Want to turn a dog into a killing machine? Try using a shock collar. That may have done the trick for Blue—a pit bull who was adopted from a self-described “rescue and rehabilitation center” in Virginia Beach, Virginia—who now has the dubious distinction of being responsible for the only fatal dog attack ever investigated by Virginia Beach Animal Control.
Blue—who was sent home with a shock collar and instructions for using it to help him “acclimate”—wasted no time going into attack mode: He fatally mauled his new guardian’s 90-year-old mother the same day she brought him home. Blue’s new owner tried shocking him mid-attack with the collar but to no avail. If anything, the painful shocks may have enraged him even more.
As this grieving family has learned, training dogs with shock collars and other negative reinforcement isn’t just cruel—it’s downright dangerous. Shock collars cause dogs to live in fear of being unexpectedly and painfully zapped at any time for crossing invisible lines, barking, jumping onto couches, or engaging in many other types of natural dog behavior. In addition to pain, these collars can cause injuries ranging from burns to cardiac fibrillation as well as psychological distress, including severe anxiety that can lead to displaced aggression.
Dogs trained with shock collars and invisible fences may develop fear of or aggression toward anyone present at the time of the shocks, such as kids riding by on their bikes, the mail carrier, the dog next door, or even a family member. Using a shock collar on a dog like Blue, who reportedly had a history of aggression, is like setting a match to dry leaves.
A study conducted at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands comparing the use of shock collars with other negative training techniques (such as choke collars or hitting) found that the shocked dogs learned to associate painful experiences with the presence of their guardians “even outside of the normal training context.” In other words, shocked dogs learned to associate their guardians with fear and pain. And they were absolutely right to do so. Who can blame dogs if they lash out at the people who are hurting them? It’s surprising that more dogs don’t.
Shock collars are so cruel that they have been banned in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and some parts of Australia. The Kennel Club, the British equivalent of the AKC, is calling for a ban on electric-shock collars in the U.K.
It’s never OK to train dogs through fear, intimidation, or pain. Dogs are our companions, not enemy combatants. Only use positive training methods, in which dogs are rewarded for desirable behavior. Your dog will be happier—and everyone will be safer.