Are Shock Collars Bad For Dogs?

Filed in Dog Health on April 6, 2022

Are Shock Collars Bad For Dogs

Although many dog trainers use positive reinforcement training, there are still many that use techniques involving punishment, such as shock collars.

These trainers may also recommend that you use these techniques on your dog.

But are shock collars bad for dogs? This blog post will help to answer that question by providing real studies researching this issue.

What are Shock Collars?

Shock collars are also known as electronic collars or e-collars. Typically, they fit onto a dog’s neck and deliver stimulus through two or four prongs that push against the dog’s skin.

Most shock collars deliver a range of shock from very mild to quite sharp. Usually, they can also beep or make another tone and deliver vibrations.

Shock collars may be controlled by the handler by the use of a remote. This is typically the case when shock collars are used directly for training, such as for recall training or as a hands-off aversive training technique.

They may also be automatically triggered when a dog gets too close to a barrier, such as with electronic fences, or when a dog barks, such as with bark collars.

Are Shock Collars Bad for Dogs?

dog shock collar

Shock Collars Increase Stress Levels for Dogs

A study measured cortisol released in saliva and urine in dogs trained with an electronic collar. Training sessions were also recorded so that behavior could be analyzed.

When the electronic stimulation was applied, negative changes were noted in the dog’s behavior. Some of the behavioral cues were more frequent yawning and less interaction with the environment.

Cortisol was elevated after the application of a shock. These negative behavioral cues and elevated cortisol were not found in dogs being trained by other techniques not involving a shock collar.

This study seems to indicate that dogs being trained with a shock collar are more stressed than dogs trained without one.

Shock Collars Cause Dogs to View Their Handlers Negatively

Anecdotally, it has often been believed that training dogs with negative reinforcement, including shock collars, may cause dogs to have a negative perception of their handlers. In fact, a study found just that.

Dogs bred to be guard dogs with low pain sensitivity found that when dogs were trained with shock collars they experienced elevated stress in the long-term and viewed their handlers as aversive even when they weren’t being trained.

This seems to indicate that training with shock collars can result in long-term negative impacts on the relationship between dog and handler.

Shock Collars Can Cause Physical Harm

When shock collars are used extensively they can result in injury to the neck, even burns to the skin where the prongs that deliver the shock make contact with the skin.

If the collar is fit too tightly or left on too long, such as in the case of invisible fences or bark control collars, the prongs can also dig into the skin, resulting in painful lesions that are prone to infection.

There are also many reports of shock collars resulting in heart conditions, seizures, gastrointestinal disorders, and other issues.

It isn’t clear whether these conditions are caused directly because of the shock or whether they are caused by the chronic stress and anxiety created in a dog that is regularly trained with a shock collar.

Are Shock Collars Effective?

dog shock collar

In a study on 63 dogs known to have poor recall, dogs were randomly assigned to three groups and received up to 150 minutes of training over the course of five days.

One group received training with an electronic collar, another group received training without an electronic collar by trainers who otherwise use electronic collars, and the third group relied on positive reinforcement training from trainers who typically train with positive reinforcement.

Data was collected for the commands “come” and “sit”. The group using positive reinforcement achieved significantly better responses for both commands.

Furthermore, dogs responses were quicker than the group using e-collars. This study found that positive reinforcement training is more effective than training with an e-collar.

Another study distributed questionnaires to 364 owners. The study also asked owners whether they punished dogs or used positive reinforcement and whether their dogs displayed any of 16 common problem behaviors.

The number of problems reported correlated with the number of tasks for which the dogs were trained using punishment. This was not true of dogs trained with positive reinforcement.

These results may indicate that problematic behaviors are caused by the anxiety dogs experience when they are trained using punishment like shock collars.

Using shock collars may actually result in more, not fewer problem behaviors in your dog.

Of owners in England who reported using electronic training devices such as shock collars or reward-based training, more owners of the reward-based methods reported that their training techniques were more successful than those who used e-collars.

This was true even when the populations using both methods were controlled for other variables.

Alternatives to Shock Collars

Shock collars can cause harm and don’t appear to be any more useful for training than positive reinforcement techniques. In fact, dogs trained with shock collars are more likely to have undesired behaviors than dogs trained without them.

There are good alternatives to shock collars, even if you want to train remotely:

No shock collars

If you want to communicate with your dog remotely, an electronic collar is a great way to do it. However, it’s unnecessary and harmful to shock your dog.

Instead, tie the vibration or beep to a reward so your dog will know they’re doing something right instead of being punished when they do something wrong.

By the way, I have an article on the best no shock and vibration collar for dogs, if interested.

Positive reinforcement training

Training using treats, toys, praise, and other positive reinforcement has been shown to be more effective than using punishment.

Clicker training is a particularly useful positive reinforcement training technique that can work without making physical contact with your dog.

Conclusion on Whether Shock Collars Are Bad For Dogs

Multiple studies have corroborated that shock collars are not effective and that they can cause serious harm to dogs both physically and behaviorally.

Based on these findings, I hope that owners and trainers will stop using shock collars altogether.

If you want to train your dog remotely, consider some alternatives like no shock collars and positive reinforcement training, which can be just as effective.

Let me know your thoughts below.

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