Our pet care team at Sunrise Boulevard Animal Hospital often sees our clients reach for shock collars as a cure all for their pet’s behavioral issues. While shock collars can have utility in some specific situations, they can also cause more harm than good. Keep reading to learn why shock collars aren’t always the answer.
To better understand why shock collars don’t always work like you might think, you must first have a basic understanding about pet behavior and training.
Animals (and people) respond and learn best when they are rewarded for good or desirable behavior. This is called positive reinforcement. Alternatively, we tend to want to punish bad behavior through positive punishment (a swat on the nose for biting, rubbing the face in a potty accident). Positive punishment backfires in our pets, especially when that pet does not make the connection about what the punishment is for.
Rewards can be food, but they can also be favorite toys, praise, or play time. Every individual pet is motivated by different things. Rewards can have different values, too. For instance, a dog might enjoy playing fetch but get really excited when you bring out the laser pointer. The laser pointer is a high value reward and should be reserved for really special times.
Why Shock Collars Fail
While shock collars might seem like an easy answer to all of the pet behavior problems that ail you, they oftentimes make the situation worse. When you stop to think about it, the reasons make a lot of sense.
Shock collars can:
- Increase fear and anxiety when a pet isn’t sure why the shock is happening or where it is coming from
- Cause confusion and stress because they fail to teach a desired alternative behavior
- Lose effectiveness over time as your pet acclimated and anticipates the shock
- Fail to teach your pet the exact behavior that you don’t want to be exhibited
While they can get a pet’s attention, shock collars are often not the most effective solution.
What’s a Pet Owner to Do?
If you need your pet to stop a certain behavior, thankfully there are alternative means. They are not without effort on your end, but a well-executed behavior modification plan can have far more thorough and lasting results than any shock collar.
Shock collars are a classic example of positive punishment. Instead consider positive reinforcement options such as:
- Clicker training to identify and reward good, desired behaviors
- Rewarding alternative behaviors with treats, toys, and praise
- Distracting your pet from a temptation with valuable interactions
- Simply blocking off areas that your pet shouldn’t be allowed to access
- Allowing your pet to have a safe space such as a crate to hide from anxiety or fear-inducing stimuli
- Increasing mental and physical exercise to curb naughty behaviors
Shock collars and other aversive methods should really only be used as a last resort, and even then under close supervision by a trained professional. Please let us know if you need help with your pet. We are happy to steer you in the right direction, as always with your pet’s best interest at heart.