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Shock collars don’t work! – here’s why.

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

1. Learned helplessness

Learned helplessness is a complex behaviour wherein the dog feels helpless to avoid a negative situation. It was first recognised in an experiment by Seligman (1975) in which there were 3 groups of dogs. Group 1 were simply restrained in a harness. Group 2 were in a harness and shocked at random times but could stop the shock by pressing a lever. Group 3 were shocked at random with no way to escape the shock. The next day in part 2 of the study the same three groups of dogs were tested in a chamber containing two rectangular compartments divided by a barrier a few inches high. The dogs could escape the shock coming through the floor by jumping the barrier. Groups 1 and 2 had no problem learning this however group 3 had learnt the day before that no matter what they did, they could not escape the shocks. Therefore they lay passively on the floor and whimpered as they were shocked again and again. Therefore in learned helplessness, there must be not only a traumatic event, but the subject must have no control over their environment.

2. Using a shock collar to teach recall

A hypothetical situation could be an owner trying to teach a dog recall using a shock collar. (Never ever do this)!!! The dog does not fully understand the instruction and upon (eventually) returning to the owner the dog is shocked as punishment. From there the dog eventually learns the recall but is hesitant to return through fear and is shocked for hesitating. The dog learns that no matter what it does it will be punished, so when recalled it will passively tolerate the shocks as being independent of its own behaviour choices. The unpredictable and uncontrollable punishments will therefore cause learnt helplessness disorder. (Lyndsay, 2000).

In the above example the shock collar method does not provide the dog with the correct information for the dog to make its own choice about its own actions in a healthy way. Punishment techniques used incorrectly have negative consequences.

3. Rehabilitation

Doggy Home School would be able to take on this dog and using a custom program build the foundations of confidence the dog requires.

To help the dog I would first educate the owner. I would inform them that rehabilitation for their dog could take weeks, months or even years and that depends on the individual dog, so giving a time frame initially is not possible. I would advise they immediately stop using a shock collar completely on the dog. Also, I would advise to stop teaching the full recall exercise to the dog for now, as it is a traumatic experience for the dog, which is not achieving anything other than causing distress and fear. I would advise the owner to start using some Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (Leonard, 2019), this will help build the dogs trust and confidence back up. The dog should be given more control, especially of making its own choices; this will help its confidence increase over time. A safe enclosed neutral area preferably can be used for working on this, or keep the dog on lead for safety where this is not possible. I would advise giving the dog their own free choice where possible, also, giving plenty of positive reinforcement. E.g. Treating the dog with food or toys, plenty of physical and verbal fuss. I would insert novelty, mental stimulation and enrichment into the dogs life, this will strengthen their bond and will make the dogs life more fulfilling and happy. E.g. Search games, scent work and exercise in new areas. Once an effective bond has been built, positive reinforcement can be used to teach recall which will be covered in another lesson.

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