Training With E-Collars: New Study Says Costs Outweigh the Benefits

At Pet Camp we’ve made the decision that in our Camper Cadet dog training program we will use only positive re-enforcement. We’ve worked with dogs from both private homes and animal shelters, all with amazing results. Before we implemented Camper Cadets we met with many dog trainers and got exposed to many different training techniques including the use of electronic collars (what used to be called shock collars). The trainers we met with who promote training with e-collars claim the collars allowed them to achieve better results in a shorter amount of time than using positive re-enforcement only. Well a recent study in the United Kingdom calls that assertion into question.

Let us start with a big disclaimer, the UK study focused on 63 dogs with poor recall who chased livestock — while poor recall is an issue in San Francisco, chasing livestock is much less of one- and 63 dogs is not a huge data set to generate a conclusion. But that said, the results are interesting. The dogs were divided into 3 groups: 1 used e-collars for training and 2 had dummy collars and only used positive reinforcement for training. After training 92% of the dogs showed improvement and according to the lead author of the study “e-collar training did not result in a substantially superior response to training in comparison to similarly experienced trainers who do not use e-collars.”

So according to the study there was no inherent benefit of training with e-collars versus positive re-enforcement.
But what about any negatives associated with e-collar training? According to the study, dogs trained using e-collars demonstrated negative responses including showing signs of tension and stress. Also of note, the study indicates that when the dogs were returned home, their families had less confidence in applying the e-collar training method than the positive re-enforcement model.

So what do you think, do you agree with our friends across the pond who have found that the costs of training with e-collars outweighs the benefits or do you think that like many tools (like a leash, collar, a tasty treat) that it’s how you use the tool and not the tool itself that matters?

Thanks for reading!