow so no two shock collars (from different brands) are the same. Hence, some call for the control and regulation of shock collars.

Talk about mixed reactions, huh?

In the interest of fairness, we are simply going to say that:

  • Shock collars are not and never intended or designed for punishment or any sort of torture for animals. That is simply not condoned.
  • Shock collars must be used humanely and properly following manufacturer’s instructions. Test it well on yourself first by placing it on your palm and feeling the electric shock firsthand. If you notice any defects or if it’s not working properly, call the manufacturer immediately.
  • Furthermore, we believe in the power of research so before a dog owner considers using a shock collar, we advise that proper research and consultation should be done.
  • When the expected behavior has already been achieved by your dog, it’s also best to discontinue using the shock collar. This is to prevent any sort of lasting negative psychological reaction. We don’t want your dog to fear you but, instead, to respect and love you.
  • Most importantly, it’s good to note that you should buy shock collars that feature several different training levels. This is so you can properly find the setting that is most appropriate to your dog and to the kind of training you are trying to instill. Never go beyond a level that is considered to give just a slightly uncomfortable zap or twinge. Your dog should not be hurt or whimpering in pain when the shock is administered.

Pros and Cons of Using Shock Collars

Considering everything you’ve read so far, we’ve gathered the pros and cons of using a shock collar:

As always, good news first:

Pros –

  1. It’ an inexpensive solution to dog training.
  • Professional trainers’ fees can be quite hefty. Shock collars are an affordable alternative. The price range is between $25 and upwards to $200.
  1. Great for amateur trainers/first-time trainers.
  • You don’t need any extensive training background to use a shock collar, armed with proper research and of course, following the shock collar’s manufacturer’s instructions, you’re all set to train your dog.
  1. Great for home use.
  • Since most shock collars available in the market are designed for domestic use. No need to find a special training camp to use the shock collar.
  1. Immediate results.
  • Most dog owners that use the shock collar have reported that it only takes a few shocks to correct unwanted behavior. When the warning vibration is activated, the dog quickly learns and dog owners have reported that the warning vibration is sufficient enough, shocks are no longer needed.
  1. Adjustable/customizable settings.
  • Just as pro dog trainers use different tones of their voice to train dogs, the shock collar also has several adjustable settings so you can find one that works well with your dog.

And now, for the “bad news”.

Cons –

  1. Fear and Pain associated with the electric shock
  • As dog owners, we love our dogs and consider them to part of our family. Our love for them makes it unimaginable to administer any kind of pain, no matter how mild. Since shock collars are used for aversive training, even with the fact that you can adjust the shock intensity of the collar, it is still considered negative reinforcement. The dog’s fear of the electric shock may allow the dog to associate people, places or things with the shock collar. To instill this kind of deep fear is dangerous. That’s why we always recommend never using the shock collar for longer than intended. Furthermore, you can always incorporate a reward with the shock collar. So once your dog displays positive behavior, make sure to reward him with a cuddle, playtime, small treat or any form of affection.
  1. Over-correction when you are not physically present.
  • Some dog owners leave the shock collars while they are away. For example, in the case of bark control collars, to ensure that your dog’s bark won’t annoy your neighbors, leaving it on seems like a great idea while you are at work. However this might mean that shocks might be delivered unnecessarily and could quite possible confuse your dog and, as a result, the shocks will be ineffective. In this scenario, we recommend correcting the excessive barking with you around to control the situation instead of just allowing the collar to do the work on its own

The bottom line? The bond you share with your dog is the most important thing in the world.

As humans, we have our family, we have our friends. But to your dog, you are his world. Sure, he can socialize at the park with other dogs whenever possible but every day, his home is with you. Should he develop any bad behavior, that’s quite normal; even humans do that. But once they do develop bad behavior, it may quite possibly be a cry for help. He may be barking aggressively because you just adopted him and he misses his buddies at the shelter. In any case, what we’re saying, it could be any kind of scenario but whatever training tool you use, whether it’s a shock collar or something else, never forget that the purpose is the help your dog and never to hurt, to love instead of to fear.