Teaching Emergency Recall: You Don’t Need a Shock Collar

Photo Courtesy BanShockCollars.ca | www.banshockcollars.ca

Photo Courtesy BanShockCollars.ca | www.banshockcollars.ca

This series of blog posts recounts topics drawn from my recent guest segment on the Pet Professional Guild Radio Show where I was asked a series of question related to dog training and behavior modification.


Can you tell us if you think training an emergency recall with P+ (punishment such as a shock collar) could, in any way, be preferable to using R+ (reinforcement, such as a treat or affection)?


This is such an important topic because both shock collar trainers and so-called “balanced trainers often use Recall/Come in demonstrations to the public or online, as a way to impress their audience and as means to tout the supposed superiority of their training method with “off-leash” training. Buyer beware!

Let’s be clear from the start – No, it would not be preferable under any circumstances in my opinion. Using Positive Punishment to teach Recall is antithetical to an Approach behavior by your dog -- as well as a serious public safety issue. Bite “redirection” onto the pet parent is not uncommon in the face of shock and aversive training.

There isn’t any scientific evidence that I’ve been able to uncover that shows that using a shock collar for emergency recall in domestic dogs is effective AND/OR without significant risk of fall-out. Using shock often has known injurious side-effects, almost certainly, psychologically, and in some cases causing physical injury.

Nor, can any type of shock “training” in good conscience be termed “dog-friendly”. Don’t believe what a trainer tells you because they say they’re an “expert”. Anyone can throw up a beautiful website and crown themselves, “master trainer” in an entirely unregulated profession. I say…don’t hurt your dog…ever.

So why do pet parents and trainers believe that shock will work? Given – theoretically by definition positive punishment and aversive control decreases the frequency of behavior -- however, there are two considerations that come to mind that require that we think outside of the box – the Skinner quadrant box, that is.

1. With emergency recall we are working in an applied setting, not a Skinner box. In the environment there are a variety of interacting extraneous and confounding variables in addition to the electric shock.

2. Additionally, we need to look at the impact of shock collar training on the pet parent/dog relationship.

Of utmost importance is preserving and hopefully enhancing the relationship between the pet parent and the dog, or the trainer and the dog during training.

Most companion animal lovers have a dog because they want to have a happy relationship with their dog. Positive punishment and negative reinforcement (aversive generated avoidance) generally hurts, either physically or psychologically, and therein has the grave potential to destroy relationship because it erodes trust. Trust, once damaged, is extremely difficult, and often impossible to re-establish – distrust is grounded in fear.

We can’t go back and forth between rewards and aversive treatment. If a pet parent is nice MOST of the time, but on occasion is mean to their dog, the dog may become chronically stressed, fearful and perpetually on-guard, not being sure when or why the next punishment may come. This understanding debunks the myth of the benefits of so-called “balanced trainer” who may use both rewards and punishment. Can you imagine living with and being completely dependent in every way upon someone you can’t trust?

Let’s return to reason 1. Associative Learning. We all learn in this way. Dogs also learn through association and may associate: the pet parent, other dogs, the dog park, objects, or just about anything in the environment with the electric shock/pain.

If shock is used in a city environment, for example, fear may generalize (unintended but unavoidable) to all people, strangers, motorized vehicles, or all moving vehicles, such as bicycles – or any single or group of things in the city environment where the dog was shocked -- or the dog may even become fearful of the pavement itself. I have just worked with a client whose dog had a severe fear of cars and where being near a paved street appeared to be the trigger that would set off a reactive episode.

I believe in management and reward training… and not putting a dog into a situation where an Emergency Recall is needed. Would you put a child in jeopardy of making a childlike decision about running into the street? No, we would not: we hold the child’s hand, and we should hold our dog’s leash when there is possible danger afoot.

Good management, teaching a reliable recall, and teaching a great remote wait/stay are the best insurance to keep your dog physically safe and psychologically sound. Using pain or fear is always “off the table” and counter-productive. Dogs love to run – so with proper technique, recall is easy to teach.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: [email protected]  for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com  This article cites dialogue from Linda Michaels, M.A guest appearance on the Pet Professional Guild Radio Show. June 2015. All rights reserved. 

tweet it post it Share It Plus It Print It

Positively Expert: Linda Michaels, MA

Linda Michaels is a VSPDT trainer, dog training columnist, and owner of Dog Psychologist On Call in Del Mar, CA. Linda holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology with research experience in Behavioral Neurobiology. She is a Behavioral Advisor for the Wolf Education Project (WEP) in Julian, CA and Art for Barks in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.


2 thoughts on “Teaching Emergency Recall: You Don’t Need a Shock Collar

  1. Miss Cellany

    My dog hated baths but if I told him he needed a bath, started running the water and got his towel out he came to the bathroom on his own (with his tail between his legs and his head down) and would jump in without being called to "come". He knew he had to do it even though he hated it poor boy. He was such a good dog. I did start out with leading him there but he picked up on the cues and associations with his bath time so quickly (perhaps I shouldn't have talked him through everything all the time... everyone thought I was mad talking to the dog like you'd talk to a 4 year old) that pretty soon if I didn't want a cowering dog dragging himself to the bathroom every time I merely mentioned the word I had to spell the word "B-A-T-H" and then I couldn't even do that anymore as he recognized the spelling too (we had to make up euphemisms for the bath like "the word that shalt not be said" or "the bad word").

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Episode 837 – Beyond the Operant

Obedience training has long been the accepted path to teaching dogs’ manners, but the concept of obedience might be doing dogs a...

Episode 836 – Free Work and Adolescent Dogs

What is Free Work and how do dogs benefit? Dog behaviour expert Sarah Fisher joins Holly and Victoria to discuss how Free Work is...

Episode 835 - Major Biden and the Emotional Sink

After a second ‘nipping’ incident in the White House, Victoria is joined by Veterinary Behaviorist Sarah Heath to discuss why...

find a vspdt trainer
Schedule a consultation via skype or phone