Why I don't think shock collars are animal abuse
This is the secret that almost all small dog owners share but refuse to discuss in mixed company: We use shock collars. We use them often. We use them to keep our yappy dogs from barking incessantly.
As a small dog owner for close to 10 years, I know the argument well: How would you like it if you received an electric shock every time you did something that came natural to you? The answer is: I probably wouldn't like it at all. But I might stop repeating that same behavior after receiving a few low-voltage zaps.
More: Training a difficult dog
Purchasing shock collars for our two barky Chihuahuas wasn't a decision my husband and I came to lightly. For one, there's the stigma. Many pet owners view electric shock collars as tools of animal abuse and aren't afraid to tell you as much when they see your dog (silently) wearing one when they come to your house. There's also the price. Our shock collars were high-dollar because they were advertised as "safe" — intended to provide an effective, correctional shock with the lowest amount of voltage necessary (with an automatic shut-off feature to protect particularly loud dogs from being shocked too much).
We only considered shock collars after we had tried everything: clicker training, dog whispering, spray bottles, crate training, treats. Nothing worked. Our dogs still verbally assaulted any new guest we brought around the house and absolutely lost it every time the UPS man rang the doorbell (which happened almost daily since we're addicted to Amazon Prime) — until we started using shock collars.
The pros of shock collars
For most of us frustrated dog owners, shock collars are a last resort. We're not buying shock collars for the fun of it — we're buying them when we're at the end of our rope. Elaine Pendell, M.Ed., CPT, of Carolina Dog Training says that considering the fact that behavioral problems are the number one reason pets are given to shelters, shock collars (or remote collars) have a purpose when used appropriately. "The truth is, these training tools are constructed with micro amperage and don't have the capacity to shock like an electrical outlet. Rather, the remote training collar is an effective, safe communication tool that teaches a dog to develop self-control and a solid sense of teamwork," she wrote on her website.
Advocates argue that shock collars are just a training tool like any other — which can easily be used for abuse when placed in the wrong hands, like a stick or a choke chain could. But as much as shock collars have been villainized because of irresponsible use, they do have some advantages when used correctly and appropriately.
Ann King, certified trainer at The Local Bark, says that while remote collars have their pros and cons, some of the benefits include the opportunity for remote communication with a dog, coupled with positive association; the ability to offer subtle feedback without using voice commands that could excite or anger a dog; and training with varying levels of stimulation thanks to more sophisticated, modern shock-collar technology.
King explains, "The dog training industry is divided like no other when it comes to the tools of the trade. Shock collars definitely top the list of controversial tools. Most reasonable trainers — I realize that 'reasonable' is a relative term — acknowledge that tools are just tools: It all depends on how you use them. A regular 6-foot leash in the wrong hands can be used to severely abuse a dog. Many of the trainers who vigorously decry the use of electronic collars have never actually tested them on themselves. I can say from firsthand experience that the 'shock' doesn't feel anything like being electrocuted. All that you experience is a muscle contraction, similar to those produced by the electrical stimulation treatments (TENS) used to treat muscle and joint pain."
"The collars do not cause any pain at all," says King. She recommends E-Collar Technologies as a safe remote collar choice.
The cons of shock collars
It doesn't take much digging to find an animal care expert who disagrees with shock collar use. By now, we clearly understand the "dogged" debate. Many trainers view shock collars, even used as a last resort, as completely unnecessary. Even King concedes that there are shock collar drawbacks — like using a shock collar as a punishment tool that reinforces negative feedback without properly learning how to train a dog.
Dana Fedman, CPDT-KA, of Des Moines' Pupstart Family Dog Training explains, "I have been training other people's pet dogs and resolving behavior problems for over 15 years. I train dogs of all breeds, ages and personalities. Way back when we all were still pulling, pushing and 'popping' dogs with leashes connected to metal chain and spike collars, I knew there had to be a better way. Nowadays, there's a plethora of better ways. Not one of these ways requires a 'nic,' 'a static tingle,' 'a zap' or 'just a tap on the shoulder' with an electronic collar."
"Are they cruel? They can easily be used that way, too easily in my opinion. Are they necessary? Absolutely not. Are they desirable? In my opinion, no." Fedman adds, "They can cause additional problems. They often worsen the very problems people use them for, even when following the manufacturer's directions."
As hot as the shock collar topic may be, this is the kind of decision every dog owner needs to make for themselves. If you're anything like me, you've done your research, you've tried other training methods and you feel comfortable in your ability to use a shock collar safely and responsibly before you even think about ordering one on Amazon.
Remember, a shock collar is a dog training tool like any other that can be used cruelly when placed in the wrong hands. But not every pet owner who uses a shock collar is an abuser. As King points out, it's this close-minded point of view that continues to pit one dog owner against another. She says, "The stigma of the tool prevents uneducated owners from even investigating it. 'Shaming' from certain sectors in our industry discourages many people from evaluating the tool objectively."