Shock Collars! Why we don't need to cheat and use fear to get the behaviors we want from our companions!


It's no secret that some training programs use shock collars. Some don't. Let's start this by saying that there are many ways to accomplish the goals of teaching our dogs new/better behaviors. But, isn't it best to do so in the least harmful and most cooperative way possible, at least at first?

Why not use a shock collar? For an in-depth study, see THIS article!!!

Fact#1: These fear-tactics are known by behavior professionals to cause the behavior you're trying to improve, to sometimes get worse. Also, when we startle them- their mind is closed to incoming info (the opposite of learning). Like a turtle that recluses into their shell. You've now lost a valuable teaching moment. Now, the pup will repeat that same behavior later because he didn't learn what to do differently. Using focus and redirecting them onto another task is best.

Fact #2: We need to first let go of the assumption that our pup "knows" they're doing something wrong that "deserves a punishment" (which is what a deterrent or shock collar provides.) We as the leaders, providers and teachers have to do the work of showing them the right path to follow using positive reinforcement. Punishment is confusing and counter-productive. It may make you feel better for a moment- but you've back-tracked your pups training goals AND broken down the bond of trust required to have your pup happily and freely offer you positive behaviors, especially when you ask. Aka obedience.

Fact #3: Pups like to feel successful and confident so they're always seeking to offer behaviors they know will have a positive outcome- if we actually teach and show them what those behaviors are and reward them in the moment they occur. So, if your dog truly "knew" the info you're intending- they'd offer the positive one. Period. We've got to apply canine psychology in all of our communications!

This gets broken down into more detail below.

Dogs learn mostly by 2 main ways:

1) By consequence- "When I jump up on my mom when she comes home, she ignores me and I don't get the attention I want. Hmmmmm, what do I need to do to get her attention?" (Open mind/thinking= learning)

2) By association- "When dad says SIT and I put my butt down, I get a treat so sit=treat!" (Engaged/rewarded mind=learning)

These are a few of the basic dog training methods and a little about what they mean and their differences.

1) Positive reinforcement- When we add a consequence for a behavior, which causes the behavior to increase. This is the most humane and most commonly referred-to method, though most training plans will include a mix of some or all of these methods. Who wants to hire a trainer who says "I use negative punishment methods for training!"? Without a clear understanding, this can be VERY misleading.

Example of positive reinforcement: When our dog sits, we give them a treat, they like treats so they will increase the sit behavior. THIS IS THE BEST METHOD!

See an amazing article HERE about positive reinforcement

2) Negative reinforcement- When something negative is removed to increase a behavior. This is one of the main methods of shock collar training. This method breaks down the trust you need to have a meaningful bond and willing cooperation.

Example of negative reinforcement: Our dog is not in the correct heel position, so we shock them- they feel pain and discomfort and they want it to stop- so they try offering other behaviors until they figure out the exact one that takes away the shock. They will want to repeat the behavior that made the shocking stop. Thus, the fear of the shock collar pain makes them want to "heel" more. SOUNDS GREAT, RIGHT? NO! There are literally many other ways! This is obviously NOT a method we want to use.

What we can do INSTEAD: Our dog is not in the correct heel position, so we show them a treat or favorite toy, use their natural motivation and drive to earn rewards to lure them into the correct heel position and reward them for making that behavior choice. They get the treat and hear the heel cue, so heel=treat! This method also works faster by helping them get to the desired behavior faster.

Boom- positive reinforcement works here.

3) Positive punishment- When a punishment is added during or right after a behavior, causing the behavior to decrease. The problem with this method is that we don't know how each dog in each scenario will react or what they're truly learning. Sure, whatever they're doing they may stop, or it could get much worse, but they might still do it again later because we haven't actually taught them anything or offered an alternative option. Plus, this one uses fear, pain, discomfort or other forms of punishment as well which can cause a series of other undesirable behaviors. This is the way most people use their shock collars. Maybe they were shown the other way (negative reinforcement), but they revert to this as it seems to get the results they want in those moments.

Example of positive punishment: A dog is barking, the person throws a can of pennies at the dog, causing the dog to stop barking in that moment. Or more commonly used is the spray bottle when the dog is chewing on something. Or the dog chases a cat, person yells "NO!!!", dog stops chasing the cat for that moment. This is NOT the best way of managing problematic behaviors as there is some discomfort and fear, with very little follow-up or learning after. We didn't tell them what to do instead, so they're going to repeat this cycle until we do!

What we can do INSTEAD: Our dog is barking, so we first find out at what and why. Then, we either ignore demanding barking and remove the trigger (food, toy, us etc) OR redirect them by asking for an alternative behavior like the "touch" cue or "fetch" which they enjoy and get rewarded for, so their mouth and mind become busy with a better behavior that is incompatible with barking! Or we can even add a down/stay on their bed to help. "If I stop barking=I get this other fun stuff!"

Boom- positive reinforcement works here.

4) Negative punishment- Where the desired reward is removed, causing a behavior to decrease. This method can be helpful when used appropriately.

Example of negative punishment: A dog is pulling on the leash, the owner stops walking until the dog stops pulling. The dog lost the enjoyment of moving forward, so he will decrease the pulling. This method can be useful if done correctly!

What we can do INSTEAD: Our dog is pulling on the leash, so we show them a treat or favorite toy, use their natural motivation and drive to earn rewards to entice them to come closer to us and "give us" the leash using cues such as come, touch or even add in that "heel" cue from above, then reward them for making that behavior choice. "If I stay close to mom on our walks and I don't pull on her, I get a treat and we get to explore more. So, being close to mom=treat/fun!"

Boom- positive reinforcement works here.

Knowing how to address each behavior can be tricky, this is why finding an experienced, educated and knowledgeable dog trainer or dog behaviorist who keeps up to date on the recent developments and studies about canine behavior is vital!

CONTACT ME to set up a consultation to make a plan to manage undesirable behaviors.