Shock Collar TrainingDog Shock Collar

The Shocking Truth

by John M. Rubin

John's Natural Dog Training Company Statement

"I absolutely will never use, and do not advocate, the use of electronic shock collars! - a good dog trainer, behaviorist or experienced handler would never need one." John M. Rubin 

Man charged with animal cruelty for alleged shock collar abuse - VIEW STORY

Booted for our beliefs

We believe in supporting local, regional and national canine organizations - especially if we feel they are promoting responsible dog ownership. A few years ago the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals) suspended our membership because of this article and our stance against the use of Shock Collar Training.

Their letter of explanation stated that a member, or members, complained that we were unfairly criticizing professional dog trainers who opted to use shock collars in their dog training practices. We named no names and only published the information we uncovered. (Interestingly enough, no complaints were apparently received from gentle leader or clicker/food trainers. We have also written articles about these methods as well.)

The purpose of this article, as with most of the articles on our website, is meant only to educate dog owners. And, while we do not use shock collars, and obviously greatly discourage their use, it will always be up to the individual owners to determine how they want to train their canine companions. We offer alternative methods, and this article, as our reason for doing so.

We believe in free speech and stand behind this article and the extensive research that went into it. We continue to support those organizations that dedicate themselves to the health and well-being of the beloved canine and who allow us to exercise our right to voice our opinion.

Contemporary Dog Training

When I first began training dogs, the shock collar (aka e-collar, remote trainer) was considered by professional and layman alike to be tantamount to torture. It was really only used for specific types of training such as field work/retrieving and rarely, if ever, in obedience training.

Manufacturers now claim to have designed and created more sophisticated and technologically advanced devices. The swift emergence of "progressive" dog trainers believe they are no longer harmful. These trainers want to be convinced, and they work hard to convince us, that they need to use these collars that shock, or " produce a static pulse stimulation or "aversive stimulus " at varying degrees of intensity and duration" in order to satisfy their clients need for a better trained dog.

That is their spin - This is my experience

It appears that learning more in-depth knowledge of canine psychology, communication and natural instincts is just too much work for today's new dog trainer. Perhaps the education process itself takes too long for them to make a living. Just like everything else that has evolved within our society during the last few decades, the focus in dog training is now geared toward "faster", "instant" and "guaranteed quick" results.

I began to hear horror stories from my clients starting around the year 2000. Shortly thereafter I began to do some investigating. What I discovered was that, more often-than-not, these clients had sent their dogs away to a canine professional for in-kennel training. They would call a trainer looking for information on dog training programs. The trainer would convince the prospective client that their dog would be better and more quickly trained at their boarding facility. However, what many clients were not told was that the training of their dog would involve the use of electronic shock collars.

An approach that in-home trainers were, and still are utilizing, is the "Free Demo" or “Free Consultation” pitch. They almost always arrived with shock collar in hand and anxious to demonstrate it without the client even knowing that was their primary, if not only, method of training.

In my search for answers I wanted to know how many local dog trainers used shock collars. I was amazed to found out that approximately 40% of the dog training professionals in my area not only use electronic shock collars, but used them to the exclusion of all other training methods and equipment. I gathered this information from clients, other trainers who had worked with them and phone calls made directly to the companies themselves. My results are not scientific by any means, but I believe they are accurate enough to share.

If I conducted this survey today I am quite certain it would be the same if not a higher percentage. Interestingly enough, I found that just as many female dog trainers were using shock collars as there male counterparts. The only difference was that the female trainers were less upfront when asked if they used shock collars. They tended to minimize their use as well as any discomfort it might cause to the dog.

What was most troubling to me is that these dog trainers are often being recommended by local veterinarians, rescue organizations and "humane" shelters - all reputable and caring businesses and organizations. I cannot say for sure if any of them actually know that they are referring inexperienced trainers using shock devices. I don't even know if they view shock collars as inhumane. What I can say for sure is that caring dog owners want what is best for their dogs and often rely upon their veterinarian or local shelter's recommendation with the notion that these professionals should know what is best.

It is remarkable to me that the remaining trainers I researched were using methods that were completely opposite of the shock collar - Gentle Leader and/or clicker training with the use of food or toys as a reward. I have my opinion and experience with those methods as you might know by now but, I know these "gentler" methods will generally do no harm. Still, I do work with plenty of clients every month who have previously used these trainers and their gentle, reward-based approach but their results were inconsistent.

I always knew that our methods were unique. What I never imagined was that they would remain so even after 25 plus years. I believe that commitment to the profession, the pets and their people, is vital to becoming effective and successful. The problem seems to be that this new “breed” of dog trainer claiming to use “progressive” methods, simply do not commit any time to actually learning about how dogs think and learn. Could it be that they are just job seekers who figure because they love dogs, or have a passion for animals, that dog training can become their career?

The pet industry has been somewhat recession proof. But, it takes so much more to be just an average dog trainer. Loving children does not make one the best school teacher any more than having a passion for art will transform one into the next Picasso.

The Shocking Truth - Facts About Shock Collars

I feel it is not sufficient for me to just merely point out the obvious: Shock collars are designed to cause pain and therefore compliance through pain; commonly described as "getting the dogs attention".

And while many detractors simply use the term "inhumane", I won't. That portrayal does not say enough. Instead, I feel it is better for me to share my many years of experience in dealing with the results of the use of shock collars. I decided it was best for me to provide you with the outcome of a few of the hundreds of actual cases I have personally witnessed which have resulted in physical, psychological and social harm.

A beloved pet that has been ill-treated either psychologically or socially by the use of shock collar training is often subsequently lost to a shelter, a rescue or euthanasia. I have helped too many clients make the unfortunate decision of having to euthanize their beloved dog, or give the dog back to the breeder only to spend the rest of its life confined for its own safety or that of others. There are financial consequences as well. Choosing the perfect companion dog these days can be a significant investment. Vet bills for health and wellness is on the rise and training fees can be lofty depending on the method you choose.

I have found with most of the “board-and-train” facilities that the fees are often in the thousands; my research found the range to be approximately $2,000.00 to $10,000.00 depending on the specific program and length of training.

Although I could fill pages with stories of affected dogs and clients I have worked with, I will cite only a small sampling of actual cases. Client names will not be included and the dog’s names have been changed. To see it memorialized can be painful to the client and we continue to respect the confidentiality of all our clients.

Max - Aggression Consult

Max and his sister Millie were sent, at the tender age of 16 weeks, to a kennel facility for obedience training. Their owners were expecting a baby and wanted the dogs to be perfect once the baby arrived.

After 6 weeks of in-kennel training the dogs (really still puppies) came home. The owners immediately noticed their behavior was not quite right. Neither dog seemed playful any longer and both seemed to be exhibiting different levels of anxiety. They consistently had tucked tails and pinned-back ears. Max was very aggressive especially around food. He was particularly aggressive on-leash, around toys and with strangers as well.

I asked the owners who the trainer was. I knew the trainer used shock collar methods so I asked them if they had been told that this type of training device might/would be used. They said they had never been informed. I asked them to show me what training collars the dogs came home with. Both came home with shock collars and had been supplied with prong collars as well. I considered putting the collars on the dogs but, not only were they of inferior quality, they were both so tight that the putting them on the dogs was not possible - not to mention it would be cruel to put cheap, painful training collars on these two wonderful pets.

Notes: I have worked with countless numbers of clients who had originally worked with this trainer/kennel facility. Except for this couple, all were aware, or had been made aware, that shock collars were used in the training of their pets. All have had some issues with mild to severe aggression or mild to severe anxiety. Interestingly enough, when we conducted our survey, we asked this trainer what type of training collars they used and their answers are below.

Taken from our surveyor's notes (unedited):

  • Uses choke chains
  • Positive reinforcements
  • Only in EXTREME cases will they use shock collars, but that's not their method of training

The first thing I recommended of course was to immediately remove the shock collar. He was instantly better. When placed back on a regular collar and leash, he became agitated and what is considered “leash aggressive” -  another possible behavior exhibited by dogs trained using remote e-collars. The female was not aggressive but was extremely skittish and demonstrated a very low level of confidence. Although we continued to work diligently with them, the male only showed moderate improvement; he was truly damaged. The female did much better.

Gracie - Fear Consult

Gracie is a sweet dog but a breed that is very lively and energetic. The owner called a trainer to help her work with her "rambunctiousness". She was just looking for some basic obedience training so that Gracie would be better behaved around her small children. The trainer came to her home to do a “Free Consultation”.

He immediately showed the owner a remote electronic training collar that he claimed would help her control the dog off leash. The client was apprehensive and because of this he placed the collar on her arm and, at the lowest setting, activated the collar. He told her that this is all the dog would feel. She felt the stimulation was unpleasant but not necessarily painful and agreed to have him use the collar on Gracie.

As promised he started with the lowest setting to which Gracie had no response and continued behaving as she normally did. He continued to increase the "stimulation" until she did respond. Her owner told me that he went to such a level that Gracie screeched in pain, urinated and ran away. She reacted fearfully so quickly thereafter that the owner ordered him to remove the collar and leave.

When I began working with Gracie, using the leash and collar, although very apprehensive, she responded easily to my commands and was most responsive to my abundant verbal and physical praise. Her fear-based behaviors will take some time to modify. Our training program will be focused on building her confidence back to the level it was prior to the use of the remote shock collar.

Notes: I have also worked with many of this trainer's prior clients. All experienced the same type of consultation and similar result.

Taken from our surveyor's notes (unedited):

  • Doesn't like to use leash training, but will if the owner wants to
  • Uses remote shock collar
  • Uses it to get dogs attention

These seem to be fairly standard answers from remote e-collar trainers. I stand by the leash law and consider leash training a fundamental must. This helps to educate owners with regard to our leash laws and the safety of their dog. I cannot imagine how this owner would have felt if Gracie had run into the street and been hit by a car.

Bo - Behavior Consult

Bo is a female German Shepherd Dog and was 5 months old when she was sent off for in-kennel training for 4 weeks. The owner was told of the use of e-collar training but was assured only low stimulus would be used.

The owner noticed severe behavioral changes upon Bo's return and she did not seem like the same dog. When I arrived and greeted Bo, she immediately dropped to the ground and urinated. She did not exhibit any puppy-like behaviors.

When I tried to place her buckle collar on her in order to leash her up, she became extremely fear-aggressive. Although some progress was made with Bo, she never regained the confident behavior that would allow her to be around people and other dogs.

After too many incidences the owner had to make the painful decision to put her down.

Although I have worked with many of this trainer’s former clients in the past, I see fewer and fewer these days. I have been made aware that he rarely trains in this area any longer. However, trainers who have worked with/for this person continue to use the same methods and choice of training equipment. A former employee of ours apprenticed with his company for a day many years ago and left in tears that day vowing to never return. We did not survey this company due to the information our associate was able to provide to us.

Notes: This associate also informed us of trainers who were working with him at the time. One of his former trainers is someone we surveyed and who continues to use the shock collar. This trainer almost always recommends his in-kennel training program.

Coco - Anxiety Consult

Coco is a lovely and lively young lab owned by an older couple. Coco pulled so hard on the end of the leash that her owners could not safely walk her. She also, as many pups do, constantly jumped on them and nipped at their hands making it impossible for them to really enjoy her.

Their daughter sought the services of a local trainer hoping to get Coco's behavior under control so that her parents could walk her. The company they called offered “Free Demos” and so an appointment was made.

Within minutes of this trainer's arrival she pulled out the remote e-collar and told the client it was only used on the lowest setting. She let the customer try it first before placing it on her parent’s dog. The client said she felt just a "tap" and that it was not painful. She then agreed to let the trainer proceed. The client noticed that before the trainer placed the collar on Coco she adjusted the control upwards - then, for no reason shocked her.

The client did not tell me what command was given, or what Coco had done, or not done, to garner a corrective shock. However, the effect was enough that my client asked her to leave. Coco's response to being shocked was so severe it deeply disturbed the clients. She had yelped, flipped onto her back and urinated on herself. You can only imagine how her owners felt.

Notes: One of my trainers has worked with many of this trainer's prior clients. All experienced the same type of consultation and result.

Taken from our surveyor's notes (unedited):

  • Uses electronic remote collars
  • Says its not strong and uses it on lowest amount
  • Makes the owners try it first so they know what it feels like
  • Just uses it to get dogs attention Eventually the goal is to have the dog respond to verbal commands

The trainer was truthful with the surveyor to some degree. She never mentioned she would change the setting before placing the collar on the dog. Every client my trainers have worked with who have used this trainer has stated that the level of shock was always increased to the point where their dog yelped.

I saw no permanent damage from the one time use of the remote e-collar. However, Coco, during our first few training sessions, was very apprehensive about having any collar placed around her neck. Her progress was terrific and she is a now wonderful and well- behaved companion.

case studies

As with any dog training device, this tool can easily be abused, overused or mis-used and because of this it simply should never be used by any owner or professional.

Schilder & van der Borg Study

Shock Collars - a 2004 Study

Ban Shock Collars

Please feel free to read my article on How Dogs Learn. This may answer many of your questions and help you decide which method of training you think will work best for you and your dog.

Our Team

John Rubin. Head Trainer/Owner-President

John the Dog TrainerJohn Rubin has been training dogs for over 27 years and has extensive equine experience as well. He is the founder of John Knows Dogs. LEARN MORE

Bonnie Rubin. Co-owner/Vice President

Bonnie RubinBonnie co-owns John's Natural Dog Training Company along with her husband John Rubin and is co-owner of Kamp Kanine. LEARN MORE

Jessica McCloskey. Lead Trainer - CPDT-KA

Jessica the Dog TrainerJessica McCloskey is John and Bonnie's daughter and has been working with and training dogs from a very early age. LEARN MORE

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