Life Lesson # 62:  Why Shock Collars Don’t Work

by Julie Madden

Seven weeks ago I had a total knee replacement of my right knee. I didn’t tell a lot of folks I was having the surgery. I thought I was well prepared would be on the rebound quickly. I was wrong.

I’ll save for another story the details about the surprising amount of pain, the loss of control, and the incredibly slow pace of recovery. But by the end of Week 5, I was starting to have some hope that this thing was going to work out after all. Then came Week 6.

Week 4 on the CPM (continuous passive motion) machine, with Leo keeping me company.
Week 4 on the CPM (continuous passive motion) machine, with Leo keeping me company.

My physical therapist (PT) had worked me extra hard that Monday. I don’t know if that had something to do with it, but on Tuesday, I experienced a new pain across the front of my knee, so intense and so overwhelming I literally screamed out loud. It was like a blast of fire or a knife’s edge cutting across the entire knee incision. It only lasted a few seconds. Then a few minutes later, it happened again. And again. Then it stopped.

I told my PT about it on Wednesday and he backed off my workout. I didn’t have the pain on Wednesday. But on Thursday, it came back. The pain shot through me several times. It was so intense and I felt helpless to do anything to stop it – it didn’t matter if I was sitting, walking, or lying down. It happened no matter what. By the last jolts on Thursday night, I would melt into a sobbing mess each time it happened. I was scared and anxious, waiting for the next one to strike. I stopped walking or exercising and just sat, feeling totally defeated.

Sitting in the back yard, thinking.
Sitting in the back yard, thinking.

On Friday, I saw my PT again and told him what was going on. We did a lighter session, but he told me by this point my knee was strong and I had to try harder to walk normally and trust it. “How can I trust something that hurts me so bad?” I asked. “If my knee were a man I would divorce it.” 

This shooting pain continued on Friday. I counted 14 times. And I noticed a disturbing change in my emotional reaction to each pain. Instead of crying, I felt a sense of rage. I screamed and swore and wanted to throw things. It took all my resolve not to use my cane to break stuff around me. My logical mind knew better, but when that shocking pain hit there was no logic. 

I sat in the back yard a lot on Friday and Saturday, trying to cope and distract myself by watching the birds and squirrels and throwing an occasional ball to my dogs. I had lots of time to think about this pain, and my reaction to it. That’s when it hit me. This is what a dog experiences with a shock collar.

If an owner slaps a shock collar on a dog –  say to stop him from barking, it will probably go something like this. Dog barks at the door. Owner fumbles for the remote control, and delivers a shock within 5-10 seconds. The period for making the correction associate with the action has long past. Dog barks at the outside gate. Owner repeats. Opportunity lost again. Dog barks on his walk. Another shock is given. What the dog has learned is that the pain seems to happen randomly and he has no control over it. So he may shut down, feel defeated, and become very fearful. Or, at some point, he may react with anger (aggression). The pain is so bad and seems so unfair he will do whatever he can to try to stop it, even if that means attacking a dog or a person. Neither outcome is what the owner wanted, or what the dog deserved.

I counted the pains 10 times on Saturday, and only five on Sunday. I had an appointment with my doctor on Monday. He assured me that these kinds of pain were not abnormal. They were most likely nerves growing back, and that they would eventually stop. And they did. In Week 7, I’ve only had the pains a couple times and their terrible memories are starting to fade. But what I won’t forget is how helpless, defeated, then angry, I felt when they happened.

Please don’t ever do that to your dog. If you need help with your dog’s behavior, find a good trainer who doesn’t use shock collars but rather, trains the dog to do the behavior you want and rewards him for it – rather than punish the dog for the behavior you don’t want. We provide basic obedience training at Encore and we also have referrals to great local trainers for the tougher cases.

Your dog will never trust you if you use random shocks of pain to control his behavior. How can he trust something that hurts him so bad? And without trust, you’ll never get to experience the incredible unconditional love from a dog that feels safe and joyful with his owner.