A few weeks back, I wrote an article about shock collars for dogs and how I thought they were not humane. We received a lot of feedback from that post, including some comments from readers.
Almost all of the blog comments agreed that Dog Shock Collars were not humane. However, there was one reader who posted about his experience with electric collars and how it made a dramatic improvement with his dog.
That reader’s response was so thoughtful and shed some new light on the subject for me, so I wanted to share it with you now.
The case for the humane use of dog shock collars came from Bob V., a reader who is the proud pet parent of Dixie and Daisy. Dixie is a Westie puppy and Daisy is a 12 year old rescue from a puppy mill.
There’s no doubt from reading that Bob takes great care of his dogs and loves them a lot, so I think it provides great balance and insight into the issue.
I’ll let Bob take it from here.
OK, don’t judge me. I bought a so-called “shock collar” for my Westie and I love it. Hear me out.
Dixie is the most lovely Westie puppy. She has a sweet disposition and is loving life.
She really loves our walks on the golf course and afterwards her favorite place to curl up for a nap is in my lap. She is mostly house-broken and understands many words like her name, “outside,” “come,” and most importantly, “No.”
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She has only two behaviors which concern me.
First, she is the barkiest little dog that we’ve ever had.
At 10pm, when locked inside for the night, she’ll launch into a feverish argument with an invisible neighbor. She’ll stop with “NO” but she’ll start up again in 30 seconds. And so on until she gets tired.
But even more concerning is the fact that she’s a bully toward her big sister. 12-year-old Daisy was rescued from a puppy mill and she’s been afraid of her shadow for her entire life.
Despite being a quarter of Daisy’s size, Dixie will push her around, try to steal her food, and block the dog door so Daisy can’t go in or out.
Worse, she’ll play what my wife calls “The Lioness and the Wildebeest.” She’ll latch onto the hair on the back of Daisy’s neck and hang on, growling into Daisy’s ear.
Poor timid Daisy won’t stand up for herself and will just wander from room to room with this monster attached to her neck.
Even going outside won’t shake Dixie loose. Have you ever tried to pee with someone biting you in the back of the neck?! (Don’t answer that). No amount of “NO” or attempts to distract her will dissuade Dixie from this fun game.
But what’s the point of having two dogs if you have to keep them in separate rooms??
I’ve read about “shock collars” online and it breaks my heart to think of “zapping” Dixie. But I read about one that also has a vibrate mode and that sounded much less cruel.
We were visiting the veterinarian anyway so I asked for her opinion. To my surprise, the vet said that she’d heard some good things about these collars.
She pointed out that it could be much less intense than an “invisible fence” (which uses the same principal) and, if it was used to discourage chewing on power cables, for instance, might even save the dog’s life. She didn’t object, “as long as you’re careful to use it humanely.”
So I bought one (only $36) and it arrived yesterday.
I gave myself some rules: (1) never use the collar in anger or to punish, (2) never use it to try to encourage good behaviors; only to discourage bad ones, (3) never use it without warning (i.e., only when “NO” doesn’t work) and, most importantly, (4) never use any setting that I am unwilling to first test on myself.
For the record, I also wouldn’t use a collar that I can’t control – like a bark collar that automatically reacts to the sound or vibration caused by barking. I *want* her to bark when barking is appropriate and I don’t want her to be trained or disciplined by a machine.
This collar has a remote control and four modes: I’ll call them light, buzz (sound only), vibrate, and zap.
I guess the remote light is so that you can find your dog in the dark? (Ours are not allowed outside from dusk to dawn because we have foxes in our area).
Buzz mode is similarly useless to me. I suppose some people use it to warn the dog to behave or the vibrate/zap comes next. That sounds good but you’ll want to avoid switching modes as much as possible so that you don’t accidentally trigger the wrong one.
Vibrate and zap have intensity settings, 1 to 100. Once set to your preference, it remembers the settings. Vibrate is completely painless and I found that 50 will *really* get your attention.
I tried zapping myself at a setting of 5 (out of 100) and it was like the static charge you could get after rubbing your slippers on the carpet. It is indeed “shocking” but could hardly be described as painful. I locked it into that setting.
Maybe I should be ashamed to say that I was looking forward to using it. But poor Daisy deserves to live her last few years in some peace and I really want the two dogs to be best friends.
So I put the collar on Dixie and put the two dogs together on the floor.
Dixie immediately pounced on Daisy.
“NO” twice had no effect.
With the third “NO”, I pressed the button to vibrate.
Dixie’s eyes got VERY BIG and she looked all around to find out what was happening.
But she didn’t let go of Daisy’s neck.
With “NO” and vibrate again, Dixie jumped off and stood there perplexed.
Finally free from the lioness, Daisy started to run away.
So Dixie pounced on her again.
This time “NO” was followed immediately by a little zap.
Dixie jumped back two feet and said “Yikes!” with a little yelp.
She stood there for a good 10 seconds, then shook her head and looked up at me, trying to evaluate what just happened.
Daisy, of course, took off.
Dixie saw her wildebeest escaping and took off after her, followed closely by me. In the next room, Dixie caught up to her sister. As she was about to jump on Daisy’s neck again, I shouted “NO!”
And then a miracle happened.
Dixie sat down.
Just inches from her helpless prey, she just sat down and looked up at me.
I just about cried. I sat down next to Dixie, gave her a treat, and lavished praise on her.
“Such a good dog!”
She jumped on me and licked my face, her little tail wagging as fast as she could manage.
Daisy, of course, was long gone.
When that fact suddenly hit Dixie, she took off in search of her sister. The three of us met again in the next room. The lioness started to approach Daisy but then she looked up at me. I said in a very soft voice, “no,” and Dixie understood completely. She walked slowly up to Daisy and started licking her face, as if to say, “I’m sorry.”
Daisy, naturally suspicious of this new hunting technique, continued to walk away from her.
For the next 15 minutes, the two dogs walked back and forth, from room to room, side-by-side, with not a word spoken between them.
Daisy eventually tired and laid down. And Dixie laid down next to her. Just like best friends. It was nothing short of miraculous.
For the rest of the day, Dixie got into all sorts of different trouble, of course. She’s teething so she is always on the prowl for shoes, trash cans, electrical cords or any other yummy things at her eye level.
But each time, a stern “no” (and the offer of a replacement dog toy) was all it took. I never had to correct the same behavior twice. And I didn’t use the collar again.
Until after dark, when the barking started.
One “NO,” a second “NO” with vibrate, and a third “NO” with a little zap and the behavior stopped. She retired for the night and I took off her collar.
I’m not foolish enough to think that all of our problems are solved, but Dixie is a new puppy.
I have not even had reason to put the collar back on her. She bounces around the house, happy as can be. She hops around Daisy and endlessly tries to goad her into the “chase me” game (as puppy will do) – but Daisy is too old for that and mostly ignores her. Dixie hasn’t even tried the lioness behavior again. And if she approaches my shoes, one little “no” stops her in her tracks.
Yes, the critics are right. The collar could be used as a very wicked instrument of torture. You have to be disciplined in using it. You have to resist the God-like power of being able to “zap” the dog from 300 yards away.
If you don’t trust yourself to do that, then don’t buy it. And you have to use a light touch. Don’t hold the button down. One little tap is all it takes.
If you are mad at your dog, put down the remote. In fact, I’d advise against putting the collar on the dog at all unless you are training or addressing a specific problem. And certainly not when the dog lies down to sleep. And when you put the collar on her, position the contacts on the back of the neck, away from the esophagus.
Lastly, be very careful to keep the remote locked away or far out of reach of children (or child-like adults for that matter).
Now your mileage may vary. It may not work as quickly or as easily with a bigger dog or one with longstanding bad habits. But this little $36 investment has been good for Dixie, great for Mom and Dad, and best of all for Daisy!
I may have to use the collar again if Dixie reverts to her old behavior or develops another bad habit. But I doubt it. And for now, peace reigns in our house.
There you have it, the story of Dixie, Daisy and the shock collar. First off, a big thanks to Bob for sharing his story.
Bob put a lot of thought into using the shock collar and set rules and boundaries.
What do you think? Is there a way to use shock collars for dogs in a humane way?
Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!