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Shock Collars (Blog 11 #oneaday)

January 25, 2010

shock collar for humans, tshirt, dogsI originally started this article with the sentence ‘I would never use a shock collar on Rory’. However, that breaks one of my rules, to never speak in absolutes, so i’m amending that slightly. I can not see any reason why I would ever use a shock collar on my dog.

People who do use them often say ‘what if’. What if he was likely to bite a stranger and be put down? What if he took off whenever he was let off lead? What if he almost got run over by a car? The simple answer to all of these things is I would not let him get into the situation where he put himself or someone else in danger. Take steps. If your dog continually escapes, get a larger fence. If he continues, then think about not letting him out unsupervised. If this does not work then think about rehoming. It’s harsh, but is it harsher than using an electrical collar. That really is the question.

There are two types of electric collars, containment and training.

The intention of a containment collars is just, as the name suggests, to contain. They usually achieve this through an ‘invisible fence’ system. A ring of wire is placed around the garden area which initiates the collar when the dog comes within a certain distance of the boundary. The more modern containment collars often incorporate a warning system of some kind, a buzzing, beeping or low level vibration to warn the dog when it is getting close to the boundary. If the dog continues to the boundary it will receive a shock. Now I’m not getting into the whys of why people would use this but suffice to say it spreads from those trying to prevent livestock chasing, to those who own escape artists. I have heard of dogs learning how to avoid the shock by either running very quickly across the boundary or jumping the barrier.

Also, interestingly, a study has shown that dogs ‘trained’ by use of the containment collar are likely to attack people on the boundary line, and without giving any warning signals at all. This study, which can be found here, was only based on five subjects but four out of the five showed aggression. This begs the question what would happen if the study was expanded.

Electric collars can also be purchased for training. These give shocks when initiated by the ‘trainer’. A study, which can be found here, split a group of closely related Beagles into three groups. The first were subjected to ‘aversion’ training, which involved the collar administering electric shocks when the dogs were performing a specific unwanted behaviour. The second group were ‘shocked’ when they did not respond to a command. The third group were ‘shocked’ at random periods of time. The first group did not suffer any notable ill effects from the use of the collars. The second and third groups suffered from increased anxiety and nerves.

Arguably this study shows that when used correctly, electric collars can be a useful training aid. However, training of this type requires impeccable timing, something that most of us general public do not have. Do you really want to risk the mental health of your dog on the assumption that you are in that minor percentage who reacts quickly enough? You would also have to have a great knowledge of canine behaviour and body language to be absolutely sure that the dog was associating the shock with the behaviour and not something nearby. A dog shocked with a child in the vicinity may associate the unpleasant shock with the child. I do not need to tell you that this is not good.

Similarly to containment collars, when electric collars are used to ‘train out’ aggression it can actually just lead to severe aggression, without warning of the attack.

Recently, the lovely owner of my local pet shop, Claire suffered abuse at the hands of someone trying to buy a shock collar. Claire does not stock or supply them. This abuse makes me angry. Studies have proven that in the wrong hands these collars can be incredibly damaging to the mental health of dogs and make them dangerous. Weigh in on whichever side of the fence you wish, but do not resort to rudeness and do not try to impress your ideas on others, particularly when they are probably more informed than you.

Cesar Milan has recently come under fire for his use of electric collars in his TV programme, The Dog Whisperer. I have only seen episodes where he has used them when the dog is in danger of harming itself. I want to make it clear that although I would never use Cesar Milan methods at home, and fully endorse positive training as the way forward (Victoria Stilwell, It’s Me Or The Dog style), I do not think that he is the devil. He is using a different type of training, with dogs that no-one else has been able to help. We may not agree with his methods, but look at his past experience, rehabilitating successfully, guard breeds such as Rottweilers on doggy death row. This is worlds away from most dog owner’s issues. I think the real problem is the ‘try it at home’ culture, which IT IS CLEARLY stated at the beginning of each Cesar Milan show you should NOT do.

I will not tell you not to use a shock collar because I am not in the business of preaching, but I will say make your decision based on the facts. And look at your dog, are the unlikely benefits worth the potential cost? They are definitely not for me.

Top image is from THEWHISPERER‘s Zazzle shop. You can buy a ‘I think they need shock collars for people’ t-shirt for £16.45 here.

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