A New Study Reveals Some Answers
By Sophia Yin, DVM, MS
Trainers often debate about the use of electronic shock collars. Some trainers find these collars unethical and unsafe. The pro-collar camp takes a different stance. Some say it just distracts the dog, calling it “tap technology” and others say it may be painful at the instant but then the dog learns to behave and there are no lasting negative effects.
In 2003, researchers from the Netherlands, Matthijs Schilder and Joanne van der Borg, assessed the short and long term behavioral effects of dog training with the help of shock collars. They wanted to know three things:
The Study Group
Schilder and van der Borg used Malinois, Malinois crosses, German Shepherds and one Rottweiler from a group of dogs being trained for their official (IPO ) certificate as police dogs as well as dogs being trained for standard watchdog training for a comparable (VH3) certificate, which is the highest possible in this type of training. Because these were working dogs they differ from the general population of dogs in that they are higher energy, higher drive, and have a higher tolerance for the correction-based training for which they are bred.
The 32 shock-collar group dogs (S-dogs) received shocks during training. The control group received no shocks but did receive other harsh methods including choke chain corrections, pinch collar corrections, other physical corrections (C-dogs). The researchers had no influence upon the methods and aids used, rather they just observed the trainers during the routine training sessions and “free walking” sessions in which the dog was not being trained or given corrections.
Overall they observed 32 shock collar-group dogs receiving 107 shocks and 16 control dogs who received other types of corrections instead. They evaluated control and experimental dogs in three situations:
The Affects of Shock-Collar Corrections on Body Posture
The study found that in the 32 dogs that received a total of 107 shocks, there was an immediate direct effect in which the dogs most commonly:
Dogs also lifted their front paw, lowered their back, jumped, licked their lips, circled, trembled, and sniffed the ground. All of the listed behavioral responses are signs of fear, pain, or anxiety and stress. Seven dogs showed no reaction.
The Effects of Previous Shock-Collar Corrections on Behavior at the Training Ground
Dogs that had been shocked previously showed more signs of anxiety and fear then the control dogs during free-walking on the training grounds as well as when they were being trained. During the free-walking and obedience work, S-dogs exhibited significantly more lip licking and lower ear positions indicating lasting effects of shock on overall fear and anxiety. During the protection work they showed more paw-raising.
The Effects of Previous Shock-Collar Corrections on Behavior in a New Setting (The Park)
Dogs that had been shocked previously showed more signs of fear an anxiety in the park situation than the control dogs. They showed a higher frequency of low ear position during the free walk than the control dogs and lower ear position and tongue flicking during obedience exercises in the park.
Behavior on the Training Ground Vs the Park and When Being Trained Vs on Free Walk.
Dogs that had previously been shocked were more frightened on the training ground than in the park. They carried their tails lower on the training ground than in the park and lifted their paw more. They were also more frightened during training than when being walked—ears and tail position were lower when being trained. However, non-shocked dogs also showed more signs of fear when being trained than when being walked.
The Take Home Messages
Overall the researchers concluded that even when compared to working dogs trained using choke chain and pinch collar corrections, dogs trained with electronic shock collars showed more fear and anxiety behaviors than those trained by other traditional police dog and watchdog methods. They concluded that:
Interestingly, the results did show that 7 dogs out of 32 (22%) showed no signs of fear or pain while actually receiving the electronic collar shock which indicates that some dogs bred for high drive and to withstand the demands of the coercive-type training appear to have no pain or fear of the shock. The study does not indicate whether these 7 dogs failed to show fear and anxiety in the other test situations though.
Their final thoughts—it would be interested to see whether the shocked dogs also show more signs of fear with a different handler and the next step is to compare protection and guard dogs in a more “friendly” way.
Schilder, M., Van der Borg, J., 2004. Training dogs with the help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. Appl Anim Beh Sci, 85, 319-344.
Sourced January 31st 2011