Should You Use an E-Collar to Train Your Dog?

Have you ever been tempted to use an e-collar (also known as electronic, vibration, or shock collars) to train your dog? If you have, or if you've already crossed over, this advice is for you, thanks to Sarah Hodgson, author of Modern Dog Parenting.

Sarah Hodgson, Writing for
3-minute read

The e-collar has been marketed as a quick fix for canine behavioral problems. All you have to do is strap a collar on your dog–yes, it has prongs that dig into your dog's neck that issue a shock–err, a "correction"–when she misbehaves–but think of the time it saves you! No tedious, repetitive praising, rewarding, or encouraging–just a push of the button and, zap! Fast, fear-based control.

One might be tempted to order one for their partner or kids. Think how effective it would be in eliminating snacks before mealtime, towels from the bathroom floor, and bikes from the driveway. No one acknowledging you? Zap! Take that! Instant gratification can be very alluring.

I recently spoke to a trainer who is a proponent of using e-collars with his clients and suggests them for dogs and puppies as young as three months old. I hesitated to mention that I see many of these very same dogs with aggression and fear-related anxiety issues as a result of his technological quick- fix. Buyer beware: solve one relatively easy-to-fix problem with an e-collar, create three more emotionally damaging ones.

For years I've maintained that dogs are like pre-verbal children, and recent research backs up this belief. They learn through cause and effect. They ponder, feel, and love. And, like kids, they do not come pre-programmed with human-approved skills. Good behavior must be taught patiently, consistently, and kindly.

Though the e-collar is effective in the moment of misbehavior, it distances you from your dog and changes your relationship with her. Not only this, but it also changes you–in often irreparable ways. You can no more control the thoughts or actions of another being with a shock than you can control this crazy world we’re living in.On the other hand, inflicting a short burst of pain or vibration every time a given dog or puppy misunderstands a situation will result in a fearful, confused dog with fear. Though she may stop repeating a given behavior, she'll stop out of fear, not be understanding.

And whereas good behavior lasts a lifetime, fear-based reactions only hold if the collar is affixed and the person issuing the shock is present. Hand-held devices should never be confused with the kind of mindful dog training that helps a dog become a reliable, loving member of the family.

Before we parted, my dog training colleague proudly showed me a clip of a Senior K-9 handler and unit trainer who uses e-collars to train his protection dogs. Uno, a young German Shepherd, trotted alongside his handler. The handler pointed at a target and Uno responded instantly–and ferociously. It was impressive indeed...but would you want Uno on the couch with you? Or romping with your kids? I don't think so.

In the end, the only question is: Do you want your dog to act more like a happy kid or a mindless robot?


For more tips from Sarah Hodgson, check out Modern Dog Parenting, available for preorder on AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound, and Booksamillion.

Having trouble communicating with your dog or puppy? Sarah Hodgson, aka the Happy Dog Mom, is here to help. She's written multiple best-selling books on dog training, and her next book, Modern Dog Parenting, will be out Fall 2016. You can reach her at sarah@whendogstalk.com or visit her website whendogstalk.com.