Fast Food and Electronic Collars – they are kind of the same thing

I don’t use electronic shock collars.

I have never had a need to use electronic shock collars.

I think electronic shock collars are unethical and abusive.

I believe if you have a dog you should also have the time to work with your dog and build a working relationship.

The only thing that interests me about electronic shock collars is their growing popularity in the family pet community. I do realize that marketing is powerful, and that it influences our behaviors and socially engineers how we feel about things. Yes that is powerful. But what happened to common sense, compassion, and understanding? Where did we trash that along the way?

Electronic shock collars were almost exclusively used in the United States in the hunting field trial groups. Men, young and old, with flushing, pointing, and retrieving dogs, were the marketing dream for these devices. Outdoorsy, rough and rugged, camo clothing, orange vest, and a big gun, electronic shock collars sold themselves to a niche group of people that wanted a specific lifestyle and perceived perfection in their hunting dog. They were the Marlboro Men of the shock collar hunting community.

In today’s world, companies called Radio Systems, Happy Dog, PetSafe, Dogtra, SportDog, Widgets, DogTrainingSystem, and Garmin, are now changing that landscape.

In addition to our hunters, we now have young female trainers in bedazzled jeans, Mom’s with jogging strollers and their off leash dog, ‘Huntress’ shows, sexy and sleek devices that can be operated by your smart phone, and tricky to navigate advertising, so it must be okay, normal everyday people are using them, right? Social norms predict that it will allow people to feel okay, no, feel great and positive about using electricity on their dogs main artery to train everything from basic behaviors, behavioral issues, distance hiking, to hunting.

Kind of like this for an example – “optimized to work on all dog breeds and coat lengths… is the first electronic dog training system with BarkLimiter built right in … Personalize the collar with our polyurethane-coated 3/4″ accessory collars or 3/4″ woven nylon Lupine Collars”

The word ‘electric shock to your dogs artery’ is never used, what is used are super duper feel good words, to allow someone to believe it is a good thing, safe, harmless, and effective. Kind of like magic.

Just another example of how words influence our beliefs – “Up to 36 levels of momentary and continuous stimulation, tone and vibration options, five different button configurations, built-in bark collar”

Just to be clear, these words are synonyms (that means they mean the same or nearly the same thing) –

Vibration – Electronic Shock

Stimulation – Electronic Shock

Tone – Noise from the Electronic Shock Collar

Momentary Stimulation – Electronic Shock

Continuous Stimulation – Electronic Shock

36 Levels of Stimulation – 36 levels of Electronic Shock

But at what cost, at what understanding, at what level of knowledge, with whatever skill? Can a family pet owner who is so busy they do not have time to train their dog really understand the timing and sequencing of 36 levels of stimulation to punish a dog accurately, correctly, and in the perfect moment in time, and acquire the preferred response? Or is it yet another torture device put into the hands of a person thinking they are doing a good thing, timing be damned!

After all they don’t spread rainbows and shoot glitter. Electronic shock collars are designed to make your dog uncomfortable, a little or a lot, or super a lot, so your dog avoids whatever it is you want them to avoid. In my opinion avoidance training is the least skilled method of training, I refer to it as hack training. Instead of teaching the preferred behavior and rewarding what you want, you turn your dog out and allow them to fail, receive punishment of chosen method, so they avoid whatever it is you want them to avoid, but they never learn what it is they are supposed to do. Let that sink in a moment, and then imagine if we as ‘intelligent humans’ were taught this way in school? Oh wait, it’s been proven already to be ineffective and abusive – READ MORE

To me electronic shock collars are like the ‘fast food’ of the training world. Seemingly cheap, quick, easy, digestible, and fulfills the immediate need, but in the long run, it lacks substance, quality, and builds more problems than what you originally started with.

When I first became a professional trainer, Wales was in the process of making electronic shock collars illegal, their statement was something to the like of  “if you have a dog you should expect to spend time training your dog, we consider the use of electronic shock devices immoral and unethical, and abusive”. Keep in mind that is an entire country, not a person or organization. I believe there are now eight countries that have banned their use, while their popularity continues to grow in the United States.

You can paint it anyway you like, scribble your beliefs out side the lines, defend your electronic realm, spin your tale for everyone to hear, believe that you are changing with the times, but at the beginning and end of the day, electricity is still electricity, and to me should not be used on any living being for any reason.


36 Comments Add yours

  1. donhanson57 says:

    Another brilliant post. Thank you!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Thanks Don, nice to hear form you, Nancy

  2. I L-O-V-E reading your commons sense approach to dog training and dog behavioral issues. I am blessed with a very (VERY) biddable Border collie, MAGIC, and MAGIC works extremely well with just whispering and hand signals. When I see prong collars and shock collars on dogs, my first thought is that the owner is a WACKO.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Thomas, thank you

  3. Thank you. A woman once told me how she trained her dog with an electronic collar. She held the button down, with it set on the highest setting, until the dog crawled back to her on his belly. This dog had been in a puppy class I taught. Thankfully he was re-homed. He died of cancer at a young age. I have always wondered if there was a connection…..

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Thank you, and you always have to wonder about those types of connections, I know I do …

  4. Casper O' Hane says:

    Thank you, Nancy. And the same goes for choke and prong collars, I would say. Any time one has to use pain and force to get their dog to listen to them, I think that points to relationship issues, laziness, and putting the dog in situations they aren’t equipped to handle. And then when people say it’s “just in case” the dog doesn’t come when they call. If you doubt your dog’s recall, why let them off leash? I’ve received a lot of criticism from those in the attack dog sports community, (or whatever you call it where the dog has to go and find a person wearing that protection suit thing and bite them.) Apparently shock/choke/prong collars are the tools of choice for these people. Someone said to me, “just try and get my dog off a bite using only food. You won’t succeed.” Another person stated, ” Force free trainers would train an aggressive dog by letting them bite someone and then giving them a cookie when they stopped. ” Insanity, I say. Insanity.

    1. donhanson57 says:

      Casper, I totally agree!

      Whoa! Are these people who do bite work for competition or are these police dogs? If a police dog will not release from a bite on a single verbal cue, IMO it has no business being anywhere in public… EVER! That is a lawsuit just waiting to rightfully enrich a bite victim.

      1. Casper O' Hane says:

        People who do bite work for competition. They seem to think you cannot train a dog to bite OR to release a bite without these tools. I personally don’t see why pet dogs should be trained to bite at all. It’s my goal for my dog NEVER to bite anyone.

    2. Nancy Tanner says:

      Casper, thank you, I believe the sport you are referring to is Mondio Ring Sport or Schutzhund – Nancy

  5. Tahnk you for this wonderful, gentle, helpful essay.

  6. Tricia says:

    Schutzhund, Mondio, Field dogs are all selectively bred to withstand the type of punishment that is dished out. They have so much drive it overrides the pain being delivered. Pet dogs are not selectively bred for this type of abuse, and should not have to suffer from the quick and easy fix. (I had a hard driving field bred dog, and she wouldn’t have survived in an average pet home, but she was quite trainable without resorting to extremes. The people who breed these dogs seem to have to be continually breeding for tougher and tougher dogs so that they can withstand the tough training. Seems backward to me. Stop using such harsh training methods and you won’t have to breed dogs that won’t release a sleeve when properly trained. Even 325 pound tackles eventually get CTE.

  7. jane13 says:

    In our society today it is sad but true that life, human or animal, or Mother Earth, has little value. We have come to accept the taser, school children being shot, unarmed people of color being killed , loss or extinction of various species due to climate change, lack of clean water in poor countries, lack of health care for the poor, etc. So, it’s not difficult to see how many would fall for advertising about shocking their helpless dog. Individualism and the bottom line seem to win. Thanks for your excellent post!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      thank you, Nancy

  8. Nikki Brown says:

    Well said everyone! Reading about the above “sport” for the first time . To me it is too close to the dog fighting rings, groups, that have wreaked so much pain to so many dogs. Seems man will find a way to justify any violence they want to see…

      1. Colby Quinn says:

        Apparently the people in the comments know nothing about bite sports. There are plenty of FF trainers in bite sports. The number one problem with dogs in America is obesity. Banning E-collars definitely isn’t going to help that. I don’t cut any corners when it comes to training but I also like to give my dogs freedom. I will take that GSD that some FF trainers don’t want to work with because they are too aggressive. I use reward based trained paired with an EC with great results and a happy dog. I have over 100 videos posted on my TT page. I will be happy to discuss EC bans with anyone who is interested. I have done live chats with a trainer in Sweden about these bans. They also banned crates in Sweden. I’m happy to discuss that as well. Compare the dog population in Sweden to the US and you will see we are comparing apples to oranges. Only 20% of the population in Sweden own a dog.

      2. Nancy Tanner says:

        hello my friend. So we have had a circular conversation about electronic shock collars for as long as I can remember. This is something we will never agree on, and it isn’t just my belief, but also my profession, and my applied skills in this field. We can all do better when it comes to working with animals, and that includes using electricity on a dogs artery. Also super bad form to be promoting yourself on here.

      3. Colby says:

        Hi Nancy. Sorry I didn’t mean to promote myself I just train with friends. My profession is not dog training. My goal is to give high powered dogs the best life. I hear people say, I was against E-collars until I really needed one. You have told me many times that you don’t use the trails around Bozeman because of all the off leash dogs. Imagine if all those dogs were under control. Being a responsible dog owner also means thinking about other people on the trail and having trail etiquette. My dogs get freedom, we go where we want without conflict. It’s reward based training with a safety net. I have seen dogs being abused on harnesses and flat collars. It’s not the tool it’s the person using the tool. I’m also one of your students and have been using your methods for over 20 years. Have a great weekend

      4. Nancy Tanner says:

        Good morning – I agree it is not the tool and it is the person using it, there is lots of truth in that. And there are people that harm their dogs no matter what the took is. But putting electricity into a human hand to control another animal is not necessary, and the risks far outweigh the benefits, especially to the larger population of dog owners. Working within your niche group of people in ring sports is one thing, talking to the general population is entirely different. Where you liken this to apples and oranges, I would say it is apples and screwdrivers. We could possible go back and forth and tell horror stories with how dogs have been treated on what types of gear, probably until we are 80 and the grass is tall, and that might be a super interesting day. But it doesn’t address the humane aspect, and the very foundation fact of – if you get a dog you should expect to spend time training and getting to know your dog, it is a relationship based on trust, safety, and most of the time work, and hopefully love for your animal.

  9. Casper O' Hane says:

    Oh, just one other thing, that I think is a good example of what avoidance training is like for humans. I know someone who as a child was never told what was right or wrong, just punished for doing wrong. She says she remembers being half afraid to do anything, for fear that it would be wrong. She and her brother would build houses of cards in their room, but if they heard someone coming down the hall, they would immediately knock down the card house and pretend to be playing a card game; they were afraid that building card houses was the “wrong” way to play with cards, and that they might be punished for it. Looking back, she says her parents probably could have cared less whether the children played games with the cards or built houses out of them, but they lived in such fear of doing “wrong” that even in their play, it was always in the back of their minds. That’s no way to live, whether you are a child or a dog.

  10. Thank you for writing this article. I am very concerned about the surge in marketing that makes the public believe this is ok. We need to have a more powerful message to show the public a better method.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      you are welcome – yes marketing has a great deal to do with this, allowing people to ‘feel’ okay – Nancy

  11. Karen Ogden says:

    As always Nancy, you are right on spot!
    Electronic training is like Amazon Prime for people – don’t have to wait for results, instant gratification. But unlike Prime which is dealing with an object, creating pain in another living being so that your can have a reinforcing moment, is in my mind highly unethical, and morally wrong.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Karen, nice to hear from you, I agree with the ethics and morals being lost with this type of training, Nancy

  12. Kathy says:

    Why do people insist on vilifying tools and methods they know nothing about just because they have been told they are bad? Can’t anyone think for themselves? For one thing, they aren’t shock collars and haven’t been for decades. The modern electronic collar works on the same principle as a TENS machine used in physical therapy. Are we shocking people in PT? Nope – I get a lot of PT and have my own TENS machine and I am so not into abuse …

    The reason that the words “‘electric shock to your dogs artery’” aren’t used is because that isn’t how the collar works, especially at the low levels. And no, those words like vibration, etc are not synonyms for shock. Then you go on to make sweeping assumptions on how a dog is trained using the collar, even tho you don’t even know how the thing works? Who is it who is spreading propaganda here?

    You live in a country that doesn’t even have e-collars and you denigrate the US for using them? How is that honest, how is that enlightened and open minded training? Do you even actually train dogs, or just teach them tricks? I’ve been training dogs – by now, hundreds of dogs if we include the classes I taught – for 50 years, in obedience, agility, field, rally and just general pet manners. Do I put e-collars on every dog? No, I use whatever tool/method makes the most sense to the dog and makes it easier for him to be right, because I am aware that no tool is in itself positive or negative, it’s all in how it is used. If you cannot trust yourself to not abuse a dog using the collar, then just don’t use it! It’s that simple. Do not assume other people are abusing dogs just because you don’t understand the tool.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Kathy,
      I am guessing you are addressing me in this comment. I do live in the USA, in the heart of hunting and herding country. I do teach more than tricks, for a long time, but not 50 years like yourself.

      It is interesting you mention TOOL BOX – I also have written an article about that – here it is –

      I stand firm that no animal needs a device that causes harm, fear, or intimidation to train, not a single one. I work with about 400 dogs each year, I have never met one that needed more than good management, understanding owners, structure in the house hold, and a plan. I have never, not once every thought that any dog I have worked with deserved a device on their body to scare them into learning.

      It is no longer potatoes – potatoes – It is ethics – Nancy

    2. Dana says:

      I can’t agree that tools by themselves are neutral. Some tools work ONLY because they instantly either create a situation of avoidance or suppress undesirable behavior quickly. Every type of training employs some degree of behavior suppression or avoidance but the degree to which it does does seem to be an ethical choice.

      In my opinion, too often fall out occurs and the dog becomes afraid of the trainer, the environment or whatever it sees at the moment of the nic. Haven’t you seen a dog fail to make the expected connection between the nic and what you anticipated they were learning?

      What I tell people is that if you have a fly on your wall, you can throw a piano at it, use a fly swatter or scoop it up and let it out the door.

      I don’t understand why static correction is so appealing to trainers, people who believe they on the side of both animals and their people. Sometimes I wonder if it resonates because the dog is disobedient so it deserves to be made more uncomfortable than necessary.

      I always wonder what their childhood was like.

    3. Casper O' Hane says:

      Hey there, I’m a person who used a shock collar, read all about the “correct” usage of the tool and used it “correctly,” so if you want to argue that Nancy knows ” nothing” about them, well I know something about them and will share my experience if you are interested, and if you are not well then just ignore me.
      I used the collar on my previous dog. I started out using it at low levels, just like I’d been told. And it worked. She came when I called her and heeled when I told her to. But I wanted to do trick training and agility, and that’s where I ran into trouble. If I could describe her in one word, it would be hesitant. In these training sessions, I was asking her to use her brain, make guesses, figure things out. And she wouldn’t. She was afraid to learn, because she was afraid to make a mistake. Better to stand there doing nothing, because if she tried and made a mistake, she would be shocked, at least that’s what she thought. I had to beg, plead, and cajole to get her to do anything. even though I rewarded her with food and praise, she showed no enthusiasm, she did everything in slow motion. I put it down to her being stubborn and gave up. I had other things to worry about; she’d become desensitized to the low level shock and I was having to keep cranking it up higher to get a response.
      That is when I read animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell’s book The Other End of the Leash and became interested in dog behavior and body language. And I realized how many signs of stress my dog had been exhibiting during training, and just any time I was interacting with her, whether the collar was on or not. Before, I had seen articles about why I shouldn’t use a shock collar by R+/force -free trainers and dismissed them, thinking “oh, they don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re coddling their dogs, they’re using emotions not logic, they only do trick training, they only train easy dogs,” etc. But now I started reading what the ” other side ” had to say, and I found it too compelling to ignore. I saw some of the amazing things dogs are being trained to do without force, and realized that the reason I had even started using a shock collar in the first place was because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first attempts at teaching obedience failed, so instead of learning more, I bought a shock collar and tried that instead.
      I wish I could say that once I stopped using the shock collar, our relationship was just peachy. But some damage can never be undone. If I had not started learning about force free training I might have continued believing that I wasn’t hurting my dog and our relationship was just fine, and never experienced all the regret that came with finding out that this was not the case. But I am glad I did, for the sake of my current dog. She is my heart.
      I realize this might sound offensive, but I will say it anyway: experience is not a substitute for knowledge. You can train dogs for 800 years and never learn a thing if you are not constantly researching and learning and considering all the information out there and not just that which goes along with your opinion. And this applies to all trainers. It is a huge mistake to say, “I know what I’m doing, so I don’t need to learn anymore.”
      If I had never resorted to the shock collar, and instead learned more, and put more time, effort, and patience into training my dog, we could’ve had a whole different relationship. And that is why I advocate for pain free, force free, fear free training, so that others won’t make the same mistake.
      You can take this as an attack on you, if you like, I have no control over your mind and what you think. Or you can take it as food for thought. I sincerely hope you do the latter.
      If you want to hear what the “other side” has to say, this is a good place to start.

      1. Nancy Tanner says:

        thank you for posting your experience – Nancy

      2. Casper O' Hane says:

        I hope it will encourage people to think long and hard about what they use on their dog and never stop learning.

    4. Casper O' Hane says:

      Wrote a reply to you but it didn’t post it as a reply so you will have to look for it below.

  13. Dana says:

    Thank you for this article. I could not agree with you more. The times I have argued with other dog owners about the cruel use of e-collars only to be told that I don’t understand enough about dogs to have an opinion, or my dogs are weak and soft, which is why I have no idea what I am talking about. I have been owned by different dog breeds in my lifetime, but even my 2 “weak and soft” German Shepherd Dogs have never needed e-collar corrections. If you have to shock your dog to get their attention, then you’re a terrible owner and trainer.

  14. Joyce says:

    Sellers use the same sort of verbiage for the bark deterrent devices, be it one an owner puts on their own dog or a neighbor sets up to torture the neighborhood dogs. It’s nearly impossible to find in a manufacturer’s literature what frequency the devices work on or at what decibel level. However, I did find one web site that contended the decibel levels were nearly high enough to break eardrums! They should be outlawed too!

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