Train Without Pain

Training and containing your dog doesn't require distress or discomfort. Period.


We’ve got not one, but two articles in this issue that are likely to ruffle some feathers. Both take aim at collars that cause the dogs who wear them to feel pain.

whole dog journal editor nancy kerns

The first is an article by WDJ‘s Training Editor, professional trainer Pat Miller. She offers descriptions of all of the collar types that are available to dog owners for their dogs, and makes a case for those that function without causing discomfort or anxiety. This story is followed by an article by another professional trainer, Lauri Bowen-Vaccare, who describes the many reasons why she and so many other animal-behavior experts strongly oppose the use of electric shock collars as a method of containing dogs without a fence.

There are many owners who use choke chains, pinch collars, and shock collars successfully and without causing behavioral adverse side effects in their dogs. In the hands of owners with a good understanding of training and above-average behavior-observation skills, physical coordination, and timing, choke chains and pinch collars can be used to train many dogs to walk politely on leash with a minimum of pain.

The problem is, many dog owners have little understanding of animal behavior or training, poor animal behavior-observation skills, and bad timing. When you put a tool that works by causing pain in their hands, the result is often poor. Those who consistently hurt sensitive dogs or inadvertently punish dogs when they are doing the right thing are likely to produce dogs who resent and/or fear their handlers and/or walking on leash. Handlers who are uncomfortable with or not strong enough to hurt their dogs with these tools almost always end up with dogs who continue to display deplorable behavior on leash – those dogs who just pull right through the discomfort of a tight, choking or pinching collar – but who are also now stressed and anxious about this continual discomfort. Remember, these collars only work when they cause significant pain at the moment when the dog does something undesirable, such as pulling or lunging. If they don’t cause pain at the right time, or they cause pain all the time, they don’t work. In our opinion, and that of the majority of modern professional trainers, it’s far more effective and less potentially harmful to teach dog owners to use benign training tools, rather than ones that so frequently produce poor results and adverse side effects.

Similarly, there are dogs who can be contained without negative consequences by boundary perimeter systems that work by shocking dogs through their collars. But when these systems cause adverse behavioral side effects, this fallout is often dramatic. The list of potential negative consequences is long, and the real tragedy is that you won’t know if your dog might suffer those adverse effects until he has.