I feel deep compassion for dog owners who believe that shock collars are a reasonable option for their pet. In their eagerness to solve a behavior problem, they ignore the fact that these collars are, at minimum, painful, and in many cases, torturous.
Electric shock is a uniquely dangerous form of punishment because it’s invisible to the punisher. People have difficulty gauging the level of discomfort or suffering the animal is experiencing. The pioneering research conducted by Yale professor Dr. Stanley Milgram 50 years ago demonstrated how willing most people are to inflict dangerous (and even potentially lethal) levels of shock on another person if convinced this will help him learn. These data are directly relevant to the often disastrous choices people make when trying to “educate” their dogs.
The good news is that shock collars are archaic and unnecessary. Suppressing unwanted behaviors through the use of shock and other physical punishment may seem like a quick fix but is never a long-term solution. As an alternative, skillful training builds calm and cooperative behaviors in dogs through the structured use of positive reinforcement.
Next to my desk, I hung a scrap of paper on which I wrote this quote from the life-changing book Coercion & its Fallout by Dr. Murray Sidman: “An overworked and incorrect bit of folk wisdom pronounces the carrot to be of no avail unless backed up by the stick. But the carrot can do the job all by itself.”
Milgram S. Behavioral study of obedience. J. Abnormal Soc. Psychology. 67:371-8, 1963.