Are shock collars really that bad?

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A shock collar is a device which delivers an electric shock to an animal and is used as a training tool. They may also be called electronic collars, remote collars or e-collars. Continue reading this article to learn more about shock collars and whether they are really that bad.

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How do shock collars work?

They are usually operated by a person who presses a button on a remote control at the time they wish to deliver the shock to the animal. Some collars that work on a similar principle to electric collars may differ in that they do not administer a shock, but they may vibrate or emit a sudden sound or puff of air or spray, which is designed to be unpleasant to the animal. These types of collars can be automatic (such as after the dog barks) rather than operated by a remote control.

Why are shock collars used?

Shock collars are used as an aversive method of training or as a positive punishment. This means we are adding something to weaken the behaviour - in this case the shock. The animal carries out the undesirable behaviour and the person administers a shock at the same time, which causes a negative association with that behaviour.

Over time the aim is that the animal learns that the unwanted behaviour will result in a painful shock, therefore decreasing the likelihood of it being repeated.

What are the problems associated with shock collars?

Shock collars rely on an aversive training method. This is now an outdated method of training any animal. Research has shown that while aversive training methods or positive punishments will weaken the undesirable behaviour, it does so at the cost of increasing the animals stress and anxiety.

Some animals may not make the association between the painful shock and the unwanted behaviour, especially if the timing of the shock is inaccurate. Our pets may live in a constant state of fear and anxiety over when they may get a shock. The electric shocks in some collars can continue to shock the animal and cause pain for up to 11 seconds! Many dogs will cry, scream or cower when shock collars are used. This hugely affects their physical and mental welfare.

Some animals may also associate this negative stimulus of the collar with their owner. This happens because each time they get a shock in the presence of their owner, they can associate the pain and anxiety with their owners. This can really damage their relationship with the owner and make them fearful.

Other collars such as bark collars which spray the dog in the face with citronella or plain compressed air when they bark, can also cause anxiety and distress.

In addition, these types of collars along with other aversive methods of training only tell the animal what you do not want them to do. It does nothing to teach and encourage the behaviour you do want, which is an essential part of successful training.

Shock collars and the law

Shock collars were banned in Wales in 2010 under the The Animal Welfare (Electronic collars) (Wales) Regulations 2010. Anyone found guilty of using an electronic shock collar on a cat or dog can face a prison sentence and / or a fine.

Sadly, the sale and use of shock collars are not yet prohibited in England, Scotland and Ireland. In 2018 the Scottish Government published guidance on the use of electronic shock collars and other aversive methods of training. They do not condone these methods, however it is still legal in Scotland.

The UK Government announced they were in favour of putting forward a ban on shock collars, however this is still yet to happen.

What are the alternatives to shock collars?

Training methods should be positive and rewarding. We should guide and encourage our pets to display behaviour that we do want through positive reinforcement and rewards. We reward our pets with something they really enjoy such as high value treats or toys when they display a behaviour we want.

Training with rewards teaches our pets that when they make good choices, good things happen.

Research shows that positive reinforcement is the best way for pets to learn and these pets have less behavioural problems. It also strengthens the bond between the pet and the owner.

Further reading

Preventing separation anxiety

The power of hand feeding

Can our dogs communicate with us?

What your vet wished dog owners knew

3 great games to entertain your dog

Have any more questions?

Book a video consultation to chat to one of our qualified behaviourists here

This article was written by Amy Everden RVN, CSQP, ISFM CertFN. Amy is a registered veterinary nurse (RVN) who has worked in a variety of first opinion and 24 hour veterinary hospitals. In 2019 she completed her certificate in Feline Nursing with distinction.

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