Over the past 50 years or so, electric shock collars have been used by many dog owners and trainers. In this study of the pros and cons of a shock collar during guard dog (German shepherd) training, the reactions of 16 dogs receiving shocks during behavior training were compared with those of 15 dogs undergoing training but not receiving shocks. The long-term effects on canine welfare were quite apparent. This study showed that shocks contributed substantially to the stress of training, which in itself is a stressful experience. Several trials and tests were done so that the trainer/handler was able to see the ear, tail, and body positions of the dog. During training, lower ear posture and more stress-related behaviors were shown in the dogs that received shocks than those that did not. Other behaviors exhibited during a stressful situation were observed and compared, such as licking lips, shaking, snapping, barking and yelping, and urinating. These behaviors are not necessarily expressions of submission but are definitely connected with fear and pain.
The shocked dogs related the presence of the handler (or his commands) with shock reception, even outside of a normal training context. Small but consistent differences were found between shocked and control dogs: 1) shocked dogs showed more signs of stress than control dogs on the training grounds; 2) they showed more signs of stress than control dogs during times other than training; 3) they associated their handlers with getting shocks; 4) they may connect orders given by their handlers with getting shocks. The authors concluded that the anticipation of shocks by the dogs affected the human-dog relationship and adversely affected the dogs' well-being.
COMMENTARY: This is an important paper, and it should be read by everyone who cares about how "training" influences how dogs behave. This study finds that there are long-standing effects of training dogs using shock that affect the dog's overall stress level and how the dog signals and interacts with other dogs and humans, and that the fundamental relationship between the handler and dog becomes one in which the dog views the handler in an adversarial way. It is important for readers to interpret the results of this study in light of the study's sample: Only "super-normal" dogs, which are bred and trained for toughness, were used in this study. Successful police dogs are generally thought to be the most resistant of any dog to any training damage because sensitivity to such training is cause for failure. Given this, we-as a profession-should realize that the effects of shock on normal or distressed dogs can only be injurious and thus should condemn and work to prohibit such techniques.
Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioral effects. Schilder MBH, van der Borg JAM. APPL ANIM SCI BEHAV 4:319-334, 2004.