November 5, 2017

Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioral effects

German Shepherd dogs performed various exercises and tasks typical of police work. Dogs who were shocked with a shock collar during their training consistently showed more stressed and more fearful reactions than those who were not.

Many methods of dog training exist, ranging from friendlier forms, such as clicker training, to much harsher practices, like physical beatings. Electric collars are on the harsher side of the spectrum, and have consistently been used in the training of police and guard dogs for hunting and rescue work. The collar consists of a battery and a few electrodes, and it is controlled by a remote. The collar produces socks of various intensities over various durations of time, and is used mostly as a form of punishment when the dog commits a wrongdoing of some sort.

In this study, the behavioral effects due to the use of a shock collar in guard dog training of German Shepherd Dogs were studied, in addition to the investigation of long term impact of the shocks. The reactions to the shocks of 32 German Shepherd dogs who followed official standard for a VH3 (form of guard dog training) certificate were observed. 16 dogs (2 female, 14 male) that had received shocks during their recent training (S-dogs) were compared to 15 control dogs (3 female, 12 male) that had not received shocks during their recent training (C-dogs). Some of the reactions (indicating stress, fear, or pain) to the shocks received included lowering of body posture, high pitched yelps, barks and squeals, avoidance, redirect aggression, and tongue flicking. The most frequent wrongdoings elicited shocks were the disobedience of the “let go” command, the dog heeled ahead of the handler, the dog bit the criminal at the wrong moment, and the dog reacted too late on command “heel”.

The dogs were exposed to three different forms of task: free walking, obedience exercises, and protection work. Free walking consisted of a handler walking a dog on a leash, lasting about 2 minutes, with no orders given to the dog. 1 minute after the beginning of the experiment, the dog’s tail, body, and ear positions were measured. The obedience tests included sit and down in motion, heeling in slow, normal, and fast walking speed with changes in direction, and a recall to the handler. Ear positions were measured 19 times, and head and body positions were measured 7 times each. Protection work consisted of searching for the criminal, hold and bark at the criminal, escape and defense, attack by the criminal, and transport back.

During the free walking, S-dogs showed a lower ear posture and more stress related behaviors than C-dogs. The same results prevailed when the dogs were walked on the training grounds and in the park. The same results were also evident in the obedience exercises and in the protection work elements of the experiment. Even though the C-dogs were trained fairly harshly, significant differences were still found.

S-dogs consistently were more stressed than C-dogs in the training ground and in the park. Further, it was found that S-dogs connect their handlers with getting shocked, and they connected orders given by their handlers with getting shocks. Even outside of the training context, the dogs were very fearful in the presence of their handlers.


Reference: Schilder, M, J Van de Borg, 2004. Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioral effects. Applied Animal Behavior Science. Volume 85, Issue 3-4: 319-334.

Reviewed by Sadie Scott