The use of electric collars is a contentious topic. Public opinion deems it unethical even if it’s legal to use in the US. Based on some studies, the drawbacks seem to outweigh the benefits.
Electric collar- is it ethical to use one on dogs?
Many dog lovers and animal rights activists oppose the use of e-collars. But trainers dealing with extreme dog behavior and vets managing post surgery canines may resort to its use.
When is it deemed necessary? What cases can they be reasonably used for, if at all?
Let’s settle the debate, for once and for all.
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Also called vibration collar, shock collar, electric collar, or zap collar, electronic collars are used to suppress unwanted animal behavior.
These are designed to deliver a static impulse to the dog via electric currents that pass through different contact points in the collar.
While the shocks can be controlled, the sensation in dogs can range from a mild tingling to a relatively strong electric jolt.
E-collar has two components:
Originally used in the 1960s for training hunting dogs, e-collars had high electric shock capabilities. The modern versions you now see in stores can deliver mild pulses.
Hence, these are relatively safer and more humane to use according to their manufacturers.
These collars are usually used in behavior modification, pet containment, obedience training, and in military, police, and service dogs training.
Is a vibration collar cruel?
While there are some accounts of its success and safety when used in moderation as a dog training tool, many are still hesitant to use e-collars. The general perception is that it is harmful and unethical, especially when used frequently.
One of these anti-e-collar advocates is Barbara Finch Post, a linguist/translator who wants its use for whatever purpose to be declared illegal.
Linda Krueger also shares a similar view as she expresses a strong opinion against it online. She asks for more empathy for dogs who get scared or aggressive, or become timid and nervous when they get the shock collar treatment out of the blue.
According to her, they lose their sense of trust and their personality gets altered in a negative way.
E-collars have come a long way from being the shock-delivering training tool of the 60s. Modern technology has enabled a more “humane” version of electronic collars.
Most modern e-collars allow handlers to use pre-warning cues through the controller with sound or vibration to precede the electric pulse stimulus.
With proper, ethical use, many of its users believe in the e-collar’s capacity to get results. This could be anything from tempering aggressive dogs to keeping them from self-inflicted harm like scratching their wounds post-surgery.
Animal welfare organizations like PETA are against this negative reinforcement tool.
They believe it has less to do with teaching obedience and has more to do with instilling fear and distrust. For them or those who support e-collar ban, no amount of good intention is worth the risk of subjecting dogs to these aversive tools.
On the other side of the fence, cognitive psychologist Dr. Stephen Lindsay believes that the e-collar’s perceived effect on dogs have been overdrawn.
He states that when used at low levels, the e-collar does nothing more than send pulses or a tickling sensation on the dog’s skin.
He adds that the term shock associated with the e-collar is a biased misconception that conjures up exaggerated images of pain, trauma, and abuse. Things that the device was not designed to do to begin with.
According to him, modern e-collars have stimulus or signal that are highly controllable. These manage to produce a specific set of behavioral and motivational responses in dogs, hardly a form of animal torture.
Are shock collars illegal in the US?
No, electric collars are permissible in the US.
But these are banned in European countries like Scotland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Norway, and some parts of Australia.
In some countries where it is legal, there are regulations and standards that you must comply with to uphold the humane treatment of dogs and other animals. Some of these parameters include:
In the US and other countries where it’s legal, electronic collars are used as a behavior modification tool or even a veterinary tool. But some factors need to be considered when using it.
Not all dogs have the same level of sensitivity to e-collars, so it has to be used with the right knowledge and caution.
The sensation a dog experiences from the collar varies widely from day to day. Environmental conditions play a key role in it.
Add to that the fact that dogs feel electronic stimulation differently and you’ll know why to exercise caution.
Some dogs may find the stimulation mildly irritating or even ticklish, while others can feel a lot of discomfort.
There have been reports where the electric collar’s shock stimuli were ignored by a dog that repeatedly bit its handler’s hand despite the signals from the collar.
Given these facts, using the electronic collar must not be done with the assumption that one dog’s experience will be the same as another.
Pro Tip: Where it is legal, use the electric collar ethically, without any intention or effect of forcing a dog to drop its aggressive behavior at the expense of its safety.
In dog training, modern electric collars are used for correcting negative behavior and rewarding positive behavior.
These contraptions are widely used in countries like Australia (some regions). But these devices pass through stringent quality checks and are not designed to deliver high voltage shock to dogs.
Most e-collars in use today deliver a degree of sensation similar to TENS or (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machines used to relieve sore backs. That’s equivalent to a maximum of 0.0003 joules of electricity.
Depending on the e-collar, the range of distance of operation can be from 70 meters to more than a kilometer. The signal from the remote transmitter is delivered to the dog’s skin via two small prongs attached to the collar.
These signals can be in the form of vibration, tone, or static pulse. Some collars even use scent as a stimulus.
Trainers use e-collars for basic commands like recall, anti-barking, keeping dogs from jumping on people, yard boundaries, and other reinforcements.
They attach the collar to the dog’s neck first and give them a reward before starting with the commands. This is done to trigger a positive perception of the collar instead of it being a punishment device.
Handlers usually start with the regular training techniques like treats, then progress with cues and finally use the e-collar stimulus. The vibration or pulse helps reinforce the behavior further.
They normally combine various tools and techniques because only using an e-collar can limit a dog’s corrected behavior. The dog behaves a certain way only when the e-collar is attached to it.
Under no circumstances should anyone use this aversive training tool in an abusive manner.
E-collars should not be used frequently because these can cause negative physical and psychological effects on the dog. Otherwise, the intended effect – corrected behavior may just result in worse aggression that will defeat its purpose.
Depending on the dog’s level of sensitivity, qualified handlers should use the right stimulus to correct aggressive behavior. This should be done without deliberately instilling fear or helplessness in the dog.
Some dogs may wrongly associate the stimulus with the unwanted behavior and may relate it with something else.
Should your dog be subjected to e-collars to correct its behaviour or for medical treatment, make sure only ethical and qualified professionals do it.
They must also use good quality electric collars that do not deliver harmful levels of stimulus to the dog.
Anti-bark and remote training collars can effectively help modify your dog’s barking behavior by sending signals for it to stop its bark.
In Jersey, electric collars are not illegal. But anyone using it to inflict harm upon the dog can be persecuted under the Animal Welfare (Jersey) Law 2004.
Most of the dog owners who purchase anti-bark collars are those who aren’t usually around when their dogs bark excessively, says vet Katherine A. Houpt.
As the director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, she explained that these “nuisance barkers” behave this way for territorial reasons or because they crave attention.
Dogs bark for a reason. Once you find the underlying issue, you can resolve it without utilizing a bark collar.
It all boils down to the dog owners’ ability or willingness to train their dog. An anti-bark collar may be helpful as a last resort for those who do not have much success in changing their dog’s ways.
As mentioned, part of the ethical use of electric collars is purchasing them from authorized manufacturers who comply with regulations.
Legitimate products come with safe and humane stimulus modes. These are not designed to deliver high voltage shocks.
They should be controllable with the handset and must be used by qualified professionals or under their supervision.
What are common shock collar side effects you need to know?
Because it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for behavior modification in dogs, electric collars might not be effective in some dogs. In fact, it may even cause adverse effects.
While some dog’s repeated negative habits may be corrected using an aversive method, others may get worse, causing handlers even more frustration.
Here are some of the negative effects of using electric collars on dogs.
The effect of using e-collars can be unpredictable for some dogs. While the shock factor sends a message, some dogs react to the sensation aggressively.
British Veterinary Association President Daniella Dos Santos says that there is evidence that shows dogs respond more to a rewards-based training system.
The sudden jolt, especially severe, can cause long-term potentiation (LTP) or changes affecting the dog’s memory that could lead to phobia. Along with fear, it can also induce distrust and anxiety.
A dog that follows out of fear instead of reverence or a positive relationship with its owner may end up being unhappy and easily agitated.
The stimulus can elicit negative emotional responses and may cause the dog to be aloof, shy, and distant.
If not combined with traditional training techniques like treats and other positive reinforcement systems, your dog’s behavior will change.
But it won’t be a happy memory for your pet.
As dog owners, we want to discipline our dogs, albeit in a way that does not harm them.
Only when the aggression goes out of hand and you feel helpless, you can seek professional help. They can advise you on whether the benefits of the electric collar use outweighs the risks.
Let’s face it, there are dogs who show ‘bad behavior’ on a regular basis like it’s part of their nature.
While training them for discipline and control can help, they often revert to their old ways, especially when their owners are not around.
But as canine experts and veterinary psychologists would argue, behind these ‘bad behavior’ are usually underlying causes. Feelings of pain, anxiety, or insecurity could be affecting your Fido.
Generally, a dog doesn’t bark intensely for the purpose of annoying people. Like humans, their outward acts stem from a legitimate cause.
Misbehaving or Misunderstood?
According to the Australian Veterinary Association, a dog’s aggressive growling, teeth-baring and snapping may be caused by anxiety and insecurity. It could even be irritability due to medical conditions.
So, is it ethical to use a shock collar on a dog that is just expressing its discomfort the only way he knows to?
Bad behavior may actually be a plea for help.
After all, it’s not like dogs can spell their feelings out for humans using words. So, they bark and show some form of aggression because they are trying to draw attention or may be reacting to a perceived threat.
The risk in using an electric collar is over-correcting a behavior that may just be normal for some dogs. Such behaviour can be modified using regular techniques.
In some countries, only qualified dog trainers who have completed accredited courses and doctors of veterinary medicine are authorized to use these devices.
In the US, no such regulation exists. But animal advocacy groups are petitioning for electric collar total ban or stricter parameters to avoid its abuse.
We’re advocates of positive reinforcement based, force-free dog training.
Force-free training teaches your dog without the use of force like verbal or physical form of punishment or reinforcement.
Electric collars have the risk of causing psychological distress and physical injuries to dogs if used frequently and unethically. You wouldn’t want to subject your dog to such damaging experiences.
We also advocate for force-free training because we believe it enhances owner-pet relationships and instills positive behavior. Use a fun, easy, and playful routine. Bond with your dog. Have a good time!
That bond is what enables you to communicate with your dog. Make your dog listen to you: not out of fear but out of love.
No it is not legal nor ethical to use a shock collar on dogs younger than 6 months. Severe shock can cause mental and emotional stress as well as physical injuries like lesions on the neck of the puppy. Adult dogs too could suffer from a similar fate.
Shock collars, when used on humans, can hurt and leave physical marks.
If used only as a handler, a product from an authorized manufacturer is safe enough to control.
Still, shock collars should be used with caution, only by qualified professionals and those under their supervision.
Shock collars are illegal in many European countries and in other parts of the world.
PETA is against the use of shock collars for any purpose.
As dog lovers, we do not want any shred of harm to come to our dogs.
When it comes to the use of electric collars, we support non-force methods. After researching its advantages and disadvantages, our goal is to present the facts and explain our stand – lending our voice to dogs who can’t speak for themselves.
So, electric collar- is it ethical?
Look inside you and into your dog’s eyes. You would know what is best for it, now and down the road. Make an informed choice based on what is best for your dog.
A digital marketing expert by profession, Andrews is a gifted writer and animal lover at heart. A self-confessed "pawrent", Andrews is well-versed in all things dogs. He uses his years of experience of raising puppies into show-quality dogs to help guide first-time pet parents. He believes in spreading the joy that comes with being a dog dad and advocates more families to adopt pets.