Zen and the Art of Dog

Are Shock Collars Cruel? – Why We Use Shock Collars

Our first doggy, Denver

Shock collars are extremely divisive in the dog ownership and training world. You can talk to five different people and get five different opinions ranging from “they are evil” to “they can be useful but only for expert trainers” to “every dog owner should use one”. But are shock collars cruel?

Hunters have been using shock collars for bird dogs and retrievers for 30+ years. And, I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: trainers often, if not usually, use shock collars with service and police dogs.

The bottom line is that they work.


Shock collars were initially designed and released 40+ years ago for training hunting dogs. It takes a one in a million dog to have all the qualities a hunter needs including endless drive, intelligence to understand sophisticated commands and to have the attention span to follow through.

Hunters began using them so often that the collars became the de facto training modality.

Saving Troubled Dogs

The success that hunters had with shock collars opened up a world of possibilities for all kinds of dogs. If we could train imperfect dogs to hunt… Why couldn’t we also train imperfect dogs to perform security and police related tasks? Why couldn’t we also use these collars to train rescue dogs so that they don’t get sent back to shelters?

Basically a whole new sector of the dog training industry was born. Many trainers now use shock collars in combination with food and other positive conditioning to train all kinds of behaviors.

Training Modalities

So how do we train dogs with shock collars?

I have written extensively about training specific commands with shock collars. You can read about training a place command, training recall, off leash training, and generally helping them to stop destroying your house.

Briefly, we use these collars to apply “positive punishment”. We find the lowest stim on the collar that elicits a reaction and apply that stim until our dog performs the action we are asking.

Used in conjunction with food this is a powerful training modality.

And we now have two conditions of leverage to direct them to well-socialized behaviors.

Do Shock Collars Hurt?

It is definitely an unpleasant sensation. I have worn one and tested it on myself at various levels. At the lower levels I feel a tingle. At the higher levels my muscles will involuntarily seize.

I am larger than most dogs and it is important to be mindful of the stim levels we are applying to your dog. At the same time, many dogs (including small dogs) can be so driven or excited in the moment that they simply don’t notice the stim we are applying.

Every dog is different. And literally, I mean literally every training tool, can be abusive if used improperly (yes that includes food and treats).

Shock Collars Mean Freedom

Ultimately shock collars can mean the difference between a high quality of life for your dog and you, and a life of constant annoyance or even giving up on a problem dog.

Often the critics of these training modalities ignore the alternatives. People are busy. They have careers and families. How much time and energy can we realistically expect them to devote to a problem dog? A dog that is destroying their couch? Jumping on the kids?

The real world alternative is the dog ends up back at the shelter and, in many cases, is put to sleep.

Use of the shock collar means the dog can be off leash in a park, free to roam (under supervision). The dog can be left home, alone, free to wander about the house and find the most comfortable nooks and crannies to rest until we get home.

Shock collars mean freedom.


I highly recommend every dog owner consider using a shock collar. Not every dog needs this kind of training and I wouldn’t recommend it for every dog. But, if the dog is a difficult dog, shock collar training will likely help.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. We have three rescue dogs and all three came to us with varying issues. I used a training course with all three of them. We haven’t put a stim collar on them regularly in over two years (I’ll still use a collar when we take them out to my dad’s farm or to the park).

You can check out my recommendation of the best collar here.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.