When to use a dog shock collar

5 uses for a dog shock collar

Treats and clickers are the norm in dog training these days, at least for your average pet dog trainer. This is absolutely fine. Most dogs thrive on praise and rewards. They don’t necessarily need a “leash pop” correction, although it certainly wouldn’t hurt them, either.

I prefer to be open to a variety of training methods. Not only is every dog different, but every situation is different. You bet I’m going to scream, “Hey! Knock it off!” at my dog a few times per year. I’m absolutely going to step in front of him to “body block” him from going after a burrito on the ground. I’m going to look him straight in the eyes so he knows I’m serious when I tell him “no” or “wait” or “quiet.”

Dog shock collars for training

While I’m generous with praise, treats, toys and doting on my dog, I have no problem using choke, prong or shock collars (also called e-collars or electronic collars) in certain situations. I’m not all “positive.” Of course, no one is.

OH MY GAWD, shock collars?! If this is your reaction, then this post is not for you. This post is also not a guide on how to use a shock collar. If you need help with that, I recommend you work with a professional trainer in your area.

This post is simply meant to show dog owners that there are a variety of training tools available – Gentle Leaders, bark collars, no-pull harnesses – and there are situations where all of these tools can be extremely helpful to the right dog/owner pair. I wish that dog owners would not be personally attacked just for mentioning a shock collar. I wish that people could stop being emotional over a valuable tool and focus on the real task – training the dog. We all know what is best for our own unique dogs.

5 possible scenarios where a shock collar could help with dog training

1. Teaching a dog physical boundaries.

My parents’ dogs (pictured) have always been trained with dog shock collars to remain within the boundaries of their yard. The dogs initially received a few weeks of training where they learned the boundaries and literally received one or two corrections. Not bad when you consider the years of off-leash freedom the dogs have had since then.

A physical fence is just not always financially realistic or visibly attractive if you want your dogs to have access of the whole yard, especially on a lakefront, tree-filled property.

When I first brought Ace to my parents’ house, we decided to use a shock collar to teach him the boundaries as well. That way, when my parents took care of him for weeks at a time, they could feel comfortable leaving him outside with their dogs. While Ace is one of those dogs who chooses to remain close, you just never know what could cause any dog to bolt from the yard and into the street.

My dog received a single shock during his initial training and one shock or two after that. Now, almost seven years later, he still remembers the boundaries when we visit my parents’ house. I have absolutely no regrets using a shock collar to teach him where he can and can’t wander. It’s made his life more fulfilling, and it’s increased our bond because we’re able to spend more time together.

2. Teaching a dog not to bark.

I don’t recommend a shock collar as the first option to stop a dog’s barking. First, I recommend the owner makes sure the dog is receiving adequate exercise and interaction. The dog should also receive obedience training so the owner can call the dog when necessary and put him in a down/stay position, for example. Obedience training will also help give the dog some structure, so hopefully the barking will naturally decrease.

Of course, there are situations where an anti-bark collar might be the best or the only option. It’s unfortunate when people rule them out or start judging dog owners for using these tools. For example, what if the dog’s owner is facing eviction warnings due to the dog barking at every single noise when left alone? Leaving a dog in a kennel or crate won’t always quiet him down. Hiring a dog walker or taking the dog to dog daycare is not always an option. These services are expensive. Using a citronella spray collar is a possibility, but these are much milder deterrents and won’t always work.

Dogtra dog shock collars to stop a dog's barking

3. Teaching a dog to stop chasing something dangerous.

Again, it helps to think of all possible scenarios. For some situations, a shock collar is not appropriate. If a dog is attempting to chase cars, for example, maybe it’s best for that particular dog to remain on a leash at all times. On the other hand, what if that dog happens to slip through its collar or bolt out the door? Wouldn’t it be better if the dog has already been trained not to chase cars?

Or, what if your newly adopted dog just can’t seem to stop staring at or chasing your cat? It might be best to re-home one of them. Or, perhaps a correction or two along with some positive reinforcement to reward the right behavior is all the dog needs to learn the cat is not for chasing. Sure, you could spend months and months using treats and praise. Or, you could use a shock collar and possibly train the dog much faster. It’s not for all dogs, but it’s one possibility.

4. Controlling a dog from a distance.

Hunting dogs and other types of working dogs are often trained on dog shock collars. Some of these dogs need to do their jobs several yards ahead of their owners – flushing, retrieving, searching, etc. –  and their owners need to be able to communicate with them. They don’t all use shock collars, but these collars are one possible training tool.

5. Stopping unwanted behaviors.

There are just certain behaviors that can’t be stopped without some type of correction. A friend emailed me earlier this year asking if I had any suggestions on how to train a dog to stop eating its own poop. This dog’s owners were at their wits end, and nothing seemed to be working. Maybe they hadn’t tried enough food options to find something the dog valued more than poop. But regardless, positive reinforcement just wasn’t working.

Why not try an e-collar with a remote? I asked. A few corrections would take care of the problem. The owners could even stand inside the house to watch the dog in the yard. That way, the dog would not associate the owners with the correction.

A few months later, I asked how the dog was doing. They had decided to use a shock collar, and it had worked to solve the problem.

As another example, you could use a shock collar with a remote to stop a dog from digging in the yard or to stop the dog from eating certain types of plants. I’m sorry, but all the positive reinforcement in the world is just not going to stop certain behaviors.

Safety tips to keep in mind when using a dog shock collar

[check_list]

  • As with any training tool, you need to make sure to use a shock collar properly. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional.
  • There are often other training methods that can be just as effective as a shock collar. Try to use the tool that is best for the situation.
  • You only want to use the shock collar to train one behavior/concept at a time. You don’t want the dog to be receiving corrections for barking, jumping, stealing garbage and leaving the yard, for example. That would be very confusing and stressful! Work on one concept at a time.
  • All training tools should only be used when the owner is calm. No training collar should be used when the owner is angry, frustrated or afraid.

[/check_list]

Have you used a shock collar to train your dog?

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39 thoughts on “When to use a dog shock collar”

  1. Our chain link fence wasn’t enough to keep Romeo in the yard, so we got an invisible fence as well. I felt so bad the handful of times he got shocked. But in the end, his life is so much better it, because he has so much more freedom with it.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I didn’t even mention that – some dogs will always be able to climb over or dig under a physical fence. Thanks for sharing your example. As you said, Romeo gets to have so much more freedom now, and he’s safer.

  2. CV and I have thought about using one for Belle on recalls. However, she is so treat motivated that normally carrying something in my pocket works. And constant training. We live on a dead end street with a fence on one side of the whole street (we live right by a float plane base) so she really has no where to go. When we do go out, CV is just certain she will not come back but with treating on occassion we does.

    As usual, it can be a great training tool or it can be over used/used improperly.

    Did you know they even make shock collars for horses! 🙂 Not for recals but for boundery issues with some horses.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      No I didn’t know they make them for horses. Makes sense. I don’t know enough about horses to know if it’s a good idea or not.

      1. In regards to e-collars for horses (I do like the term better), its as polarizing as in the dog world. There is a family up here who uses it for horses that will try to go after other horses or get upset when a horse is in their bubble. Now I must note, we are talking about horses that are going to be shown and you NEVER know what another horse in the arena or rider for that matter will do, so having a horse who gets upset and tries to attack another horse is not something you want. It normally takes them 3 shocks and that’s it. So as long as its not overused or used incorrectly I think they are a tool to have in the box with a horse as well as a dogs. Sorry for the tangent! 🙂

  3. I’ve never used a shock collar on my guys…do they even come in tiny sizes? But I agree they should be used in certain situations on certain dogs. The two times i wrote about them on my blog, i got a lot of negative comments on my cruelty and ignorance of positive methods.

    If we lived in poisonous snake country I would sign up for snake aversion training. I’m convinced that there is no positive reinforcement way to effectively keep a dog from the overwhelming lure of a rattlesnake or copperhead.

    One of my commenters said that if her dog saw a snake, he would “run merrily to her for a treat.”

    Right. When pigs fly.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hahaha! “Right. When pigs fly.” That about sums it up.

      I’m with you, though. I don’t really feel the need to use a shock collar for my dog. But he’s one of those really easy to train dogs.

    2. Hi Jan,

      I personally think there’s room for shock collars in certain situations too. Unlike you though (you wrote about it twice) I’d be shy to admit as such on my blog as I’ve seen some of the passion that people throw around in arguing against them. Maybe I will when I can afford to lose a few readers, lol!

      I think this post does a good job though of describing situations in which they could be used. Point no.3 in the article, and your example of snakes are PERFECT examples of when they should be used. A little discomfort to possibly save your dogs life? Should be an easy call but people will still argue it.

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        I’m not worried about losing a few readers. If people aren’t open to a variety of realistic training options, then this is not the blog for them. Totally agree with your points about how a little discomfort can save a dog’s life.

  4. Chasing is our biggest issue. Our barn cats were too shy to meet the dog when he first came home (I think mama cat had a bad experience in the past). He wanted nothing more than to be friends (at least in my perception), and so now he’s frustrated and it’s manifested as chasing. Do you happen to have any tips on helping to resolve this (before trying a shock collar)?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’m sure that’s hard to deal with. You’ve probably tried this already, but is there any type of food he would be more interested in than the cats? You could always try something like real meatballs or real chicken and reward him for calm behavior around the cats. Work on “watch me” and the usual obedience commands like sit, stay, etc. You could also use a long leash to give him more freedom. You would want to keep rewarding him for good behavior while he’s on the long leash, but if he starts to chase you would be able to stop him and either give a firm “no” or a leash correction. Then reward for calm behavior with the highly valued food.

  5. I have 3 German Shorthair Pointers. I use shock collars for recall. Once on a scent nothing else exists. I do not hunt but the dog NEED to really run. The e-collars allow us to be a happy family. At home they never have them on, just to run. Love the things.

    That being said I’ve seen many people who trained incorrectly and their dogs are terrified of them. The key is training them correctly. I pull out the collars and the dogs are SO excited!

  6. One other circumstance I’m aware that an e-collar can help: when you are working multiple dogs & need them to do/learn different things

    In general, I think e-collars should be in the training toolbox, even if I wouldn’t recommend it first. If my dog will come when I call because of TREATS then I’d be a jerk to rely on an electric shock instead. It’s common sense that there are some dangers that are so problematic (snakes, wild animals, etc.) or opportunities so critical (the ability to be off-leash ever), that for some dogs and situations, it’s an important piece of the training puzzle.

    I do prefer the term e-collar to shock collar because the collars can be used with tones or scents as opposed to vibrations and electric shock. So the amount of ‘shock’ even with one of these collars can be minimized.

    The biggest problem is that the type of e-collar I’d recommend is expensive, so you have to really have a specific purpose in mind to warrant the investment. You want something that is consistent & reliable in the stimulation it provides and some testing demonstrates that some cheaper collars can be erratic (unfair to the dog). It’s also important to have the ability to fine-tune the amount of sensation. If your only options are the dog does not notice vs. the dog reacts strongly, your e-collar is not appropriate. And I prefer models that have some built in safety element that limits how long the stimulation can be given.

    Otherwise, I think a lot of the bad press and controversy is a result of:
    1. The older models of shock collars being overly strong and erratic.
    2. Shock collars being linked to old school methods of “teaching” that include leash popping, harsh words, and worse.
    3. Misuse of the collars, especially by people who do not understand basic dog training.
    4. Not understanding the environmental differences in where people live – either the risks to the dogs, other predators, the nature of the properties, etc.
    5. The assumption that all dogs can be trained the same way or with the same ease/difficulty as “your” dog
    6. The presumption that you understand what is more or less enjoyable vs. bothersome to your dog in the short, medium or long-term

    Last, I hate that the collars are so visible because using one in public becomes an invitation for other people to tell you what they think about it. So if you use an e-collar, you need a game plan for how to handle the inevitable comments from strangers.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Great points! I especially notice how people make assumptions that all dogs can or should be trained the same way. There are usually four or five different ways to train a dog, and one way is not necessarily better than the other. I try to be very conscious of this myself, especially when people ask for advice.

  7. I like the way you are always open to different ideas and methods for training. Elsie and Sophie (cute picture by the way) love the freedom in their yard (as does Ace when he visits), so the shock collars work great for our situation. And they don’t always get a shock either if they should wander too far. There is a warning first – a high pitched beep that works as a good reminder. Our dogs hardly ever get the warning much less a shock.

  8. I use a bark collar on one of my dogs. I think most people don’t realize that the bark collar gives several high pitched sounds before a shock. I have had people that disagree with me on this issue but they also don’t live with 5 or 6 dogs at a time. I foster dogs and live in a suburb so if I am to continue doing what I do I also need to be respectful to my neighbors and keep my dogs at a reasonable bark amount level. In life there’s always going to be people who disagree with you and I’m completely fine with that. I don’t abuse my animals and never would. I feel this is a valuable tool. I don’t use it on all of my animals just the harder case and it has helped.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I think you’re right that a lot of people don’t realize many of the collars give off a warning sound first and that they can be set to several different levels. Keep on doing what you’re doing. We need lots of foster homes like you!

  9. Lindsay,

    Another great discussion. Your open minded approach to all things dog is what hooked me on your blog.
    I was reminded of something I read in one of Temple Grandin’s books, “Animals in Translation” :
    “Behaviors with a strong instinctual motivation such as deer
    chasing are least likely to respond to positive methods and more likely to
    respond to punishment.” She states in another section, “I am totally against
    using punishment to teach animals new skills. In almost all cases animals can be trained to do tricks or develop skills using positive methods. The one
    exception is stopping dangerous prey-drive motivated chasing of joggers, bicyclists, and cars. In this situation a shock collar may be needed”.

    This makes sense to me. I also think Sean made some very useful suggestions to consider when using e-collars. I have seen them used wisely, and not so. I think the most important thing to consider is; what do you want to achieve, and is an e-collar the best way to get there.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate it. I tend to agree with Temple Grandin’s approach to e-collars. I also like to use positive reinforcement when teaching my dog new concepts/tricks. But there are certain prey-drive behaviors where a shock collar can really help us communicate boundaries to a dog.

  10. There are ALWAYS other ways beyond a shock collar. And yes, there are trainers in this world who are ALL POSITIVE and could suggestions on how to train your dog without shocking him.

  11. I subscribe to a number of dog-related blogs and news feeds, and there must have been a weird alignment of stars last week when your shock collar post showed up right before this one: nodogaboutit.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/dogs-what-do-we-really-want-control-or-connection/.

    Interesting.

    Shock collars are polarising. I would never use one, but my first rule of training is no pain/no fear. Which is not to say I am above shouting ‘knock it off!’ at my dog when he puts his ball under the sofa for the 97th time or grabbing him and unceremoniously prying the discarded chicken bone he found in the park out of his mouth. But I CHOOSE to take the time to train the behaviours I want, I choose to convince the dog to want to do as I ask; I CHOOSE not to use pain and fear to force him.

    We humans want easy, quick solutions, and harsh tools can deliver that. But wouldn’t it be more honest to say to oneself “yes, in this situation, I choose to get what I want by inflicting pain”? And in that case, why not call a shock collar a shock collar? The use of euphemisms (stim, tap, e-collar, etc.) makes it seem as if people using shock collars are ashamed of using them. Maybe they are. Maybe they should be.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      We all have to do what we feel is best for our own dogs, and we’re never all going to agree on the best way to train a dog. I prefer positive reinforcement in most situations as well. A shock collar is simply one tool out of many viable options, and it’s fine if most dog owners choose not to use them.

  12. I think I’ve got a different take.

    My belief is that the most humane way to train a dog is with both correction and motivation. Not using any sort of correction becomes very inhumane in the types of results it produces.

    So operating from that mindset the question becomes, what type of correction can I use that produces the absolute best results with the least amount of aversive/impact/etc.? To answer that question you’ve got the e-collar. When it’s used properly it’s done on very low levels, it’s a teaching and guiding tool, and it makes training happen so much easier and faster for both dog and owner.

    Given those parameters I don’t believe it to be a tool ‘just for certain occasions’ or ‘if other training fails’ or ‘for difficult dogs or cases’. I believe it to be a wonderful communication tool for anyone who is looking to get the best relationship and performance from their dog.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, I can see your point. That does make sense. If you’re ever interested in writing a guest post on why e-collars are the most humane way to train, you’re more than welcome to do so.

  13. I very much appreciate this article. I have tried clickers, treats and positive reinforcement as much as is possible and cannot get my dog to come when distracted (like at the dog park), stop eating my other dog’s poop, stop chasing the cat, stop barking (with a citronella collar), or stop jumping on the counter. I have gone to obedience school multiple times, and he is great in a controlled environment when I have not fed him breakfast and he likes the treats. He is a really energetic labradoodle that I have had since 2 months old, has a great temperment, but is driving us CRAZY!!!!! I have been researching e-collars all day because this is my next step. Several folks at the dog park have had great results with them. I won’t even launch into my other dog-older rescue and his problems, but he gets an e-collar soon too.

    1. and I have always been very anti shock collar, but have seen them work wonderfully at the dog park recently. Have had some very interesting conversations with folks about how the ecollar has made it possible for them to keep their rescue dog, or allow their spirited dog off-leash

  14. Just found this article and I really appreciate it. I started with a trainer when my high-energy lab was about 4 months old and my other adult small dog was aggressive. He was an electronic collar enthusiast. I paid him a lot of money and bought into everything he said, bought the expensive ‘e-collars’, and worked hard for 4 months. My lab developed a skin infection from scratching to the point of scabs on his neck. I completely swung the other way and became anti-shock collar. Now, my dog is 1 year old, the small aggressive dog had to be put down a few weeks ago and I still couldn’t take my dog out to meet people or other dogs without wrestling him to the ground because his exuberance. He literally pulled me to ground and I hurt my knees, he scared everyone in the park. I recently pulled my electronic collar back out to give it a try and with just a few corrections my dog walked so well with just the leash/collar instead of the halti and every other type of harness I tried. Just today, for the very first time ever, he laid down and allowed a young girl (4 or 5) pet him and an elderly man. He was excited and happy but didn’t jump all over them or knock anyone down. We also had a nice long walk with a german shepherd and without the e-collar I would have seen the other dog and high-tailed it back to my car. My dog is a very friendly but very strong 100 pounder, I have to know I can get control quickly when I need to, for his safety, my safety, and the safety of those around me. I have come to the conclusion that there must be a compromise in here somewhere. The first trainer had us ‘stim’ the dog for everything, every command, correction, recall…you name it. I think it was just way too much. I don’t much care if my choice offends others, I will use what ever tools I need to in order to be able to have a great, loveable, friendly dog that I can take anywhere and meet anyone. Love your blog, thanks! (We received Hershey’s treats today and loves them!)

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      So glad you got the treats! I appreciated hearing your take on shock collars. I can see why you weren’t interested in using one at first, but I’m glad it’s making such a big difference for you now and that you’ve found some sort of middle ground.

  15. Struggling to curb Pooping and weeing during the night, when outside my malamute goes outside.. But when inside just has no control and is just suborn.. It mainly happens over night or if we pop out so I don’t catch her in that act so much.. I’m wondering after reading this article if I could Iefficiently use a shock collar in this situation.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hey Daisy. I don’t like to say “never” but I’m thinking a shock collar wouldn’t be the best choice for this scenario because you are not catching your dog in the act. Sounds like a frustrating behavior. I’m sure you’ve tried keeping her in a kennel or small area at night like a bathroom?

  16. I just want to say that citranella collars are not kinder, or somehow a lesser correction. Dogs have very sensitive noses, and while the “shock” collar shuts off immediately after the correction, the smell of the citranella continues to correct your dog with no break for hours.

  17. After a few years of successfully training many commands to my mastiff the problem continued the be that certain situations just over-rode his training (eg his perfect recall was nonexistent when a biker/bunny/etc went by). I started working with a trainer and his recall is 100%reliable now and I only ever use the vibrate to correct him. I used the actual shock twice. However, I quit working with this trainer when she was using the ecollar to correct my dogs guarding of toys and he squealed and cowered. When she handed me back the remote it was set at 100% when his working level was 25. Shortly after he bit my other dog over a toy. The collar had been sitting in a drawer until recently I found a lot of success in using it to stop him from jumping on visitors or on the fence when people walk by. I’m considering using it to teach him to not chase my cat who has been living entirely separate from him through site-swapping.

  18. I have Belgium Malinois who is intent upon killing cats. There is no positive reinforcement that could possibly dampen his desire and I will not allow him to kill any animals on my farm. I am very kind to my animals and am going to be kind enough to use a shock collar to stop this behavior. There is no grace period in rural areas for a dog that wants to kill chickens sheep goats cats whatever. My dog would get shot by a neighboring farmer the first time he killed one of their animals. My dog is incredibly intelligent and I am pretty sure it will only take one or 2 shocks to get the message through to him. It will save his life and for that I make no apologies and I know that I am doing the right thing in this particular case.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I hope it works! It didn’t work for a weim I wanted to adopt. I felt her prey drive was still too strong around my cat. But I’m hoping it will work for your situation.

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