How To Properly Train A Dog With A Shock Collar?
[Full Training Guide]

Aaron Rice Expert Dog Trainer
Written: January 17, 2022

Dogs are dear members of our family; they enjoy endless petting sessions and our unconditional love. We feed them, clean after them, keep them safe, walk them, take them to the park; you name it. We simply adore those furry balls of love. But sometimes, they can be a little naughty…

Ahh, let’s be honest, they can drive us crazy!

They manically bark at the slightest sound, eat your shoes, and mess up the trash. As for outside, they run frantically, pulling on the leash with their animal strength dragging you along as you struggle to control them–making a fool out of you.

Sometimes, they even lunge at strangers for no reason and bolt after other animals regardless of what or who is around them—turning a nice walk in the park into a nightmare.

If you’re reading this, your dog probably has some behavior issue. And you want to correct its undesired (to say the least) behavior. Well, you’re doing great for trying to be informed.

Using shock, bark, or electronic collars (whatever you call them) is highly debated. Some say they’re inhumane and harmful, both physically and mentally, to dogs. And others say it’s a perfectly safe and effective form of aversive training.

So whom should you listen to?

 In this guide, I’ll lay out all the facts for you. You’ll learn how a shock collar works, what experts say about them, and if you finally decide that using e-collars is the best for you and your dog, you’ll learn how to use it properly to train your dog.

How Does a Shock Collar Work?

Shock collars come in different shapes and colors. But usually, they’ll look like an ordinary dog collar with a box or radio-controlled electronic device in the middle.

Coming out of it, you’ll see a couple of probes that the device uses to convey electric current through your dog’s conductive skin. This produces a shock or stimulation that signals to your dog when it’s doing an undesired behavior.

This ‘shock’ or stimulus, while designed to be physically harmless to your dog, needs to be powerful enough to deter any bad behavior. And although some say this electric stimulation is static (direct current), shock collars use alternating current, making this inaccurate.

For your dog to feel the stimulus, the probes need to get through the fur and make contact with its skin. This is why dog collars come with such detailed instructions on how to do this right.

However, technological advancements have not neglected shock collars, and now they feature a variety of stimuli such as sound, vibration, and scent. Yes, scent.

Sound, more than a deterrence for undesired behavior, can be used in positive reinforcement training to let your dog know when it’s done a good job. Making it an excellent alternative to the already popular ‘clicker.’

Vibration, on the other hand, is a great option for those more concerned about their dogs’ well-being. The system is similar to that of phones, so even turned all the way up, it won’t feel like more than an annoying vibration to your dog, at worst.

Scent collars typically use Citronella cartridges, from which scent is released every time the stimulus is activated.  The nozzle, from which the smell comes out, is placed on the collar right below the dog’s throat and aiming at the front. Whenever activated, the scent is sprayed to the front and into your dog’s face.

This might sound like a mild alternative to the electrical stimuli, but according to Florida State University, dogs’ olfactory acuity is 10.000 to 100.000 times that of humans—making scent prays possibly much more punitive to dogs than the standard shock.

The different stimuli on shock collars can be triggered by either proximity sensors—which can be placed either in your home or backyard—or a remote controller on which the stimuli’ intensity can be adjusted.

How to Train a Dog Using a Shock Collar

There is no doubt of the existing widespread disapproval and stigma against using shock collars. Some experts believe people still carry the misconception that collars are extremely powerful and dangerous to dogs.

In the 1960s, shock collars were used to train hunting dogs. Back then, these tools were much more powerful than they are now. Fortunately, manufacturers started making e-collars that produce slighter shocks and feature flexible adjustment options—as well as stimulus alternatives, like vibration, sound, and scent.

As safe as shock collars might be now, you shouldn’t suppress your dog’s behavior before it understands the basic commands (come, down, place, and sit) and be familiar with clickers and voice markers.

This is because, according to experts, dog collars must not be used as a method for suppression (which could affect your dog’s personality) but as a medium of communication between the owner and the dog—and a way to make compliance to commands, sharper, quicker, and more efficient.

If you’re wondering how to teach your dog the basics. I recommend you use methods of positive reinforcement.  The dynamic is very simple:

Take teaching your dog to sit, for instance. In a distraction-free room, ideally, hold a treat in the air (like a tiny piece of meat) in front of your dog and slightly above its head. Then move it up and down, or back and forth slowly.

As you do this, make sure to use a voice marker once (“sit,” in this case) until your dog sits. You might struggle a little at first to get it to sit. But when it finally does, make sure to mark the behavior with a positive reinforcement marker, such as “yes.” After that, reward your dog with a treat. Repeat this process 7 to 10 times per session.

Remember, you’re not teaching obedience here. So you want to avoid using force at any cost. Try to have fun with it; make sure your dog has a good time too. Be cheerful and loving when your dog does a good job.

Another ‘must’ in your dog’s command book is “come.” This a staple in basic dog training, and its benefits go far beyond its simplicity. Having your dog to ‘come’ is particularly useful in busy, distraction-filled environments. Especially while being off-leash in open spaces.

Again, in a quiet, distraction-free space, take some distance from your dog and use the voice market “come” while very slightly pulling on its leash. If your dog is reluctant to come, try waving a treat at it. When it does come, use a positive marker like “yes” or “good” and reward it with the treat.  Now, take distance from your dog and repeat the process several times.

The process is basically the same when using a shock collar. Your dog needs to understand that compliance to your commands is a ‘relief’ from the stimulus you enforce through the collar.

You must test the intensity of the stimulus first; try it out on your hand. You want to start from the bottom up. Begin with the lowest level of intensity and dial it up until you feel something.

Keep in mind your dog’s skin is less sensitive than your hand. So you’ll need to put the collar on your dog (following the instructions in the collar’s manual) and try zapping your dog a couple of times.

You’ll have to look closely for any sign that your dog feels the stimulus. Your dog might be panting or breathing with its mouth open and suddenly close it; it might turn its head, or you might see a slight tingling of its neck muscles. When you see that sign, you’ll know that’s your sweet spot.

Your dog needs to get familiar with the stimulus first. So try zapping your dog once, use a positivity marker, and reward it with a treat. Do these several times; that way, your dog will associate the shock with a positive stimulus.

Now, you want to include the collar in your dog’s positive stimulus training. So if you’re teaching it to sit, tap the remote a couple of times, and use the voice command right after that. When your dog complies, use a positive reinforcement command, and reward it.

Simple, huh?

I’ll repeat this. Do not use force during any stage of the training; that includes cranking up the shock collar and tapping it like crazy until your dog obeys. Patience is key.

And If your dog shows severe behavior issues, or you find out dog training is not for you, or you don’t have the patience for it, get the help of a professional trainer.

It won’t be cheap, but it’s worth it.

In case you need a more visual explanation of what you just read, I invite you to check out the following video. It’s professional dog trainer, Larry Krohn, walking us through the basics of shock collar training for dogs and all the dos and don’ts you’ll need to know.

Shock Collar Training Tips

  • Buy a high-quality shock collar (this will avoid shock intensity inconsistencies)
  • Teach your dog the basic commands first (come, down, place, and sit)
  • Stick to positive reinforcement techniques
  • Always use the same voice commands, and markers (“yes” or “good boy”)
  • Use yummy treats that prompt your dog to respond to your commands
  • Try the intensity of the shock on your hand first
  • Place the collar on your dog following the instructions manual
  • Look for a signal that your dog feels the stimulus. If you don’t dial up the intensity until you do
  • Zap your dog a couple of times before uttering each command
  • Reward desired behavior cheerfully
  • Be loving and patient, every step of the way
  • Get the help of a professional if you need it

What Experts Say About Shock Collars

Opinions on e-collars are indeed divided. Many experts and trainers love and swear by them, arguing it’s an effective method of aversive training and a great way to control your dog while it’s off-leash in open spaces.

Others say shock collars are potentially harmful to dogs’ well-being and prefer sticking to traditional training methods—only turning to e-collars as a last resort.

Organizations such as The Humane Society of The United Estates categorize shock collars as ‘inhumane’ and advise against their use, arguing:

“Shock collars are often misused and can create fear, anxiety, and aggression in your dog toward you or other animals. While they may suppress unwanted behavior, they do not teach a dog what you would like them to do instead and therefore should not be used.”

Dawn Kovell, director of the Behavior & Training Department at Marin Humane, San Francisco, believes it’s essential to dig into the root cause of our pets’ bad behavior before trying to enforce aversive training on them. 

When talking about barking—many dog owners’ nightmare—she says, “Dogs bark because they’re trying to tell you something. They’re either excited, happy, sad, or lonely. You want to figure out why your dog is barking; it could be a lack of physical or mental stimulation. It’s important to know why they’re barking before you just try to suppress their behavior.”

While trainers like Dawn prefer to avoid e-collars, others see them as an essential tool for dog training. Hollywood’s ‘Dog Whisperer’ Cesar Millan—whose methods have been criticized as harsh and inhumane—believes that controversial training methods such as spike collars and electrical devices are crucial when training ‘red-zone dogs’—overly aggressive and abandoned dogs who are not likely to be rehomed without proper training.

And if you were wondering what science’s take is on this matter, Dr. Jonathan J. Cooper, Animal Behaviour and Welfare researcher conducted a study to determine the effectiveness of shock collars compared to other training methods.

He divided his subjects into three groups of dogs, one trained with shock collars and the other two with non-adverse training methods. He found that shock collars were just as effective as the different training methods. Similarly, the shock collar group dogs showed no signs of stress or fear—leading Cooper to believe shock collars are a safe method of training.

However, other studies show opposite results, concluding that electric shocks are unpleasant, stressful, and painful to dogs—making reaching a verdict on electric collars quite more complicated.