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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:
- 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.
- Whenever you aren’t directly supervising your puppy or you just need a break, put the pup away.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Follow me on Instagram or Facebook and shoot me a message if you’ve got more questions about puppy problem behaviors!
Kayla founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.
I have a shiba inu that is 9 months old. She will not listen or stay in the yard when off a leash. She has almost gotten hit by a car twice and I have had it. Unless someone suggest something else, e collar it is!!
Hi Tony, that’s very typical for the breed. I would use a fence or leash while you work on boundary training since shock collars can also cause aggression!
I have a 1yo female Aussie shep mix who won’t stay near me when off leash and darts at any person or animal she sees, and a 4 month old male German shep mix who just can’t control his excitement enough to literally do anything. I feel like I’m at a loss even though I know they’re so hound and am fingers touching close to getting a shock filler for them. Suggestions?
Hi Kassi, I’d start with teaching lots and lots of foundation behaviors and impulse control games. I’ll drop in a few links below, and would be thrilled to help you out with more solutions that help get the results you want without adding extra stress to your pup’s life!
Hi, I have had multiple trainers for my 9 month old MAS who is reactive, and after two positive trainers failed/basically told me to do what I had been doing that wasn’t working, I got a balanced one that uses ecollars. It has been tricky but it has definitely worked to reduce some problem behaviors (he can sit in a busy area or at our front window without crazy reacting every time someone walks by, doesn’t growl at kids anymore, plus Ive been able to prevent him from eating things that could hurt him that he always seems to find and want to eat…Etc) It gives me piece of mind in situations but I do worry about negative effects. I did it as a last resort because he was uncontrollable, but would like to find another way. He can be really bite-y (especially when zooming) and has bad separation anxiety among other things (as my family puts it “he’s such a brat”, their code for “absolute asshole.”) It’s just been rough with him. But do you find that balanced (using punishment/corrections AND treats/praise) is maybe better than punishment alone since I’m showing him what to do? Do you think I may be making him worse in the long run with the collar? Let me know what you think I should do… thanks!
Hi Meghan, I’m sorry you’ve felt so stuck with your dog! I really worry that using a shock collar to suppress your dog’s behaviors will just increase his anxiety around kids, separation anxiety, and potentially frantic zooming behaviors. I don’t really find that giving treats after shocking your dog eases the detriments of the shock. I would be thrilled to help you out more in-depth if you want to talk more. If you reply to me with a list of your concerns I can send over some appropriate free blogs, or we can book a paid consultation.
The thing is, the shock collar stops or reduces behaviors by hurting or scaring your dog. Even when done carefully by a highly skilled trainer, there’s the potential for fallout, fear, and pain (I’ve done it). Your dog is behaving this way for a reason – and I urge you to work with hin to find those reasons and come up with a solution that makes her feel better, helps him understand what you want him to do instead AND meet his needs. With these little herding breeds, MANY problem behaviors come from the fact that we simply aren’t meeting their exercise or enrichment needs and they’re frankly going nuts.
Even though they’re so young**
I’m thrilled to have found you! We have a 14 an old male pup oh me absolutely adore he has Byam behaviour barking behaviour chewing behaviour and jumping up behaviour we are signed up to go to a puppy class January 5. My husband believes he needs a shock collar I completely disagree can you help us out. To you do behavioral training over Skype calls?
Thank you so much,
PS I had a lovely border collie name Mollie for 14 1/2 years I miss her like crazy.
This little pup certainly doesn’t learn like Mollie did however he is so sweet his dad is a mini poodle mom is dachshund and Chihuahua.
Hi Marla! Absolutely, we work remotely https://journeydogtraining.com/product/dog-behavior-modification/ and I’d be happy to help!
My neighbor excitedly brought home a new puppy, they already have an older dog. The owner is using a shock collar on the puppy. He looks like he’s a 2 or 3 months old. I am sooo sad!! There is nothing I can do. The puppy howls in pain and runs.
Now I think I know why the older dog never barks…
I’m so sorry you have to see that, it sounds very sad 🙁