Are Shock Collars Safe for Puppies?

Let’s face it: puppies and teenage dogs can be a huge pain in the butt. It can be tempting to want to just reach for a remote that could stop your puppy from doing all sorts of nasty things.

Shock collars are sometimes suggested for use to stop puppies from chewing, barking, biting, or behaving aggressively.

But using a shock collar can have unpleasant side effects, especially for a puppy. Here’s why:

  • Shock collars (or e-collars) operate by passing electric current into the neck of your dog. This is often called a stimulation. It’s meant to be a deterrent – this means it will range from irritating to downright painful.
  • Some will claim that shock collars aren’t meant to be punishment. The fact is, if something reduces your dog’s likelihood to repeat a behavior, it’s punishment. If your puppy’s behavior isn’t changing, then what are you doing?
  • Some claim that the stimulation of a shock collar is meant to mimic the nip/correction of a mother dog. The fact is, mother dogs very rarely bite their puppies. This statement is meant to make you feel better because a shock collar is “natural.” But watching videos of mother dogs interacting with puppies will quickly show you that’s not the case.
  • Shock collars don’t tell your puppy what TO do. Sure, you might stop the unwanted behavior (because the shock hurts, startles, or is uncomfortable), but it doesn’t teach your puppy how to behave instead.
  • “Misbehavior” by your puppy is probably normal puppy behavior. It’s prudent to teach your pup how to behave using SMART x 50 and management instead – and interrupt or redirect unwanted behaviors.
  • Bad timing with a shock collar can create fear or even phobias. In a young puppy, this might mean a lifelong fear of other dogs because you shocked him too hard when he jumped on another dog, and now he’s scared of them.
  • Improper setting of the shock collar can really hurt or scare your puppy if it’s too high. Set the collar too low, and you might accidentally train your puppy to gradually ignore the shocks.
  • For more research on e-collars, see the studies by Sylvia Massen (2018) and Emily Blackwell (2006). I always go to the hard numbers and data, rather than anecdotes from either side. Search Google Scholar yourself if you’d like to see the whole history of shock collar data – and follow the research.

Modern e-collars often come with up to 100 different levels of stimulation. That sounds great – you don’t have to zap your puppy! But remember that in order to be effective, the shock collar must at least be irritating or startling.

These issues with e collars don’t go away with age. However, the problems with creating phobias are much more serious when a puppy is still undergoing socialization.

How to Train a Puppy Without an E-Collar

I’m not saying you need to just ignore your puppy. Absolutely not – I’ve lived with many, and I know how downright awful puppies can be!

Instead of getting an e-collar for your puppy, here’s what I’d do instead:

  1. Set up a puppy-proofed space where you can just put your puppy to get some respite. I use an exercise pen with a crate or bed, water, toys, and a chew toy inside.
  2. Whenever you aren’t directly supervising your puppy or you just need a break, put the pup away.
  3. If your puppy is jumping or biting at you, use negative punishment: remove yourself from the situation.
    • Step inside the exercise pen if your puppy is outside of it, or step out if the puppy is inside. Closing doors or stepping over baby gates work, too. This often works better than trying to put your puppy away, because trying to move a squirming puppy is hard and can be percieved as attention (AKA a win for puppy) by the pup. Read more about stopping jumping, biting, and arm-chewing at these links.
  4. Stop chewing by giving your puppy other things to chew on. You can interrupt your puppy with clapping, but try not to scare her. Then give her a chewy and put her in the puppy-proofed place. Read more about chewing issues here.
  5. Stop barking by addressing the source of your puppy’s barking. You can’t really stop the barking if you don’t know WHY your pup is barking. Does he want attention? Playtime? Food? The squirrel outside? Read more about stopping barking here.
  6. Follow me on Instagram or Facebook and shoot me a message if you’ve got more questions about puppy problem behaviors!
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