Short And Long Term Effects Of Shock Collars In Training

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A study of short and long term behavioral effects of shock collars used in training concludes that the potential for harm is high. In this article I will dissect and present the findings of the study, although I encourage you to read it for yourself.

The study was performed by Matthijs B.H. Schilder and Joanne A.M. van der Borg.

[ .. ] the welfare of these shocked dogs is at stake Source


This article was prompted by a discussion with a number of dog owners where it was suggested that you should use a shock collar to teach a dog the recall. The proponents also asserted that there are no studies confirming that shock collars are harmful. This is an assertion based in ignorance, as it is blatantly false, as clearly evidenced by this study.

This article is directed at anyone who is contemplating the use of a shock collar. This article will be relatively long, however if you are considering using such a highly debated tool, it’s important that you are given details on its effects.

Here are some common counter arguments shock collar advocates often use.

Study: Introduction - What Was The Aim Of The Study?

The study is split into many parts, some of which are outlined below.

To investigate direct behavioral reactions of dogs upon receiving a shock during training, with the aim of finding what behavioral responses are elicited by the reception of a shock.

In other words, how does shock collars effect dogs in real world training scenarios? The researches were especially interested in finding occurrences of pain, fear, avoidance, pain-induced aggression and submission.

To investigate the long-term impact of the shocks.

The researchers wanted to find out how the shocks impacted the dogs welfare. For example, did the signals of pain, fear, aggression and so on disappear shortly after a training session, or would they become a lasting part of the dogs general behavior?

To investigate the difference between dogs shocked during training, and dogs that had never been shocked (control dogs), to see if it was possible to distinguish between them.

1) Would it be possible to distinguish between shocked dogs and control dogs on training ground when no training was occurring?

2) Would the previously shocked dogs display behavioral signs resulting from shocks in situations taking place at completely different times, and in different locations unrelated to training, compared to control dogs?

To investigate if shocked dogs associated their handler, or being given commands, with the reception of shocks.

In other words, would a dog expect (anticipate) to be shocked simply by being in the presence of the handler, or when given commands, on training ground and off?

Study: Findings, Questions And Discussion

“Is being shocked painful or just annoying?”

(responses to shock show) a number of behaviors, that in literature are connected to pain, fear and/or submission.

Vocalisations are also indicative of pain, especially the higher frequency squeals, yelps and barks

Biting attempts can be interpreted as pain-induced aggression.

A characteristic, swift head movement sidewards and downwards often follows a shock as does a swift avoidance action. Both these reactions also indicate that reception of a shock is unpleasant.

All in all these responses show that shocks elicit fear and pain responses. This means that shocks are not just a nuisance, but are really painful. [ .. ] receiving a shock may sometimes be perceived as a traumatic event by a dog.

One (dog) still behaved as though it received shocks during protection work although the last shock was delivered 1.5 years before!

In other words, if the dog still shows (today) the same behavioral signs he did even when he hasn’t received a shock for over 1.5 years, it is safe to say that the effects aren’t simply “temporary”.

“Is the welfare of shocked dogs impaired?”

(1) shocked dogs are more stressed than control dogs on the training grounds


(2) shocked dogs are also more stressed than control dogs in the park


(3) shocked dogs connect their handlers with getting shocks


(4) shocked dogs may also connect orders given by their handlers with getting shocked

effects of the electric collar, at least when used in a harsh way, may be visible outside the training area. The most likely factor here is the presence of the handler.

In spite of the fact that some 75% of handlers and trainers that were interviewed by a student of ours are of the opinion, that the dogs do not relate the presence of the handler with getting shocked, the dogs obviously do.

[ .. ] one dog, shocked immediately after getting a “heel” command, yelped after getting the next “heel” commands without being shocked.

All this means, that when in presence of the handler, the dog has learned to expect something aversive.


We concluded that shocks received during training are not only unpleasant but also painful and frightening.

[ .. ] we found that shocked dogs are more stressful on the training grounds than (control dogs), but also in a park. This implies, that whenever the handler is around, the dog seems to expect an aversive event to occur.

A second unwanted association might be that the dogs have learned to associate a specific command with getting a shock.

Apart from the acute pain and fear, these expectations may influence the dog’s well being in the long term in a negative way.

Trainers and handlers should study learning theory far better [ .. ] to reduce the number of mistakes. They should incorporate more rewards during exercises.


Author: Stian Karlsen

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