The Shock Collar

Podcast - Shock Collars

Podcast Episode 50: The Shock Collar

This episode discusses the likely most controversial tool in dog training, the electric collar, aka shock collar. This tool can get some people’s blood boiling. However, most online videos are ignorant of what this tool is suitable for and how to use it. People either hail the shock collar as the greatest thing since sliced bread or condemn it as a torture tool. Instead of piling onto this mess, I aim to explain the shock collar, when and why one may consider using it when it is the best or only option, and how to see it in the context of real-world challenges instead of theoretical abstracts.

References for The Shock Collar


Play the Audio

Dog Talk Podcast on

Watch the Video


If you are ready to get help with your dog(s), please use our dog training contact form to schedule a free phone consultation.

Podcast Transcript: The Shock Collar

Hello, this is Ralf from Happy Dog Training. Welcome to another episode of Dog Talk. Today we’re going to talk about the electric collar, also known as shock collar, especially by the people who hate it.

It is probably the most controversial tool in dog training today, and I’ve never really done an entire episode on it. I mentioned it here and there, as well as some of the things I do with it. I don’t use it often, but I thought adding more nuance to that conversation would be good. Instead of doing another podcast with “good shock collar/bad shock collar,” I want to provide more details. And as I said, nuance on when this is actually useful and when maybe not so much.

How The Shock Collar Works

Let’s start by explaining how electric collars work. They’re basically remote collars. They have two components: a receiver collar on the dog’s neck with two contact points and a remote control that the dog trainer, dog owner, or handler holds. With the remote control, multiple things are possible.

Depending on the model and the brand or type of collar you’re using, you can emit a tone, vibration, or stimulation—or stim. People usually take issue with the stimulation because it is created using electricity. But it’s not an electroshock.

The way you could describe the sensation is more like a static shock. When you walk with wool socks over a carpet and touch the door handle, or get out of your car and touch the handle, assuming you have cloth seats, not leather seats. You sometimes get a zap, and that’s a static shock. We know how that feels. It’s not pleasant, but it’s not the end of the world. With an electric collar, you can regulate its strength. And that’s the stim that is usually in discussion. That’s generally how this works.

The Shock is Superficial

The impulse, the stim, runs between the two electrodes only. So you have these two electrodes on the collar that sit close together, maybe like an inch apart. And they need to touch the dog’s skin. They need to make enough contact so they can’t touch the skin. And then when you press the button, the stimulation runs between those two electrodes. It doesn’t penetrate [deep] into the body. It’s not that you get electrocuted, like when you stick your finger in a power outlet or you try to change a light switch without turning the breaker off, and you get zapped. That’s a lot more intense. It’s a very different kind of stimulation you would get from a power outlet if you did something like that.

How It Feels

We wouldn’t do that to a dog, but that’s how electric collars generally work. View it as static stimulation. You can regulate the strength that runs between these two electrodes, and it doesn’t go deep into the body. It stays in the skin layer. It’s superficial. It definitely pinches. It’s unpleasant. That’s the whole point. But it doesn’t penetrate the organs or inside your whole arm, neck, or blood vessels, so it doesn’t go deep.

The way the stimulation works depends on the collar manufacturer. There are obviously different brands. The biggest and most common ones used by professional dog trainers are usually Dogtra, e-Collar Technologies, and Garmin. There are some others, but those are probably the predominant models. Then, on the cheaper end of things are the less quality types of collars. There’s a whole range of products.

Quality Differences

When I say cheaper, it doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper in price because even the unsophisticated shock collars with inconsistent stimulation levels may break very easily, not last very long, and not be very good. They may still cost you $100 or more, but they’re just not good products.

With a professional shock collar, you have consistent stimulation at every level. On a professional model, the stimulation levels tend to go up higher, so you usually have more range from 0 to 100 or above. I think in a Dogtra, it’s 127. That’s the range. From 0 to 127. On most cheaper collars, not all, it’s usually ten levels or less. That’s kind of a separator. But I think there are some, even some, higher-powered versions that only have ten levels, but that’s a distinguishing factor in general. Professional models have more granularity.

The stimulation wave also depends on the brand because they all have patents. So, let’s say, on a Dogtra collar, if I recall, it’s a pretty linear progression of how the strength goes up. On an E-collar technology shock collar, it’s more of an exponential curve with a very low bottom bell. It takes a while before it even gets to the same level as a more linear shock collar as a Dogtra does stimulation-wise.

They all have different pulse systems and different ways of doing it. Again, all these companies have patented their particular version to gain a competitive advantage. They all view theirs as the best, obviously. But that’s what’s on the market.

“Collar Burn” Isn’t a Thing

Also, the contact points don’t burn the dog. We sometimes hear from veterinarians who claim that shock collars cause collar burns. That is not possible if you understand how shock collars work. If you don’t understand how electricity works, you could get the idea that this was possible, but a shock collar does not have enough power to do anything like that.

I’m assuming the veterinarians who claim that is the case are usually referring to sore spots because they can happen. They can happen if you leave the collar on too long or too tight. If the dog gets wet while wearing the collar, maybe from jumping in the lake, because they are all waterproof. You can use all of these in wet environments, as they were originally designed for hunting dogs.

If the dog gets wet and you leave it on for too long, the duration of when you get a sore will be much shorter if the dog is wet versus dry. So after you finish a training session in a wet environment, you just have to remove the shock collar to prevent that from happening. When you see sore spots, they’re not burn spots. They’re usually just sores, pressure sores from somebody putting it on too tight or not taking it off in time. That’s usually what those are. There is no possibility of a shock collar causing a burn.

Shock Collars Are Aversive Tools

Shock collars don’t electrocute dogs, but they feel unpleasant, which is the point. That’s how they generally function.

We should think of shock collars as aversive tools. They are aversive tools like any other. And that then raises the question: What’s an aversive? And why use an aversive, to begin with? That sounds unpleasant. Why should we do such a thing? So let me get to those two questions first before we dive more into the collar’s applications.

What is an Aversive?

First, what is an aversive? That is a highly debated topic. Some dog trainers listening to this will disagree with what I’m going to say because there is disagreement among dog trainers on what’s aversive. But I will try to stick more to biology than opinion on this.

What’s generally considered aversive is something your body has a natural “away” response from. An aversive response is you withdrawing your body. And that would be, for example, you touch a hot oven plate, and you move your hand away. That’s an “away” response because, “ouch,” that was hot. Maybe I didn’t know it was on and burnt myself or barely burnt myself. Maybe I pulled away in time, but that’s an away response.

When a leaf falls from a tree, you don’t see it coming, and it brushes against your arm; you’re going to twitch away. That’s an away response. It’s the autonomic nervous system. It is not something you think about. It’s a normal biological response; I want to withdraw from this stimulus. It’s an unpleasant stimulus or an unknown stimulus that’s surprising. And in that moment, that’s an aversive event.

Perception vs Biology

Our higher brain functions can overrule that. But that doesn’t mean it’s no longer aversive. It just means we’re now understanding where it’s coming from, what it is, or expecting it. So we don’t have the initial biological response, but it doesn’t mean it’s not an aversive stimulus. We just get used to or understand it and don’t react. I see the leaf falling off the tree, and I see it coming. So, I don’t move my arm because I want to experience how it feels when it brushes against me. I don’t move my arm because I’m watching the whole thing.

It’s still aversive, but I watched it happen because I wanted to experience it. So it wasn’t unexpected at this point, but that doesn’t mean it’s not aversive anymore. An example that dog trainers I’ve discussed and debated this with brought up, is the example of a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit. You may be familiar with TENS units from physical therapy. Some people start enjoying TENS units they’re using to contract muscles. You place them on your skin, you turn them on, and then they create muscle contractions. This is therapeutic. It has definitely benefits. It’s an aversive event you can get used to. And some people start enjoying it. But that’s your higher brain function overriding what initially is an aversive event to your body.

Aversives Create “Away” Responses

An aversive event has an “away” response. An “away” response is a survival instinct, a survival mechanism. It’s not even instinct; it’s a mechanism. Every cell on this planet performs “away” responses well because they didn’t die along the way through the evolutionary chain. If you’re a cell, if you’re a being of any kind, if you’re an animal, if you’re a mammal, if you’re a human, if you’re walking around and you cannot avoid things that are bad for you, sooner or later something will end you.

The Biological “Away” Response

That’s basically what this comes down to. It’s a biological survival mechanism. So, “away” responses help you make it and stay in the game longer. An “away” response is a completely natural, normal thing. We should respond correctly to aversive stimuli because it’s a survival mechanism. I hope that makes sense. So, “away” responses are things we want to get away from in some way.

What I described are physical “away” responses. But there are also emotional “away” responses. They can be aversive. They are psychological aversives. Let’s say you watch a sad animal rescue commercial, which shows up every Christmas season, and you see the sad animals, and then they ask for donations. You feel bad about this and you want to get emotionally away, and don’t feel bad. You donate to feel better, and maybe you make the donation recurring so you never feel bad again. But these are also away responses. They’re just psychological “away” responses.

So, an “away” response is a pretty universal thing. Aversives cause “away” responses. Anything that causes an away response is an aversive. Even if somebody may get conditioned and get used to it or no longer consider it aversive when they think about it or experience it, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer biologically aversive. So that’s what an aversive is.

Why Use Aversives in Dog Training?

So why would we use that in training? Why would we use any kind of aversive in training? That’s a fair question. And given what I just said, you understand it’s not just shock collars that can cause aversive events. Any training collar, regular collar, harness, or leash can create an aversive event of some sort. The very popular, or let’s say popular with the force-free training community, head halters are aversive. There are so many different varieties and brands of accomplishing the principle of pulling the dog’s head to the side with some kind of leash contraption around the dog’s nose. These are called head collars. As a category, they are highly aversive to a dog, but they’re considered very non-aversive and friendly by certain training groups, which makes absolutely no sense at all.

From a dog’s perspective, this is a very aversive experience. There isn’t a dog that will appreciate having a head halter put on them the first time you try that. They may get used to it. They may tolerate it like they tolerate muzzles and other things after they get conditioned to them. But that doesn’t mean that’s not an aversive thing. So, many things can be aversive, and it also depends on the context if something is experienced as aversive.

But if it’s biologically aversive, it really doesn’t depend on the context. It depends on whether my body has a biological response to this. And if the answer is yes, it’s aversive. Okay, so why would we use this in training?

The Value of Aversives

In dog training, we strategically use aversives for two types of things. On the one hand, we use them to stop behaviors. If we need to penalize something that needs to end, we would use an aversive of some sort. Or, if we need to make a behavior happen in a reinforcement scenario with a negative reinforcement mechanism, we would also use an aversive. They are used very differently in both scenarios. But ultimately the goal is for the dog to learn to do or not to do. Ultimately, it depends on what we’re after, and it depends on the training scenario. Aversives allow us to accomplish specific outcomes faster, with less stress and less detriment to the dog, and improve the dog’s life and welfare than would be possible with other mechanisms like differential reinforcement processes.

The Supposed Alternative to Aversives

Differential reinforcement is usually touted as the alternative to aversives, but all the studies and the experience of professional trainers working globally have shown what the limits of differential reinforcement are. It’s not that it doesn’t have value, it is not that it doesn’t work, or that it doesn’t have a place in training. It does. But if you always do it without aversives, you often run into scenarios where you go for six months and just run into a wall you can’t overcome. If the challenge you’re trying to fix can’t wait that long, that will be a problem.

It’s also not that you can fix everything that way. So, pretty much every study over the last 30 to 40 years that wanted to “prove” tools like shock collars aren’t necessary and that training could be accomplished differently always conceded in their fine that when it comes to predatory behaviors and livestock chasing, you often will need aversives. They’ve never been able to do it without aversives in those contexts. And those contexts are the squirrel running up the tree.

Reliability Matters

You want to have your dog walk next to you, and the dog sees a squirrel. It wants to chase the squirrel. Well, that’s predatory behavior, the chasing and stalking aspect. There is probably more chasing in this case, but there isn’t a mechanism other than a negative reinforcement procedure [or punishment] that uses some form of aversive to create a reliable outcome in such a scenario.

Don’t Just Say, “Science Says,” Make a Video and Show Everyone

If somebody can put it on video, show all of us, because nobody ever has demonstrated that it’s possible. People talk about it in theory and say, study this, study that. But in reality, nobody has ever demonstrated that reliably. So if you can put it on video, show the rest of us, and if it’s something that would work for every dog, well, great. We all want to learn it then, right? But until that happens, we’ll have to use aversive strategies at certain stages in training to convince dogs to stop doing things or to do things when they can’t be accomplished in other ways.

That’s generally why aversives are used in training. They’re used out of necessity, not out of desire. It would be the most beautiful thing on earth if we didn’t need to use aversives to create reliability under specific circumstances. It would be beautiful if we could do it without aversives, but so far, the people who claim you can have never demonstrated that their ideas actually hold up in real life. Until somebody can demonstrate that consistently and reveal the big secret of what it would be, great, show everyone.

However, this seems unlikely because it doesn’t make sense from a psychological perspective. We just have to keep using aversives for now, but we shouldn’t overdo them. I’ll get back to that later. But they have their time and place for specific goals.

Aversive Examples You Can Agree With

Let me give you a couple of examples that put this a bit more in perspective. You may even agree that it is necessary sometimes. Even if you generally disagree and came into this listening thinking, I want another argument as to why this is inappropriate.

Rattlesnake Avoidance Training

Let’s say your dog likes to explore and chase animals and is curious about things that move, but you also like going hiking and taking your dog out on the trail and would like to give him the freedom where it’s possible to go without a leash. Let him be a dog in nature and enrich his life tremendously through this process. Well, rattlesnakes are on the trails, especially here in Southern California, where I live. Unless your dog has been trained to avoid rattlesnakes, this becomes quite dangerous because your dog would go investigate a rattlesnake, get bitten in the process, and possibly die on the trail, depending on how far away you are from the next hospital. If you’re on a remote trail, you’re probably far away.

You would create something like this by creating an “away” response from rattlesnakes. Rattlesnake avoidance training is the name for this type of training, which is done with shock collars. If the dog investigates the snake’s scent, he gets a stim, then he backs off because he gets startled, and it’s unpleasant. He backs away and learns that investigating that scent is a bad idea. And he learns that scent is not something I should be investigating. That is not a good scent.

Quick and Lasting Results

You may have to repeat that once or twice, and then maybe you have to refresh the dog’s memory a year or two later, once or twice. But generally, lessons like that stick quite well. And then, after that’s done, your dog is safe on the trail, will not approach rattlesnakes, will not get bitten, and will not die. I don’t think you can argue that this would not be a good application of a brief aversive. It is a ten to fifteen-minute training process. You repeat it a year or two later. One more time, and you’re done. And now your dog can go out on the trail and have freedom, be a dog, explore nature, and have a far more enriched and pleasant life than constantly being kept on a leash.

The benefit to animal welfare in this context outweighs the short-term discomfort that comes from using this tool to create safety around rattlesnakes in nature. It outweighs it by orders of magnitude. It’s not even comparable. I’m giving my dog a lot more liberty and freedom by allowing him to do something like that. That is, to me, a 100% legitimate use of an aversive that will enrich my dog’s life and make his or her life so much better because there is nothing like it. Having a dog out loose in the wild and letting it be a dog is beautiful. If you’ve never seen that, you should really work with your dog towards that goal. It’s a beautiful goal. It’s just a wonderful thing to see.

Stopping Self-Mutilation

Let me give you a couple of other examples. Let’s say a dog mutilates its tail, which is not uncommon. It’s not super common either, but many people have experienced that. The dog chases its tail, grabs it, starts chewing on it, and mutilates it in the process. Some dogs may also chew on their paws, and it becomes habitual. Usually, allergies or injuries start the process, but it could become habitual if the dog just keeps injuring itself. A shock collar is a quick and easy way to stop that without any fallout.

If it’s done correctly. It just has to be done correctly. That’s one of the main things about these tools. If you do it correctly, there’s no fallout of any kind. You can’t go through a six-month differential reinforcement routine if the dog is mutilating and injuring its tail on a daily basis; that’s not feasible. This tool will stop that in most cases quickly. So, in this case, it prevents injury.

Stopping Property Destruction

Imagine you have destructive dogs that eat the moldings of your doors and windows. I once had a client with a dog who had done that to basically every window and door it could reach. Or it eats sprinkler heads, digs up the flower bed, chews through walls, or engages in whatever destructive behaviors they may be engaging in. We may have to stop that quickly. Otherwise, that’s not going to work.

Obviously, these things have reasons, and you must address those reasons. You can’t just penalize them for eating the sprinkler head. There is probably a lack of biological fulfillment and a lack of genetic fulfillment that absolutely must be addressed because otherwise, the dog will just choose something else. You have to definitely go after the root cause. But if you need to stop something quickly in this context of destruction or injurious behavior, that is a way of doing that. It should be combined with a training process that addresses the root cause. You’ll be on much better terrain than telling a dog owner you must tolerate the damage for the next 2 or 3 months while we go through training. Just accept that all this damage in the meantime is worth it somehow because most people don’t think that way.

Unreasonable Management Demands

This may be considered a perfectly fine way to live in certain dog trainer circles, but most dog owners don’t consider daily destruction or mutilation of their dogs’ bodies an acceptable way to live. Sometimes, faster solutions are needed to address the underlying issue in parallel. But you can’t wait to see if something works out over a few months.

Stopping Aggressive Behaviors

Then, there are cases of aggression and dangerous behaviors where the dog is just going after other dogs or attacking people or things like that, and this may have to be part of the solution. I say, may, it may not, it depends on the case, obviously, but these are the kinds of scenarios where, from a penalty perspective, this is a very appropriate tool in my view. Because it saves the dog from injury [or euthanasia]. Further, it improves its life quality, creates safety, and prevents destruction. It has so many benefits that outweigh a very short discomfort by orders of magnitude that it’s worth doing.

But that’s stopping things.

Creating Reliability

Let’s go back to our hiking example. I probably also need a reliable recall of my dog at a distance when there is some wildlife to be chased, or a deer or a squirrel or whatever, right? Bighorn sheep, and so on. Those are not as common to see, but you can see them sometimes, depending on where you hike. If you need a reliable off-leash recall, there’s only so much you can do with long lines. There’s only so much you can do while the dog is physically under control. And that’s always where it starts when introducing a shock collar into a training process. Ultimately, you want to prove that it works when a squirrel runs up the tree, and the dog is 300 yards away from you on a trail.

Negative Reinforcement

You need a mechanism to convince them not to do that and listen to a recall command. And that would be a negative reinforcement procedure. That’s where an aversive is the only reliable way to accomplish that outcome. Again, as I mentioned, even the studies that want to prove that you don’t need shock collars always concede that point on predatory behaviors. You do need these tools. That will not be written in the abstract summary or recommendations, but it’s always in the fine print when you read them. And I do read them. I know what these conclusions usually include and don’t. But that’s one of those things.

And I do read them. I know what these conclusions usually include and don’t. But that that’s one of those things.

I will give you an example of how well this works at the end, with one of the most impressive long-term studies from New Zealand. But that is what these tools are for. They’re absolutely for the purpose of creating behaviors that we otherwise cannot reliably achieve, either by doing or not doing things that would be impossible to achieve otherwise.

The Shock Collar is Overused

I’ll be the first to admit, and I’m not the first one, that shock collars are absolutely overused in dog training. Some companies use them exclusively for everything, and they’re constantly applied in even the most inappropriate ways.

You can see plenty of bad examples of applications on YouTube. It’s not that I’m blind to that, or I’m not accepting of the fact that the shock collar is overused. The tool is overused, and it’s used inappropriately. Entire training systems are built on the use of the shock collar, but they are not necessarily built correctly. So you have this avalanche of usage and avalanche of people who absolutely love the electric collar. It is a powerful tool, allowing you to accomplish many things more easily, even if you’re not as good at accomplishing them in other ways.

Hiding Lack of Training Skills with Aversives

It’s very tempting to just reach for the most powerful tool. I’m not a fan of that. I think you need to understand how the principles work, how the principles of learning work when it comes to using aversives correctly, and how you should use them only when you actually need them. And when you understand that, you won’t need them that often. But the thing is, you sometimes do need them. And there are some scenarios where it’s really the only option to make it work.

Only Use Shock Collars When Needed

As I said, I don’t use them often. As I said initially, very few dogs that come to training need to be worked with or need anything with a shock collar. When I see the need, I will discuss it with the dog owners and tell them, here’s the problem we have; here’s what we’re struggling with. And this, I believe, is the fastest way and best way of doing it. I tried this route and I tried that route, but it’s not quite working. I recommend doing this, but I leave it up to the owners. Nobody has ever said ‘no’ under those circumstances. The way I describe and explain it, they’ve seen videos, they know exactly what I’m talking about at this point.

It’s not the first thing I do. It’s not the first thing I reach for. I do it, and I use it when I find it appropriate. And I don’t use it just because I have it. But that’s what I generally recommend. I recommend using that tool in a limited fashion. I recommend appropriately using that tool and only when it’s necessary. When it’s really the best way. That’s what I mean when it’s necessary. If it’s the best way of doing something, then let’s use the best tool for the job.

Problems For Dog Owners

So, there are a couple of other things or a couple of points on this. When you have training systems or companies that work exclusively with the shock collar, a common approach is to condition the dog, find a so-called “working level,” and work on low-stim, etc. This process introduces the dog to the idea that a human is responsible when it feels the sensation. That is not a lesson the dog can ever unlearn. Once the dog knows you are making this happen, he will never think it’s not you. Because at that point, your dog knows you’re the one who did this. So if you run into a scenario like tail chasing and mutilation, chasing wouldn’t be the issue, but tail mutilation is. The dog grabs the tail, chews on it, and causes damage.

Don’t Teach Dogs It’s You Unless You Have To

This is a good example of a situation where you do not want to be part of teaching the dog, so don’t do that. But you want to teach the dog; that’s a bad idea based on the activity alone. It is not a safe activity for you to engage in. You’re going to see there are consequences when you do it, and you don’t want the dog to think you have anything to do with it. You just want them to learn that biting their tail is a bad idea. Chasing cars is a bad idea. Motorcycle chasing is a bad idea. Chasing squirrels is a bad idea. Or whatever the thing may be. You don’t want to be part of this process. You don’t want your dog to think you have anything to do with this.

If your dog is unfamiliar with the stimulation of a shock collar because he’s never worn one before, you have that option. Now, stopping something like this has become very quick and easy. You set it up correctly and remove yourself from the entire equation. However, if your dog knows that you are the one pressing buttons and making him feel the stimulation, that option is out the window. And then, creating reliability when you’re not present may be impossible.

Never Condition Aversives

This is about the conditioning of aversives in dog training. It is ill-advised to condition aversives because it removes options for dog owners should they have a problem later, for which the shock collar is the best solution. We’re taking an option off the table should we have a problem down the line that would benefit from a novel stimulus. We no longer have that once we start conditioning aversives. If we run a dog through an entire training process using a shock collar, we deprive the dog owner of a potential problem-solving solution.

We can easily encounter scenarios that could be impossible to resolve. Most people never have these issues, but they occur more often than you think. I see a lot of these challenges; many dog trainers do. We encounter scenarios where this is the best answer, and my first question is: Has your dog ever felt this? Has your dog ever worn a shock collar? Because this would be the best and fastest option. By conditioning aversives, we’re getting the dog used to them. We are introducing the idea that a person is doing this. As a result, we are removing a vital option from dog owners.

Keep Your Options Open

That’s one of the biggest reasons I’m not a fan of using shock collars unless we need them. We need to maintain options down the line. Again, rattlesnake avoidance training works much better if it’s done with a dog that does not understand where this comes from. We should not do that because it ultimately impacts dog owners and their dogs. Some problems are best fixed that way, and if we remove that option, we may leave them with no option at all. And they may have to struggle with whatever the problem is forever, potentially, as long as they have their dog.

That is one reason we should only use them when they are the best tool for the problem at hand. If you understand how the learning science of aversives works and how to use them best, a dog doesn’t have to wear it for months. We don’t have to use it a hundred times on a problem. This takes a couple of sessions. This takes a couple of applications. It’s quick, and then you can put the collar back in the drawer. These are not things you need to do a lot or work on for a long time if you do it correctly.

Shock Collar Overuse is a Problem

Overusing the shock collar is probably the biggest problem in the dog training industry today. If the training tool ever is banned, which I hope it isn’t, but if it is banned, it will be because of the overuse. It will literally shut down two dog training companies. And it will shut down certain training systems completely because they rely pretty much entirely on the shock collar.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen because it removes options in cases where it really is the best approach.

A Fascinating Long-Term Study on Aversives

These are the key points, but I want to close this out with one particular study. I’m putting a link in the show notes. The study is from New Zealand and concerns Kiwi birds. It illustrates the power of what is possible. This study spans six years and provides long-term data. We saw how the dogs did over a long period of time. It showcases everything we have learned about appropriately using aversive tools and training to accomplish outcomes without any fallout.

The Kiwi bird study in New Zealand included 1156 dogs, so many dogs were enrolled in the study. Kiwi birds are endangered in New Zealand, but dogs like chasing them—just like our squirrels here in America. Here’s what happened.

Stopping Predatory Behavior

The dogs in the study wore a shock collar. There was one training session per year for six years. So every year there was one training session. Let’s just think about that right there. One training session every year, six years in a row. In the first year, all dogs chased the Kiwi birds because that was a prerequisite to getting into the study. All these dogs were Kiwi bird chasers. They were very interested in pursuing this animal. Then, when they chased a Kiwi bird, they were stimulated by the shock collar. That’s it. One time. Done.

In the second year, all the dogs come back. All the dogs got to experience Kiwi birds again. Out of the 1156 dogs, 843 no longer chased Kiwi birds. Just think about that. One time, once, during the chase of an animal, the shock collar stopped them. 843 of them. [Numbers corrected from the episode.]

Fast and Lasting Success

Every dog in the second year that still did it got another stimulation—one time. In year three, another 313 dogs didn’t do it. We already have over a thousand who stopped chasing Kiwi birds after two applications over two years. This continued up to year four. In year four, only 42 were left. So in year four, 42 dogs again chased Kiwi birds, and the rest had stopped, and those 42 got another stimulation.

In year five, they all came back. Nobody chased Kiwi birds. In year six, they all came back. Nobody chased Kiwi birds. So within four years or four applications over four years, all dogs stopped, while the majority stopped after only one time. And none of these dogs had any other behavioral problems. None of these dogs hated their life. These dogs also didn’t hate their owners. None of these dogs had ruined relationships. They also didn’t become aggressive. And none of these dogs became fearful. They simply learned, in the most natural way possible for a dog to learn, that chasing Kiwi birds is a bad idea. There is a reason a dog picks up a porcupine with its mouth only one time. Because it’s a bad idea. Ouch!

Fast Learning is Best

Let me not do that again. And that’s the exact same principle. It’s the same principle we use in rattlesnake avoidance training. It’s the same principle we use with problems like the ones I described and many more I didn’t describe. But that is the power of this tool. And this cannot be accomplished this quickly with anything else. The shock collar is a unique training tool that doesn’t cause injuries and only causes short-term stress. It’s a very short discomfort. And it’s a quick recovery if it’s done correctly. And there’s no fallout, either.

So it always comes down to doing it the right way. Doing it correctly, not screwing up, and following the principles of learning to accomplish results like that very rapidly without causing any fallout on the dog’s side. I’m arguing that this is in the interest of animal welfare. Brief discomfort puts an end to things we absolutely cannot allow. Dangerous behaviors, aggressive behaviors, injurious behaviors, and things like that.

Keep an Open Mind

Everybody should remember these things when discussing shock collars in dog training. It shouldn’t be about using them for everything. Dogs shouldn’t wear shock collars all the time. It shouldn’t be about the constant overuse by certain groups, companies, and training systems. It should be about a targeted application when we have a problem for which this is the best solution.

That’s when they should be used, and that’s the approach I generally advocate for. When you have a problem, you should never approach it with, “I want my dog to be trained with a shock collar.” I advise against approaching every problem with a shock collar. You should hire a professional who understands all these options and let them guide you. If they suggest a shock collar, let them explain why and how exactly and walk you through it.

Advocate For Your Dog

And then, if you don’t want to do it, don’t. And try to figure it out differently. But this is how I would recommend approaching it to any dog owner. Because that will probably give you the best possible outcome in your training challenges. Again, as I said, I don’t use the shock collar often, but in the training scenarios where I feel it’s the best option, I discuss it with my clients, and I’ll leave it up to them. I explain the options to them. Also, I will offer differential reinforcement approaches. I will offer them whatever I think could lead to the right outcome and let them decide which path they want to walk on because it’s their dog.

It’s not my choice to make. It’s their choice to make. I will present the options and outline the benefits and disadvantages of each of these options. And I’ll let people choose. I don’t really have challenges that way because I leave it up to dog owners. I don’t impose myself on them; I provide options, and they choose. That’s the fairest approach in my view because you get to decide. It’s your family member, your dog, and you want to be part of that decision. I think that’s the fairest way of doing it.


Okay, so I hope this was informational for you. It was a more nuanced discussion of this very controversial training tool. I would argue it’s controversial because of its overuse, mostly. Tempers run pretty hot. But I hope I was able to add some nuance and some food for thought to some of the things that I mentioned about the application and into the conversation. I hope you got something out of it, and I’ll see you again next time. Bye.


About Our Dog Talk Podcast

View all Podcasts: Podcast Directory at

Submit Questions or Comments at: Podcast Contact Form

Support us on Patreon:  
Dog Talk Podcast on Patreon

Services and Area

We are located in Southern California and train dogs nationwide. Happy Dog Training currently offers local dog training services in the following counties. Riverside County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County. In addition, we offer our board-and-train program nationwide and all virtual training services worldwide.

Do you want your new puppy trained right from the start? Are you looking for help for your fearful dog? Do you need to resolve a severe aggression problem? You came to the right place! We are experienced, professional dog trainers. Ralf has trained over 1500 dogs in over 18 years, and Sarah has trained over 1200 dogs in over 11 years. Consequently, we can help you with any dog training goal.

What We Offer

For many of our clients, we train their dogs from puppyhood, getting them off to a great start. However, we also have extensive experience training rescue dogs from all imaginable backgrounds and circumstances. Our Board-and-Train program is our most popular.

We can help you, regardless of your dog's challenges or training goals. Being a professional dog trainer means having experience, knowledge, and skill. Further, we developed a highly effective training program to specifically help fearful dogs gain more confidence and become the best possible version of themselves. Building Confidence is our second most popular training program.

Last but not least, we are experts in dealing with all types of aggression in dogs and are often the trainers of last resort after many other programs have failed. Most of our aggressive dog clients previously spent significant money on half-baked solutions without much improvement. This is different from us. We will give you an honest assessment of what goals are realistic for your dog. We will tell you what can be resolved reliably and what likely needs to be managed before we start.

Our flagship product is our board and train program. But our virtual dog training and coaching services have become quite popular over the last couple of years. Our setup enables us to deliver online dog training services from our indoor and outdoor training areas. This allows us to help clients worldwide.

Other Resources

Also, check out our Free Dog Training tips on Separation Anxiety in Dogs, Potty Training aka Housebreaking, and Leash Handling for expert solutions to common challenges.

Additional Services: Presentations and Q&As on Dogs | Professional Service Dog Training

Contact Us and Start Training

Finally, once you're ready to move forward, please use our dog training contact form to schedule a free phone consultation or book a paid, in-person consultation.

Terms, Conditions and Privacy Policy

By using this website you agree to all Terms and Conditions and our Privacy Policy.

About Ralf and Sarah

Happy Dog Training is the pet dog training business of Ralf Weber and Sarah Gill. We are certified professional dog trainers in Southern California. We are specialized in advanced obedience training, all forms or behavioral challenges and service dog training. For behavioral training, we are known for our work with aggressive and fearful dogs. Our service dogs, through Total K9 Focus, have a nationwide reputation for their reliability, longevity and performance.


Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.

Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.

Sarah Gill, Certified Professional Master Trainer

Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.

Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.