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.
Shock Training Session Video and Transcript.
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.
What a wonderful comparison between shock and force-free training! I am saddened by the body language of the dogs in some of these videos and am glad I discovered force free training myself! Keep up the good work.
Thanks Charlie. You may be the only one who made it through most of the comparison videos. What a thing to see.
Thanks Eileen for these valuable posts, I know they must have been very difficult to put together. I hope the word really spreads about the reality of shock collars. Whenever I walk into a pet store that sells them I always ask to speak to the manager and explain my position on them and advise that I cannot support their store until they are removed. I don’t like the citronilla collars either.
I finally had the time to sit down and watch ALL the comparison videos – what a wonderful job you have done. I wish every pet owner would be required to learn canine body language and watch these videos. We all want things to happen so fast – evern our dog training/behaviors – but at what expense?? Thank you for spending the time to explore this subject in such depth.
Thank you, Lisa. This was a bit of work and I’m super glad to be done with it. I keep having opportunities to share it with people who need just this kind of information, so that’s gratifying.
Hello, I saw all of the videos and I disagree with the Shock collars that I saw, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it or not but there’s the Dogtra IQ and it’s actually a muscle stimulator, it works under water and everything, I would like to know what’s your view on this. I’ve tried it before on me and it does stimulate your muscle. I don’t use any E-Collar on my Pit Bull because I think they’re barbaric but I would like to know what you think of the Muscle Stimulator. I’ve tried positive reinforcement with treats and clicker (yes I know how to use it) but he only listens when he wants to not when I want him to … And when I have treats he listens, when I don’t he doesn’t listen … And he always goes after squirrels … And cats lol!
Would really appreciate it if you got back to me.
Thanks so much for writing. Good for you for carefully considering how to address some of your dog’s problem behaviors, and thanks for asking my opinion. One of the problems I have with shock collars is that the companies that make them, including Dogtra, misrepresent their products. They will do anything to avoid the word shock, and have various ways of making it seem like what the collars do is not unpleasant. That’s one of several reasons I don’t want to support them and their products in any way.
I am not familiar with this specific collar or its “muscle simulator,” but I read up on them a bit. These kinds of collars can do two different things: vibrate or put out voltage. The “muscle stimulator” is probably putting out a low level of voltage.
The problem is that if whatever the collar does is at such a low level that it doesn’t cause discomfort, it won’t have any effect on the dog. The action of the collar needs to do one of four things to train a dog: 1) it has to be intrinsically unpleasant, or 2) it has to be intrinsically pleasant (not sure they have invented that collar yet), or 3) it has to predict something unpleasant, or 4) predict something pleasant.
Some people with deaf dogs use vibration collars to do #4. They can use a vibration collar to predict good things, as long as the vibration doesn’t intrinsically bother the dog too much. The dog can learn that it means that good stuff is coming. The collar vibrates, the dog looks at or comes to her trainer or responds to another cue, and gets food or fun. But unless your dog is deaf, or you plan on doing some very long distance work with your dog, you can do all that with your voice or a clicker. And I don’t think that’s what the Dogtra collar is designed for.
The collar you are talking about almost certainly operates under #1 or #2 above. It’s got to be intrinsically unpleasant, or predict something unpleasant (a higher shock when the dog still ignores you?), or it won’t work. If it is fairly neutral, it might function a few times to get your dog’s attention, but there has to be a consequence to that (positive or negative, depending on how it’s used) for them to continue to respond. I can’t see how it will help your situation.
I am hoping some professionals will chime in here with some tips, because I hear you that you are having problems with your dog, and I know that’s really frustrating. They may have some suggestions of things you haven’t tried. For now I will mention that for the price of the average shock collar I saw at the Dogtra website, a person could hire a credentialed force free professional trainer for 4 – 8 sessions. I see a professional myself, and there is just no comparison between me as a pet owner and what a professional who has worked with dozens or hundreds of dogs can know and do.
Oh by the way there is a fix that almost always works on the problem of the dog only paying attention when you have treats, and if nobody else covers that, I’ll respond again with a quick outline or some links. In the meantime, Mariana, kudos to you for seeking a way for you and your dog to get along better, and for not wanting to cause your dog pain.
Eileen @ eileenanddogs
Mariana, here is a great article that spells out some of the common reasons a dog will only work when you have food right there, and how to solve the problem. http://adventuresincaninetraining.blogspot.com/2012/11/but-hell-always-do-it-for-food.html
Mariana, it is wonderful that you want to learn more about a tool you are considering using to train your dog. I’d like to chime in with some thoughts.
Based on what we know about how all animals (not just dogs) learn, it is likely when a dog listens with this special collar on, it is because he is working to avoid something. Whether you call it shock, electric shock, stim, a tap or muscle stimulation, the dog finds it painful enough to want to avoid it (or it wouldn’t work). For the record, the Dogtra web site refers to their collars as “e-collars.”
The way dogs learn is different than the way people learn. Dogs are very situational learners. That means if you teach your dog to “sit” in your living room and don’t practice anywhere else, he might only be responsive to you in the living room. If he doesn’t respond in the bathroom, it doesn’t mean he’s stubborn, blowing you off or giving you the paw, it means you haven’t trained him that the word “sit” also applies to the bathroom.
Positive reinforcement training works. That’s why the military uses it. They teach dolphins how to do tasks with bombs and they train dogs how to find bombs and other hazzards. Owners and less skilled trainers sometimes teach dogs to only respond if they have food on them. I have a friend who calls that “operator error.” It’s not that food training doesn’t work. There’s a bit more to it that just waving a treat in front of your dog and giving it to him when he responds. That’s why it’s important to have a skilled trainer coaching you.
As far as getting your dog to respond with distractions, think of behavior like a muscle. The more you work the muscle, the stronger it gets. If you don’t have good compliance (9 times out of 10) from your dog with few distractions, you have very little chance of getting your dog to respond when there are big or many distractions (like when he’s outside and there are squirrels or cats). It’s not that he’s blowing you off or giving you the paw. You haven’t trained him to respond to that level of difficulty/distraction. It’s like if I went to the gym for a session with a personal trainer. He could walk me up to the weights and put the pin at the bottom of the stack. He’d say “lift it.” And I’d say “I can’t.” He’d say, “lift it” again. And I’d say “I can’t.” Asking to your dog to respond to cues with many distractions is like the trainer in the gym. You’re saying “Spot, sit” and he’s saying “I can’t.” What a good personal trainer will do is take the pin out and move to a point where the person lift the weight. Even if that’s only 5 lbs. Then, when the person can lift 5 lbs, you gradually increase the difficulty/weight as the muscle gets stronger. You don’t go from 5 lbs to 50 lbs. You increase difficulty gradually, building on success. The same is true for your dog. You have to start at a point where he can be successful and gradually increase the difficulty.
Remember, the people who are selling the shock collars have a financial interest in doing so. If you want objective information on how to train your dog, seek out a coach who does not benefit financially from the tools you use.
One parting thought – dog training is a mechanical skill regardless of what method you use. Even experienced trainers benefit from having a good coach.
Keep asking questions! It’s good to understand why something does or doesn’t work with your dog. Then, you can apply that knowledge to different situations.
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I can’t really bring myself to watch anymore shock collar videos anymore (I’ve watched a bunch in the past to learn all about shock training so I was armed with an education to counter their use). I’m sure the videos show the same universal signs of stress, appeasement and displacement.
Thank you so much for creating this page to showcase what these dogs are going through and how much better they could be treated and still the same end goals accomplished. Why shock? There’s just no need.
Thanks, Micha. Yes, I’m sure you don’t need to look at them. Thanks for your appreciation. It was not fun but I felt like it could possibly be useful.
I noticed you mentioned training dolphins for bomb detection in the open ocean. The director of this program has recently asked to stop it due to the “positive training” being ineffective without using “inhumane” tactics, including taping the animals mouth shut. They found that without taping the dolphins mouth shut (to keep them from eating while in the open ocean) that the dolphins would eat and simply ignore tasks that they had been trained to do. I find it interesting that we use the dolphin argument so much, when it is clear, even by those who head up these programs, that positive reinforcement was ineffective in open and uncontained (sterile) situations. May have worked well in a tank where we control all factors of the environment, however, taping the animal’s mouth shut in open and somewhat risky waters to accomplish this training? I by no means am saying positive reinforcement and negative punishment isn’t effective in many cases, but perhaps we do claim it to accomplish more than it always does. Just a thought. It isn’t too hard to find the article by the naval officer in charge of this program if you want to research it yourself.
Thanks for this information, Jeremy. I’ll look into it and report back to my readers. Agree that overstating a case doesn’t help anybody. Even Bob Bailey acknowledged that an animal released into a free environment might not come back, since no performance is 100%, even with humans of course. I’m kind of doubting whether there are any data to compare the performance of dolphins trained with aversives. Anyway, thanks. This is very good to know.
Having just attended a Bob Bailey seminar, it wasn’t just food they were using to bring the dolphins back. He mentioned they always had female companions waiting for them. He said that worked quite well!
Right! Another friend told me that as well. Thanks for adding that.
I am unable to find the article that Jeremy is refering to – and the information in this article says that it is due to cost: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20121108-final-dive-for-us-navy-dolphins
Thanks Jen, for following up on this. I couldn’t find it either, then forgot about it. I hope if Jeremy is still around he will provide the info. The mouth taping thing is rather hard to believe.
These shock collar videos were hard to watch.. I feel so sorry for the dogs! I really do not understand how anyone can do these things to dogs and still claim they love them! It’s horrible, and the dogs have no options but to withstand the shocks until they no longer “fail”..
We humans should have evolved more by now, but unfortunately we are as slow as someone can ever be.
Yes, it’s very sad. Thanks for writing in. I hope the human race shapes up sometime….
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Your blog got featured recently in a balanced training group. Your impact was obvious by the emotional replies it received there. I thought it was funny and wanted to share. Apparently, you’re quite wrong about how shock collars work. Being that they “don’t cause pain”, but don’t feel good enough to work as a reward, and so are apparently, strictly a neutral stimuli I’m guessing, they work purely based on magic. And dogs should be subjected to this “magic” because all that matters is results, at any cost. But, the fact that the same results, if not better, can be achieved without electrically shocking dogs seems to have escaped their logic.
Keep up the provocative blogs. 🙂
Isn’t it cool how something “neutral” can be so effective! Thanks for letting me know. I guess I’ll have to go rewrite everything and find some videos of this “magic” at work on happy dogs. (THAT’S A JOKE, FOLKS!)