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Doesn't that dog shock collar hurts your animal, is a common question that an exponential number of pet lovers nowadays begin to repeat more often. “It's a dog training collar, and no, it doesn't hurt my pet,” is what you will often hear from those using training collars for dogs on a regular basis. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. Let's take a look at how electric collars for training dogs affect our Fidos, and what type of humane alternatives to shock collars can be used instead.

Electronic shock collars for dogs are intense and impactful. They can be a very effective tool for training dogs, and especially those that do not give into the regular training routines. However, regardless of what many dog owners and even dog trainers will tell you, training collars also have many drawbacks that make alternatives to dog shock collars seem like a much more viable option.

Can dog shock collars be used effectively with a minimum amount of damage done to the dog? Yes, they can. Will these training collars help to train a dog more quickly? Yes, they probably will. Are there any alternatives to training collars which pet owners can use to train dogs just as well without harming them, similarly to electric dog fences? Yes, there are.

READ ALSO: 17 Alternatives to Shock Collars for Dogs

Therefore, it is ultimately up to dog owners who have to prioritize: humane approach and patience, or faster training with potential repercussions. 

What are dog training collars and how do they work?

Best Alternatives to Dog Shock Collars
Photo: PetSafe

This dog training equipment usually goes by the name of dog shock collars; however, there are alternative ways which dog owners often refer to these dog products, whether it's because they wish to avoid the word “shock” or for whatever other reason.

  • Shock collars
  • Training collars
  • Electric anti-bark collars
  • Electronic collars
  • Dog e-collars
  • Bark collars
  • Collar mounted electronic dog training aids

…and so on. All of these refer to the exact same thing – a training collar for dogs that uses electric impulses which the dog feels and reacts to. Shock collars deliver jolting, sometimes painful buzzes of electricity to dogs that are wearing them. This brief electric shock to the dog's neck is sent through two blunt electrodes that are touching the skin. E-collars are most often worn around the dog’s neck, though there are other places on the dog's body where the same principle can be used for training purposes.

Shock collars are a disciplinary tactic. They can either be used with electric fences where the dog receives a shock after it passes a certain point on a person’s property or as a manually controlled measure where the owner can send an impulse using a remote whenever the dog disobeys in some way. The dog owner can usually set both the duration of the stimulus and the intensity, and some training collar models even allow for increasingly longer or more intense shocks to be delivered each time the collar is activated.

RELATED: Best non-harmful alternatives to electric dog fences

These electronic training aids have been the focus of much criticism from animal rights groups such as PETA, Humane Society, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association and many others. These organizations are denying the benefits of dog training collars and emphasized the physical and psychological damages on the animal wearing them. Organizations like these agree with Dr. Ian Dunbar, DVM, when he said

To use shock as an effective dog training method you will need: A thorough understanding of canine behavior. A thorough understanding of learning theory. Impeccable timing. And if you have those three things, you don’t need a shock collar.

It is true that even the best shock collars can malfunction and burn the dog or cause even more severe physical ramifications such as heart problems including cardiac fibrillation. Also, the pet's physical pain is then compounded with a psychological fear of the bark training collar and such fear can lead to anxiety disorders or gastrointestinal distress in your Fido.

Aggression is another common side effect of shock collars, branching off from the dog's frequent agitation of being shocked so often. Dog training collars are becoming passé as more research is presented, and organizations including the Humane Society and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) are coming out strongly against the use of any type of electronic training assistance equipment. These activist groups continue to fight for the dog owners' right to know that the implementation of such disciplinary techniques is tantamount to animal cruelty, and the media is quick to cover the subject:

Alternatives to dog shock collars do exist, and there are numerous options. Every pet owner will find a fit for their canine that will provide ample opportunities for people trying to train even the most disobedient dogs to successfully obey their commands. First few alternatives to shock collars that come to mind include the following:

  • Behavioral training and clicker training
  • Citronella collars
  • Dog whistles
  • Outdoor fencing (humane, non-electric fences)

…to name just a few. And without branching out too widely, let's discuss the above four options as alternatives to training collars for dogs and why they are more humane and just as effective as the well advertised e-collars.

RELATED: Best training equipment options for solving behavioral problems

No more pain: Best alternatives to dog shock collars

If you're a big fan of dog training aids and other dog products, and you feel like you need to have a device to help discipline your pet, there are certainly more humane products you can use as alternatives to shock collars.

However, diligent and consistent training is the best alternative. Although it takes more time and effort on your part, it will be better physically and mentally for your pup and will also help to foster the bond between the two of you.

1Behavioral Training and Clicker Training

No Need For Shock Collars! Try These Tricks Instead
Photo: CRYROLFE

Behaviorally training your dog is a long-term solution to what is probably a short-term problem.

Using positive reinforcement is generally successful. Behavioral training helps you create patterns with your dog so that he or she knows and is easily able to identify good behaviors and bad ones.

RELATED: Puppy Training 101: Basic Walkthrough

Canines are highly motivated by dog food and treats, and they’re often willing to trade off good behavior for a tasty snack. If, for example, your dog has a problem with jumping on people when they walk through the door, you can reward him with a treat whenever they obey the command to sit and not jump. By creating a link between discontinuing an annoying action and getting a sweet reward, the behavioral problem will quickly be resolved and there doesn’t need to be any painful, harmful shock administered to get the point across.

Some owners will occasionally attempt to use bark collars for dogs alongside behavioral training. This is generally not a good as well, because when using a shock collar, there's a possibility that your Fido will be confused as to what message you're trying to get across with commends and shock impulses. When your pooch receives a painful shock whenever someone walks through the door, that repeated pain could make him intensely fearful of, or even agitated and aggressive towards strangers.

 

2Citronella Collars, other Spray Bark Collars

Best Alternatives to Dog Shock Collars
Photo: Downtown Pet Supply

Citronella is a plant-based oil that is extracted and used in a variety of different soaps, perfumes and scented candles. It is also a common base in insect repellents. Dogs hate the smell of citronella and that distaste can be used as a way to train the dog without any harmful methods that come with pain and fear.

Citronella collars work the same way that bark shock collars do, except that instead of emitting a painful jolt of electricity, they send out a quick and short burst of citronella oil. Dogs don’t fear citronella, nor do they experience pain from it. They simply dislike the smell, and giving them that mildly (though effective) unpleasant experience whenever they disobey a boundary or command is a non-harmful disciplinary tactic that humanely uses negative reinforcement.

Studies have shown[1] that best citronella collars can be very effective for training dogs:

When it comes to calming “nuisance-barking” dogs, a spritz of fragrance under the chin is more effective than electric shock, a test by the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine has found. Dog owners who tried both types of anti-barking collars preferred citronella spray over shock for their pets, according to a report in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association.” – (May-June 1996, Vol. 32)

Most citronella dog collars are equipped with a microphone to stop your dog from barking, but there are a select few on the market that will allow you to push a button and control the spray using a remote controller that comes with a citronella collar for dogs.

 

3Dog Whistles

Best Alternatives to Dog Shock Collars
Photo: RUFF

Dog whistles is yet another great alternative to painful shock collars for dogs. Dog whistles are common training devices used by owners and are especially popular when enforcing commands to sit and come. Dog whistles emit a sound on a frequency wavelength too high for humans to hear, but right in the uppermost ranges of dogs’ hearing capabilities.

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Whistles for dogs are most commonly used in distance training or hunting dogs but are applicable anywhere. Instead of shocking your dog to get him or her to obey a command to sit or stay, you can behaviorally train him using a dog whistle. If he learns to associate a command with a burst from the whistle, you can non-verbally train your Fido to sit and come even when there are other temptations and distractions surrounding him.

Many professional dog trainers avoid using anti-bark collars and use dog whistles instead as a tool to get canines to obey their commands. They are one of the most popular training aids, right alongside clicker training methods, used by professional dog trainers because they are both humane and effective.

Startling a dog with an ultrasonic frequency is one thing, but dogs will only reliably respond to a whistle as a result of familiarity and training,says Melvin Pena.

 

4Outdoor Fencing and Playpens for Dogs

Best Alternatives to Dog Shock Collars
Photo: North States Industries

In-ground electric fences for dogs often operate in conjunction with shock bark collars because they jolt the dog whenever he or she crosses a certain point on the property. We've already talked about the harmful impact of such electronic fencing method and presented alternatives.

However, there are outdoor fences for dogs that can keep your pets contained while also not causing them any harm. If aesthetics is a concern for you, some of these fences are made with a thin, transparent material that is reinforced and sturdy enough to hold back your dog while also not being blatantly obvious and unsightly.

Some dog owners may simply dislike the look of bulky fencing in their backyards, but others live in areas like housing developments that do not allow visible fencing to be put up. If you live in a housing development or neighborhood that is governed by a home owners association, you will need to be sure to check with them before installing any type of visible fencing for your canines.

Additionally, some owners might also consider large outdoor dog gates and playpens for dogs to keep them contained while you're not home. These playpens will do a impeccable job and most dogs usually don't mind spending their time inside, especially if you train your pooch beforehand and equip him or her with their favorite dog toys. However, proper fencing would be a much better way to secure your pooch if you're looking for a long-term solution.

 

RELATED: How to choose the right dog gates and playpens for your dog

Your backyard dog fencing can be made of wire or wood if aesthetics are not a problem. These fences tend to be more durable and last longer than the transparent ones. Whatever the material, fencing is a safeguard that can accompany behavioral training with a dog whistle or verbal commands. There is no need to introduce a shock collar to keep your dog within the boundaries of your yard.

If you are 100% set on a shock training collar for your dog, there are a few things you must keep in mind…

Best Alternatives to Dog Shock Collars
Photo: PetTag

Some owners will simply refuse to use any of the above alternatives to shock collars because they “simply do not work.” If you believe electronic dog shock collars are the appropriate option for your pet, you need to make sure that you do your research.

When done correctly, you can spare your dog a lot of unnecessary pain and aggravation; and if you don't use the e-collar correctly on your dog, there could be very serious consequences.

1Select a collar that allows you to set the stimulation level manually. Always start with the lowest intensity level and work your way up. You will know when you have found the correct level when your Fido responds to it with a slight twitch of the neck, a head turn, if he perk his ears, or if he immediately stops what he is doing.

2Purchase a collar with an automatic shut-off feature. This will ensure that the training collar stops shocking after it continuously runs for 8-10 seconds. Never buy a dog training collar without this feature, otherwise it could get stuck and continuously shock your dog until the batteries run out or until you notice what is going on and finally get the collar off your pet. If your dog is continuously shocked for a long period of time it could cause severe burns to his neck, as well as heart and mental problems.

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The probes of a shock collar need to be physically touching the skin on your dog's neck, so the training collar needs to be on fairly tight. For this reason, even without an electric shock, the probes will irritate your dog's neck if you leave them on for too long.

Remember, shock collars should not be worn for more than eight hours a day.

If your dog is inside during the day while you're gone to work, take the collar off him and put it back on in the evening when you get home. Also, take the training collar off at night while your pet is sleeping.

Many dog experts recommend for the canine to be at least 6 months old before you use a shock collar to train them. If you have an extra large breed, you may be able to start sooner, but you should have a conversation with your vet about it before you strap a shock collar on your puppy.

 

Be sure you are 100% prepared to use a shock collar and know what you're doing before you begin using one to train your pet.

Again, I cannot stress enough how badly you can hurt your dog if you do not use a shock collar properly. These devices are not for beginners by any means. If you have never had experience using shock collars before and training dogs with the assistance of similar equipment, you should definitely think about using one of the alternatives to shock collars that I have described above.

Dog owners who absolutely must use a training collar for dogs must spend enough time researching the area. Read about the way this device works, watch shock collar training videos, check out the studies we've pointed out in this article, read other material on TopDogTips about training collars, and talk with an experienced user of the device (preferably a professional trainer that has used training collars before). Be sure that you know exactly what you are doing before you use a shock collar on your canine.

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What these alternatives to shock collars all have in common – besides being innovative and unique ways to work around canine's behavioral issues – is that they are all humane. Shock collars have been widely denigrated by a large amount of dog experts, veterinarians, professional organizations and societies dedicated to pet welfare.

Regardless of the cruelty and heavy-handedness of electronic collars for dogs, their ineffectiveness is also what sets them apart from their behavioral and citronella alternatives.

It’s better to spend more time training your dog to be obedient than to seek short-term solutions that can cause more harm than good. If your pooch is extremely misbehaved, you always have the option of seeking out a dog expert's help. Dog obedience classes are offered by professional trainers who can assist you in improving your pet’s behavior and your relationship with him as well.

References and further reading:

  1. Study: ‘Nuisance-barking' dogs respond best to citronella spray collars
  2. The use of electronic collars for training domestic dogs: estimated prevalence, reasons and risk factors for use, and owner perceived success as compared to other training methods
  3. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors
  4. Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situations

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