A Dog's Perspective on Shock Collars Speaks Volumes, are We Listening?
Gentle Tap on the Shoulder or Painful Shock?
Shock collars: when it comes to their use, the world seems to be literally split in two. One one hand, there are trainers who readily approve and advocate their use, on the other hand, there are trainers who find them totally unethical and inhumane. The effect of this training tool is also quite conflicting; indeed, some trainers claim it to be gentle as a "tap on the shoulder", whereas, others say it is more like a zap, a sensation similar to inserting a finger into an electrical outlet. To make things even more complicated, some trainers sugar-coat the term and call it "tap technology, or remote or static stimulation training ", while others are more blunt and call it "shock training, electric collar training or zap collar training".
Who is right? Instead of hearing what different trainers say, we should listen instead to a dog's perspective, because only dogs can tell us as they are ultimately the ones subjected to it, but since dogs cannot talk, the only way to deduce their thoughts is by looking at their body language upon being "zapped" which should speak volumes.
Dog Trained With Clicker
Clicker Training From a Dog's Perspective
If dogs could talk what would they say about shock collars? Being spared from the gift of language, the only way to decipher their thoughts is by taking a look at their bodies. Dogs are masters in body language, and are capable of sending many messages towards those capable of effectively deciphering them. You can easily understand whether a dog is experiencing something pleasant or unpleasant by simply looking at its body. For instance, if you look at a dog in the process of being clicker trained, you will likely see the following:
- Happy tail wagging
- Eagerness to learn
- The offering of behaviors
- Bright eyes
- Lively expression
- Ears kept naturally
Dog Trained With Shock Collar
Shock Collar Training From a Dog's Perspective
When it comes to being trained with a shock collar, the picture is less rosy. According to a study conducted in 2003, by researchers Matthijs Schilder and Joanne van der Borg, 32 dogs receiving a total of 107 shocks demonstrated an immediate and direct effect by exhibiting vocal and non-vocal signals suggesting avoidance, pain and fear. Following are some of the effects observed.
- Lowered body position
- High-pitched yelps
- Tongue flicks
- Lowered Tail
- Turning head downwards or to the side in attempt to avoid the shock
- Moving away
- Sniffing the ground
- Lifting front paw
Interestingly, the study came to the conclusion that dogs that were shocked in the experiment had also learned to associate the presence of their owner (or his commands) with receiving shocks, even out of the training context.
The Bottom Line
Call it remote training, tap technology or static stimulation training, electronic collars are certainly not welcomed from a dog's perspective. Karen Overall, a veterinarian specializing in animal behavior, also claims that when shock is used, there is always some damage, even if it is not readily observed.
No dog owner really needs to use a shock collar to achieve his or her goals. Shock collars are used to deliver punishment for unwanted behaviors, and, as seen in the study, put a significant dent in the dog and owner relationship and bond. While this type of training may be effective, it can be counterproductive as it comes with the risk of lasting side effects, so why not focus on rewarding wanted behaviors instead, so to create a better and stronger bond with the dog?
A remote controlled dog that responds mechanically is better off kept as a toy; a real dog is whole different story. Choose to have a real dog that loves to be trained and loves being around you because great things happen when you work together! Forget about shock; rather, make your training rock by investing in a reward-based training system! Your dog will be thankful for it!
Schilder, M., Van der Borg J. 2004. Training dogs with the help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioral effects. Applied Animal Behavioral Science 85, 319-344
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To use shock as an effective dog training method you will need:
A thorough understanding of canine behavior.
A thorough understanding of learning theory.
And if you have those three things, you don't need a shock collar.— Dr. Ian Dunbar