Electronic collars that deliver static shock as a consequence of unwanted behavior have been in use for several years. Some exist in the form of a perimeter invisible fence that emits a warning beep as the dog approaches his appropriate boundaries, and then delivers a shock as he reaches the limit. Other collars deliver a static shock when the dog barks to stop unwanted compulsive barking behavior. Still other collars work by remote control held by the dog owner that delivers a shock when the dog owner judges behavior to be inappropriate and presses a button.
This technique utilizes negative reinforcement, which is, providing an undesirable consequence to avert unwanted behavior. It is the complete opposite of what most animal behaviorists subscribe to, which is training through positive reinforcement to reward appropriate behavior, while redirecting unwanted behavior through understanding canine body language and the canine psyche necessary to provide the leadership a canine seeks.
Thus, shock collars have been met with some controversy through the years, although some trainers and canine enthusiasts, while many using them as a last resort, maintain that they are necessary for some very hard canine cases where positive reinforcement just does not achieve acceptable results. As new study that came out of the University of Lincoln in the UK that suggests that overall, perhaps with the exception of perimeter invisible fencing, shock collars actually prove a less effective training tool than positive reinforcement. What’s more, by testing post shock salivary levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, the study demonstrated that the shock caused distress in dogs. The study also showed that dogs trained with shock collar methods were generally tenser and nervous, less engaged in environmental interaction, and more prone to yawning in comparison to control dogs not trained with shock collars.
In follow up, the study found that the owners of dogs trained with positive reward based training methods were significantly and consistently more satisfied with the results than the owners of dogs trained with shock collar training. The conclusion of the study was that, not only are shock collars less effective than positive, reward based training, the stress and anxiety caused by shock collars make them questionable from an animal welfare perspective.
I’ve never personally been a fan of shock collars. To me, they were always that quick fix that people all too often seek, demanding less of the owner to seek professional and proper training and being less engaged and encumbered by the training process. From a professional standpoint, over the years, I have found that all too often, rather than fix the unwanted behavior, not only to they fail, but shock collars often contribute to a more neurotic mind-set that leads to nervous dogs prone to additional behavior disorders.
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Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL, Chief Editor of the Veterinary Advice and Information Website, Web-DVM, and founder/CEO of Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.