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Shock collars for dogs are both praised and condemned. Animal activists, and proponents of training based solely on positive reinforcement, frequently cite shock collars as a cruel and ineffective method of behavior modification. Many professional trainers — particularly those who work with retrievers, spaniels, and other bird-hunting dogs — tend to believe the collars cause little discomfort and greatly accelerate a dog’s learning curve. The collars are used for purposes ranging from containment to obedience, but reports on the success or failure of shock collars for dogs are largely anecdotal.
Shock collars for dogs are a key component of what is known as “invisible fencing.” The dog is fitted with a collar — bearing a small, metal stud — that rests against the dog’s neck. A wire buried around the perimeter of a yard or lawn receives a closed-loop radio signal from an electric base unit. If the dog ventures too close to the wire, it feels a vibration or hears a tone. It if ventures further, the dog receives a small shock.
Fans of invisible fencing claim this type of training teaches the dog to stay within boundaries. The rationale is that the small discomfort encountered during the learning process far surpasses the danger of a dog running away, being hit by a car, or becoming lost. The opposing argument takes the position that the pain is unnecessary, and that positive training or the installation of traditional fencing are the dog owner’s responsibility. Most reports indicate that shock collars and invisible fencing do work, but only to a degree. Some dogs become desensitized to the shock, while others respect property boundaries only while wearing the collar.
Anti-bark collars also have advocates and detractors. This type of shock collar for dogs operates on the same principle as the invisible fence collar; it delivers a mild shock whenever a dog barks. Dogs do sometimes cease barking via the negative association of pain, but more times than not barking resumes when the collar is removed. The efficacy of an anti-barking shock collar for dogs is in doubt, and detractors believe that conditioning via negative reinforcement might lead a dog toward fearful or aggressive behavior.
Hunting dogs — particularly dogs that retrieve birds — are frequently trained with remote collars. The purpose of these shock collars for dogs is primarily to teach the dog to return when called, to not destroy or consume a bird that has been shot, and to drop the bird at its master’s feet. The collars are controlled by a hand-held remote, are effective over a distance of hundreds of yards, and can be regulated to provide a greater or lesser voltage. A bird-hunting dog trained with a remote collar often exhibits a high degree of skill and obedience, and continues with the desired behavior after the collar is removed.
Trainers believe that shock collars for dogs are very effective in quickly training a dog used for such a specialized purpose. Most are in agreement that misuse teaches a dog to become aggressive or disobedient. Those who object to the use of remote collars tend to feel they cause the animal unreasonable pain. The main contention of people who denounce remote collars is that a retriever can be trained just as well, if not better, using traditional methods. Traditional training is slow, but it was used effectively up until the time remote collars were created.
There are a lot of problems with shock collars in general. The obvious is that they may be considered a form of animal cruelty and that is especially true if they are used excessively. Another problem is that they might not work.
Believe it or not, strong willed dogs have been known to resist the shocks and do what they aren't supposed to be doing. For those dogs, one might argue that shock collars are downright cruel -- if the dog receives a bunch of shocks that don't come close to altering its behavior, that's where cruelty arguments come into play.
Still, there are some people who have found a shock collar to be the only way to properly train a dog.
The question of whether shock collars are effective, cruel or whatever else seems to be a discussion is hard to have because each dog is different and the needs of each owner are different.
When it comes to invisible fencing, there are times when people need them because erecting a traditional fence is somehow not practical. If you have a dog that digs out of fences routinely then an invisible fence may be a good solution. Perhaps there is a restrictive covenant in a neighborhood that prevents effective fencing. Also, fences are expensive so a dog lover may find an invisible fence to be an affordable alternative.
Besides, is using the invisible fence and shock collar setup really cruel? The dog will learn the penalties of straying past its boundaries in a hurry and should be able to avoid getting shocked once it is trained. A problem here is that a lot of cities make down owners keep their animals from running loose, so it is up to those owners to find out solutions that work best for both their pets and themselves.