Anyone who spends much time around dogs in America will eventually see choke collars and shock collars. To the uninformed, these collars appear to be little more than torture devices. One relentlessly chokes, while the other delivers a debilitating high voltage shock – except neither of those myths is even remotely accurate.
Both collars are nothing more than training tools. Like good tools in the hands of a bad carpenter, they can do more damage than good if not properly used. Unfortunately, people who do not know how to train dogs often end up looking for magic training aids. They purchase positive and negative reinforcement tools, and then misapply them according to uninformed beliefs about how they should work. When the misapplied training isn’t immediately effective, they usually overdo it and end up hurting the dog.
Just because these collars are negative reinforcement tools doesn’t make them bad. The problems come from their misuse by uninformed owners, and the myths perpetrated by those who see these owners and assume the worst. The problem is not with the tools, but rather their misapplication.
As an example, the training collar, or choke chain, is designed to hang loosely about the dog’s neck. Aggressive or undesirable behavior results in a sharp tug on the collar, briefly tightening the collar and associating a negative with the unwanted behavior. The collar immediately loosens again when the dog releases tension on the leash.
Sadly, many people do not know how to properly use these collars, resulting in the general negative view of them. The fact is that any dog at any time can react aggressively to an unexpected or threatening situation. The ability of an owner to control a dog is paramount to both the safety of the dog and those around it. This makes the training collar one of the single most effective methods to immediately control a dog that might otherwise endanger itself or others.
Likewise, shock collars are an effective training tool, but only when used properly. Contrary to popular belief, they do not cause debilitating shocks. In fact, part of the training program involves teaching the dog that the sound or vibration the collar makes is a precursor to the negative reinforcement. Dogs quickly learn that the precursory sound or vibration will trigger the negative reinforcement.
To quote a study from the University of Sydney, Australia, “Dogs that could associate the electric stimulus with their actions were able to predict and control the stressor, so did not show persistent stress indicators.” In other words, used properly they are an effective training device that does not harm the dog.
Those who professionally train dogs to adjust to an invisible electric fence will often demonstrate the shock collar on themselves first. Many who have not tested collars genuinely believe them to be torture devices, and are surprised at the mild voltage used.
Unfortunately, finding the best tool, learning how to use it, and then applying that knowledge to training a dog is not easy. Few of the installation companies will provide any real training, which means owners are often left on their own. There are, however, websites with dog training resources and detailed information on the many varieties of invisible dog fence. Such resources are an invaluable aid, as they offer a good look at the various products, and how they operate. More importantly, they provide critical training resources for owners.
With all of this in mind, it pays to take a closer look at exactly what it is that necessitates dog training in the first place. Many pet owners are simply not prepared for the responsibilities of owning a dog. They see someone else’s dog, or a canine on TV, and decide that they want to have one just like it. But that’s not possible. One dog is as different from the next as one person is from the next. They have varying temperaments, even within breeds, and external factors can turn even the nicest dogs into ferocious monsters.
A sad, but very accurate example of this is a dog in a car crash. It is confused and scared. This can result in biting, which is an instinctive action, but nonetheless viewed as aggression. Conversely a friendly dog may be attacked by a random stray, or otherwise hurt, and then attack someone trying to help it. While these are extreme examples, they illustrate that dogs are creatures of free will, and occasionally unpredictable action, and even the nicest breeds can react aggressively in certain situations.
Would-be pet owners don’t always understand just how much work it takes to train a dog, and they’re not often equipped to handle it. This leaves dog owners and dog breeders in a bit of a predicament, as responsible dog breeders want their puppies in good homes, and responsible owners want to provide those good homes.
Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way, and even the best of intentions can leave good dogs in bad situations. That’s why tools like training collars, invisible fences, and shock collars are useful. Properly used, they allow good dogs to remain good, by letting them have a degree of freedom they might not otherwise enjoy when their busy owners get stuck in the office.
Of course, the best training methods are always incentive-based, but even the best dog trainers recommend negative reinforcement as an effective training tool as well. Much as an invisible fence can keep a properly trained dog from being hit by a car, electric training can also save it from other dangers it isn’t equipped to manage. The key is proper use of the tools.