It’s not often these days that I’m motivated to put in the time and effort to craft a blog post. I typically say everything I want on Facebook or in my books. But after the Facebook posts regarding the American Kennel Club’s fiasco stating their view on the use of shock collars (first they stated they were not a good choice on television, then retracted that by email) and the ensuing flame war of the past few days I feel like this topic requires a full blog.

So, first things first. If you are strongly in support of using shock collars on dogs there is no point in your reading this post. You will rabidly disagree with me on every point and be aggravated. If you have a more moderate view or are “on the fence” about their use then I invite you to listen to what I have to say and give me the opportunity to explain why I am so vehemently against their use.

This is truly a “hot button” topic with me (pun intended!) I feel very strongly that it is not only ethically wrong to use such a strong aversive device but it is also typically misused and causes more harm than good. Even when used “correctly” the possibility of undesired fallout is huge. So let me address some of the reasons I feel this way.

1. You can call it by whatever name you want (electronic collar or remote collar are common) but the fact remains it works by shocking the dog. Calling it an electronic collar suggests that it works similarly to a DVR or something. And calling it a remote device suggests that it works like a TV remote. No on both counts. It’s a shock collar, it provides an electrical shock and should be called what it truly is. Why quibble over the name if it is accurate? Unless there’s a reason to try and candy coat that fact.

2. If it didn’t hurt it wouldn’t work. Again, calling it discomfort sounds better than calling it pain. Talking about a tingle or a buzz or a nick sounds so mild and benign. But if it is truly so mild then why use it at all? If there are other, less unpleasant to the dog, ways to get the result, then why insist on using this one?

3. I saw this one on Facebook. “You can’t win field trials without it”. If winning field trials is more important to you than the well-being of a living creature then I don’t really know what else I can say.

4. People often say that good trainers use them properly. The problem with this is that everyone thinks he or she is a good trainer. I see people every single day who can’t get the timing of a clicker right. At least the worst thing that happens there is poor quality training. Bad timing on a shock collar can be extremely harmful. And they are widely available for anyone to buy.

5. The use of an aversive device does not build a bond of trust and cooperation between dog and trainer. Just the opposite. Would you truly trust someone who could possibly shock you at any moment?

6. The use of an aversive device suggests that the trainer doesn’t have a very large range of training options. It’s a pretty extreme choice. Why not try other, less unpleasant options first?

7. They are necessary in order to save a dog’s life. People often cite dogs running away or chasing prey as justification for their use. Again, there are a number of less drastic and unpleasant ways to train around these issues. Counterconditioning and systematic desensitization will work well for these problems.

8. If a shock collar is used to punish behavior then it doesn’t give the dog any information about what is appropriate, only what is not. For long-lasting behavior changes it is important to reinforce desired behaviors, not just punish undesired ones.

9. Just because a dog stops reacting doesn’t mean he has been properly trained. He could simply be overwhelmed and stressed, so he shuts down. That’s not training, that’s bordering on abuse.

10. It is often stated that shock collars are “just another tool in the toolbox”. And it is also stated that you have a woefully incomplete toolbox without one. But, as my friend Ken McCort says “I would prefer my dentist use novacaine rather than whiskey.” As we develop more sophisticated tools we leave the old ones behind.

11. Also, in our first book in the Dog Sport Skills series (with my co-author Denise Fenzi) we talk about the fact that we don’t want to add tools to an old outdated toolbox. We are now designing a better, more modern version that doesn’t include archaic devices like shock collars.

12. I don’t think that people who use these devices are evil. I’m sure they run the gamut from perfectly nice to perfectly awful just like the rest of the population. But I do think they are misguided and that they are making a very poor choice. I don’t believe that anyone has the right to shock another creature and I am mystified at how people justify this to themselves. It’s a hard line that should not be crossed.

13. I’ve often been told that I simply don’t understand how shock collars work and that if I did I would change my mind about them. I’ve been told that I’m overreacting. As a behavioral scientist I understand, better than most, exactly how they are intended to work. And, in my opinion, even when used as suggested they are still unacceptable.

14. I read this week that people who are against the use of shock collars are like PETA. They want to take away rights regarding animals. I don’t know what PETA’s agenda is but I doubt that mine is the same. My agenda, not at all hidden, is to make the use of these devices unnecessary and socially unacceptable. I want people to understand that they are dangerous and cause much damage. If I could make them illegal I would. If I ever get 3 wishes that will be my third wish! Right after a long healthy life and the money to enjoy it :-}

15. Dogs are sensitive and intelligent creatures. Using a painful stimulus in an attempt to alter their behavior is simply overkill. They are smart enough to respond well to positive training techniques. Anything more is not necessary.

16. Pain increases aggression. It can exacerbate an existing problem or even cause a problem where none existed before. The idea that a shock collar is an appropriate treatment for aggression is just ludicrous. That aggression can be focused on whoever the dog is looking at when he gets shocked (another dog or a child, for example).

17. We know how to do it better! There are so many really good positively based techniques available. Why not try those first? If you do those properly there will be no need for a shock collar.