In order to better understand how training dogs with aversive shock collars effects dog behavior, a team of researchers in the Netherlands observed police and guard dog trainings with and without the use of an electronic shock collar. Most of these dogs were German Shepherds! They found that when the police/guard dogs in training were shocked, they exhibited behaviors related to stress, fear, or pain for a fraction of a second after the shock. Some of these behaviors included high pitched yelps, barks and squeals and avoidance or redirection of aggression. While these behavioral reactions lasted only a short time, there were significant changes in behavior even when dogs were not being trained, in the presence of their handler.
Not all dogs in the study were trained using aversive electronic collars – and the ones who were trained without them behaved differently. When the dogs that had been trained with shock collars were freely walking on the training grounds with their handlers, they showed more stress-related behaviors & lower ear posture when compared to the group of dogs who had not been trained with shock collars. These stress behaviors were consistent across different locations, leading the researchers to believe the dogs had begun to associate their handlers with the possibility of being shocked.
While many people still use aversive electronic pet collars to train their dogs (possibly including some readers!), this research suggests there may be negative effects on the relationship with dog and handler. The researchers warned, “This [study] suggests that the welfare of these shocked dogs is at stake, at least in the presence of their owner,”. This is unsurprising when considering that shock collars have been used in studies looking into avoidance learning in dogs, and that shocks are a common stimulus in fear-learning studies. If you are considering using these types of collars, or if you already do, I challenge you to empower yourself with this knowledge, and consider alternative training methods!
Source: Schilder, M. B. H., & van der Borg, J. A. M. (2004) Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 85, 319-334. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2003.10.004