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The Use of Shock in Animal Training

Position Statement on The Use of Shock In Animal Training

It is the position of the Pet Professional Guild that effective animal training procedures lay the foundation for an animal’s healthy socialization and training and helps prevent behavior problems. The general pet-owning public should be educated by organizations and associations to ensure pet animals live in nurturing and stable environments to better prevent behavior problems. In this effort, it is the position of the PPG that the use of electrical stimulation, or “shock” or “e-collars,” to train and/or modify the behavior of pet animals is not necessary for effective behavior modification or training and damaging to the animal. For the purposes of this statement, electrical stimulation devices include products often referred to as: e-collars, training collars, e-touch, stimulation, tingle, TENS unit collar, remote trainers.

Numerous countries have banned electrical stimulation devices, and the PPG’s official position is that electrical stimulation can play no part of effective and ethical animal training. Studies and the experience of the PPG’s membership finds that training and behavior problems are consistently and effectively solved without the use of electrical stimulation devices. Evidence indicates that rather than speeding the learning process, electrical stimulation devices slow the training process, add stress to the animal, and can result in both short-term and long-term psychological damage to animals.

Some common problems resulting from the use of electrical stimulation devices include, but are not limited to:

• Infliction of Stress and Pain

Even at the lowest setting, electrical stimulation devices present an unknown stimulus to pets which, when not paired with a positive stimulus, at best is neutral and at worst is frightening/painful to the animal. Pets learning to exhibit a behavior in order to escape or avoid fear or pain are, by definition, subjected to an aversive stimulus. Studies indicated that dogs trained with shock displayed stress signals as they approached the training area and frequently work slowly and deliberately. In many instances, electrical stimulation causes physiological pain and psychological stress to the animal, often exhibited by vocalization, urination, defecation, fleeing and complete shut-down. In extreme cases, electrical stimulation devices may burn animal tissue.

• Generalization

For behaviors to become reliable in random environments, they must be practiced in random environments (called “generalization”). When using an electrical stimulation device to train, this means the animal must be repeatedly subjected to electrical stimulation for the behavior to become reliable. To maintain the behavior, the pet will need to be subjected to the electrical stimulation on a periodic but random basis. Often, the behaviors never become reliable when the electrical stimulation device is not present because, as part of the cue system, it is missing when the animal is not subjected to it. Therefore, in addition to being an aversive stimulus, electrical stimulation collars are ineffective if not worn frequently or even constantly.

• Escalation

If results are not immediately realized, many users of electrical stimulation devices will increase the level of stimulation, which often results in the animal attempting to escape or avoid the stimulus and even total shut down where it will refuse to perform. This creates a counter-productive paradigm in which little learning can occur. Additionally, some animals are ”stoic” and may fail to show a pain response despite increased levels of electrical stimulation. Other animals may become habituated to the pain and endure it, causing trainers to increase the level and frequency of electrical stimulation. The pain and stress caused in such situations has a significant effect on an animal’s physiology, increasing cortisol levels and heart rate.

• Global Suppression, or “Shut-Down”

An animal repeatedly subjected to electrical stimulation for several different behaviors may go into a state of “shut down,” or a global suppression of behavior. This is frequently mistaken for a “trained” animal, as the animal remains subdued and offers few or no behaviors. In extreme cases, animals may refuse to perform any behavior, called “learned helplessness” and isolate themselves to avoid incurring electrical stimulation. This is counter-productive to training new behaviors.

• Suppressed Aggression

The use of aversive stimuli is counter-indicated in animals with aggression because they suppress aggression and it may resurface at any time, without warning, generally in a more severe display (Hiby et al., 2004). Using electrical stimulation to reduce behaviors such as barking, lunging and growling may suppress behaviors that warn of a more serious imminent behavior such as biting. Without ritualized aggression behaviors, people and other animals will have no warning before the animal subjected to punishment feels forced to bite. It is the PPG’s position that desensitization and counter-conditioning is the only ethical and effective paradigm in which to treat aggression in pet animals.

• Redirected Aggression

Animals subjected to repeated electrical stimulation may be respondently conditioned to associate the fear/pain of electrical stimulation with certain contextual cues in their environment. As an example, many dogs trained to honor the boundaries of an electrical boundary (also referred to an “underground” or “invisible” fence) will approach- a stranger on the other side of the boundary and encounter- the painful/frightening stimulus. Repeated instances of this will generalize to the dog fleeing or acting aggressively toward strangers on the other side of the fence in order to avoid the painful/frightening stimulus. Similarly, animals subjected to repeated electrical stimulation may act aggressively toward the nearest human or animal near them in attempt to escape/avoid pain/fear caused by electrical stimulation.

• Unintended Consequences

Electrical stimulation devices have not been studied in terms of health. There is currently insufficient data to determine whether prolonged use of electrical stimulation devices may pose a long-term health risk. However, there is clear data that electrical stimulation can cause burn injuries.


It is the position of the PPG that all training should be conducted in a manner in which to encourage animals to enjoy training and become more confident and well-adjusted pets. All PPG members should encourage and use positive operant and respondent training methods, both personally and professionally. Further, the PPG and its members actively eschew and recommend banning the sale of electric stimulation devices and all related training and control aids to be used as any part of an animal training or behavior modification protocol.

Recommended Reading:


Pat Miller, Whole Dog Journal, February 2006 Shock or Awe

Pat Miller, Simply Shocking in Whole Dog Journal 2/03

Scientific Articles

Polsky R. “Can Aggression in Dogs Be Elicited Through the Use of Electronic Pet Containment Systems?” Click here for the article.

Hiby, E.F.; Rooney, N.J.; Bradshaw, J.W.S. “Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare.” Click here for an abstract of the article.

Schalke E, Stichnoth J, Ott S and Jones-Baade R. “Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situations.” Click here for the article

Beerda, B. 1998 Behavioral, saliva cortisol, and heart rate responses to different types of stimuli in dogs. Click here for the article abstract

N.H. Azrin, H.B: Rubin, R.R: Hutchinson Biting Attack by Rats In Response To Aversive Shock. Click here for the article

Emily Blackwell, Rachel Casey The use of shock collars and their impact on the welfare of dogs: Click here for the article

Matthijs B.H. Schilder, Joanne A.M. van der Borg Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects Click here for the article

Kristy Englert, The use of Electric Shock Collars vs. Other Training Methods: Efficacy, Stress, and Welfare Concerns Click here for the article

David Ryan, Negative impacts of training dogs using an electric shock collar Click here  for the article.

Pamela Dennison Why i really hate electronic fences. Click here for the article


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