An industry insider details the lies retailers will tell you about Shock Collars in order to get you to buy a cruel and unnecessary product, and why these products need to be regulated...
Lie #1: Shock Collars are legal to use in Australia
Lie #2: Shock Collars are the most effective dog training products
Lie #3: Shock Collars do not cause pain
Lie #4: Shock Collars have no negative effects on a dog's personality
Lie #5: Shock Collars are the only option for certain dog breeds and sizes
First and foremost, it should be made clear that this is not just another reactionary topical argument by a person, company or organization that has no practical experience with the products in question. We are not animal activists with a one-sided agenda to push. In fact, if you read this document in its entirety, you will discover real world experience and reasoning behind the call for regulation of Shock Collars.
In mid-2010, after five years of being one of Australia’s leading sellers of Shock Collars, Barkmate made the decision to no longer sell or support static correction devices, including Anti Bark Shock Collars, Remote Control Training Shock Collars and Shock Based Invisible Containment Fences.
We believe that we have made the right decision, based on various factors that we would like to share with you;
Lie #1: Shock Collars are legal to use in Australia
Before we even get into the moral side of the debate, let it be understood that there is a great deal of misinformation and shady legal/technical jargon related to buying, owning and using Shock Collars in Australia. And it's all done to cover the retailer's hide, and not yours.
There is no nationwide ban on Shock Collars yet, but most Australian states have restrictions and prohibitions in place when dealing with devices that use static correction products on animals. Be assured that these are real laws with real consequences, including substantial fines and the possibility of imprisonment for animal cruelty.
If the retailer even has this information listed at the point of sale, it will almost always be buried in their Terms & Conditons, which you automatically agree to when making a purchase with them (whether you read them or not).
They will always have something along the lines of...
'You agree that you are aware of the laws in your state before purchasing...'
'You agree that you are accepting legal liability for this purchase...'
Any way it is worded, the implication is clear; they'll help you break the law, as long as you take the fall for it if something goes wrong. This in itself is legally questionable, as the retailer has a duty of care not to sell to States with prohibition or restrictions, no matter how cleverly they word their transfer of liability.
If the retailer sells Shock Collars to you in a State where they are prohibited, then they are simply breaking the law. Furthermore, it can be argued that they were wilfully negligent and/or intentionally deceptive in not making your legal rights and obligations more apparent to you at the time of purchase. If you unknowingly broke the law in your State as a result of being misled/uninformed by a retailer, then that retailer is at least partially liable for your penalties.
For reference, here's a breakdown of current law by State:
VIC: You cannot purchase, own or use Shock Collars without a prescription from a Veterinarian (as good as prohibited)
NSW & ACT: You cannot purchase, own or use Shock Collars under any circumstances (prohibited)
SA & NT: You can purchase and own Shock Collars, but you cannot use them on an animal (as good as prohibited)
QLD, TAS & WA: You can purchase, own and use Shock Collars without restriction (unprohibited)
Lie #2: Shock Collars are the most effective dog training products
This is the answer you'll get from most retailers who sell Shock Collars or other static correction devices.
And, in truth, they're not exactly lying. Its just that the buyer has asked a question that invites a vague and misleading answer.
Asking "Will this Shock Collar be effective in stopping my dog barking?" is like asking "Will this prescription migraine medication be effective in stopping my mild headache?"
Just because something is effective doesn't mean it's advisable, or even safe. But when there's money to be made, and the law doesn't require a retailer to elaborate on a deceptively truthful answer, why would they clarify otherwise? It's not their dog they're subjecting to the Shock Collar, so they have no personal investment in the situation aside from selling you a product.
Here's the unbiased truth: Shock Collars are an extremely effective method of controlling an undesired behaviour in extremely stubborn dogs, when used properly and with proper training.
Bet you didn't expect that statement from an anti-Shock Collar website, did you?
However, the ‘used properly and with proper training’ on 'extremely stubborn dogs' parts are sadly neglected as owners of dogs pursue a quick fix option with little to no training or follow-up. And again; 'effective' does not always mean recommended.
And even in situations of correct usage and training, we are highly confident that a Shock Collar is not the right choice in the majority of cases. In our unbiased experience and estimatilon, Shock Collars are increasingly being used on an overwhelming majority of dogs that just do not need them.
Part of that blame goes to the customer who is simply seeking the quickest fix, but a large share of the blame must also go to the retailers who lie and mislead about the safety and suitability of Shock Collars.
Personally, even when Barkmate stocked and sold Shock Collars, we always recommended starting with other methods of correction before resorting to a static correction product. We frequently turned away business that presented situations we were not comfortable in supplying a product for - including for puppies, toy breed dogs, shelter rescue dogs and even more than a few "I just want to shock the little b**** to shut it up" (I wish I was kidding).
But in 2010 we felt it was time to put our money where our mouth is and stand completely by those other forms of correction in place of Shock Collars.
As dog lovers above all else, our priority was providing safe and humane products to solve dog problems and selling Shock Collars was the one area where we felt that we could not 100% adhere to this self-imposed code.
Lie #3: Shock Collars do not cause pain, and are no worse than a static shock from a car or carpet or...
Let's stop you right there. Shock Collars cause pain. There’s no dressing it up or passing it off as something else.
Retailers love this one. There are even charts and scientific explanations floating around that clearly show how much power a Shock Collar uses and outputs in comparison to exercise equipment, electric fences and other stuff.
But whether they use or put out less power than a household battery is irrelevant – the proof is in the use and the reaction.
The pain may only last a second, and your dog may react very quickly to it, but it’s still a very unpleasant sensation and make no mistake that the 'training' is simply punishment, and not a valid aversion. An electric shock is an electric shock, regardless of intensity. We don't excuse human abuse because a punch was lighter than it could have been, so why would we accept that reasoning for inflicting pain on our pets?
Personally, I literally cannot count the amount of times I was accidentally zapped by a Shock Collar when assembling, packaging or inspecting the products we had for sale. And let me tell you; it never got tolerable. I jumped and/or dropped the collar every single time it happened. And that was only on the lowest factory settings, whereas some of these collars have a dozen or more higher intensity levels intended for use on dogs.
And worse than that are the stories and concerned phone calls we would get back from purchasers the first time they put the collar on their dog. Stories of dogs yelping and running around the yard, panicking and getting into a bark-shock correction loop and others cowering in fear every time they received a correction. This is stuff we witnessed in person with our own dogs and when doing call-outs for customer collar fittings.
Then there are the negative physical reactions that a dog can have to wearing a Shock Collar, including friction sores.
Some activists will say these are burns, but that's not true and it's just as much a misleading shock tactic. But it's a shock tactic that has grounds in reality. In truth, Shock Collars do not have the power to generate heat, and therefore they cannot burn your dog. However, friction sores look very much like burns and are no less horrifying.
The metal probes on Shock Collars must make contact with the dog's skin in order to deliver the static correction. Extended use can lead to friction sores, where the metal probes rubs away the skin at point of contact and expose underlying flesh. This can get infected and spread right across the dog's neck, resulting in costly Vet bills to correct.
Friction sores are much more common than retailers will have you believe. They will pass the blame on to the owner and try to reason that the collar was used more than the recommended period of time. That may be true in some cases, but not all.
We had previous customers whose dogs developed really nasty friction sores after only a few days of occasional use. And we've seen these sores in person, and let us assure you that it is much more horrible and distressing when you're looking right at a dog suffering with pain.
But throughout this, we gave the same reasoning and excuses that we were taught by the manufacturers and distributors of Shock Collars -- that the dog will get used to it, friction sores are isolated incidents and it will be worth it in the long run.
Which brings us to...
Lie #4: Shock Collars have no impact or lasting negative effects on a dog's personality
Is it true that some dogs become used to Shock Collars and it has no impact on their personality? Yes.
Is it true that use of Shock Collars can have a profound negative impact on a dog's personality? Yes.
We have witnessed both ends of the spectrum, and everything in between. And while it's great and hassle-free if a dog is otherwise unaffected by a Shock Collar, the cases that stick in our minds are the ones at the other end. The cases where a dog has been transformed from a happy family member into a constant bundle of nerves that jumps and cowers at every little sensation. And we've seen and heard that many more times than we wish to count.
This is the one aspect where you're playing Russian Roulette with your dog. It's a gamble with potentially frightening consequences, and we would hope that you care enough for your dog that you wouldn't bet on it in the first place.
This is also an area where all the studies and research papers in the world should have no sway. Every dog is different, and the potential for lasting negative effects are real. Even if a study of 10 dogs showed that 8 had no negative effects, the other 2 are 2 too many.
Lie #5: Shock Collars are the only option for certain dog breeds and sizes
This is the one that angers us the most, because it's born purely out of laziness and motivation for profit above all else. And yes, in the past, we were certainly guilty of it too.
Shock Collars are generally cheaper to make than other forms of correction collars (Citronella Spray Collars, Vibration Collars, Ultrasonic Collars etc.)
And Shock Collars are the most effective form of correction collars (for all the wrong reasons, as outlined above).
Therefore, Shock Collars are sold for more than other correction collars, based on the belief that they are superior, and ultimately their profit margin is higher.
Some retailers even tout that Shock Collars have the lowest rate of return. But what does that have to do with you and your dog and, more importantly, your dog's welfare?
A low rate of return is great for a business owner, because it means they retain their profit margin from the initial sale. We could sell 100 Shock Collars to 100 dog owners and only get 1 return, because the products did their job in 99 of the cases. But out of those 99 cases, we can attest that only a tiny handful would absolutely have needed a Shock Collar to treat their problem in the first place.
Then there is the absurd idea that because a dog is a certain size or from a certain breed, that they are automatically candidates for Shock Collars above all other methods. These retailers will recommend Shock Collars to any dog they think they won't get a return or exchange on. If your dog is bigger than a lap dog, or it's a Doberman, Staffie, Jack Russell or any other tough/stubborn breed, then they want to sell you a Shock Collar.
But in case we haven't emphasized this point enough yet; all dogs are different. We have seen Dobermans as playful as kittens and Chihuahuas that would terrify a visitor into leaving the yard. We've had Rottweiler owners send us thank-you letters for curing their dog's barking with a Citronella Collar, and we've had to refer owners of Shih-Tzu's to their Vet after every type of anti bark collar failed to have any effect.
You know your dog better than anyone else. So don't let anyone else assume a best solution for your dog based on broad criterias and stereotypes.
You're just bashing Shock Collars because you sell a competing product!
Oh, we are extremely confident that this is how many of our competitors or detractors will dismiss this website.
But the thing is; we could sell Shock Collars. We have in the past, and we are perfectly able to do it again. In fact, we have access to manufacturing and design processes that could aid us in releasing some of the most advanced Shock Collars on the market at lower prices than the industry has ever seen. But we don't, and we won't. Ever.
Make no mistake -- there is a huge amount of money to be made in selling Shock Collars. Just like in dieting and exercise for humans, there is a multi-Billion dollar worldwide market for quick fix products.
When we stopped selling Shock Collars in 2010, we effectively turned away more than 60-70% of our existing and future business. It was a huge decision, but it was not a hard one. We are dog lovers above all else, and we are not comfortable with the way the products are marketed by retailers and misused by dog owners.
This is not a position that will make us popular with suppliers or competitors, but it is an informed and researched decision based on real world practical experience nonetheless.
If you love your pet and you’re prepared to spend money to address a problem, as opposed to abandoning the animal or ignoring the behaviour, then we urge you to make the socially responsible decision to only try Shock Collars as an absolute last line of defense.
This is just more 'Positive Reinforcement' propaganda. I've tried all that, and my dog does not respond...
Hey, we are not against Negative Reinforcement. Many other anti-Shock Collar activists and Animal Rights groups are.
In a perfect world, every dog would stop barking or obey a training command with a simple spoken word and/or a follow-up treat. But we don't live in a perfect world, and every dog is as different as every person is different.
If you can cure your dog's behavioural problems with Positive Reinforcement, then that's brilliant. We advise it as a first option, because it will be more rewarding for you and your dog, and will certainly cost you less money.
But some dogs are stubborn, whether they're a teacup Chihuahua or a rampaging Great Dane, and sometimes they respond better to Negative Reinforcement in the form of interruption, forced distraction or aversion.
But there are plenty of other options and correction methods that fall into the category of 'Harmless Negative Reinforcement' to try before you resort to giving your dog painful electric shocks. All of the products Barkmate manufacture and sell fall into what would be classed as the Negative Reinforcement category, but they are intended for painless interruption/distraction rather than painful punishment.
So, you're saying that nobody should ever use Shock Collars under any circumstance?
No. Sometimes a Shock Collar is absolutely necessary when all other options have failed.
Dog problems can get pretty heated, especially with the majority of the population living closer together than ever before. Neighbourhood disputes can escalate into really serious confrontations.
City Councils are also cracking down on dog barking as noise pollution. For serious offenders, this can lead to fines, and even mandatory siezure of the animal for rehousing or destruction.
If you've tried absolutely every other method, and the only alternatives are having your dog surgically debarked, given away or put to sleep, then of course a Shock Collar is going to be a viable option. Some dogs simply need Shock Collars. And that's fine. The fact that some owners and dogs simply have no other options is not the problem.
The problem in Australia is that too many are prescribing and/or using Shock Collars as the first and only option in addressing a behavioural problem. Advertising Shock Collars as the ‘best option’ is a dangerously misleading sales tactic, as it does not take into account any of the variables that make up what is a complex decision.
The effectiveness rating for Shock Collars is advertised as anywhere from 95-99%, depending on who you ask, and those figures are pretty accurate. However, what’s not stated is that only 3-5% of all dogs should even need to get to the stage where a Shock Collar is absolutely required. Traditional training methods, citronella spray correction collars and vibration correction collars combined can and do reduce nuisance barking in the large majority of dogs, and without the painful aspects of Shock Collars.
In a perfect world, Shock Collars would only make up 3-5% of Anti Bark Collar sales, because people would have used other methods first and trained their dog correctly with the products before resorting to harsher static correction devices.
The problem is not that Shock Collars exist or that there is a small percentage of dogs that genuinely do require use of them.
The problem is the way they are marketed, sold and recommended. The industry has been allowed to self-regulate itself for a long time, and businesses involved have taken advantage of this good will in order to flood the market with potentially dangerous and cruel products.
But Anti Bark Shock Collars are not the only type of static correction training devices available...
What other shock devices are there, and are you against all of them?
Static correction training products are generally broken down into three categories:
Anti Bark Shock Collars: Barking is almost never a nuisance problem so dire that it can't be addressed through other means before resorting to Shock Collars. Dogs bark. Dogs should bark to a reasonable extent or volume, because it's part of their personality and socialization. A lot of barking is the equivalent of talking. It's only when that barking gets to the equivalent of running around and screaming that a method of bark control or reduction should be sought. And once on that path, Shock Collars should be the absolute last resort.
Remote Control Shock Trainers: A Shock Collar without the automation, and used to address other behavioural problems like digging, jumping etc., with the activation in the hands of the owner via Remote Control.
Some of these behavioural issues are genuinely concerning and potentially harmful to the well-being of the dog (like approaching dangerous wildlife). However, there are Citronella Spray and Vibration equivalents that would suit just as well for domestic dogs. As is the case with Anti Bark Shock Collars, these Remote Control Shock Trainers should only be used on domestic pets when all other methods have failed.
In a domestic setting, there is also the potential for misuse and abuse of a Remote Control Shock Trainer. It is not nice to think about, but there are people out there who don't love their dogs the way we do, and these devices open up new and cruel methods of which they can abuse their pets. More alarming is that they have even been used on more than one occasion in abuse on humans, including children.
Now, Remote Control Shock Trainers are potentially useful in professional settings, where Working, Hunting, Farming and Law Enforcement dogs are required to carry out very strict and specific tasks. These situations involve precision training, and while a lot of these people/groups do use other methods of training, there is a portion that finds the use of Remote Control Shock Trainers to be indispensible.
But the key difference to note here is that these dogs are not domestic dogs, and they are not handled by your average dog owner. These dogs are trained by professionals for professional purposes. Their handlers completely understand the dog they work with, and they understand how to use the products on that dog to get the result they need with a minimum of impact.
Shock Based Invisible Containment Fences: These are systems where a boundary is made of wire and connected to an electronic box to create a containment area. The dog inside that containment area wears a Shock Collar receiver and, if he/she goes near or past the boundary, they receive a shock. When they move away from, or back inside, the invisible boundary, the shock stops.
Some dogs are escape artists that can jump over or dig under anything you put in their way. In these instances, it goes from being a nuisance problem to a potentially life-threatening problem, and we do not have a problem with Shock Based Invisible Containment Fences being used as back up for traditional fencing.
But it should definitely not be the only form of fencing, because we have witnessed first-hand several occasions where a containment fence has failed or a dog has been motivated enough to endure the pain until they are well outside the boundary. And although there are also Citronella Spray and Vibration based versions of these containment systems, we would not recommend them in such vital situations.
However, some domestic pet owners use Shock Based Invisible Containment Fences as an alternative for proper traditional fencing for purely cosmetic reasons. This, we do not agree with at all. A responsible pet owner should not subject their pet to, or rely on the security of, a Shock Based Invisible Containment Fence for something as superifical as yard appearance.
On larger properties like acreages or farms, traditional fencing can be cost prohibitive or impossible to implement (fencing dams, livestock paddocks etc.). In these instances, if a smaller fenced area or dog run/cage is deemed to have a potential negative impact on the well-being of the dog, then Shock Based Invisible Fences are a viable option in keeping a dog contained within a certain area, or outside of a certain spot, for their own safety.
Is it really that big and bad a problem?
Yes, and it gets worse...
In the last few years, there has been a major flood of cheap Chinese-produced Shock Collar products that have taken over mainstream shopping websites like eBay and other volume discount retailers.
These products are of extremely questionable quality and safety, as they are mass produced at low cost and not subject to any type of testing or regulation.
Worse still, they are being sold by hundreds of pop-up retailers that have zero experience with dogs or even the products themselves. All they know is that they are cheap to buy, easy to make a profit on and they are in great demand because of the lies spread about them. They are sold alongside smartphone cases and steam mops as just another product to make money on.
Devices with such harsh correction methods and potential negative impact on a dog's wellbeing should not be in the hands of bargain merchants who are only interested in making a fast buck.
So if these are the problems, then what is the solution?
The sale and advertising of these devices is out of control, and they are being sold to a vast majority of users who simply do not need such a harsh form of correction. The presentation and advertising is misleading at the very least, and arguably dangerously negligent.
Individual state prohibition/restriction is all but meaningless, because legal loopholes are being exploited to trade across State lines.
The allowance of industry self-regulation up until this point has been treated as an 'everybody lay low for a while' alert between manufacturers, suppliers and retailers. It is only taken seriously to the point that unethical practices are halted or swept under a rug until such time as there is sufficiently low attention to start them again.
This is not an industry interested in self-regulation to ensure the best interest of the pet or their owner. It is an industry where loopholes, sales tactics and misinformation is shared openly and freely to maximize sales volume and profit margins.
And because Barkmate is part of this industry, we experience these things on a daily basis. It's not just speculation or unfounded accusations.
Our hopes for regulation include:
Customs Import Restrictions: Up until 2009, Shock Collars were illegal to import into Australia. There were certainly loopholes, as retailers and distributors imported the products in parts and assembled them in Australia. While the ban did not stop importation all together, it certainly reduced the presence of the products on the Australian market. This restriction needs to be reinstated to allow only permit holders to import Shock Collars for use or resale, and only under tougher device restrictions at the retail level.
Anti Bark Shock Collars: These products should be removed from widespread sale in all Australian States, and then available only by prescription after consultation with a qualified and practicing Veterinarian or an accredited and reputable Professional Dog Trainer, where it is judged that all other methoids have failed.
Remote Control Shock Trainers: For domestic pets, these products should be removed from widespread sale in all Australian States, and then available only by prescription after consultation with a qualified and practicing Veterinarian or an accredited and reputable Professional Dog Trainer, where it is judged that all other methods have failed.
For working, hutning, farming or professional dogs, these products should be available with a proper permit and/or supplied within the course of duty for their training purposes.
Shock Based Invisible Containment Fences: These products should be available with a permit where traditional fencing has failed or is insufficient, and/or to contain a dog within an area on a larger property and/or to keep a dog outside of areas that cannot be tradtionally fenced and pose a risk to the safety of the dog.
So, what can I do about it?
In the immediate term, you can vote with your wallet by electing to use other training methods and products before resorting to something as extreme as a Shock Collar.
More importantly, you can contact your Local, State and Federal members of Parliament to alert them of the situation and express your desire that they take action on the issue wherever possible. Send them an email, a fax or make a quick call and send them to this website for more information.
Soon, we will also have a form letter right here that can be downloaded, signed and then emailed to the relevant lawmakers and representatives.
In the meantime, you can also join our Facebook page for news and updates on actions that can be taken.
Shock Collars - An insider details the lies
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22 October 2012
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