There’s a fine line between punishment and training a dog. At a glance, it seems to be completely different, until you consider the technicality that punishment conditions a dog not to repeat the same action again. The same goes with dog training: you’re using a specific stimulation or condition to guide them to do what they need to do. This is where remote training collars or shock collars fall in. They are effective training tools, but we can’t ignore the fact that some users end up hurting and causing fear in their pets one way or another because they don’t use the shock collar correctly.
It’s actually not a question of “Do shock collars hurt dogs?” because virtually any training tool, when abused or misused, can lead to harm. Even vibrate collars and citronella spray collars are harmful if used with neglect. Let’s look into the reasons why this question is debated amongst professional trainers and dog owners alike.
Before scrolling down this list, you might like: Best Training Collar for Stubborn Dogs!
What’s a Shock Collar and When Would it Hurt?
In a nutshell, a shock collar is a small electricity-discharging device attached to a collar. Its common uses are for pet containment systems where the device triggers when the collar is far enough from a transmitter or crosses a certain set area. Another use is as a bark collar that triggers in certain ways whenever your dog barks. Lastly, a training collar can be manually triggered by remote control.
Though they do discharge electricity, the intensity or the stimulus cannot be completely measured by voltage. Shock collars commonly have anywhere between 1500 to 4500 volts, but this number is small because static electricity from a doorknob on a cold, dry winter night can exceed 20,000 volts. It could be painful depending on the person, yet some kids willingly generate over 35,000 volts of electricity by rubbing dry socks on the carpet to zap their unwitting sibling. The 3,500 volts of electricity is enough to cause pain in humans, so why is this static discharge not that painful? When does it actually start hurting?
It’s mostly about the current and duration. Current is how well the electricity flows from one point to another and the duration of static zaps are in the milliseconds. On average, a shock collar’s voltage is around 3,000 and they deliver rapid millisecond pulses rather than a steady current. They deliver about 20-50 watts of energy per pulse, at about 7 milliamps. In a high current, 7 milliamps can cause pain in humans and about 3,000 voltage is a line below human pain thresholds. So, does it actually cause pain in dogs?
These measurements basically tell you that the overall shock could be painful but is delivered in such short instances that all it could do is cause muscles to flinch and skin to feel a crawl. It would be a different (and painful) story if it was a continuous stream of electricity.
Yet, there is evidence of collars causing damage like skin lesions and burn marks. No doubt these are painful, but why does it happen if the electricity just enough to cause discomfort?
How Do Owners End Up Hurting Their Dogs With a Shock Collar?
Poorly Made Collars
This is sadly one of the reasons why some people have a poor experience with electronic collars from the very start. Some would buy them for cheap, thinking they saved over half the price, only to find that these collars have janky controls, very high electric energy, and worst of all, a good chance of having hardware issues early on. There are great bang-for-buck collars out there with a brand and company that back them up, so consider them when buying an electronic collar for the first time.
All shock collars should have ways to adjust the level of shock delivered. Sometimes, owners will increase the shock levels because they think it’s not enough since they are not getting the right results. They may increase it to a point where the dog flinches when shocked, which also drastically reduces training effectiveness. Instead, use the lowest level possible and test if your dog reacts at the slightest. It can be a look of confusion, slightly tilting their head, or when they stop panting. The sensation is pretty hard to ignore and you’re banking on that over the discomfort.
Overcorrection is the frequency of triggering the shocks, often instilling fear and aggression in a dog’s psyche. In any proper training method, you’ll quickly learn that you need to trigger the collar as minimally as you can. Admittedly, there’s a certain finesse and timing to them, but it’s not hard to master. Basically, you should activate the collar when your dog deviates from what they need to accomplish, such as not going to you when you ask them to, and immediately stop when they are on the right path, not when they have completed it.
Using it for Punishment
This is part of over-correction and is mainly a philosophy. Don’t trigger the collar when you see bad behavior like chewing on furniture or taking a leak on the couch. The correct method is to use the collar when teaching them the right things, such as sitting when told to, or approaching when called. These teach obedience, and a dog who has mastered how to listen can easily be stopped when doing these unwanted behaviors.
Keeping the Collar On For Too Long
The main reason why dogs suffer damage from these collars is that the prongs press and shock one spot of skin for a very long time. Even without the shock, vibrate collars left for too long can cause small pressure sores, which eventually turn into lesions or wounds. The sure-fire solution is to limit shock-collar training to a maximum of 8 hours a day and always rotate the collar every 1-2 hours. It applies to virtually any type of collar or wearable training tool too.
Lack of Positive Reinforcement
The “Carrot and Stick” approach is a way to describe the use of a shock collar. The stick is the negative reinforcement caused by the collar, and the carrot is the treats, praise, and love they get when they do the right thing. Not giving them the carrot after using the stick even when they did the right thing, could get them confused and stressed, prolonging the training process and making it worse for both parties. Ironically, the more you effectively use a shock collar, the less you’ll need it over time. Eventually, you’ll only need positive reinforcement to teach your dog new things.
Conclusion for Can a shock collar hurt a dog?
It depends on the user. A skilled chef can cut well enough using a cheap kitchen knife, so it’s all about how you use it. You are wielding an electric device, and like a knife, using it with neglect can lead to harm. There will be bad shock collars out there too, that’s a fact, but if you do your homework prior to getting one, and use it with respect, you’ll see why it’s one of the best training tools out there, second only to Positive Reinforcement.
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