While proponents will tell you that the shock from a shock collar is as gentle as a tap on the shoulder, others describe it more as a zap felt when inserting your finger in an electrical outlet. Who is right? Only Rover can give the answer to this "sizzling" debate.
The best way to determine if shock is really as harmless as a tap on the shoulder is to look at studies. Spared from the chance to express an opinion verbally, dogs speak volumes through body language. When 32 dogs received a total of 107 shocks, dogs exhibited clear vocal and non-vocal signals suggesting avoidance, pain and fear, according to a study conducted in 2003, by researchers Matthijs Schilder and Joanne van der Borg. Crouching, trembling, squealing, high-pitched yelps and lowered body position were just a few of the many signals observed. Even when there are no visible signs, there is always some damage with the use of shock, explains Karen Overall a veterinarian specializing in animal behavior.
There is no doubt about that fact that dogs learn through associative learning. When Rover sees his leash he is likely to get excited, when he hears you touching his bag of food he may start drooling, when he sees you grab the towel he may run to hide if he is scared of baths. In the same way, your dog may associate the delivery of shock with some other stimuli. There is some realistic danger for an unwanted association being made between the shock and some other coincidental stimuli, according to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Additionally, there are risks that a dog may develop intense fear and avoidance of the location where inappropriate levels of shock were delivered.
Shock collars also carry the potential for causing damaging consequences to the dog and owner bond. Interestingly, it appears that dogs that were shocked in the Matthijs Schilder and Joanne van der Borg experiment started associating the presence of their owner with the shocks, even when out of the training context. This suggests that shock has a prolonged effect even past the training session and negatively affects the way the dog relates to his owner. You want Rover to see you as a trusting, loving owner rather than an electric pole ready to unexpectedly deliver a sizzling correction.
In addition to the many risks and dangers of shock collars, shock collars also may malfunction. When this happens, the shock collar may cause electrical burns, leaving holes in the dog’s neck along with inevitable physical and emotional damage to the dog. A shock collar should never be left on an unsupervised dog and for no longer than the amount of time the manufacturing company recommends.
The primary reason why shock collars are effective is because they hurt. Don't be fooled by dog trainers using euphemisms, such as stimulation or tingle, to describe their effect on dogs, suggests Angelica Steinker, a professional dog trainer, behavior consultant and author. The problem when you train with pain is that there are risks for side effects. A dog that is being hurt may become dangerously aggressive and the bottom line is that shock causes stress. Shock collars also may be abused easily causing deleterious effects on dogs. Avoiding shock collar dangers is easy: simply prevent unwanted behaviors before they occur, and train Rover with kindness and respect so as to develop a better bond, which is a win-win situation for all.
- Applied Animal Behaviour Science; Training Dogs with the Help of the Shock Collar: Short and Long Term Behavioral Effects; Schilder, M., Van der Borg J.
- Joel Walton: An Open Letter From Dr Karen Overall Regarding the Use of Shock Collars.
- Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: The Use of Shock Collars and Their Impact on the Welfare of Dogs
- Dog Sport Magazine: The Problem with Shock [PDF]
- Boy And His Dog image by caraman from Fotolia.com