Why You Shouldn’t Use a Dog Shock Collar and What to Do Instead

Andra Picincu
Andra Picincu
Have you considered getting a dog shock collar to train your buddy? If that's the case, think twice before going any further. These devices can do more harm than good, and there are safer alternatives available.

Shock collars are banned in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Scotland, Austria, and other European countries, as well as in some parts of Australia and Canada. Even though they’re legal in the U.S., New York State recently proposed a bill that would prohibit vendors from selling or distributing them within its boundaries.

Sadly, these training devices are still being used in most countries, fueling animal cruelty. What’s more, pet parents often resort to shock collars because they want to do good. They are simply unaware of the risks involved.

If you knew how much damage e-collars could do, you’d never consider getting one. Plus, these gadgets are pretty much useless, as shown in several studies. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the technology behind shock collars and why it’s so controversial.

What Is an E-Collar?

A shock collar, or e-collar, is a remote-controlled device that sends electrical impulses of varying intensity to a dog’s neck. Some models only have vibration settings, but today we’ll talk about those that deliver electrical signals.

The first e-collars were developed back in the ‘60s and produced high levels of shock. Modern training collars are not as harsh, but they still produce electrical signals that are strong enough to cause physical injury.

Some manufacturers say that training collars deliver a static shock, but that’s a misleading claim. These gadgets actually use alternating current (AC), causing the muscles to contract. Moreover, they may have a detrimental effect on the neurological and cardiovascular systems and can cause burns.

The Technology behind Shock Collars

German shepherd wearing a dog shock collar
Image by PDPics from Pixabay

Dog shock collars are used to prevent or reduce excessive barking, as well as for pet containment and obedience training. Some pet owners also use them as a form of negative reinforcement to change or suppress undesirable behaviors.

There are different types of e-collars available, and each has a distinct mechanism of action. Generally, they detect the vibration in the dog’s throat when he’s barking and then deliver an electric shock to his neck. Most devices have a low- and high-shock mode, plus additional settings, such as vibration mode and beep mode.

As mentioned earlier, shock collars are operated by a remote control, allowing users to activate them anytime—not just when the dog is barking or misbehaving.

Some pet owners leverage this feature to punish their dogs or instill certain behaviors. For example, they may use a shock collar to train the dog to attack intruders or refuse food from strangers.

If you know a thing or two about dogs, you realize that such an approach is doomed to failure. But even so, you might not be fully aware of the harm it can cause.

Why You Should Never Use a Dog Shock Collar

Dog shock collars are no longer used in Norway and other Scandinavian countries, but they’re still legal in many parts of the world. For example, a 2018 survey conducted in France revealed that 26% of respondents used e-collars to train their dogs. More than 60% of the dogs forced to wear these devices were younger than two years of age.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the dogs trained with e-collars were more likely to show signs of stress, such as yawning, yelping, and lip licking. About half of the pet owners had success with these devices, but another 36% got no results or noticed a worsening of the dog’s behavior.

Researchers say positive-reinforcement training is safer and «equally or more effective than punishment-based training.» With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the risks associated with shock collars and why you should never use one.

Physical Pain and Burns

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) advises against the use of shock collars and other training tools that inflict pain. As the scientists note, reward-based training yields better results and has fewer risks.

E-collars are advertised as «safe,» but nothing could be further from the truth. The electric shock can raise your dog’s heart rate and burn his skin, says the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). These devices may also cause bleeding wounds, which can lead to infection and scarring.

Cardiovascular, Respiratory, and Gastrointestinal Problems

Another problem is that shock collars are relatively tight around the dog’s neck and can interfere with breathing. In the worst-case scenario, this tightness and the electric shock can be fatal.

Over time, these training tools can affect cardiovascular function, putting significant strain on the heart. Dogs trained with shock collars may also experience atrial fibrillation, digestive distress, and respiratory problems, which could endanger their lives.

If you ever experience such issues, take these steps to perform first aid on your dog .

Extreme Physical Stress

«There have been instances where electric shock collars have actually become embedded in a dog’s neck,» veterinary student Ericka McDermott told ABC News. «I’ve seen burns, collars have malfunctioned, and they’ve just delivered shock after shock without switching off,» she added.

Bruce Howlett, a veterinary surgeon interviewed by ABC News, describes the use of shock collars as «inexcusable cruelty.» He also warns that, at the highest setting, they’re strong enough to knock a dog off his feet.

Psychological Stress and Anxiety

Dog feeling sad
Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

A growing body of evidence indicates that dog training collars can take a toll on mental health, causing extreme anxiety and stress.

For example, a 2004 study compared the behavior of 16 working dogs trained with e-collars to that of those receiving similar training but without electric shocks.

Researchers concluded that shock collars had both short- and long-term behavioral effects, including fear, pain, stress, and anxiety. The dogs wearing e-collars displayed the following behaviors:

  • Lowered their tail
  • Gave a barking scream or high-pitched yelp
  • Hunched toward the ground
  • Crouched in response to fear
  • Change their head position to avoid the shock
  • Made whining sounds
  • Flicked their tongues out
  • Began to walk in circles
  • Trembled


As the scientists note, these behaviors indicate anxiety and pain. If you speak dog, you know that a lower tail indicates fear or stress. Similarly, tongue flicking is a sign of stress, nervousness, or discomfort, whereas a higher pitch shows fear, pain, and other negative emotions.

Moreover, the dogs in the study began to associate certain commands and the simple presence of their owners with the reception of electric shocks, even outside of their training hours. As you would expect, this aspect can negatively impact the relationship between humans and their canine friends.

Another study investigated the effects of dog training collars in everyday situations. After only four weeks, the shock collar group showed a significant increase in the stress hormone cortisol levels.

Shock Collars May Worsen Behavior Problems

Aggressive dog showing his teeth
Image by Free.gr from Pixabay

E-collars have the role to correct behavior problems in dogs, but they often make things worse. Aversive training may cause dogs to suppress their instincts, such as barking at strangers, and develop other behaviors or obsessive-compulsive disorders.

For example, dogs trained with shock collars can become destructive, aggressive, and unpredictable, according to a 2018 review published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. These problems are more likely to occur in pets that already have a nervous or aggressive temperament.

Scientists warn that pain triggers aggression and instills fear, which may cause the dog to attack without warning. Plus, e-collars fail to address the root cause of behavior problems, especially when those issues are related to fear, anxiety, or frustration.

«Aversive-based methods generate stress in dogs, can have unintended outcomes, and put the dog’s welfare at risk,» note the study authors.

Using a Dog Shock Collar Is Cruel and Pointless

No-bark dog collars and similar devices can suppress negative behaviors, but their risks outweigh any potential benefits. Plus, they’re by no means more effective than positive reinforcement training.

In clinical studies, positive reinforcement training has been proven superior to e-collar training, according to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. The latter was associated with a higher risk of escape and other negative behaviors.

Alaskan Malamute
Photo by W O L F Λ R T, Pexels

In a 2004 survey, pet owners who used punishment to train their dogs saw an increase in problematic behaviors. «We suggest that positive training methods may be more useful to the pet-owning community,» said the study authors.

Another survey found that dogs trained without the use of punishment-based methods had lower rates of undesirable behaviors. For example, those attending puppy socialization classes were less likely to misbehave toward other dogs. Moreover, positive reinforcement training was associated with a lower incidence of aggression, fear, and attention-seeking behaviors than aversive training.

Dog Training Collars Are Often Misused

Last but not least, shock collars are often misused, which may increase the risk of injury and behavior problems, notes the University of Lincoln.

Researchers found that instruction manuals didn’t provide enough information regarding the use of e-collars. Plus, some pet owners purchased used devices, which rarely include an instruction manual, whereas others said they didn’t follow the guidelines provided.

Scientists also warn about the differences between e-collar brands and technical specs, such as momentary and continuous stimuli, as well as the circumstances in which these devices are used. These factors «are likely to lead to a wide range of training experiences» for dogs, affecting their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

What about Other Types of Dog Training Collars?

Some shock collars use vibration, sound, or mist instead of electric current, but this doesn’t mean they’re safe or effective.

For example, spray collars emit a burst of air or mist (e.g., citronella) to stop the dog from barking. While these training tools don’t cause pain, they can still elicit just as much stress and fear as shock collars, notes the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. On top of that, their effectiveness is questionable at the very least.

The same goes for beeper collars, which emit a sound that may cause stress and anxiety in our beloved friends. Let’s see a real-life example.

You decide to use a beeper or vibrating dog collar to deter your buddy from jumping on people. One day, a neighbor stops by to bring you some news and gets his leg bitten off out of the blue.

The thing is, your canine friend might have associated the neighbor’s presence with the beeping sound. So, instead of staying quiet, he attacked the neighbor in an attempt to avoid the sound, vibration, or electric shock emitted by his collar.

According to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, there’s no credible scientific evidence to justify the use of these devices. Relationship-based training, mirror training, positive reinforcement, and other similar methods are far safer and more effective.

Final Thoughts

man hugging his dog
Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

The foundation of dog training is having a strong bond with your canine friend, and you can’t expect to develop that bond by using shock collars. These devices are cruel and pointless, inflicting unnecessary pain.

By now, you should know that dog training collars cause extreme stress, anxiety, fear, and emotional trauma. In some cases, they can take a toll on the dog’s heart and shorten his life. What’s more, these tools don’t address the underlying cause of behavior problems and can suppress a dog’s instincts, fueling aggression and other fear-based responses.

Another aspect to consider is that shock collars cannot teach a dog what he should do in a given situation. Instead, they leave him feeling confused and frightened, ruining the bond between the two of you. Sometimes, dogs trained with a shock collar experience so much pain and fear that they end up losing control over their reactions or shutting down completely.

Also, remember that dogs usually bark for a reason. Once you have identified that reason, you can address it in a safe, healthy manner, such as through positive reinforcement with help of the Agile harness .

Disclaimer: Non-electric collars, such as those using mist or vibration, can be effective in specific situations (e.g., training a dog not to cross property borders) IF used correctly by a professional. But since there are other positive non-fear-based methods available, the risks far outweigh the benefits.