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"But it only vibrates!"

In celebration of the Government announcing that they will officially make the use of electric shock collars across England illegal, I decided to write a blog about e-collars that ‘just vibrate’.

Often, I have people tell me that they are using a corrective collar on their dog for issues such as barking or picking up food when on walks. However, when asked why they are using a shock collar, they seem very appalled at the idea of electric shocks and correct me to state that their dog’s collar ‘only vibrates’. They will often also mention that they have tried it on themselves, so of course it doesn’t hurt!

Question. It may not hurt your dog in the same way as static electric hurts, but does it really not shock?

In this blog I will look at why collars that ‘just vibrate’ are as problematic as collars that administer electric shocks. We will also discuss how they could cause more problems than you initially wanted to solve.

Unfortunately, marketing for these collars is very good. There are companies out there who have a vested interest in making money from convincing people that these collars are humane and effective ‘modern’ forms of training. There are even very misinformed dog trainers who promote them. It is therefore completely understandable that the average dog guardian believes in an industry that claims to have your dog’s and your best interest at heart. They tell you that e-collars can help solve your training issues, and quick! However, quick fixes rarely stick!

It’s not to say these collars don’t work. Like many forms of traditional or aversive style training, they do work in ceasing certain behaviours in the short term - but at what cost to your dog, and your relationship with them?

A very wise dog trainer I’m privileged to know put it like this - Imagine your friend gives you a necklace and you wear it out to a party, but every time you go to reach for a glass of wine the necklace sends a vibration to put you off drinking. This, the first time it happens, would cause your level of anxiety or stress to rise, as you were not told or expecting that this necklace would do this. However, as a human with autonomy, you can decide that this necklace is horrid and take it off. You can also rationalise that the feeling came from the necklace. More importantly, you can choose to never to wear it again. Your dog has no choice. They too would feel stressed and possibly frightened the first time the vibration happens, and each subsequent time after. Your dog may not understand that it is the collar that caused the horrible feeling, and the feeling of uncertainty as to when it might happen again is another factor that increases stress. Your dog certainly can’t make the decision to never put it back on.

I have experienced a shock collar on my own neck. I have felt what an electric volt at level 1 (out of 10) feels like. It was so painful I didn’t want to experience level 2. This same collar also had a vibrate setting. I tried this too. Although it did not make me jump backwards and swear out loud like the shock did, it did feel unpleasant and not something that I wanted to keep around my neck.

See video here for a girl experiencing a vibrate collar. She is a willing participant, your dog is not

We presume to understand how a dog perceives these collars, but ultimately any aversive is both confusing and potentially scary for a dog, however intense we perceive the punishment to be.

Using punishments in training is a complex thing, and often done so badly that you either inadvertently punish the wrong behaviour, or you break down the communication between you and you dog, ultimately causing more issues going forward.

A really interesting video by Steve White who explains the 8 rules of punishment and how hard it is to apply them

For a collar that ‘just vibrates’ to work it has to be aversive enough for your dog that it stops the behaviour. If it didn’t bother them enough, they would simply ignore it. If it worries them too much it will cause increased stress and this could lead them to emotionally shut down, especially if they feel they can’t escape it. Often people using these collars end up having to keep increasing the level of intensity, as their dog learns to either ignore the collar or chooses to continue the behaviour despite it.

Without fully understanding how aversive an e-collar is to ‘your dog’, you risk causing them stress, which can lead to other behavioural issues and/ or physical health issues. The fall out of using any aversive techniques really outweighs any immediate gratification that it works in the moment.

For dogs that receive corrections for behaviours such as barking. You ultimately could make their barking worse. Those that are corrected for undesirable behaviours on walks, you could inadvertently cause anxieties around new triggers, such as children, other dogs or leaving the home.

Each time the vibration occurs or even a warning signal before the vibration, this can cause levels of adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol to rise in your dog’s system. Adrenaline can take up to 48 hours to dissipate out of the body, and cortisol can take anything up to 5 days!

The real issue behind these collars are that yes, they produce immediate results, but they don’t tell you why the dog was doing the behaviour in the first place.

For example; if your dog barks, there could be a multitude of reasons why. It may even be down to feelings of anxiety or fear already! The collar in this case would just add to your dog’s anxiety, without attempting to solve the initial cause of their worry.

Whether e-collars hurt or just shock with vibrations, they have unknown consequences for your dog and their future emotional wellbeing. They could cause serious fallout that will require much harder solutions to solve, and ultimately they can break down the trust in the relationship with you.

If you are thinking of using a vibrate collar please get in touch and we can discuss whether Wanderdog can help with your concerns, or if needs be we will direct you to positive local behaviourist who can help.

Remember there are always positive, kind ways to help our dogs to feel more comfortable and confident in their environment. These methods are more likely to produce longer-lasting, more effective results, where the bond with your dog is only strengthened.

Remember - quick fixes, rarely stick.

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