As a professional dog trainer who implements e-collar training into many of my programs, I’ve had to dispel a lot of myths and misconceptions regarding these tools to dog owners. This is understandable and something I am happy to do, as I want all my clients to feel confident that their dogs will be happier with the tool and not be mistreated with it.
One of the questions I get every now and then is, “but my vet said…?”
This is always a tough discussion to have, because we as dog owners want to value the opinion of our veterinarians, who themselves realistically do not actually have any more experience with dog training than the owner. When veterinarians step out of their scope of practice, we end up with clients who are terrified to use a quality e-collar to give their dogs the best life possible.
While we as long-time pros in behavioral dog training don’t recommend “shock collars,” we also draw a distinct line between what we consider a “shock collar” and a “remote coller/e-collar.” We recommend the latter and don’t recommend the former; having them lumped together does no dog any favors.
For context, I go over the differences between the e-collars we use and generic shock collars as we define them, as well as more on how we use them ethically in the following articles:
- What is the Difference Between Shock Collars and eCollars?
- How to Undo Bad Shock Collar Training
- How to Find Your Dog’s E-Collar Working Level
- The Ten Commandments of Dog Training Corrections
Now, when I talk about veterinarians and dog training I’m not speaking specifically about dogs with specific medical conditions who should forego certain types of training because they are just not able-bodied. There definitely are situations where a dog’s health gets in the way of different training methods. In this context, we are talking about speaking in broad strokes about training, and missing all the experience and nuance that goes into a solid dog training program.
What Do Veterinarians Think of Shock Collars?
My understanding is that most veterinarians do not recommend shock collars or e-collars. Respectfully, my understanding is also that veterinarians specialize in anatomy and physiology, not psychology, behavior or training. In the same way a client should never come to me for advice because their dog broke their leg hiking, clients should not go to their veterinarians for behavioral advice.
We often refer clients to veterinarians to ensure there is not a medical reason for a dog’s behavior prior to beginning training, or for a pause if a possible medical issue seems to present itself after training begins. But after the dog has a clean bill of health, the veterinarian is not involved in training as they are not the expert in that area. A vet should not be prescribing training solutions for their clientele, as this is out of their scope of practice in the same way it is out of my scope of practice to prescribe surgery or medication for a dog.
One anecdote from our personal experience really exemplifies this disconnect between veterinarians and behavior and the importance of canine professionals understanding their scope of practice: when fellow trainer, Khayl, brought home her new Pomeranian, Tanuki.
Upon taking Tanuki to the vet for his neuter surgery, he was young, under-socialized from his last home, stressed from being in a new home, stressed from being at the vet’s office, skittish from going through a fear stage, and terrified of the vet staff who cooed and awed and invaded his personal space the moment he stepped in. He was also wearing a FitBark GPS tracker, which both of us have for all of our personal dogs.
We have a full review of the FitBark GPS and how we fell in love with it in my article, Fitbark GPS Review: The Fitness Tracker for Dogs.
The vets mistook the little clip-on tracker for a remote collar and suggested that surely he must be “traumatized by the shock collar.” Funny enough, Khayl did not even have an e-collar for him yet! The veterinarians did a lovely job vaccinating him and checking his body to make sure he was healthy. But they also didn’t know what a fear stage was, came on too strong and ended up intimidating him, and blamed their poor interaction on a “shock collar” he didn’t have.
Does it smell like a red herring in here?
Fast forward to now, about a year later. Tanuki is settled in and relaxed, much more open with other humans, loves playing with other dogs, and is much more confident and outgoing. And this is with the inclusion of e-collar training in his program. We laugh about this story, now.
While we respect and appreciate veterinarians everywhere for taking care of our pets’ health, we also feel strongly that they should not be advising dog owners on dog training and behavior. Dog training and behavior is the job of a dog trainer and behaviorist, as veterinary health is the job of a veterinarian.
Don’t Let Your Veterinarian Be Your Dog Trainer
I know, personally, I wouldn’t go ask my primary care provider about how I can use cognitive behavioral therapy. This is the same reason I wouldn’t ask my veterinarian how I can train my dog.
If you are concerned about tools and dog training or are experiencing behavioral difficulties with your dog, one way your veterinarian can help you is by referring you to a local trainer! Many veterinary offices have relationships with local trainers, and this is a great way to find a list of trustworthy trainers who can give you professional advice. You should be able to call and ask, or check for flyers and business cards during a regular vet visit.
When it comes down to selecting a dog trainer, we have also compiled a list of red flags to look out for when hiring a dog trainer, regardless of training methods.