What are the Pros and Cons of Shock Collars for Dogs?

brown dog with collar

Shock collars for dogs are both praised and condemned. Animal activists, and proponents of training based solely on positive reinforcement, frequently cite shock collars as a cruel and ineffective method of behavior modification. Many professional trainers — particularly those who work with retrievers, spaniels, and other bird-hunting dogs — tend to believe the collars cause little discomfort and greatly accelerate a dog’s learning curve. The collars are used for purposes ranging from containment to obedience, but reports on the success or failure of shock collars for dogs are largely anecdotal.

Shock collars for dogs are a key component of what is known as “invisible fencing.” The dog is fitted with a collar — bearing a small, metal stud — that rests against the dog’s neck. A wire buried around the perimeter of a yard or lawn receives a closed-loop radio signal from an electric base unit. If the dog ventures too close to the wire, it feels a vibration or hears a tone. It if ventures further, the dog receives a small shock.

Fans of invisible fencing claim this type of training teaches the dog to stay within boundaries. The rationale is that the small discomfort encountered during the learning process far surpasses the danger of a dog running away, being hit by a car, or becoming lost. The opposing argument takes the position that the pain is unnecessary, and that positive training or the installation of traditional fencing are the dog owner’s responsibility. Most reports indicate that shock collars and invisible fencing do work, but only to a degree. Some dogs become desensitized to the shock, while others respect property boundaries only while wearing the collar.

two dogs with collars

Anti-bark collars also have advocates and detractors. This type of shock collar for dogs operates on the same principle as the invisible fence collar; it delivers a mild shock whenever a dog barks. Dogs do sometimes cease barking via the negative association of pain, but more times than not barking resumes when the collar is removed. The efficacy of an anti-barking shock collar for dogs is in doubt, and detractors believe that conditioning via negative reinforcement might lead a dog toward fearful or aggressive behavior.

Hunting dogs — particularly dogs that retrieve birds — are frequently trained with remote collars. The purpose of these shock collars for dogs is primarily to teach the dog to return when called, to not destroy or consume a bird that has been shot, and to drop the bird at its master’s feet. The collars are controlled by a hand-held remote, are effective over a distance of hundreds of yards, and can be regulated to provide a greater or lesser voltage. A bird-hunting dog trained with a remote collar often exhibits a high degree of skill and obedience, and continues with the desired behavior after the collar is removed.

Trainers believe that shock collars for dogs are very effective in quickly training a dog used for such a specialized purpose. Most are in agreement that misuse teaches a dog to become aggressive or disobedient. Those who object to the use of remote collars tend to feel they cause the animal unreasonable pain. The main contention of people who denounce remote collars is that a retriever can be trained just as well, if not better, using traditional methods. Traditional training is slow, but it was used effectively up until the time remote collars were created.

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