Despite still being widely used, shock collars for dogs are considered by many owners and some trainers as an inhumane and impractical method of training a dog. Studies found that dogs respond to positive reinforcement far more successfully than negative reinforcement. So why not try something ele before resorting to a tool that's potentially dangerous for your canine?
While some dog trainers agree – when used properly, shock collars for dogs can be a safe and effective method of dog training – it takes a lot of work on the pet owner's part. You must be well-educated and trained on the safe use of dog shock collars, know the right methods and only use the highest quality brands that may be very expensive.
It's true that some dogs are more difficult to train than others. However, even if shock collars for dogs may be used safely, there's a bunch of other non-harmful options that can and should be explored beforehand for training your canine. The below infographic lists a whooping 17 ways to train dogs without causing them pain. You'll need to be consistent and patient with whichever shock collar alternatives you choose.
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17 Alternatives to Shock Collars for Dogs
1. Clicker Training
Table of Contents
- 17 Alternatives to Shock Collars for Dogs
- 1. Clicker Training
- 2. Obedience Training
- 3. Reward Desirable Behavior
- 4. Use Distractions
- 5. Have a Clear Vocabulary
- 6. Recruit a Behavioral Trainer
- 7. Adequate Exercise
- 8. Build Trust
- 9. Have Empathy
- 10. Desensitization
- 11. Reassurance
- 12. Crating
- 13. Ambient Noise
- 14. Pheromones or Scents
- 15. Physical Fencing
- 16. A “Place”
- 17. Baby Gates and Barriers
Clicker training is arguably the best tool for training your dog and is the number one alternative to shock collars for dogs. Dog trainers and pet owners alike found this to be the most effective dog training approach, and a 2016 study seems to have confirmed the experience of those training with clickers. The study also demonstrated how trainers can later switch to simple commands without clickers, and still achieve the same results.
The method is simple: by using a clicker tool with a command and rewarding your dog with praise or a dog treat when they follow through, you create a positive association with the clicker. It's conditioning 101. For example, if your dog barks at the mailman and you don’t want them to, you can use the clicker to call them to you – something they will do if expecting that positive reinforcement.
2. Obedience Training
Problem barking or problem behaviors that are remedied with shock collars for dogs are often the result of deeper-seated issues. Dogs bark for many different reasons, and it may be that your pooch has too little socialization, that they have an unseated fear, or that they simply don’t know how to act in a specific situation.
In a 2014 study, researchers compared two training methods: shock collars for dogs vs obedience alongside reward-based training. They found that electronic collars cause distress in pets, and create new problematic behaviors, while obedience and reward-based training was an effective approach for fixing behavioral problems in canines.
To do this, you can read some basic obedience books (or consult with a professional trainer) and then work with your dog on obedience with reward-based training as well as exposure to foreign stimuli while maintaining a positive atmosphere. This will get to the root of your canine's problem behavior rather than punishing a symptom.
3. Reward Desirable Behavior
Speaking of reward-based training, as the above mentioned study indicated, dogs respond very well to praise and positive reinforcement. Further research has confirmed this. For example, a 2013 study found that dogs do not respond well to punishment or negative reinforcement, while rewarding dog's good behavior had the best training results.
This is best explained as such: I ask you to do something and you don’t understand what I am asking you to do. You try it anyway but do the wrong thing. Instead of my showing you the right thing to do and associating it with praise, I punish you for doing the wrong thing and repeat my original command. Once again, you try to do what I’ve asked, but find it very difficult when you don’t understand what I want from you.
You can see how this becomes problematic.
I can punish you a million times for doing the wrong thing and because you are a loyal companion and friend, you will continue trying. Through this process, you learn nothing except that when I ask you to do something and you attempt to do it, you get punished. Shock collars for dogs essentially represent this process.
Now, consider that I persevere instead and work with you rather than against you. I praise you while showing you the right thing to do. This creates a positive association between the “right thing” and my command. From this example, you can see how positive reinforcement works in a much more efficient way than negative reinforcement.
4. Use Distractions
As one of the alternatives to shock collars for dogs to prevent barking issues, it's best to use different methods to distract your pets from the thing that's making them bark. Doing this regularly will teach your pooch that the thing they are barking at is not worth their attention and there is something better to do instead. This is one of the most effective methods to stop dogs from barking specifically.
For example, if your dog barks every time they see the mailman, keep a dog treat on hand the next time you expect the mailman to arrive. Keep your dog distracted with the treat and reassure him that he's are a “good boy”. They may continue to be distracted by the mailman, but it’s your job to keep them interested in the treat. Once the mailman passes, praise your dog for not barking and give them the treat.
5. Have a Clear Vocabulary
Often when a dog “misbehaves,” it’s because they lack understanding of what they are expected to do. This lack of understanding can result from not having the necessary vocabulary to reference. At this point, owners assume that their pet is “untrainable” and resort to shock collars for dogs.
However, canines actually understand more than we think. In a 2016 study, researchers discovered how particular dogs are when owners attempt to “talk” to them. They notice and can distinguish speech patterns, vocabulary words and intonation of human speech.
Thus the issue with the above problems are because of improper communication. You can remedy this by teaching your pooch a more extensive and clearer vocabulary. Building your dog’s vocabulary is one of the easiest shock collar alternatives you can use that is much more humane than unnecessarily administering a shock when they misbehave.
6. Recruit a Behavioral Trainer
Depending on your individual pet, dog training can become tedious and take many hours to achieve any results. If you are having trouble working with your pet through their behavioral problems, consider hiring a professional dog trainer or canine behaviorist. A professional has experience working with similar problems and can help you and your Fido to work through them without resorting to shock collars for dogs.
Like I've mentioned above, there are trainers who do use dog shock collars. Fortunately, they are much better at using them safely than majority of pet owners. But if this still remains a concern for you, then pick an expert who resorts to shock collar alternatives instead. A behavioral trainer will build up your dog’s confidence and improve their behavior by getting to the cause of the problem rather than punishing the symptom.
7. Adequate Exercise
Dogs will often misbehave or act out when they have excess energy. This is especially true for hyperactive dogs and breeds prone to extreme cases of hyperactivity. For example, when your dog see’s the mailman and barks and runs to the front door, they may be barking because they too want to be outside and expend some of their built-up energy.
Your dog’s “misbehavior” could be nothing to do with problem barking at all, rather a desire to exercise, run, play and be outdoors. Experts note how it's the only way for high energy dog breeds to behave until they're tired. Therefore, instead of resorting to shock collars for dogs as a way to stop your pooch from running outside in this instance, try increasing your pet's daily exercise and see if this helps.
8. Build Trust
The single biggest thing that you can do to create a better behaved and more obedient dog is to build a strong bond of trust. If your dog understands that you are trustworthy, they will be more likely to follow your command and trust your training methods.
If you think that it sounds like woo-woo stuff, take a look at this 2016 study that found how dogs won't trust angry owners and their specific behaviors, meaning they won't react to your commands or listen to what you tell them to do. And in a 2015 study, scientists found how dogs can identify liars and not trust them, either.
Therefore, when you create a lack of trust using shock collars for dogs or otherwise punishing your pets, it's possible that you are telling them that they cannot trust you. You are creating a level of uncertainty, which will further complicate your future dog training efforts.
9. Have Empathy
Don’t assume that because you see your dog’s behavior as misbehavior that it is actually so. Try using a little empathy and observing the world from your dog’s point of view. Analyze the reasons for your dog's bark: perhaps they are barking at the mailman because they are afraid? Perhaps they are barking because the mailman is trespassing on your property and they are trying to protect you.
When you look at the situation with empathy, it becomes easier to see how you might remedy the situation. For example, if you think your pooch may be barking because he is afraid, try introducing your dog to the mailman. Have the mailman offer your dog treats with a kind and gentle voice.
If you think your Fido is simply protecting their property, take them on a leash to greet the mailman in a friendly voice. Show them that you are permitting him to be there and happy to see him. Not only is this a more human shock collar alternative, but it's also a much faster and more effective way to remedy your dog's barking problem.
Desensitization is one of the most important ways that you can help your Fido to work through behavioral problems. It's a process that involves exposing your dog to stimuli that is upsetting them or causing them to act out, which is often the main cause of a number of canine behavioral issues.
Exposure should be gradual and involve plenty of praise and treats. This helps to make a positive connection with the stimuli which can be reinforced over time. Repeated exposure with positive reinforcement eventually reframes how your dog sees a specific stimulus. Again, this gets to the core of the problem rather than punishing the symptom with the use of shock collars for dogs or other negative approach to training.
There are some who believe that reassuring your dog when they are afraid or upset is the wrong thing to do. But more recent research suggests that reassuring your dog helps to build their trust in you. In a 2017 study, scientists discovered how dogs can “smell” your fear and if not reassured, they will get scared too.
For example, if your dog is afraid that the mailman is someone coming to hurt his family and he barks out of fear and a desire to scare him away, dismissing your dog will teach them that you are not to be trusted. It tells your dog that their fears are being dismissed and their concern for you is unimportant.
If, however, you recognize your dog’s reaction and reassure them that everything is okay, you tell your dog that (a) they are safe, (b) you recognize their effort at protecting you, and (c) they can trust you not to dismiss their feelings about the situation. Once again, this is not only a more human approach than shock collars for dogs, but a much easier and more pleasant for both you and your pooch.
If your dog has a particular trigger that makes him react negatively and you have tried and failed to work through that behavior, try turning to crate training instead. Because of some cherry-picked alarmist news, some pet owners believe that crating is inhuman; however, the opposite is true. When done correctly, crating is beneficial for both training and dog's psychology, according to Stanley Coren, PhD.
In the most basic sense, crate dog training provides your pet with a safe refuge that they can seek out when feeling threatened or afraid. Teaching your dog to find their safe place instead of problem barking is a more constructive solution to the issue for you both. And majority of professional dog trainers, including APDT, agrees on the use of dog crates.
13. Ambient Noise
Some dogs exhibit problem behaviors due to anxiety or nervousness. For example, your dog may bark every time they hear someone pass in the hallway of your apartment complex. They do this because they think that someone is in their territory or they are calling for attention.
Instead of using shock collars for dogs to stop your pooch from barking, you can use a “noise approach,” and there are different methods. For example, a white noise machine, play the radio or leave the TV on, or pick calming music for dogs to drown out that triggering noise. This will not only help your dog to feel more at ease, but it will also reduce barking which is bothersome to your neighbors without punishment, and studies found that ambient noise is one of the most effective methods for anxious dogs.
14. Pheromones or Scents
For dogs that exhibit problem behavior out of anxiety or excitability, pheromones or scents can help to calm them. Pheromones and scents can be used as plugins, they can be fitted as discs on dog collars, and they can be diffused like essential oils. All of these things can induce a feeling of calm and stop your dog from acting out without the use of shock collars for dogs or other punishment.
In fact, scientists have tested pheromones as a way to calm down dogs to see how effective this method is. Several studies, unsurprisingly to pet owners who've tried it, discovered that pheromones and pheromone dog collars in particular had the highest level of calming effect on dogs, reduced fear and anxiety. There are many calming collars that you can use as shock collar alternatives.
15. Physical Fencing
In some cases, dog shock collars are used to contain a dog within specific boundaries. These are often called invisible fences. While this can be effective, when used improperly, they can be harmful to dogs, and some pet owners see this as a cruel method. It also does not stop other animals from entering into your dog’s space and injuring them, among many other wireless fence cons.
Rather than using this type of negative reinforcement that does not keep your dog as safe as you might think, try installing a physical fence as one of the alternatives to shock collars for dogs. If your neighborhood forbids fencing, make use of local dog parks, go for leashed walks, and make use of doggy daycare facilities.
16. A “Place”
Training your dog to recognize one place as a spot to go to on command is beneficial for many reasons. In this instance, if your dog is nuisance barking at the mailman, you can give your Fido the “place” command and they will stop barking and go to their designated place, because he's conditioned to do so.
Many dog guardians use a dog’s crate or a dog's bed as a “place” which the pet will consider the safe spot. The “place” command must be repeatedly enforced with positive praise and treats, and practiced often. It's best to use either clicker training or other reward-based or obedience training methods for it.
17. Baby Gates and Barriers
While you are working with your pooch to get through problem behaviors, as one of the alternatives to shock collars for dogs try using barriers or baby gates to contain them. For example, you can use a baby gate to keep your dog away from the windows where they can see the mailman who causes them to bark.
There are also specially designed pet gates for dogs that can be either mobile or stable barriers. These pet gates, baby gates and barriers are also helpful to have on hand for dogs that don’t do well when crated. They can be used to contain your dog in a small space so that they are safe but still feel free to move. Finally, these types of gates and barriers are also cheaper than regular fencing or shock collars for dogs.