Monday, March 15, 2010

Chocked, Shocked and Gently Lead

The sad story of Boss, a dog who died while in the care of a boarding kennel, made the news recently. You can read details at but what apparently happened was that Boss had a choke collar on, another dog caught his paw in it and Boss suffocated.
The chain that loops around a dog’s neck is often called a “training collar”, but above sad event makes it clear that it is what it is: a tool that can cause a dog to choke to death. And many trainers and owners use it, or a variation of it, like the Illusion collar or Wade collar (
Despite its popularity, it is not even a good training tool, evidenced by the fact that most dogs still pull with it on, or pull when it’s not on, and that includes titled obedience dogs.
That the choke chain is only meant for corrections and training, and not for controlling pulling or depriving a dog of oxygen to soften him up to be pinned next, is irrelevant. What matters to the dog is not what the tool is designed to do by the manufacturer, but how his lay owner actually uses it – or rather misuses it.
Another tool that is regularly misused is the Halti and Gentle Leader; the device that goes around the dog’s nose and irritates the heck out of most of them. I find the name Gentle Leader quite ironic – what I see are dogs whose necks are twisted, who are constantly rubbing and pawing to get the thing off, and who are, by some trainers, hung and corrected with it.
Reactive behaviors almost always worsen with any type of nose-harness. The dog’s stress is increased by the uncomfortable and irritable sensation, and he is prevented from communicating freely because his, typically tense, owner at the other end of the leash manipulates his head.
The stress and conflict a dog feels often begins before the walk, because the appearance of the head halter is an associated cue that elicits both excitement and anxiety.
The worst of all tools, used for both corrections and basic training, is the shock collar. I don’t care under how many nicer sounding euphemisms (anti-bark collar, e-collar, remote training collar, precision training…) they are sold, the purpose of it is either to apply a painful shock to punish a “bad” behavior, or to elicit the wanted behavior. In either case, it is abuse, plain and simple, and in my ideal world its use would be illegal.
That an owner, or trainer, puts the device on himself before putting it on the dog means nothing. Dogs’ red blood cells have a higher sodium content than humans’ and sodium is a great electrical conductor. So just because a shock doesn’t hurt your arm, don’t conclude it won’t hurt your dog’s neck.
Worse than that, it is not just the pain that drives dogs to insanity and neuroticism, but the unpredictability of it. I challenge every person who uses a shock collar on a dog to put it on himself first, but have someone else control it. Whenever an order given in a language he doesn’t understand isn’t obeyed quickly enough: Zap. Whenever he does something the trigger person doesn’t like: Zap. I bet my best leather leash that by the end of the day the e-collar stimulated person is a basket case and won’t like the “trainer” very much; will want to get away from him as fast and far as possible.
And that’s the sad life sentence for many dogs, and it sometimes begins when they are puppies.
The Departments of Ethology and Clinical Sciences of Companion Animals in Utrecht, Netherlands did a study on shock collar training. The dogs were driven German shepherds with a high pain threshold. One group was trained with shock collars; the control group with “normal” punitive methods regularly applied in traditional dog training. The study showed that:
Shocked dogs are more stressed, and not only on the training grounds, but in general.
The shocked dogs connected the shock with the handler, even though 75% of the handlers believed that the dog did not understand who’s responsible for the zap.
So don’t kid yourself. Your dog knows that you’re the abuser.

The use of harsh, cruel or distressing equipment is justified by labeling the dog dominant, defiant and aggressive. They leave a lot of room for misapplication and abuse and dogs that have no choice, no escape, no way out, are suffering at the hands of their owner and “professional".

My advice is to be leery of anybody who guarantees a quick fix solution for complex and deep-seated problems. The use of a certain collar that suppresses the symptoms of fear, stress and occasionally yes, dominance, is not the same as rehabilitation. Even when the symptoms disappear, which is not a given, it comes at a price. A punishment, for it to be effective, has to impress the dog, and the fallout of that is that the dog will want to avoid you in the future, and that shuts the possibility for true companionship.

The only devices dogs should be trained and walked with are a flat collar, a body harness or, if one needs more physical control, the Sense-Ation harness. There is no room for misuse and misapplication even with the rookiest of dog owners. I’ve been using and recommending the Sense-Ation harness since 1997 or ’98 and it is still my favorite. You can find info at and locally in Nova Scotia at


  1. Excellent article Silvia and I can't agree more. I find so many people are too lazy to actually train their dog and prefer to reach for some "device" to solve the problem, or so they think. I wonder if it is a sign of our times where so much of the population wants to take a "happy pill" at the first sign of any psychologial disturbance or depression, seems like everyone wants a quick fix. Are we all to obsessed with being "perfect and in control" these days?

    I saw a sweet little Australian Shepard in the park this past week-end wearing a shock collar and I felt sick at watching him nervously slink by a large group of dogs which clearly made him uncomfortable while keeping an watchful eye on his owner, probably wondering if he is going to get zapped if he makes any attempts to defend himself. His owner offered him no support in passing this group of dogs, I could tell he was just waiting for a chance to zap his dog for a wrong move. This kind of stuff drives me CRAZY!

  2. Poor Aussie. It makes me sick when I hear that. There was a press release from the Ontario SPCA that a trainer was charged and fined for injuring a dog's paws during training - dragging her. So hopefully times are changing.

  3. Great article. But I have one question. You said that the only tools one should be using for a dog are : flat buckle, a body harness or the sense- action harness.

    The scenario - 18 lbs Dachshund, breaks her collars since she was a puppy. Tried a similar harness to the sense- action with no result ( she walked out of it). What would you recomend?

    Scenario two - 16 lbs Russell Terrier. Head and neck are the same size. Easily backs out of her collars.

    Thanks in advance :)

  4. Either a normal body harness or a martingale collar. A martingale for me is an acceptable tool, but I rather recommend it individually than generally, because I don't find it very effective in most cases.

  5. Very informative. I wonder if they design a Shock Collar that has the same Pain Threshold for humans that it has for dogs and put it on the inventors what would they do. Tasers don't kill either. Right!!!!!!

  6. I use the harness from the Edward Simon collection. It is called tha Walkeasy and can be found at pleasereleashme. It is made in England and is based on the Tellington Touch. It balances the dog and allows them a much more natural posture. My dogs love them and anyone I have recommended them to has commented on how happy their dog seems in them.

  7. Cool, thank you Marjorie. I will check that out.
    Mike, a shock collar discipline sent a guy in Ohio to jail for 16 years when he used it on his son. And rightfully so. Baffles me why intelligent people so easily accept it for their dog.

  8. For the benefit of everyone here is the site

  9. Maybe they should put it on him and put him in Solitary confinement. Then every once in awhile have a peek in his cell and !!!!. Humans are very stranger creatures no matter how intelligent they may seem.

  10. I would never consider a shock collar as a remote training device but I'd like your opinion on invisible dog fencing, which operates with a similar collar.
    I am considering installing one around my large rural property for my young schnoodle. It would allow her to avail herself of about 2 acres around my house.

  11. Same thing, Jeannie. I would never consider installing an invisible fence, nor would I recommend it. Aside from the fact that it can create anxiety on the dog's own properties and in association to whatever the see at the time they get zapped, I met numerous dogs that broke - took the zap and escaped if the motivator overruled the pain.
    It doesn't keep other animals out either, so can create restraint frustration and aggression even in a friendly dog who, lets say wanted to greet a person or play with a dog going by, and received a shock for it.

  12. I have told this story to many of my clients to illustrate that shock therapy is not 'kosher'. As a young child I had the common problem of bed wetting, my parents who were educated BUT also educated to follow the directives of a DOCTOR put a 'zap pad' underneath my sheet on my bed. At the first drop of urine I would be zapped awake! I became fearful of going to bed and to sleep and 48 years later I still have issues in relaxing before sleeping. If I as a Human remember this negative 'conditioning' I wonder what the animals are experiencing.
    These pads thank DOG are no longer on the market.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing, Janet. Very sad. What a shame that people in power at one time suggested stuff like that for children - and sadly still do for dogs.

  14. The best reward for you and your dog is the work you do together to get the results you want to achieve without harm or pain to one another.

    Just like I would never cause hard to a child to get what I want, I would never cause harm to an animal to get what I perceive to be what I want.

    My dogs are great, not perfect in behavior but not out of control. I have never used nor ever will use these barbaric collars. I love my dogs enough that I never want to cause them one second of pain.

  15. Bingo, Marjorie. In one word: ineffective. At least almost always. A dog who bothers other dogs shouldn't be off the leash to begin with. And if the barker is stressed and excited, the spray can turn it up a notch.