Dog with electronic collar on looking out of the window

Key takeaway

E-collars are special collars, often used in dog training, that administer a shock or vibration. While they are commonly used, it’s always better to use positive reinforcement training instead. This is because e-collars do more harm than good by inflicting pain and instilling fear.

Dogs can be incredibly obedient and patient creatures, but training them to get to that point isn’t always so easy. Training a dog takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and certain dogs have a more challenging time learning commands than others. For example, if they suffer from a lack of attention or dog separation anxiety. In this case, you may have considered using an electronic collar.

There has been a lot of controversy over the safety and ethics of using e-collars and for good reason. It’s important to do your research before using one on your pup.

In this blog post, we’ll go over what e-collars for dogs are and what scientific studies have shown about using them. Continue reading to learn about electronic collars for dogs, so you can make an informed decision and ensure that you use the best tools for your dog.

Note: We’ll use “e-collar” as a generic term for electronic collars throughout the post. However, the term can also refer to Elizabethan collars, which are wide collars used to prevent pets from licking themselves after surgeries, injuries, or other similar activities

What Is an E-Collar?

E-collars, otherwise known as electronic collars and shock collars, are a type of collar that uses an electric current that passes through metal components on the collar to provide a shock to your dog.

E-collars should not be used, instead, dog owners should opt for positive reinforcement to train their pets.

Positive reinforcement is when behaviors are encouraged by rewards, such as praise, food, or toys. For example, if you’re teaching your dog how to sit, you’ll immediately reward them with a treat as soon as the behavior occurs. This makes them more likely to do the action in the future.

Infographic of the definition of electronic collars

How Does an Electronic Collar Work?

An electronic collar works by sending an electric current to your dog to shock them on their neck. The intensity of the shock varies, causing fear, stress, and pain to the pet. The user controls the collar with a handset, which usually has several settings for different intensities and shock durations. Some newer devices also have the option of a pre-warning cue that happens before the electric shock to warn your dog of what is about to happen.

While e-collars suppress unwanted behaviors, they come with fall out. Additionally, they can pose other dangerous risks, causing burns and soft tissue damage to the dog’s neck. The use of e-collars can potentially cease and discourage dogs from jumping on strangers or damaging furniture, but it doesn’t teach your dog the right thing to do.1

If you want to teach your dog, training with positive reinforcement will likely be more effective. Positive reinforcement training teaches your dog exactly what you want them to do and improves your relationship with them.2 Anxiety dog training can be a bit more difficult and require additional time and patience to learn, but even then, electronic collars can worsen problems in the long term.

If you aren’t making progress with a problem using positive reinforcement training, you should talk with your veterinarian to ensure you aren’t missing underlying physical or behavioral issues. Behavior disorders may not respond to training alone and may need help from medication in order to treat the root problem.

Cons of E-Collars for Dogs

At this point, you may be wondering: “are e-collars cruel?”. E-collars instill fear, anxiety, and aggression in a dog. E-collars for dogs cause physical pain, injury, and psychological stress3. E-collars for dogs also have the possibility of malfunctioning, which can result in either no shocks or nonstop shocks.

Infographic of the negative effects of aversive training

Studies have also shown that dogs who were trained with electronic collars showed more stress-related behaviors during training, like lip licking, tail lowering, panting, yawning, and yelping.4-6

Are E-Collars Safe for Dogs?

There is a lot of controversy behind the safety of e-collars for dogs. Electronic collars can malfunction and hurt your dog. Often, dogs will also be left with anxiety and confusion that’s caused by the repeated shocks, which can lead to heart issues, gastrointestinal disorders, as well as skin burns, and cervical (neck) pain.

Findings from a study on e-collars for dogs found no consistent benefit of e-collar training compared to positive reinforcement training. Rather, e-collar training posed greater concerns for the safety of dogs.7

 Dog sitting in the background as owner holds the control for an electronic shock collar in the foreground

Electronic Collar Alternatives

There are many alternatives to electronic collars for pet owners who don’t want to use negative reinforcement for dog obedience training. Some of the electronic collar alternatives include:

  • Head Halter
  • Flat or rolled collar
  • Front-clip harness
  • Back-clip harness
Infographic of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior stance on reward-based training and electronic collars

When training a dog, it’s a good idea to focus more on teaching them what to do, rather than punishing them for not doing what you asked. Not only is this safer and more enjoyable for your dog, but it also helps build a strong relationship between the two of you, but it is proven to be more effective.

It’s common to encounter issues, like jumping or excessive barking, when training a dog, but they can easily be managed by making some adjustments to the dog’s environment and treating underlying behavioral disorders when present. Even in cases of more serious behavior issues, like aggression or anxiety, there are better alternatives to electronic collar training. Instead, you can provide your dog with a treatment plan that includes behavior modification and medication.

E-Collars for Dogs: Frequently Asked Questions

Do vets recommend e-collars?

The American College Of Veterinary Behaviorists recommends humane, effective, and evidence-based training. The ACVB suggests that aversive training methods can negatively impact animal welfare and the bond between you and your dog, therefore, positive reinforcement is always recommended.8

Are e-collars and shock collars the same thing?

Yes, the terms “e-collars” and “shock collars” can be used interchangeably.

Are e-collars for dogs safe to use?

E-collars device can cause physical pain and psychological stress, which may lead to other complications, such as cardiac fibrillation, gastrointestinal issues, and aggression.

Final Notes

It doesn’t matter what type of dog you have or how old they are, training a dog will always take a lot of time and dedication. Some dogs might get the hang of training a lot quicker than others, but that’s because all dogs are different! If you’ve noticed that your dog has some behavioral issues, you may have thought about getting them an electronic collar.

E-collars can malfunction and harm your dog, and they can even cause severe stress and anxiety. Rather than trying to train your dog with an e-collar, you should use positive reinforcement training. Positive reinforcement is a much safer and more effective method of training that can help make your dog feel encouraged and loved instead of scared and nervous.

If your dog suffers from any behavioral issues, it’s a good idea to bring them to a vet, and you can easily talk with one via Dutch.com. Dutch is a great resource to use for behavior modification to curb symptoms of dog anxiety, including jumping, excessive barking, digging, and scratching.

When you sign up with Dutch, you’ll get connected with one of our licensed veterinarians who will diagnose your dog and create a treatment plan for their specific situation. If your dog is prescribed medication, we’ll get that delivered to you in just seven days. Here at Dutch, we want to help your dog get the care they deserve, which is why we offer a quick and easy pet telehealth service you can access from the comfort of your own home.

References

  1. “Dog Collars.” The Humane Society of the United States, https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/dog-collars

  2. Position Statement on Humane Dog Training. American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, https://vet.osu.edu/vmc/sites/default/files/files/companion/behavior/avsab-humane-dog-training-position-statement-2021.pdf

  3. “Prong and Shock Collars and Electric (‘Invisible’) Fences.” PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 23 Apr. 2018, https://www.peta.org/issues/animal-companion-issues/cruel-practices/prong-shock-collar-electric-fences/

  4. Schilder, Matthijs BH, and Joanne AM van der Borg. "Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 85.3-4 (2004): 319-334

  5. Fernandes, Joana Guilherme, I. Anna S. Olsson, and Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro. "Do aversive-based training methods actually compromise dog welfare?: A literature review." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 196 (2017): 1-12.

  6. Herron, Meghan E., Frances S. Shofer, and Ilana R. Reisner. "Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117.1-2 (2009): 47-54.

  7. “Alternatives to Prong, Choke and Shock Collars.” SF SPCA, San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 6 Nov. 2019, https://www.sfspca.org/behavior-training/prong/alternatives/

  8. Position Statements - Dacvb.org. https://www.dacvb.org/page/PositionStatement.