Shock collars for dog training have been around for decades. When they began to gain in popularity in the 1970s, there were FDA attempts to recall them. Recently, there's been a movement to ban them in Canada. In the States, there are occasional animal cruelty cases brought upon those who use them; in June, a woman in Mahopac, N.Y., was charged after it was found that her pitbull's shock collar had become permanently embedded in his neck.
In 2010 they were outlawed in Wales. Last summer, the country prosecuted its first offender, fining him $3,000 for using one on his pet collie.
Last year, Bryan Lynn of OutDoorLife.com's Gun Dog blog wrote a piece defending the use of shock collars on dogs. The post was a response to Gizmodo's relaying my shock at the news that the GPS maker Garmin was buying a top American shock collar manufacturer, in what seems to be an effort to beef up their own line of shock-collars. As an animal trainer, I'm dismayed that tons of dog owners and trainers continue to use these modern-day torture devices when there are so many other tools that are available to us.
There are several kinds of shock collars. Some give a shock that is triggered by the vibration of the dog's throat. These are used to discourage barking. Others are part of an electric fence system; a few beeps warn the dog as it approaches the invisible fence, and then shocks him if he crosses the barrier. Then there are remote control operated shock collars. Most collars of this kind are used by "gun" dogs who accompany their owners on hunting expeditions.
Shocking a dog while he is doing something he thinks is fun -- something they've been bred to do for thousands of years -- seems particularly cruel, since it can forever link that pleasurable thing with the fear of an occasional unexpected jolt. What's more, there is a degree of imprecision when training any animal, especially one that doesn't speak your language. You might be shocking for one thing (barking, say) but the jolt comes just as your dog steps on his dog bed. You might have just deterred him from going to his bed, but he thinks barking is safe. What if he barks just as the shock stops? For all you know, you've helped erroneously communicate that the bed is bad but that barking after stepping off the bed can make the pain go away. Barking is therefore good. Even I'm confused, and I'm a human.
However, as Brian Lynn points out, I really don't know much about hunting and I've never received any kind of professional instruction on using electric collars. Also, as a non-vegetarian making a case for animal rights, I would go so far as to label myself a hypocrite. Here I am treating my little poodle mix like a baby doll while I pick at a plate of fried bacon.
So, I'd like to abandon any kind of animal rights argument in favor of this one: Shock collars can be dangerous to people. A common retort that people often have to shock collars is: Would you treat your child that way? Yes, apparently some people would. YouTube hosts literally hundreds of people shocking themselves and their loved ones with electric collars made for dogs. Many of the victims are children.
It makes me wonder about all the dark things people are doing with shock collars to each other in situations that aren't fit for YouTube primetime.
(This post originally appeared on TheDogs)