What is a dog training collar?
‘Training collar’ usually refers to a collar with a built-in punishment or deterrent for bad behavior.
There are several types of training collar, but the evidence is clear: using punishment in dog training is not only cruel, it can actually make behavioral problems worse.
What Is A Training Collar For Dogs?
There are several types of training collar for dogs, but they all work on the same principle: to punish the dog for unwanted behavior.
Electronic shock collars
Electronic shock collars, also known as e-collars and just ‘shock collars’ deliver a static electric shock to the dog’s skin, via a remote control operated by their owner.
No-shock electric collars
No-shock electric collars work by beeping, buzzing, or vibrating, rather than delivering a static shock.
The noise or vibration is still delivered by the owner, using remote control. Some ‘anti-bark’ collars are designed to go off automatically when the wearer barks.
Prong collars are a type of metal chain collar with inward-facing prongs that press into the dog’s skin.
If pressure is put against the collar, for example by the dog pulling forward, or their walker stopping suddenly, the prongs pinch into the skin.
For this reason, they are also sometimes called pinch collars.
Finally, choke collars are designed to tighten around the neck if either the dog or the owner pulls forward on the leash.
This puts painful pressure on the tissues of the neck, and constricts the airways so the dog has difficulty breathing.
The Case Against Training Collars
The premise behind training collars is simple: if a dog does something unwanted, and then something bad happens to them, they are less likely to repeat the unwanted behavior again.
This is called positive punishment.
However, there is an ever-growing body of evidence that positive punishments are an ineffective tool in dog training.
And that they can even make behavior worse.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why, and how.
1. Welfare concerns
Electronic shock collars hurt. A lot. It’s the whole point.
They can also can deliver severe burns, and kill skin tissue.
Prong collars and choke collars can damage the soft tissues in a dog’s throat, cause puncture wounds, and increase the risk of tracheal collapse.
And then there is simply the moral and ethical issue of deliberately inflicting pain and distress on an animal which lives at our mercy.
In fact, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and scores of other organizations around the world have come out against the use of training collars, for these very reasons.
We don’t think anybody feels good about using a training collar. But people do resort to them out of desperation.
By the end of this article, we hope you’ll agree that they have so many shortcomings, and that force free alternatives are demonstrably so much more effective, that training collars aren’t even worthy of consideration.
2. Mis-timed punishments
When a trainer uses a training collar, it’s obvious to their mind what behavior the punishment relates to.
But, it’s very easy to mis-time a punishment, and end up misleading the dog.
After all, none of us are mind readers! We might think we’re catching an errant dog right in the middle of a bad behavior, but inside their head their intentions may have already moved on.
So it’s easy to end up punishing the intention to do something good!
This will make it harder to reproduce that good behavior on cue in future. And they won’t even have learned a lesson about the unwanted behavior.
3. Undeserved punishments
Training collars can also work completely inappropriately.
Take for example a dog wearing a prong collar or choke collar and walking on a short leash.
They’re not pulling (too painful), but they have learned that they can walk with their nose just out in front of their owner.
Then their owner spots their friend Jim on the other side of the road, or a dollar bill on the ground, and they stop abruptly to say hello, or pick up the money.
The dog doesn’t have time to register what has happened just behind them before they run out of leash, and the punishment is delivered.
They didn’t deserve that.
And this can also lead to unintended consequences.
4. Unintended consequences
Another significant problem with dog training collars is the potential for unintended consequences.
In particular, creating fearfulness, because the dog learns to associate unintended stimuli with being hurt.
Here’s an example. A dog owner wants to start letting their puppy walk off leash in a popular hiking spot.
But, being a curious puppy, they’re prone to running too far ahead, or chasing cyclists, or trampling over people’s picnics.
It seems that using a training collar will work as a deterrent for doing these things, and perhaps break the habit.
But, it’s very difficult to use it accurately so that the puppy understands how it relates to the context of what’s going on.
And we can’t control what connection they might actually make.
There’s a high chance they could form a negative association with the appearance of cyclists in any place, or even the whole location itself. After all, all their visits have been punctuated with pain.
Next they might develop a fearful reaction to these things. Undoing the careful socialisation you did when they were a puppy, ruining your enjoyment of that place you liked to go, and making you dread the appearance of cyclists anywhere.
5. Punishment impairs learning
Studies have shown that punishing dogs rewires their brains, and impairs their ability to retain information.
In other words, it makes teaching them new cues slower, and their response less reliable, compared to using force free and positive reinforcement training techniques.
6. Your bond with your dog
Finally, training collars can damage your bond with your dog.
If your dog understands that you are hurting them, it damages their trust and faith in you.
It also turns your presence into a form of punishment. Wanted behaviors, like a reliable recall response, can suffer. Because dogs are less motivated to be close to someone who sometimes hurts them.
Some people claim that using a shock collar prevents dogs from making a connection between you and the discomfort they feel.
But this isn’t the end of the matter. Dogs who are regularly punished, especially if they don’t properly understand what triggered the bad experience may be more prone to generalized anxiety.
Rather than avoiding you, they can become clingy, more fearful of being left alone, and prone to separation anxiety.
What About ‘Humane’ Training Collars?
What about the so-called humane electric collars which beep or vibrate rather than delivering an electric shock?
These are a contradiction.
They still work on the basis that the dog finds them upsetting enough to not want to experience them again.
But, either they are upsetting enough to stop the behavior, in which case they pose a welfare problem, and the potential for making other unwanted behaviors worse.
Or, they do not upset the dog, in which case they won’t work as a deterrent.
The Case For Force Free Training Instead
In our Dogsnet training courses, we rely entirely on force free training techniques.
We use positive reinforcement to motivate dogs to repeat desirable behaviors, so they replace unwanted ones.
You can have an obedient, well behaved dog you can be proud of, without ever once having to punish them.
Sounds much nicer, right?
You can read the full case for force free training in this article.
Do You Need A Puppy Training Collar?
Your puppy does not need a training collar of the types described above.
We’re willing to hazard a guess that you wouldn’t feel good about using one either.
But, lots of regions do have laws that require pet dogs to wear a tag with identifying information on it, whilst out in public.
This includes socialisation outings, whilst attending obedience classes, and on walks, etc.
Check your local laws for the requirements in your area.
What Is A Good Dog Training Collar?
So, the odds are, your puppy is going to wear a collar or harness anyway, to carry their ID tag.
Which you choose depends partly on personal preference, and the kind of dog you have.
But making the right choice can help you train effectively, and train safely too.
Here at Dogsnet, we’re big advocates for using harnesses in dog training.
They are comfortable, and the pressure of wearing them is spread evenly over wide, strong parts of the dog’s body. Rather than concentrated on their neck.
They are also harder to slip free of, and have more surface to area to grab hold of in an urgent situation.
And they even come in a variety of styles, from soft and padded, to lightweight and quicker drying.
Some manufacturers sell them in eye-catching patterns, and some include smart safety features like reflective panels.
Does my puppy need a collar too?
Some people opt to put their puppy in a harness when they wake up in the morning, and leave it on until bedtime.
This is totally acceptable, and in this scenario you could attach their ID tag to their harness.
If you would rather your puppy didn’t wear a harness all day, then to be on the safe side you may opt to use a comfortable collar as well.
The collar’s only purpose is to hold the tags, and can be something as simple as a rolled leather house collar or a 1-inch woven nylon one.
There’s something reassuring about knowing that this one always stays on.
But, never leave a puppy crated alone in a harness or collar. There have been recorded cases of puppies getting caught or tangled in the bars.
What Is A Dog Training Collar? Summary
Dog training collar usually refers to a collar which incorporates a punishment for bad behavior.
Here at Dogsnet we think the evidence is clear: they’re not just miserable to use, they don’t even work.
And they can make other behavioral problems, like fearfulness and separation anxiety worse.
So, leave them in the store, and stick to using force free, positive reinforcement training, in a harness.
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China et al. Efficacy of Dog Training With and Without Remote Electronic Collars vs a Focus on Positive Reinforcement. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 2020.
Ziv. The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs—a review. Journal of Veterinary Behavior. 2017.
Masson et al. Electronic training devices: discussion on the pros and cons of their use in dogs as a basis for the position statement of the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology. Journal of Veterinary Behavior. 2018.
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