There are a lot of training methods out there and a lot of opinions on how you should train a dog. It seems like dog training almost has been caught up in the culture war with people being very passionate about their beliefs. I don’t want to get caught up in that, I just want training that is scientifically sound.
One school of thought that keeps falling in and out of favor, is the idea of dominance. There was the idea, that wolves were led by an ‘alpha’ who basically told everyone what to do. However, scientific research into wolf packs has shown that their relationships are much more complicated and basically discredited the dominance theory.
Another school of thought was inspired by Behaviorism, the study of how we respond to stimuli and how we learn. The popular training method that came out of this is positive reinforcement training.
The use of a shock collar falls in the first category. You punish unwanted behavior and force the dog to restrict his impulses. Sometimes a sound is used to warn a dog, like in an invisible fence collar, but the sound represents a threat: the next step is a shock. Some people say it’s effective, some people are abhorred by this. Now there is a study that sheds some more light on the use of these collars.
In the study* dogs were divided into different groups and trained with and without the use of shock collars. The researchers found no significant difference in the immediate results; dogs seemed to be following commands just as well having been trained with or without these collars. But they saw signs of stress in the dogs that had been trained with the collars.
Also, when the owners were asked if they were confident continuing the training, the owners that had been using positive reinforcement were very confident that they could continue, whereas they owners whose dogs had been trained with a shock collar were much less confident. And here lies the rub. Average dog owners will probably not be as capable using these collars, getting the timing right and they might be tempted to overcorrect if they don’t get the desired response.
Use of these collars can have devastating effects in dogs that are having anxiety and fear issues. Dogs can shut down or become aggressive. I’ve personally seen dogs become aggressive after being trained with these collars and I strongly recommend people to stay away from them. It’s a lazy way of training, your dog is not some kind of device you can control with a remote. Having a well behaved dog means you have a strong bond with your dog, based on spending time and working with your dog. It’s based on trust, not on fear.
*”The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Training Collars in Comparison to Reward-Based Training”, published in peer reviewed scientific journal Plos One, conducted by researchers at the University Of Lincoln in the UK.