Whether shock collars “work” or not is besides the point. First, despite the sales pitch and impressive demo you are given with their ‘demo dog’, an unexpected shock is never positive. A shock is always unpleasant, regardless of whether it is paired with a reward, especially when it comes unexpectedly. If I gave you a dollar every time you were surprised by an unexpected static shock, would the shock itself truly ever become pleasurable?

Second, humans make mistakes. Even the best trainer’s timing is not 100% perfect. Therefore, a responsible dog trainer gives owners and dogs the best teaching/learning tools that are the least likely to result in harm when inevitable mistakes are made. Experience and a wealth of scientific evidence tells me that shock collars, no matter how low the level of shock, do not fit that criteria.

I may never be able to convince anyone to toss a $200 shock collar in the trash. But perhaps I can convince them to ask their trainers the following questions:

1.”How do you respond to the following statements made by the Humane Society, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, and the UK’s Dept. of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs on the use of e-collars?”

The Humane Society: The least humane and most controversial use of the shock collar is as a training device. The trainer can administer a shock to a dog at a distance through a remote control. There is a greater chance for abuse (delivery of shocks as punishment) or misuse (poor timing of shocks). Your dog also may associate the painful shock with people or other experiences, leading to fearful or aggressive behavior. Human Society statement: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/dogs/tips/collars.html

AVSAB: Punishment (e.g.choke chains, pinch collars, and electronic collars) should not be used as a first-line or early-use treatment for behavior problems. This is due to the potential adverse effects which include but are not limited to: inhibition of learning, increased fear-related and aggressive behaviors, and injury to animals and people interacting with animals.
AVSAB statement: http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/Combined_Punishment_Statements.pdf

DEFRA: Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that the previous use of e-collars in training is associated with behavioural and physiological responses that are consistent with negative emotional states. It is therefore suggested that the use of e-collars in training pet dogs leads to a negative impact on welfare, at least in a proportion of animals trained using this technique.
Defra study: http://goo.gl/Rlfsqm

2. “In what way can you guarantee that my dog will not associate the shock to the wrong things or experiences?”

3. “In what way can you guarantee that I won’t make mistakes when using the collar? If I do make mistakes, what are the potential consequences?”

4. “If e-collars are not painful, and we are just using the shock as a “tap” or “ marker”, why don’t we use a collar that simply vibrates instead of sending an electric charge?”

5. “Why are we using shock collars in a basic obedience class, when the collar manufacturer says the dogs should already be experts?”

Sportdog Training Guide: You shouldn’t be pressing any of the remote transmitter’s buttons until your dog is 100 percent reliable on obedience drills. When you have to deliver a correction you do not want your dog trying to guess what you expect. Your dog should be performing these skills masterfully in the face of distractions. If you did your homework, your dog will have an excellent understanding of what you are asking while being able to process pressure at the same time.

6. “Do you recommend using an e-collar to teach a child how to behave/sit still? If not, why not?”

7. “May I put the e-collar around your neck and shock you at low settings when you are not expecting it?”

Hopefully, you will reconsider using a shock collar on your dog. It’s not too late to let your trainer know that you would rather he/she help you via alternate methods.

Working dog trainer extraordinaire Robert Milner (www.duckhillkennels.com) put it wonderfully: “We owe it to them (dogs) to learn the most effective and gentle ways to train them. We have a responsibility as their mentors to educate ourselves on how they learn and how to best train them…. the major benefit of positive training is that it’s three times easier for new trainers to learn.”