To Shock Or Not To Shock…That is The Question


There has been quite a resurgence of compulsion training methods in the dog training world.

Almost 20 years ago I got started dog training on a professional level and learning the craft, and unfortunately I learned from a trainer that believed in compulsion.

I was 18 and I didn’t know any better, and that is my best excuse but even then I knew that putting prong or pinch collars on puppies was wrong.  The problem was that, for the most part it worked and it was easier for the trainer than actually training all of the dogs in the class to complete a behavior.

Obstinate leash pullers turned into putty after a few temper tantrums and little screaming.  It was ugly but it was fast and took very little effort from the owner.  The dogs weren’t learning the behaviors they were simply learning how to avoid the pinch.

But, I also saw some spirits broken and some dogs abused under the guise of dog training.

That is not to say that all people who use these collars are abusive, it is just much easier to become abusive or to cause damage emotionally and structurally with these types of collars than it is with a buckle collar.

I think, that is when I decided there had to be a better way…

And, thankfully after meeting another trainer I was introduced to Patricia McConnell, Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes.  They changed my life and the life of every animal I have touched since.

I am glad that my trip down compulsion lane was short lived and I have never chosen to train that way on my own.

The sad part for me is that this type of training is making resurgence despite the fact that positive reinforcement has been scientifically proven to be the best way to learn.

The newest addition is the idea that compulsion, followed by a little positive reinforcement, builds a dog with drive that can handle any situation; and I am certainly not convinced.   Really?   Now we have to yank, pinch, choke, or shock them so they can handle conflict if and when it arises?

I’m going to call a big fat BS on that!

This is especially prevalent in protection dog training and sports.  But I simply don’t agree.  And my dogs prove that corrections and compulsion is not a requirement.

I am not that kind of trainer and I refuse to succumb to this type of training, even if there was scientific evidence to prove it!  Dogs love to learn if you make it a game and ensure it is fun!

Imagine if this was popular child psychology; hit your kid in the teeth and then give him a brownie that way if he ever gets hit or encounters a bully or some type of conflict he will associate with the eventual brownie.

It’s kind of crazy to believe that this type of training is acceptable.

It’s funny, but positive reinforcement does the same thing by itself without the ugliness!  If you train for conflict and reward good behavior and ignore the incorrect response you will have a dog that learns very quickly how to respond in times of crisis and conflict and even pain without training for it.

A Great Example Is Snitch The Service Dog

One of my favorite stories is of my Service Dog “Snitch”; we went to a flea market one day to train and work and enjoy the day.  All of a sudden out of nowhere he seemed fidgety and odd, but he never broke out of heel position or even looked back.  When it continued, I stopped to look around there was a toddler attached to his tail, pulling on it like he was water skiing.

Although I had tried to desensitize him to children and had done a number of handling types of training, I had never pulled this hard on his tail.  His immediate reaction to this conflict and PAIN was to look at me for a treat.

He knew, through positive reinforcement training, fun and games alone, that if he did something that was good that was hard for him, he would get a jackpot of treats or his toy and praise.

I never had to inflict pain, stomp on his tail (or any of the other Service Dogs I trained) to teach them how to control themselves in these situations.

In my article “Just Another Reason NOT to use Compulsion in Dog Training”  I discuss how correction can sometimes make the bad behavior worse; i.e. make the dog bite harder, or be more possessive.  This is usually not ideal and often causes the opposite of what most owners want.

You Should Shock Your Dog????

In the protection dog training world; using strictly positive reinforcement is almost as horrifying to admit to as admitting to using a prong collar in a group of positive reinforcement trainers.  It is simply not done.

I competed with my dog in October, I didn’t think she was quite ready, but my husband dared me (I have a disease and cannot refuse a good dare) and signed me up for the competition.  As I told a few others who were competing about my apprehension of trialing, I was told the same thing by more than 3 people.  “Just put her shock collar on her and shock her right before you go in the ring, you’ll be fine”.

Admittedly, I was APPALLED!  She has never had a shock collar on.  It is not how I train.  A shock collar would send her shaking in the opposite direction and leave me with a puddle of terrified fur.  And, she should not be judged harshly as not being physically or mentally strong enough to handle a shock, as she has extremely high drives and simply doesn’t need this kind of training.

Unfortunately, she completely humiliated me 😉 in a cute and excited sort of way and we did not receive her title (although we were close), but if given the chance to use compulsion or positive reinforcement, I would not change a thing.  The experience gave me a chance to see where my training was lacking.

Fury Wins Top Honors!!!

A week ago I again entered the field.  She was PERFECT (except for one small sneezing fit).  Using all positive techniques I was able to get the desired performance.  After I had completed my routine I was approached by an audience member.

“What type of training do you use with your dog?” she asked.

I admitted; “I only use positive reinforcement, toys and games with her.”

“If she doesn’t do what I want,” I explained “She doesn’t get her toy or the ability to play”.

“I KNEW IT!” exclaimed the woman!  “She is the only dog I have seen so far that has been overly excited to work and has shown no fear of making a mistake.  Her tail is held high the whole time!”  Then she whispered and bumped my shoulder “I could tell! And, good for you!”

Fury With Her Blue Ribbon!

And, just to set the record straight we had high honors in obedience and protection and she has been winning blue ribbons in obedience competitions throughout our little center of the country!  She LOVES playing games and putting on a performance!  We beat 30 and 40 year veterans with our operant conditioning skills and she never once coward, why would she?

If I have to use compulsion, then I don’t want to play!  I want a happy, healthy, well adjusted dog that enjoys working for me and thinks life is a game.  Then when I work with her I can escape into a world where life truly is a game and everything about it is FUN!

All you need is a little fun and some consistency!  Just getting started is a big step in the right direction.

What do you think?

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Comments

  1. Anne says:

    Hi,
    my dog is a gsd,he herds people mainly children and will nip them if they move,will a shock collar on vibrate help stop him, if not any tips on what i can do

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  2. LeRoy Aho says:

    I use a wireless collar on my dog to train him to stay in the yard so he wont get hit by a car.He got 3 shocks from it and he knows the boundaries he can roam in I set it on low shock and that was all he needed.I do not need the shock collar on him any more.He has a 250 circle around the house that he can play in.the only time he will leave this circle is if he is with me.

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  3. Virginia says:

    I know some people that need to be shocked or pinched….so is it ok? No its considered a battery or assault. ok so why are they allowed to assault an animal?? what makes us think that we are so smart and they are so dumb? Like the article said you cant use this on a child….and my dog is part of my family…so no to shocking or pinching..no matter what.

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  4. Diane says:

    In a behavior class three of the young large dogs are getting yanked around with a pinch collar. One little boy is shocked so the trainer goes and gets one and puts it on our wrists to show that it isn’t hurting the dog….only she isn’t using the same pressure by a long shot. Little boy still wouldn’t let her put it on his hand. I guess the wild yelps and cries he was hearing told the real story.

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    Minette Reply:

    Good for him!! Even at a young age he can tell that is not the way! I am hoping to make some videos that can teach the way I have trained my dog in these videos to love this work without the need of a shock collar or other nasty methods!

    If you build a strong foundation you only need positive!

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    Marcy Reply:

    By NO means does a pinch collar hurt a dog. By the way WE walk on two legs and NOT four, there is a differnce if you didn’t know that…..Get real people, not all dogs are the same, some are easy to train and some are not. Do not say some one is abusing their pet just because they use a pinch collar or a shock collar. And to Minette: no one can be as perfect as you is sound. I will give you MY dog for one day and you will be singin a different tune. Get your nose out of the clouds and come down to earth.

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    Minette Reply:

    Marcy,

    I would love to have your dog for a day and teach the game of positive reinforcement! It not only works on dogs it works on people, and any other animal! Read “Don’t Shoot the Dog” Karen Pryor was one of the founders of clicker training and using classic conditioning to help dogs and even whales to shape their behavior!

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    Linda Reply:

    Marcy,
    I hate to say this but you sound like a ‘control freak’.. Give your dog a break and read the article. You are not teaching your dog anything other than to fear the pinch or shock. Take it to school and put those things on the kids. See what happens. Listen to Minette, she knows what she is doing.

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    blake Reply:

    They are not a cruel method of training. I have trained gun(hunting) dogs with the use of shock collars and I will tell you why they are humane.

    People that oppose shock collars seem to not realize that anything involved in dog training can be cruel to the dog if the owner doesn’t have the patience or knowledge to use the device correctly. An example can even be jerking extremely hard on a leash when a dog doesn’t respond. With that in mind, I will say that there are some people who use shock collars incorrectly which can be harmful to the dog but if you know what you are doing then it is perfectly fine for the dog.

    My collar has a noise setting and then a shock setting, and I train my dogs for positive reinforcement first by relating the noise from the collar to treats, but sometimes they still will be focused on something else.

    Below I will list reasons why I believe it’s ok to use them in training a dog.

    1. Dog’s skin is different than humans, ours is much more sensitive. This in response to people saying that they have put it on themselves and said it “HURT.” We are humans and those people that are scared to put the collar on themselves are of course going to be nervous about it because they have this notion that they are super painful and what human wants to administer pain to themselves…. Now I have actually put this on my wrist and shocked myself to see exactly what the dog is experiencing and like most I was a bit nervous at first. I had the dial set to the setting it is on my dog and its just a weird feeling but not painful at all (kind of reminds me of those prank shocking things like prank lighters that used to be very popular). The videos you see on youtube of people saying it hurts are mainly drunk people with the settings all the way up just being stupid…. This is where the responsibility of knowing how to use theses collars comes in. If you have the setting on where the shock just gets the dogs attention, then its perfectly ok and there is no pain involved for the dog at all. The point isn’t to get the dog to yelp in pain and quit what it’s doing, it’s to have it set just lightly enough to break it’s attention to what it was previously focused on and focus on you.

    2. People say that using collars to train makes you a “lazy” owner. If that is true, then isn’t every human who purchases a car for their transportation lazy….? I didn’t purchase the collar because I am lazy, I purchased it because it’s a very efficient way of training a dog. It takes around 6 months to 9 months to train a hunting dog with a collar, I am not for certain, but I would assume that it would take double or triple that to train one without the use of them. I make money off of taking people quail and pheasant hunting with these dogs and so the faster I get a dog trained and the more trained he is, the faster I can generate income. Sure I can train them without it, but it’s just more efficient and effective means of training.

    3. It also does give me instant control in emergency situations. How many times have you seen your dog or someone else’s dog take off after other dogs at the park and they wouldn’t respond to commands. When dogs get excited, they get what I would call tunnel vision on the item of interest and completely tune out the world around them. Like I mentioned earlier, the shock collar is used to break that focus so you can administer a command to them. If my dog was ever in a situation where he got focused on an item and his actions in response to this stimulus could possibly endanger his life ( like running into the street or in front of a gun) I can use the collar to break his attention and give him a command.

    4. Technology. The technology advancement on these collars are incredible. Most have great ranges, vibration along with shock settings, noise only settings, and various amounts of correction control. Companies aren’t going to make something and put it on the market that would kill a dog, that would burn a dog, or that would cause brain damage to a dog. They have to pass numerous testing stages before they are allowed to sell their product and these issues are part of these test. If you put the collar around the neck where it is supposed to be, then you won’t have any issues like those listed above, this is of course assuming you are a responsible trainer.

    Being someone who has trained 2 GSP and 1 Lab hunting dogs, I think my experience provides a creditable answer. If used properly by the owner, then using a collar to train a dog is perfectly safe and harmless for the dog.

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    Minette Reply:

    I agree with some of your points. Not everyone that uses a shock collar is cruel. Some people know how to use them and try to use them fairly.

    I have many, many good friends that use them and we train together.

    However, it is silly to think that their necks and fur in some way diminish the pain. It is painful. Put it on your neck and use the same stimulation you use on the dog.

    This is why invisible fence works so well. If it wasn’t painful and was just a tickle it wouldn’t work to keep dogs in their yards and not chasing deer or whatever else happened upon them.

    I have seen the look on the faces of dogs who have had a shock collar used the first time, and for most it breaks their little spirits for a time. There is nothing about a shock collar that is harmless, except maybe the noise or vibrate.

    Dogs, however are extremely resilient so they are able to get over that and get on with training fairly quickly.

    I KNOW there are other methods, because I use them and have never used a shock collar and so I am going to have to stick by what I have said. You call it faster. I call it lazy.

    Likening a car to a mammal with feelings is not even in the same ball park. That is like comparing an orange to an ocean liner.

    The same training can be done not using a shock collar, but yes it will take longer to some degree but it also won’t break my dog down and then I won’t have to spend time rebuilding her/him.

    Also, I as a trainer am not dependent on equipment or equipment failure. So many times friends of mine have had to stop training because their collars were not charged or they end up shocking the WRONG dog… ouch!

    And as far as breaking their concentration or focus… that is why I lay such a great foundation of focus and listening to what I want and what my expectations are.

    You are right, not everyone who uses them is cruel. But, I think there are better, stronger ways that create better dogs who learn to listen for the right reasons.

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    Linda Reply:

    Marcy,
    I hate to say this but you sound like a ‘control freak’.. Give your dog a break and read the article. You are not teaching your dog anything other than to fear the pinch or shock. Take it to school and put those things on the kids. See what happens. Listen to Minette, she knows what she is doing.

  5. Elaine says:

    I am having a problem with my dog which may require a shock collar. I have already tried multiple positive reinforcement techniques, most of which I got from your website and/or videos and/or blogs.

    The problem: My dog will bark for hours on end when he is outside unti he gets inside. My other two dogs don’t make a sound. Unfortunately, a law was recently passed that indicated that, if a complaint was received for extended barking (5+ minutes) a very large fine would be levied against me. I know that the dog will bark and bark because one of the interventions I tried was letting him bark and bark and waiting to let him in until he stopped. Didn’t work. I’ve tried other interventions with no success – all positive (rewards, etc.) I also purchased a gizme in the store with a battery. When the dog barks, it send out a high frequency sound. At first, this worked (for at least 2 days). It no longer works. He barks right through it.
    BTW, the dogs go out for 10 or 15 minutes only to toilet. I don’t leave them outside all day long.

    Any ideas besides a shock collar?

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  6. Kay says:

    NEVER, NEVER,NEVER111

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  7. jmill says:

    I am at my wits end with my 6 month old male lab. He’d been doing well with the walking aspect until recently. Now he has decided to attack the leash, jump and bite at me. Of course, this will last 5 minutes then he proceeds to walk fine. What the heck? I’ve used the listed positive reinforcements and it’ll work once or even twice then he’s off in another tantrum. I went to a chain leash and that made him angry. I’ve had dogs my entire life but this one has me stumped. He’s well socialized but perhaps I’ve indulged his selfish side too much?
    Any ideas? He’s still intact and I want to wait til at least a year old to neuter for proper growth.

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    Minette Reply:

    I would neuter him ASAP!! There is no reason for him to wait until a year old. You are just going to suffer from all the behavior problems that come with an intact dog! Neuter him!!

    And, get a gentle leader this will give you more control over his face and take some of the wind out of his sails.

    And, stop spoiling him!

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    Charlee Reply:

    I think you are completely wrong to advise neutering before one year old. Ask most GOOD vets and they will not do the operation until after the first full year. They need the testosterone to build strong and healthy bodies for that time. Patience is the answer not snipping off their bits. What you are advocating is worse than a shock collar. You should be ashamed of yourself!

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    You can read this study.

    http://www.avma.org/avmacollections/obesity_dogs/javma_224_3_380.pdf

    They do all of the convincing I need.

  8. ambrish kant says:

    I can’t even imagine using shock collar for domestic pets. making a game of any directive command that pet owner wants – give a treat of pet’s choice even before, after obeying command brings results on dog training.I hv my Lab pet since day 3 & now 18 months , walks with or without me free of a leash. come back on my call – come to me, or go to home , go to balcony , plays with toy on command- play & many more sweet behavior on commands like go with friend,guest, baby & many more ….With my experience I strongly support “hv patience” & “NO to shock or pinch collars”
    cheers. ambrish

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  9. EVELYN says:

    I’m considering using the shock collar, only because I’ve tried everything, regular, pinch collar, treats, etc and my dog does not obey once I take the leash off him. He jumps on me, runs around, in between my legs, tripping me; falls on the floor on his back. Can’t open my electric gate because he runs out and I’m afraid he’ll get hit by a car. I can’t control him off the leash. I don’t want to hurt him, just enough shock so he learns to obey when the leash is taken off.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I don’t think shock collars are the way! We wouldn’t put one on a obstinate 4 year old child, I don’t think we should give in and put one on a dog. Read this and put in the time to work toward off leash training and if you are worried about him getting run over by a car get a fence or invisible fence, at least that shock is consistent and can be avoided.

    http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/leash-obedience-mysteries-solved/

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  10. Todd says:

    I too don’t like the Idea of a shock collar and would only use for invisable fense or snake training. I have 2 wolf-dogs and they have our trainer baffled at times. They are great with kids and other dogs. They have this awesome sense of knowing when something is smaller than them to be gentle. The younger female is skidish whent the older male is not arround, but I have slowly getting her used to walking around the park by herself. The one thing to mention is there is a big differnce between calm accertive corrections and emotional corrections. It is not necessarily bad to use corrections but emotions generate excitement which sometimes induces unwanted behavior. I give a gutteral sound as a warning then escalate to a collar check, then I may tap with foot or hand to simulate a bite. Not to hurt them just to get attention. Half the battle is to get them to pay attention to me. For those comments about not doing these things to our kids have never had kids in sports or heard of bootcamp for the military. (Don’t tell me if a playing is not paying attention they are not chastised and risk being hit in the head with a ball. That is the first thing taught in martial arts as early as 4) Yes it is good to challange a dog, but with dominate breeds there is only dominate or to be dominated by your dog. This is a mindset not agressive actions towards your dog. Sometimes I Ignore, sometimes play, sometimes correct, but I am in charge.
    With that said, the younger female is very stuborn and both will capitalize if you show any hesitation on getting them to behave, both are potty trained and won’t even go while on a leash. However when it comes to listening to me, they get very focused on what they want. When I am at home and I have treat, dried liver treats or people food, (they are very particular on what they are obedient for) they are the most obedient dogs you ever saw. But if they see something they want while in the park. No amount of treats will distract them. My perception and have been told by the breeder also is that these wolf-dogs act like dogs but seem to train more like cats. Have you had any similar experiences Dog Training?

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  11. Bev. says:

    I have this sweet little Teddy Bear dog – 1 year old now. He’s very playful, has learned a few trick’s with treat’s, and has learned a few command’s with treat’s, but for the life of me, or him, he just doesn’t learn to stop running up to the road,{when off his leash} chasing car’s or people walking by. He’s already ran up to the road 3 time’s, with me calling him & running after him. When the car stop’s at the stop sign, then he stop’s and come’s back into the yard. I don’t want to give him a treat for coming back, for fear he’s getting a treat for chasing a car….it’s a fine line.
    I’ve tried the treat thing, to come when off the leash, which he does, when there is no car in sight, but the min. he see’s a car rolling by, even with treat, he has only that one thing on his mind, to chase that car.
    He love’s to run free, but I have to always have him on a leash or a tie out, and that is so sad for me to see, and for him as well.
    Please help me as what to do, and yes, I also believe in “no shock collar”, but if that’s the only way that will save his life from being killed by a car, should I go with it.{ I do know that you don’t believe
    in that’s the way, so I do really need your help with this problem}.
    Thank~You, very much.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Not all dogs should be off leash.

    Is he neutered? If not this is making the behavior worse.

    Your dog has to be 95% reliable on leash and listening to commands before you can ever entertain the idea of being off leash.

    First work on his regular obedience and when he listens then go back to the blog and search “off leash” obedience for my article on how to get your dog ready for being off leash.

    [Reply]

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