The Shocking Truth – APBC position statement on shock collars
There are now a number of ‘quick fix’ products available to dog owners who wish to modify the behaviour of their pet. One such device is the electric collar. The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors feels that the use of devices that rely on pain or discomfort to modify behaviour are inappropriate and dangerous as they have the potential to seriously compromise the welfare of dogs, and ruin the relationship with their owners.
Shock Collar Risks
Despite advances in our understanding of dog behaviour and training, and the general move towards reward-based training techniques, some people still continue to recommend the use of punishment as the best method of training or dealing with behaviour problems. While shock collars can work to suppress behaviour, their use comes with unacceptable risks, and inevitably the underlying reasons for the problem behaviour are not dealt with. Even in experienced hands, it can be difficult to deliver shocks at the right moment and to predict the level of discomfort or pain experienced by a dog; in inexperienced hands the use of shock collars can often result in poorly timed intense electric shocks that induce fear and ongoing anxiety in the dog. Owners are often unaware of the high levels of pain that they may be causing their dog.
Aggression and Shock Collars
One of the most common behaviour problems encountered with dogs is that of aggression. In many cases, aggression is motivated by fear. When a dog is nervous or frightened, a natural behavioural strategy is to use aggression to get rid of the “threat”. Placing a shock collar on such a dog to stop it being aggressive can result in the dog becoming even more fearful of the situation, which can make the aggression more likely in the future. The use of a shock collar to try and stop aggressive behaviour can also suppress the warning signs displayed by a dog before it is aggressive, which can make the behaviour of the dog less predictable and more dangerous.
Barking and Shock Collars
The risks of using an electric shock to modify behaviour extend to the treatment of other behaviour problems in dogs such as barking. Dogs learn by association – when using a shock collar there is always a risk that the dog may associate the shock with something other than the behaviour that people are trying to stop. For instance, if a shock is administered for barking, there is a danger that the dog might associate a nearby child with the pain of the shock, rather than its own barking. This could lead to the dog developing distrust or even fear of children. Another significant risk with the use of shock collars is that rather than linking the shock to the wrong thing, a dog may not be able to link the shock to anything at all! This often results in the dog becoming totally confused, anxious and stressed as it repeatedly suffers the pain of the electric shock for no apparent reason.
The APBC feels that behaviour problems can be best addressed through behaviour modification programmes based on an understanding of the motivation for each dog’s behaviour, and the use of humane, reward-based training methods.