Shock collars are dog training tools commonly used by well-meaning but misguided owners seeking to “correct” their dog’s mistakes and instill better behavior.
These collars can yield some results, and utilizing them is better than having to rehome your dog for behavioral issues, but they’re still best avoided whenever possible.
We’ll explain why the vast majority of owners should avoid shock collars and outline some of the best alternatives below.
- Shock collars cause your dog pain. No matter how you spin it, these collars hurt or scare your dog enough to stop undesired behavior or get his attention – that is what they’re specifically designed to do.
- Shock collars can achieve results in some situations. Some owners see behavioral improvements with shock collar usage, but it’s often a bandaid for treating larger underlying issues that need to be addressed.
- Better training alternatives exist. There are countless other ways to train your dog that often achieve better results than shock collars and do so without causing fear, distress, or damage to the dog-owner relationship.
The 12 Best Shock Collar Alternatives
Shock collar alternatives come in all shapes and sizes, fitting a wide array of behaviors and concerns. Check out these pain-free options and see which might fit your needs.
1. Use Positive Reinforcement (To Show Your Dog What to Do Instead)
Shock collars can be a powerful way to tell an animal — hey, don’t do that!
But a lot of information is left out of this equation, including:
- Exactly what the dog is being punished for (it may seem obvious to you, but it’s not always clear to the dog)
- What the dog should do instead of that unwanted behavior.
- Who or what is to blame for the pain. You may think you’re punishing a dog for barking at other dogs. But the dog may simply be learning “When I see dogs, I feel pain. Therefore, dogs are bad and cause me pain.” That’s probably not the message you want to send!
On top of that, incorporating pain into the training process makes training and working alongside you, their owner, a lot less fun and desirable.
On the flip side, positive reinforcement-based training rewards your dog for a job well done. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more likely to listen to what someone says if they praise me for a job well done versus hurting me for messing up.
It’s not much of a stretch to say dogs are similar in thinking!
Ethical, fear-free trainers work primarily with positive reinforcement and negative punishment.
They rely heavily on rewarding good behavior, using the following:
- Training treats: Reward your dog for a job well done with a delicious snack. These yummy nuggets need to be something your dog really loves. Store your training morsels in a treat pouch to free up your hands during sessions.
- Verbal praise: Use your voice; it’s free! Tell your dog what a good boy he is when he responds to a command. Keep your voice upbeat and use the same words of praise so your dog will associate them with a job well done. Sure, verbal praise isn’t delicious like training treats, but most dogs are total hams regarding attention.
- Games: A successful training session or reaction-free walk can be rewarded with a fun game of fetch or one of your dog’s other favorite activities. This keeps up the good mood and provides an excellent chance to bond.
- Toys: Offering your dog a fun toy is a nice changeup from treats. This is a popular option if your dog “places” or “kennels” on command, as it also associates the place and command with something positive. It’s a good choice, too, if you want to avoid filling your pooch up with treats. Training toys are a hit with most dogs and can seamlessly fit into your four-legged lesson plan.
- Clickers: This training gadget is used in conjunction with treats. The goal is to associate the clicker with something positive, so make sure it’s a high-value goodie. Clickers are great for teaching your dog commands, especially “sit” or “place,” which can come in handy if you’re training your dog not to bolt to the door or react to the doorbell.
2. Use Negative Punishment (Instead of Aversive Tools)
Now, we’re not saying training is always sunshine and rainbows. Punishment is an important aspect of the learning process, and it is what shows your dog that their actions have consequences.
But, punishment doesn’t have to be based in pain. A dog can be punished for undesirable behavior simply by removing something that’s desired from the dog.
For example, if a dog begins nipping at your during a play session, you might stop playing and leave the room. This is a form of punishment –specifically, this is referred to as negative punishment, because you are removing (hence, the “negative” –think of it in a mathematical sense, rather than a morality sense) something desirable (in this example, your attention and engagement).
You might be surprised how much your dog desires your attention. Simply ignoring your dog can be a pretty powerful punishment!
Positive punishment, on the other hand, is adding (hence, the positive wording) in unpleasant stimuli to reduce a behavior.
This type of positive punishment is also refereed to as an aversive.
Harsh, aversive punishments are never the answer. Not only are they totally unnecessary when other, gentler forms of punishment exist, but aversive punishment can also harm your relationship with your dog, make training not fun, or even break your dog’s spirit.
3. Pick Up a Dog Whistle (For Building Strong Recall)
If your training plans include improving Rover’s rusty recall, dog whistle training is a painless method that can be paired with positive reinforcement to wrangle your doggo.
Some owners utilize a shock collar as a recall tool, emitting a shock when their dog has wandered too far, commanding them to return to their owner.
But, when used appropriately and practiced with over time, a dog whistle can work just as well.
Dog whistles are nifty because they can be heard over a distance and save your voice from strain if you’re used to calling after your dog. As with clicker training, you need to associate the whistle with something good like a treat, so it can take some time to implement this into training.
4. Use Management Strategies (To Better Control Your Environment)
Some dogs really struggle to behave appropriately in certain contexts.
For these dogs, sometimes the best way to help them is to be more diligent about managing their environment.
Management strategies can be great for preventing our dogs from getting into trouble in the first place. Examples of management strategies might be:
- Does your dog try to rush out of the house whenever the door is opened? Install an indoor gate.
- Is your dog reactive, barking and lunging at other dogs on walks? Avoid walking in areas with a lot of dogs, or avoid walking during certain times of the day.
- Does your dog bite or snap at people who walk by him while he’s eating? Feed him in a crate or a separate, enclosed area where people won’t be walking by him.
- Does your act fearful and growl around strangers in the home? Put your dog in a separate room or in a crated corner when guests are over.
Some people write off management as avoiding the problem –which is kind of true, but for a good purpose.
You see, the more dogs have a chance to practice a behavior, the more likely they are to repeat that behavior.
So, the more your dog lunges at dogs across the street, the more likely he’ll be to repeat that behavior as it becomes more embedded.
Management is a great way to set your dog up for success! He won’t practice the behavior of lunging and barking at other dogs if he doesn’t even have the opportunity to encounter other dogs.
Now, most owners will want to use management in conjunction with behavior modification strategies like desensitization and counter-conditioning in order to change their dog’s emotional response to triggers or stressful situations.
But plenty of other owners are perfectly content with managing their dog’s environment to the point where undesired behaviors are rarely exercised, without resolving any underlying issues. And so long as the humans and dogs are both OK with that arrangement, that’s a perfectly fine solution.
5. Redirect Your Dog (To a More Appropriate Outlet)
Dogs who chew on your shoes or pillows are just performing the totally normal behavior of chewing — unfortunately, no one explains to them what items are good to chew and which are off-limits.
This is a situation where redirection can really work wonders!
Instead of shocking your pup for chomping on your dining table legs, pick up a dog-friendly chew and redirect them to chew on that!
You might need to include some extra encouragement by praising your dog or playing a bit with the chew to get your pup interested in the new object. Be sure to reward your dog with attention and engagement when they’re chewing the item you want them to chew, and only walk away when your dog is fully engrossed in his new chew toy!
Redirection can be really successful for resolving a number of different naughty dog behaviors. If your dog is digging in your flowerbeds, try setting him up with a doggie sandbox in a corner of the yard!
If your dog is tugging on your clothes, you might consider getting more involved with tug chew toys, or setting up a tug line in your backyard.
6. Try Citronella or Vibration Collars (Instead of Shock Collar)
Citronella collars are popular anti-bark devices that fire off a burst of citronella when your dog barks (many dogs dislike the smell and promptly go quiet), while vibration collars use a strong vibration effect or high-pitched noise instead of a shock.
Vibration collars are an alternative way to get your dog’s attention or mark and correct problem behavior. They’re also used to aid in training deaf dogs, as they get the dog’s attention so they can view hand signals.
While these devices aren’t designed to emit physical pain like shock collars, they’re still arguably aversive. They use discomfort or fear to interrupt your dog’s behavior and decrease your dog’s chances of repeating it, so they’re not everyone’s favorite option for managing behavioral issues.
We don’t love the idea of these collars, and we’d urge you to try the other shock alternative suggestions listed here first. But, if you’re going to use a correction collar, at least citronella and vibration collars are a little more gentle.
7. Install a Physical Fence (Instead of a Shocking Electrical Fence)
Electric fences rely on a shock device to keep your canine contained, and they can seem like an easy fix for pet parents.
But, properly utilizing and electric fence can be a lot tricker than it seems at first glance.
For one, electric fences actually require a pretty significant amount of training. You need to teach your dog where the boundary line is, and this requires multi-day and even multi-week sessions helping your dog understand how the bondary works.
Failing to do this can make your dog terrified to go outside into the yard at all, as he may have no understanding as to why he is being punished — is it for being in the grass? For peeing? For sniffing? For looking at that other dog? It’s a big ol’ mystery for your poor pup.
The wireless fence units aren’t always reliable or consistent either, as the wireless radio signals that the units use can be obstructed due to weather or the surrounding landscape.
Wired, underground units are more reliable, but they’re a huge pain to install, as you’ll have to dig up your entire yard.
On top of all that, these systems don’t keep other animals out, leaving your dog at risk.
Instead, we’d recommend a permanent dog-proof fence if you can swing it to keep your dog in your yard.
You could also take the DIY dog fence or portable dog fence route for a cheaper, less permanent option. If you have a Houndini of a dog, see our tips and tricks for keeping an escape-artist dog in your yard.
8. Use a Long Lead (Instead of Relying on E-Collars for Off-Leash Safety)
Shock collars are sometimes used to improve recall outdoors, but a long lead may be a better option.
These lengthy leashes come in a variety of lengths like 10-feet, 20-feet, and 50-feet, making them great for walks in public areas where leashing is required, but you want to give your dog enough freedom to roam around a bit and sniff stuff.
Long leashes are also fantastic for practicing your recall. You can practice calling your dog from a distance, and even if he takes off or ignores you, there’s plenty of long leash slack to step on or hold onto so your dog can’t make a full scape.
Long leashes can even help with reactivity in some cases. Giving your dog more breathing room can ease this discomfort and help him relax by having less tension on the leash, leading to a better walking experience.
9. Provide Your Dog With More Exercise (To Get Extra Energy Out)
You may be surprised just how much naughty dog behavior stems from boredom or frustration!
There’s a good chance your overly jumpy or mouthy canine is desperate for stimuli or overloaded with energy. In these cases, a shock collar merely punishes him for being rightfully frustrated and will probably only amp him up more.
How many walks is your dog getting a day?
If the answer is none or a few a week, walking your dog more frequently is the easiest solution for helping your dog. All dogs — even small ones — need at least one walk each day.
Getting your dog more exercise looks different for every dog, as some breeds like pugs may be content with a short neighborhood walk coupled with some backyard play, while high-octane huskies need far more than a romp around the yard.
If you can’t meet your dog’s exercise needs, look into doggie daycare (only suitable for certain dogs) or a dog walker to get your four-footer moving.
10. Add More Mental Enrichment Into Your Dog’s Routine (So Your Dog Won’t Get Bored)
Physical exercise is only on part of the equation — dogs need mental enrichment as well. Mental enrichment challenges your dog’s brain and allows them to problem-solve. Implement more canine enrichment activities into your dog’s life for a happier, less bored, more satisfied dog.
Popular enrichment activities include:
- Dog training games where you work on teaching a new skill or trick to your dog each day.
- Cardboard shredding, which involves offering your dog small boxes or paper towel rolls to shred into pieces.
- Puzzle toys that require your dog to rock, roll, or paw a toy in order to access hidden treats.
- Frozen toys that can be filled with yogurt or broth.
- Long-lasting chews that allow your dog to chomp and chew, which can be self-soothing.
- Sniffy walks on a long line where your dog is allowed to sniff anything and everything!
- Stuffed KONGS that require your dog to lick up a tasty frozen treat.
Your dog’s misbehavior could be rooted in a lack of instinct-based activities, too, such as a scenthound being denied sniffing time. For these super sniffers, nosework games are a must. Other instinctual behaviors for dogs include chewing, digging, and even herding.
You can meet many of these with creative backyard play or involving your dog in canine sports!
11. Work on Easing Anxiety (Instead of Punishing the Symptoms)
Shock collars are frequently used to curb nuisance barking, but sadly, a decent chunk of nuisance barkers are simply suffering from anxiety or boredom.
If you’ve been adding mental enrichment and more daily exercise but your dog is still barking his head off, he may be struggling with nerves.
Rather than hurting your dog with a zap, consider implementing some strategies to lessen his anxiety. Anxiety dog toys can be a soothing distraction for some dogs, while others might feel more at ease if you try leaving the TV or radio on for them.
If your dog is hyper-alert and barks at every noise outside, a white noise machine is another excellent option that won’t annoy the neighbors.
12. Work with a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (When You Need More Help)
When in doubt, seek the advice and guidance of a certified dog behavior consultant.
Reaching out to a professional isn’t a failure on your end as an owner. I promise!
If anything, it’s showing the most responsibility, as you’re acknowledging your dog’s problems and actively working toward the best solution for him.
A certified canine behaviorist is the best option for addressing various types of dog aggression, as canine aggression can be incredibly complex and needs careful handling to avoid accidental injury or further anxiety.
A behaviorist can also work wonders when it comes to reactive dog training, as reactive dogs often have a combination of anxiety and frustration behind their behavior.
What is a Shock Collar?
There’s a little bit of variation among shock collars, but most are pretty similar devices.
Typically, shock collars are conventional leather or nylon collars that feature metal prongs on the inside of the collar.
These prongs rest right against your dog’s neck and deliver a small jolt of electricity anytime your dog exhibits an undesirable behavior.
Some dog shock collars require you to trigger the discharge of electricity manually, via a handheld remote. Others do so automatically.
For example, electric or invisible fence collars will emit a static shock anytime your dog approaches a pre-determined fence boundary.
Similarly, e-collars designed to prevent nuisance barking fire anytime they are triggered by your dog’s vocalizations.
Also, note that some shock collars also have “tone” or “vibration” modes in which the collar emits an audible sound or vibrates when triggered. These sounds or vibrations may or may not be triggered along with an electric shock.
The Pros and Cons of Shock Collars
As with any tool or type of dog training, shock collars present a set of pros and cons.
A lot goes into determining the right training tools for you and your dog, including your training knowledge and experience, your dog’s personality, your personal ethics, your physical abilities, and your training needs, so it’s important to weigh these carefully.
Most vets and trainers aren’t fans of shock collar training (and we aren’t either), but the tools have a few noteworthy benefits, including:
- Shock collars can achieve the desired goal of eliminating unwanted behavior. There’s no disputing that some people see what appear to be great results with shock collar training. Using shock collars as a positive punishment tool can successfully eliminate undesired behaviors (but we’ll explain why that’s not always a win below).
- Shock collars are easy for owners to use. This one’s a bit tricky, as shock collars are pretty straightforward to operate, but implementing their use correctly can be quite challenging. They’re certainly easy to set up — hands-free bark collars function without any input from the owner, and remote-controlled devices only requiring the click of a button to issue a correction. However, any skilled balanced trainer who uses an e-collar will tell you tell you that the timing of issuing corrections is key. And, most knowledgeable trainers who use e-collars use them in conjunction with positive reinforcement, negative punishment, and other learning strategies. Slapping on a collar and calling it a day is simply not a reasonable expectation for any type of canine training or learning.
- Shock collars can be relatively affordable. Most shock collars range from $40 to $60, though some systems with more bells and whistles can cost more than $100.
However, the downsides of shock collars largely outweigh the benefits they provide.
The major downsides of shock collars include:
- They rely on pain and discomfort. Inflicting pain on your dog is not very desirable for most owners. Even if it achieves some kind of desired behavioral outcome, it makes your dog less likely to enjoy training, more fearful, and may cause your dog to associate your presence and your training with negative feelings. It’s not very good for the human-dog relationship.
- Shock collars can exacerbate aggression. The pain or agitation of shocks can worsen pre-existing aggressive behaviors or trigger new ones. Aggression is largely a response to fear, so when a dog is experiencing discomfort that boosts his anxiety and fear, aggression can increase.
- Shock collars can trigger learned helplessness. If a dog doesn’t understand exactly why he is being shocked, he may believe it’s safer to perform no behavior at all, in an effort to avoid performing the unknown behavior he is being punished for. This is commonly referred to as “learned helplessness” and is what results in a dog that seems strangely robotic and seems to do little else besides lie quietly.
- They may be illegal in some places. Several countries, including Wales, Scotland, and Germany, ban shock collars for dogs. There are active measures to ban them elsewhere, too, including multiple cities across the U.S.
- They aren’t as effective as non-aversive techniques. A 2020 study by the University of Lincoln found that positive reinforcement outperformed E-collar training with overall obedience and particularly with targeting behaviors.
- Shock collars don’t address your dog’s underlying issues. This is what is arguable the biggest problem with shock collars. While an e-collar may succeed at stopping a dog from performing an undesired behavior, you haven’t addressed the root issue of what is causing your dog to act out. Dogs do not bark, growl, bite, or behave aggressively for no reason. These behaviors are symptoms of a larger issue due to a dog’s fear, anxiety, or unmet needs. Punishment issued by a shock collar does not teach your dog that he does not need to be scared. Punishment doesn’t help your dog relax, and it doesn’t help him burn off excess energy. If you don’t address the underlying issue your dog is experiencing, you’ll continue to have different (or even worse) behavior issues than those you’re working to correct.
- Few owners have the skills and dedication to use them correctly. A certain few skilled balanced trainers may be able to use e-collars in manner one might consider ethical by using an e-collar to correct an unwanted behavior while simultaneously redirecting the dog to alternative outlets and using positive reinforcement to change dog’s association with triggers or fearful stimuli. Unfortunately, these trainers are few and far between. The vast majority of e-collar trainers will not be skilled enough to manage this.
At the end of the day, shock collars are aversive devices that inflict unnecessary pain and stress on your dog.
The degree of pain may be minimal, but most compassionate animal lovers won’t want to inflict unnecessary pain on their pets – especially when there are pain-free alternatives available.
Shock collars are marketed as an easy solution to canine behavior problems, but they rarely live up to these claims. The most well-regarded international and national dog training organizations (such as the IAABC and CCPDT) exclude membership to trainers who use shock collars and other aversive pieces of dog training equipment, which speaks volumes.
Sneaky Language: Alternative Names for Dog Shock Collars
Understandably, the term “shock collar” has a negative connotation to most people.
So, some brands, manufacturers, and trainers give them different names, like:
- Training collar
- Electric anti-bark collar
- Electronic collar
- Static collar
- Dog E-collar
- Bark collar
- Electric fence collar
- Barkless collar
- Remote collar
- Correction collar
- Behavior collar
These certainly sound a lot more pleasant to the ear than “shock collar.”
Always read the small print or ask a trainer about a device if you’re concerned it delivers an electric shock.
You and your dog deserve transparency.
If You MUST Use a Shock Collar, Do These Things
If you’ve exhausted alternatives and absolutely have to use a shock device, there are some must-follow rules of shock collar training to keep your canine safe and achieve your desired results, including:
- Use the collar in conjunction with a trainer’s guidance. Timing and consistency are key, and you’ll want help from a professional. Don’t jump into shock collar training without any guardrails. Know when, where, and how to administer the shocks, particularly with remote-controlled devices.
- Use a quality collar. Cheap products save some dollars, but your dog’s safety is priceless. These devices are plagued with problems, from poor durability to dangerous safety malfunctions. Always check reviews and do your homework on any potential shock collar purchase.
- Keep the collar on the lowest setting possible. You want to inflict as little pain as possible, particularly when starting out with a device. The last thing you want to do is hurt or traumatize your pup.
- Don’t use collars that “adjust” settings on their own. Some collars increase a shock’s intensity without your input. This feature is common with barkless collars and can lead to unnecessarily painful shocks on your dog, especially if the device misfires.
- Use the tool properly. Corrections must be immediate for the device to be effective. Triggering the shock well after your dog misbehaves will only leave him confused, scared, or agitated.
- Only use shock collars on healthy dogs. Don’t use these devices on sick dogs, particularly those with heart issues or epilepsy. This is especially important for dogs with illnesses that cause coughing, as anti-bark devices can improperly shock them.
- Only use shock collars on dogs who are at least 4 to 6 months old. Instructions vary by device, but generally speaking, shock collars shouldn’t be used on dogs under four months old. Small, young puppies are not only more negatively affected by shocks, but the approach may lead to unintended anxiety or aversion to training. Training should always be fun, especially early in the process.
Shock Collar Alternatives: FAQ
Shock collars can be tricky to understand. Check out the most commonly asked questions and answers surrounding shock collars and shock collar alternatives.
What can I use instead of a shock collar?
There are countless pain-free tools and training methods available in place of a shock collar, but the right one depends on your goals and needs. For example, a pup that drags you around on walks would benefit from a proper lead for leash-pulling behavior, while mat training is a sure-fire fix if your retriever rushes the front door. Many routine dog behavior challenges can be solved with simple management versus punishment.
Are vibration collars better than shock collars?
Yes and no. Vibration collars don’t hurt your dog, which is always a plus. They’re also helpful in unique circumstances, such as getting a deaf dog’s attention during training. Unfortunately, they’re still aversive and meet a negative with a negative. Dogs are also more likely to ignore a vibration collar entirely.
Are non-shock collars cruel?
While non-shock collars aren’t as bad as their shocking counterparts, they’re not free of downsides. They may not harm your dog, but they’re still aversive, as they’re punishing your dog with something they dislike to stop a nuisance behavior. There are more effective methods of training out there that don’t involve annoying your dog or bullying him into behaving.
Do vets recommend shock collars?
Most vets don’t recommend shock collars as a training tool because precise timing and in-depth knowledge are needed for them to be truly effective. Worse, incorrect use can lead to anxiety, and cheap shock devices may injure your dog.
Shock collars are a necessary tool for some pet parents as a last resort before rehoming and are effective when utilized by an informed trainer. Still, for most dogs, a shock collar alternative is a safer, more effective way to handle behavioral concerns.
Do you have a shock collar alternative that works great with your dog? Tell us about it in the comments. We’d love to hear!