12 Videos: Shock vs Force Free
This page has examples of dog training sessions with shock collars, contrasted with some examples of force free training and its results. We see a variety of behaviors being trained, including sit, come to the trainer, get on a platform, and kennel up. This page is a companion piece to my post on shock collar techniques, “Is it Really Just a Tap? Shock Collar Training Explained.” Readers are encouraged to notice the duration of the shocks (and vibrations) used by the trainers and also pay special attention to the body language of the dogs in the videos. I have paired a shock video with a video of a dog being trained the same behavior force free to enable comparison whenever possible.
There is a short discussion of the documented harm of shock collar training and my rationale for choosing and displaying these particular videos at the bottom.
“Dog Training – Teaching with a remote dog training collar”
The video is narrated and the training performed by the head of Sit Means Sit, a huge dog training franchise. Sonny, a young Catahoula, is getting his first shock collar training session at the request of the owner’s husband. The video has been removed by Sit Means Sit. If you go to the analysis page linked below you can see a still from the video and read a transcript.
This video was analyzed by several professional trainers with good observation skills. The analysis is so thorough that I have put it on a separate page. By reading the description, you can get an idea of how many times the dog was shocked (upwards of 70 times in an 8 1/2 minute training session), the deterioration of the dog as shown by his body language, and some analysis of the shock trainer’s actual technique. At times the shock is left on for 15 seconds or more.
Much of the training in that video is devoted to inducing Sonny to jump over things, climb things, and mount platforms. As a comparison, here is my feral puppy Clara at six months old and her first encounter with mounting a platform.
Platform Training Using Positive Reinforcement
“How to use electronic/pager e-collar dog training Dogtra”
In this video, the shock collar is set to emit an audible tone whenever the “pager” feature is on. The pager is a vibration of the collar, not a shock. I am including this video to demonstrate the use of duration functions of the collar to get behavior. Even though this dog is not getting shocked, there is still considerable stress evidenced in his body language. He knows that at any instant he could get shocked, which is almost certainly how the behaviors were initially trained. As the trainer, Kelly Blackwell, states: “The dog understands: ‘If I don’t do it, they can and will make me do it.'”
Even though Ms. Blackwell states that this dog already knows the behaviors, and he does seem to be pretty fluent, the vibrations are still sometimes up to 3 or 4 seconds long.
“Dog Training teaching “kennel” W/Dogtra E-collar/Pager Collar”
In this video, also with audible “pages”, the vibrations are up to 5 seconds long. The dog has very low posture throughout. Her head stays low, ears are flat most of the time, her tail carriage is very low and tail is stationary. At 3:00 the trainer uses shock when the dog gets behind her, with apparently fearful body language, and fails to respond to the cue. You can see what Ms. Blackwell stated in the previous video: “The dog understands: ‘If I don’t do it, they can and will make me do it.'”
“We’ve never had one yet that didn’t try not to do it [get in a kennel] and you kind of had to make them do it.”
“I want you to be able to say to yourself, ‘I’m making it really clear what I want the dog to do.’ So that way if the dog refuses, you can feel justified using the nick to make the dog go.”
Readers, would you feel justified in using a shock on a dog that is already acting frightened?
Here is an example of another German Shepherd dog being trained the same behavior (jump into a kennel in a vehicle) using positive reinforcement. This training in this video is opposite in every way. The teamwork in this video is beautiful to watch. The few times the dog, Max, makes an error, it is just no big deal. His learning and retention of the task are excellent, especially considering that it is a completely different vehicle behavior from what he has learned, practiced, and been reinforced for. He is interested and engaged in the training and the few times he shows stress, the trainer lets him take his time to solve the problem and he recovers his happy demeanor. How sad it would be if the trainer viewed Max’s error through the lens of so many punishment trainers, who see training as a contest of wills. Max performs the wrong behavior because it has been reinforced in the past and because he is learning, not because he is “stubborn,” “dominant,” or “trying not to do it.”
Max’s owner uses a very high rate of reinforcement because this is a new behavior for Max. Max is a working service dog and goes for long periods in his public work without food treats at all.
“Shape BooBoo go into the crate”
In another contrasting crate training video, this dog never “tries not to do it,” contrary to the experience of the shock trainer. In fact, the trainer is not in a hurry and is actually holding the dog back. She could have gotten the dog to go into the crate a minute or two before it did. She consistently treats the dog outside the crate at the beginning so that the dog repeatedly practices approaching the crate and is not rushed to accept it. This ensure a positive feeling about approaching and entering the crate. Although this is a tiny dog, the contrast in body language is still striking. The dog is eager to work throughout the session, the tail never stops wagging, and the tail carriage is high.
“Dog training using remote training collar by BigLeash”
In this video, a beagle is taught that he must come when called or else he will be shocked. The trainer says, “..use the remote training collar…by putting bit of pressure on him to basically break him out of his focus on food.”
The actual training starts just after the 2 minute mark in the video.
In this contrasting video, a beagle/rat terrier mix demonstrates his responsive, fast recall. He was trained completely without force, and is being called while he is exploring and sniffing at a long distance from the trainer.
“The Good Dog Minute 2/28/12: Pennys first e-collar session!”
This is the initial training session using shock with a pit bull named Penny. She is getting some duration shocks. The trainer says, “I kept my finger on the button till her butt hit the ground.”
Penny is very tense and keeps her distance from the trainer as much as possible. She demonstrates one of the common hallmarks of negative reinforcement training: she does the minimum necessary to fulfill the criteria. Her recalls are stilted and slow.
Pit bull people: does she look happy to you?
“Romeo Day 4 – Recall Practice”
In this video, pit puppy Romeo is practicing recalls including a collar touch. Compare his ear and tail carriage and also his speed of response with Penny in the last video.
“Pit Bull Severe dog Aggression Dogtra E-Collar”
It is hard to tell what is happening in this video except that the subject dog is offering extreme appeasement behavior throughout. Whole body carriage is low, often slinking so low that she is practically crawling. Tail carriage is low, with rapid wagging. The dog hurls herself to the ground, grovels, licks the trainer’s feet, and rolls on her back.
This may be primarily an example of positive punishment rather than negative reinforcement, or a combination of both. The subject dog is probably getting shocked for looking at or approaching the other dog, and the shock may continue until she backs away or fulfills some other criteria.
How many of you think there is no audio, but rather a music soundtrack, because the dog is probably vocalizing in distress?
“Resource Guarding/Food Aggression”
This is a concise and compelling example of using counter conditioning with a dog who is showing potential aggression around her food bowl. In contrast to the confrontational, aggressive, and dramatic methods of the shock trainers, and the misery generally shown by the dogs who are being “trained” that way (see previous video), this trainer has helped the dog start learning a new, positive response to a human approaching her bowl in just a few minutes.
There is ample research that shows the animals trained with force and pain suffer longterm consequences, and that force and pain interfere (putting it mildly) with the learning process. There is also research specific to the use of shock collars. “Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects” was published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science in 2004. The abstract is available if you follow the link. German Shepherds trained with shock not only reacted with stress and fear reactions (including redirected aggression) when shocked, but demonstrated more stress behaviors than the control group outside of the shock sessions. Of special note is that the control group of dogs in the study (the ones trained without shock) were still trained with force. The authors state that their training was “fairly harsh.” So the deleterious behavioral effects of the shock training were unique to the use of shock, over and above the force training all the dogs had. The behaviors continued even outside of the training context and appeared to be tied to the presence of the owner, who had delivered the shocks. The last sentence of the abstract sums it up: “This suggests that the welfare of these shocked dogs is at stake, at least in the presence of their owner.”
Yet shock training is thriving and is the single tool of choice of thousands of franchise and independent dog trainers in the U.S.
Shock training apologists may accuse me of cherry picking these videos. I did make choices. I chose shock videos that demonstrated either the duration of shock used in negative reinforcement training, or dogs with obviously stressed and unhappy body language, or both. I understand that these videos present anecdotal information. They don’t prove that shock training overall is harmful.
But they don’t have to. The research does.
This link has a variety of articles from scholars, trainers, behavior experts, and professional organizations about shock collar use.