Are We Truly Training? The Shocking Truth
Updated: Jan 22, 2022
What exactly is a shock collar? Or, as they can also be referred to:
Good Dog collar
There are other types of collars also referred to as training collars that have (unfortunately) been used for decades. These are items such as choke chains and prong collars – you know, those collars with the long prongs that pinch your dog’s neck? However, the effectiveness and safety of all these collars have been called into question on many occasions.
These fancy collar names are often given to help the user feel that they are choosing a “training” tool, but are we truly training? Do a quick Google search on the meaning of the word “Train”, you will see:
gerund or present participle: training
teach (a person or animal) a particular skill or type of behavior through practice and instruction over a period of time.
Now let’s take a look at how shock collars (or other “training” collars mentioned above) work. The dog does something unwanted, let’s say they bark at people approaching. We push the button on our little controller and the dog receives a shock (or we jerk the prong collar, etc). He then stops barking. It worked! The dog is trained to not bark! Don’t be so sure.
Training means there was instruction and practice taking place in order for the trainee to learn appropriate behaviour. By shocking the dog, sure they may stop barking in that moment, but what have they learned? They most likely just learned that people approaching make pain happen. This is not the message we want to convey to our dogs, especially if they already struggle with fear, low confidence, or over excitement in those situations. The fallout behaviour from this will likely be far worse than the original behaviour you are trying to fix.
Dogs can react negatively in certain situations for many reasons. Reactivity can be due to fear, over excitement, genetics, past experiences, improper socialization and physical ailments. This
is not a complete list, but you can see how not every reactive dog is reacting for the same reason, but the common denominator will be the emotional change the dog is going through. Reactivity is an emotional response to a stimulus. If we then punish (shock, jerk the prong collar) our dog for this emotional response, what are we teaching them? We are teaching them that we are unpredictable and likely to hurt them in situations that make them uncomfortable. This can put our dog in a state of learned helplessness.
So, what do we do instead? We teach our dogs how to cope in their world. To use the example above, we want to teach them that people approaching them is NOT a scary thing. Or that good things happen when they remain calm while people approach.
We have all heard about classical conditioning and Pavlov’s dogs. Classical conditioning is learning through association. This means we want to be very clear about what we want our dogs to learn. If they receive a shock (or collar correction, or other harsh punishment) in a certain situation, they will start to associate that situation with the negative stimulus that it has been paired with. Can you see how this will start the process of the dog being MORE worried about the situation next time? The barking may turn to growling, lunging or even aggression. Now we have a snowball effect (and often with the idea of “dominance” being thrown into the mix! But that’s a topic for another post). This is not likely the association we wanted to condition our dogs to!
I am not saying classical conditioning is bad, it is most definitely not. Positive trainers use classical and operant conditioning all the time. I simply wanted to show how it can have the reverse effect if used in a negative way. We want to make positive associations with the things in our dog’s world, especially if our dog is having trouble coping in their world.
By training our dogs to respond appropriately in these situations by using positive, science based methods, we are truly training our dogs. Training collars have little to do with training and lots to do with intimidation, fear and punishment.
If you need help truly training your dog, reach out to a qualified positive reinforcement trainer in your area. Qualified trainers and behaviour consultants will adhere to the LIMA (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive) policy for training and behaviour modification. According to the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers website, “LIMA adherence also requires consultants to be adequately educated and skilled in order to ensure that the least intrusive and aversive procedure is used.” For more information, please visit https://www.ccpdt.org/about-us/least-intrusive-minimally-aversive-lima-effective-behavior-intervention-policy/
About the Author
Kim is the owner of Scentsable K9 and is a CPDT-KA certified dog trainer in Ontario, Canada. She lives with her rescue dog Copper and works mainly with dogs struggling with behaviour issues. For more information or to book a training session with Kim, you can email email@example.com