Petco working to take the shock out of collars

Carlos (A493999) is a bit shy at first, but once he warms up to you, he will lean in for petting. He likes to play with toys, will fetch them if they’re thrown, and will trade his toy for a treat. Carlos the Dog is looking for his new fur-ever home.

Petco, the San Diego-based pet store chain, made headlines last week when they announced they would no longer be selling electronic “shock” collars, and challenged the pet industry and consumers to “create real change.”

And they’re not just putting an end to selling human and bark-activated collars in stores and online, but they’ve also launched a “Stop the Shock” campaign, which includes an online petition.

“Electricity may be critical to powering your microwave, but it has no role for the average pet parent training their dog,” Petco CEO Ron Coughlin said in a news release. “Shock collars have been shown to increase fear, anxiety and stress in dogs, and we believe there’s a better way – Positive Reinforcement Training.”

Shock collars typically use electric current passing through metal contact points on the collar to give dogs a signal that can range from a mild tickling sensation to a painful shock.

Petco says a recent survey of 1,000 “dog parents” reported 70% said they feel shock collars have a negative impact on their pet’s emotional or mental well-being and 69% consider shock collars a cruel training method.

The survey also found 71% of dog parents felt there “should be limitations on the retail sale of shock collars to prevent human error or abuse,” Petco said in its release.

Instead of offering these types of collars to customers, the pet chain is encouraging consumers to try products and services rooted in positive reinforcement training methods.

To that, I say, yes please!

“Science shows animals will learn a new behavior faster and more successfully if they are allowed to voluntarily participate in the learning process and are rewarded for preferred behaviors,” Dr. Whitney Miller, Petco head of veterinary medicine, said in their news release. “Punishment is not only less successful in changing unwanted behaviors, shock collars have been known to actually reinforce negative behaviors and create anxiety within pets.”

I’ll be honest, I have never had any experience using shock collars for any of my pets. I never opted to try them because they just sort of creeped me out. But I would be lying if I said I never looked into it as an option.

As you (and literally everyone in my neighborhood) know, my dog Madeline is a great communicator. For such a small dog, she has a bark that pierces the ears and echos all the way down my block. Lots of things trigger her; passersby, other dogs, parked motorcycles. In fact, there is a motorcycle on my block that she bellows at every time she sees it, as if to say, “I’ve seen ‘Red Asphalt’ three times, buddy! You’re a killing machine!!”

It’s been at least ten years ago now, but when I originally looked into using a shock collar for Madeline, I did a fair amount of research. The more I read though, the more uncertain I became that it would be a good option.

Before I’d be willing to give them a try, I wanted to know two things: 1) Do they actually work when it comes to changing unwanted behaviors long term, and 2) Will they cause discomfort or pain?

On both counts, it was a mixed bag. I kept reading conflicting reports about how effective they were in the first place. Many people reported short term success followed by a complete digression of unwanted behavior, and some even reported additional unwanted behaviors after using them.

Many products swore up and down that they did not cause physical pain or prolonged stress for dogs, but that didn’t necessarily jive with real-life accounts of dogs having bad reactions to them such as irritated skin around the collar and yelping.

I also found a study that demonstrated increased cortisol levels (the stress hormone) in dogs where a shock collar was used. That alone stopped me in tracks. Stress was leading to Madeline’s barking in the first place. Why would I want to add to that?

The other problem I seemed to be having as I did my research was all the reports of these collars yielding “immediate success” and “a fabulous quick fix” type of marketing that all sounded a little too good to be true.

As someone who has battled with his weight for a lifetime, I’m particularly cautious of these types of claims. If there was a “get thin quick” trend, I was on it. If there was a “eat whatever you want and still lose weight” kick, I was onboard. Honestly, if there was a shock collar available for people that would get me to stop eating, I’d probably try that too.

The problem with all of this though is that real sustainable change doesn’t happen so easily – and if it does, it always comes at a great cost in one way or the other.

So to Petco and other pet retailers who are bold enough to take a stand against products that make promises they can’t keep, and do more harm than good. Bravo, Petco!