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The Shocking Truth about "E-collars"

Recently a client of mine told me they had begun using an “e-collar” in place of the anti-barking protocol I established for them. “E-collar” is a rather innocuous term for an electronic shock collar which emits an electric shock as an aversive “correction” to undesired behavior. I was horrified to hear this because I know that using harsh aversives to train a dog can lead to complex behavioral issues down the line, and their dog was simply a healthy young puppy still learning his boundaries. I did not have much specific knowledge of shock collars, and she described their use of it as very limited, so rather than letting our training session get sidetracked with a long discussion about animal learning theory, I gave her a skeptical OK, telling her I would prefer they didn’t use it all. I decided to research the subject further so I could present her with more information and wrote this letter in hopes of dissuading her:
 
Hi Jane,*
 
At your last session we discussed your use of an electronic shock collar to curb Rover’s* barking, and while I expressed my skepticism and concern, I did give you the go ahead to use it sparingly. I had limited knowledge about electronic shock collars, and rather than just giving you a textbook “no”, I wanted to explore the subject further to see if there was any compelling scientific research to validate their use. Here’s what I found:
 
Every article I could find supporting the use of electronic shock collars was, without exception, written by someone without any scientific background in animal behavior. They were most often written by trainers employing traditional methods, which use harsh aversives, who cited their own experience as expertise. I did find two articles which quoted an actual certified animal behaviorist, Stephen R. Lindsay, from a book which is 13 years out of date. I could find no credible scientific research in favor of their use.
 
I did however, find a mountain of credible scientific research against their use and I’ve included some links for you to read further on the subject. The first describes a scientific study done in 2004. It’s a bit technical and lengthy, but researchers concluded that:

“Avoidance behavior and fear postures during the shocks indicated that the shock elicited both pain and fear and, therefore, were not just a distraction or nuisance.”

“ even when compared to working dogs trained using choke chain and pinch collar corrections, dogs trained with electronic shock collars showed more fear and anxiety behaviors than those trained by other traditional police dog and watchdog methods.”

 “Both dogs trained using electronic shock collars and those trained with other traditional coercive methods (choke chain, pinch collar, physical punishment) showed more signs of fear and anxiety when being trained than when on a free walk.”


The second is a compilation of arguments and firsthand accounts from reliable sources put together by Cathy Toft, an educated trainer experienced in the use of electronic shock collars. It contains statements from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Dr. Karen Overall from the American College of Veterinary Behavior, and the UK Association of Pet Dog Trainers against the use of electronic shock collars. The US Association of Pet Dog Trainers does not have a statement because, as an association, they are trying to include traditional trainers in order to create a dialogue between them and positive trainers. But even their website states:

“Training collars should not be used by novice dog owners or by trainers who are not properly instructed in their use. Use of electronic training collars can result in trauma to your dog and generally are not recommended by positive reinforcement trainers.”
 
 
So clearly, an electronic shock collar creates pain, fear, and/or anxiety; none of which are effective or appropriate tools for training a dog. It is also clear that use of an electronic shock collar causes lasting long term side effects. Other research concluded that the pain from an electronic shock collar will linger for 2-10 seconds after the initial shock. With timing being such a crucial element of training, a 2-10 second window of pain communicates a very unclear message to Rover about his behavior. He is a healthy well rounded individual; each shock he receives from the collar is a step towards fear, anxiety, and aggression issues down the line.
 
In conclusion, after doing extensive research on the subject I am in complete opposition to any further use. I must recommend that you stop using the electronic shock collar immediately and return to the established anti-bark protocol that I outlined in previous training sessions. I encourage you to read the information and I hope it will convince you not to use this dangerous shortcut in training any longer. A sweet little guy like Rover will benefit far more from patience and understanding.
 
Sincerely,
 
August Henrich, CCS
One Dog at a Time
(206) 851-5636
 
*names have been changed to protect my client’s privacy
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