Are Shock Collars Safe?

Author: Neil Smith   Date Posted:21 October 2012 

The Truth About "Shock" Collars

Whether you are buying a bark collar, remote training collar or dog containment system that gives the dog an electrical impulse through a collar, we are generally talking about a ‘shock collar’.  The term shock collar is used quite openly in the US where as in Australia we tend to use more gentle terms like e-collar, static correction collar or electronic collar.  At the end of the day we are comparing apples with apples.

There is certainly is a stigma that goes along with the term shock collar for dogs.  The insinuation for many is that we are delivering some earth-shattering correction to a dog that risks melting the electrical grid, though nothing could be further from the truth.

Device Improvements over time

Now I cannot speak from experience, but several decades ago when dog shock collars first came into existence, they were by all reports fairly barbaric and delivered a very high impulse to any unfortunate dog that was wearing the collar.  Thankfully, things have come a long way since those times thanks to improved technology and responsible safety measures being introduced by reputable manufacturers such as SportDog, Innotek, PetSafe and D T Systems.

bark collars and remote training collars deliver a static electric shock rather than an actual electric shock. Modern bark collars even have a safety cut out switch that prevents the dog from receiving a prolonged correction as do containment systems collars in case a dog gets stuck in a correction zone. No longer do electric shock collars have one high level of correction but multiple levels designed to find the right level for each individual dog without causing stress. Any dog will not be able to absorb and learn in a stressful situation.

Old and New Bark Control Collars

As a one-time police dog handler/ trainer and now in my capacity as a private dog trainer, I have used and seen electric collars used in ways that resulted in far less physical and mental trauma for the dog than previous more traditional methods. I can remember having blistered and bloody hands from pulling hard on leads and reefing the dog around from pillar to post. What stress and potential damage to the dog was happening at the same time?

Dog Fence

The benefits

I have trained some animals of individuals with physical disabilities that have wanted to exercise their dogs, but without the assistance of an electric training collar would not have been able to do so.   Do we leave the dog locked in the back yard getting no walking or exercise whatsoever or teach it with a remote training collar to walk in a manner that enables the owner to control the dog?  I think I know what the dog would prefer!  Also, I firmly believe the escaping dog would be far better off receiving a few “electric shocks” corrections than the sensation of being hit by a truck, by simply installing a quality Electric Dog Fence!

In all seriousness no matter what opinion I put forward on the whole “shock collar” debate, those that oppose there use will continue to do so.  ‘More training’, is one popular alternative that is often prescribed before resorting to shock collar type products, and I agree in some cases.  However as any reputable trainer will admit, the hardest behaviours to train out of a dog are the ones that occur when you are not there. Barking and an escaping dog often fall straight into this category.  Training/exercise used in conjunction with these types of products is often a far better alternative to achieve instant results.  This may in fact save the dogs life if it is escaping into traffic or the neighbour is threatening to kill your barking dog.  


"The static electric pulse your dog feels is similar to when you rub your feet on carpet and touch a metal door handle and you get that little zap."


The risks?

So, what do these ‘shock collars’ do to the dog?  Can the collar physically harm my dog?  Will the collar hurt my dog?  These are all very common questions I do get asked regularly.  Firstly it is important to give you a very simplistic view of the output of these dog training collars. The static electric pulse your dog feels is similar to when you rub your feet on carpet and touch a metal door handle and you get receive that little zap. Static electric collars actually deliver less of a stimulation than that little door zap! Dogs also feel the correction much less than we do because they don't have sweat glands in their skin.

As the shock collar increases in correction level, the individual pulses increase in number per second, not in the electrical output.  This means the intensity of shock does not change even as you increase the correction level.  At all times, reputable brands like the ones mentioned above have an output of less than 2 percent (100milliamps) of what is required to create any type of thermal burn.  So can the collar cause any type of injury to my dog?  Absolutely not.  The table below compares common electrical output devices with electronic dog training devices.



Energy output vs discomfort

Now I mentioned the output of these devices being very low as indicated in the table above.  However the level of discomfort will actually increase as the correction level increases due to the number of pulses increasing per second.  The objective, as mentioned earlier is to find the optimum correction level for learning.  I define that as the minimum level that stops the unwanted behaviour.  This in my experience is the level to find to get the best possible training response.  The table below highlights the training effect achieved using three different training devices/techniques on Belgian Malinois  Dogs by the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover in 2008  


Comparison of Stress and Learning Effect in Dogs using three different training methods.  1.  Static Collar  2. Pinch Collar  3.  Negative Punishment (food/toy distraction)
  • E Collar produced the highest learning effect  (93%), Pinch Collar (76%),  Positive Reinforcement(7%)
  • Stress levels (measures: Saliva Cortisol, body posture etc) were higher in the Positive Reinforcement group and Lowest in the Static Collar group.
  • Handler stress levels were highest in the pinch collar group. 


Learning vs stress

So why would an experiment like the one outlined above find a higher learning effect and less stress on dogs using ‘shock collars’ than positive reinforcement methods?  I think the answer is simple.  If you can provide the simplest cause and effect response for the dog to understand your desired or expected behaviour, the dog knows where it stands, no ambiguity, no confusion, no shades of grey...equals no stress!

Now I know there are some out there that will disagree with me and that's OK, but I have worked with these products for many years and seen the positive results that can be achieved, and achieved extremely fast.

So the next time someone questions the use of electronic training products or shock collars for dogs ensure they are talking about modern bark collars, dog containment systems and remote training collars.  Not ones from decades gone by.  

If you would like to read more about electronic training collars for dogs or "shock collars" feel free to read the 2007 White Paper into Electronic Training Devices.