Have you ever wanted to know what the same situation would look like on dogs trained using different methods?
What happens when a shock collar doesn’t work? How does food prevent unwanted behaviors? We’ll explore these questions below.
The Long Lead
I was walking Calvin, a sweet and exuberant little Cocker Spaniel. He loves people and will jump on
anyone within reach. I saw a family with small children taking a walk together, making their way towards
us. I walk Calvin on a 15-foot long line, so I reeled in the leash to make it shorter. We played ‘Look at
That!’ while the family passed us. Calvin wanted to interact with the children, but were working on being
okay with letting people walk by without rushing up and interrupting their day. As soon as the family
passed us, Calvin and I were able to happily continue our walk like nothing happened.
The Shock Collar
About two blocks behind me, I saw the family approach a man walking his friendly and exuberant
German Shorthair Pointer. Instead of a leash or a long line, this dog was wearing an electronic collar (a
shock collar) with no physical control. The dog forged ahead of his owner, excited to interact with the
children. The man called his dog back, but the dog ignored the commands. The man pulled out a remote
and pushed the button. The dog shook his head, but continued moving toward the children. The man
fiddled with the remote, I assume to turn the stimulus up. He called the dog and was ignored again. He
pushed the button and the dog shook his head more violently, and this time, the dog stopped forward
I noted that the dog didn’t make any attempt to move toward his owner, and instead chose
to wait for his owner to catch up. The dog walked near his owner for a few seconds, but when the family
was close enough, he just couldn’t handle it, and jumped on all of the children. The family didn’t seem to
mind, but the owner was visibly frustrated and angry. He pushed the button again when he wanted to
keep moving but his dog wanted to play. The dog reluctantly complied, but was immediately confronted
with a new challenge.
The human-dog pair was very close to an intersection at this point, when a pickup came through. The dog,
still coming down from the excitement of meeting the children, ran out into th intersection, ignoring his
owner’s distressed cries. I saw the owner desperately push buttons on the remote, and he pushed the big
button again, after which his dog yelped and whimpered. While this did stop his dog from getting run over,
his dog still made no attempts to go back to his owner. Instead, the dog just stood in the middle of the street, uncomfortably waiting for his owner to come to him. The man stormed out of sight, visibly upset. I have no
idea what happened after the man and dog left my field of vision, but I know from its body language and facial expressions that the dog was confused and scared.
The shock collar did not prevent this dog from reaching its target (the family), and the shock collar did not
prevent this dog from running into the street. What if this dog was not just overly eager and friendly?
What if this dog was intent on harming the family? What if, in his attempt to control his dog by using
pain, the owner tipped his dog over from eager to aggressive by applying pain? Does the owner even
know that “tipping” is a thing that can happen? What if, the fear and pain from the collar had caused the
dog to run fast and far away in an attempt to escape the aversive stimulus? Does the owner know that
this is a possible outcome? There are so many risks associated with using a device like a shock collar,
and most dog owners do not even know what those risks are.
This example is in no way reflective of how a highly skilled “balanced” or punishment-based trainer
would use the tool, but it highlights some of the reasons that it is dangerous for most people to use this
tool. The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) recently released a
statement on the use of shock.
“The use of shock in training and behavior is not considered a best practice by the
IAABC or the Joint Standards of Practice, and is strongly discouraged.
Our goal is to eliminate the use of shock devices from training and behavior work,
and to do so by modeling, educating, and providing members with effective
We focus on reinforcing desired behaviors, and always ask the question, “What
do you want the animal to do?” Relying on punishment in training does not
answer this question, and therefore offers no acceptable behavior for the animal
to learn to replace the unwanted behavior. These LIMA guidelines do not justify
the use of aversive methods and tools including, but not limited to, the use of
electronic, choke or prong collars in lieu of other effective positive reinforcement
interventions and strategies.
Members found failing to follow these requirements are subject to Ethics
Committee recommendations for education, suspension of membership, or
revocation of certification.”
Members of the IAABC are top-rated behavior consultants across the world. They are held to high
educational and ethical standards. The IAABC is telling its highly skilled and educated certificants
that shock is unhelpful at best, harmful at worst, and should be eliminated. Imagine the damage that
a pet owner with fewer skills and less education can do.
Ethics aside, research shows, time and again, that rewards-based training is safer, faster, and more
To find a skilled, ethical and certified trainer, check the directory of Certified Professional Dog
Trainers at www.ccpdt.org, the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants at
www.iaabc.org, or reach out to The Laughing Dog at www.LaughingDogFM.com.