When it is suggested to caregivers to use a shock device they are often told “it won’t hurt the dog.” This is knuckle headed in so many ways.
Sometimes sellers of these products even claim they “tickle” just enough to get the dog to stop what they are doing.
Some owners may have tried the device on themselves and claim they can hardly feel it. If that is the case then why use a device like this at all? By definition for punishment to work it must be aversive enough and occur within 0.5 seconds of the behaviour you are intending to stop. This means two things – the animal is still performing the behaviour you are wishing to eradicate, and then you are applying some physical correction immediately after it. This does not set up a dog to succeed.
An example of positive punishment at work is when you place your hand on hot plate. Immediately you are “punished” and you may never do something like this again. Yet we don’t teach children not to touch a hot plate by putting their hand on one – instead we instruct, we manage the environment and they learn. Most shock devices are being used over and over again to deliver what is akin to abuse. This is neither effective punishment or humane.
A shock device may stop some unwanted behaviour, but the question caregivers should ask is at what cost.
Often these devices cause momentary pain that does immediately halt the behaviour, but if the behaviour is rooted in fear and anxiety (as most unwanted behaviour is) this is not a long-term solution. The emotion behind the behaviour has not gone away and may even have been made worse.
Treating behaviour problems humanely and with positive reinforcement techniques has been shown to be both effective and without harm – whereas using punishment in the form of a shock device or an aversive collar can lead to the worsening of aggression, a change to compulsive behaviours or physical illness.
In my mind these devices should be banned. Most caregivers are not equipped to use them, and most trainers who advise them would be better not working with any animals at all.