Shocking Dogs with Electricity Is Not a Game

Garmin has made shocking dogs with electricity as easy as fighting a Pokemon, and I’m outraged.

The company announced a new product this week: The Delta Smart activity tracking device, which includes an electric shock feature. With the companion Garmin Canine app, dog guardians can send jolts of electricity to their dogs’ necks with a simple finger tap on a phone screen.

I channeled my outrage this morning and created a petition on Can we rebut so loudly that Garmin has no choice than to remove the electric shock feature from the device? I’m not so naive to think it will be an easy sell, but a girl can dream.

Please take a moment to sign the petition and then share it far and wide. Here’s what it says:


Remove the Electric Shock Feature from Garmin’s new Delta Smart Dog System

We ask that Garmin remove the electric shock feature from the Delta Smart Dog device. GPS is a wonderful tool to use with our dogs, and so we love that Garmin has created a system for the pups. But the shock component is too cruel and too dangerous.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), the Pet Professional Guild, and The  UK Kennel Club, have all spoken out against the use of electric shock collars — which are banned in countries including Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, and Switzerland, and in some Australian states.

AVSAB explains that using aversives such as electric shock to train dogs can lead to “potential adverse effects, which include but are not limited to: inhibition of learning, increased fear-related and aggressive behaviors, and injury to animals and people interacting with animals.”

With all training, timing is important, but when using an aversive tool like a shock collar, timing is essential. In order for a dog to learn what to do and what not to do, trainers must time the shock precisely when the dog does the behavior. If not, the dog will associate that punishment with something else.

For example: A woman wants her dog Bowser to learn to not jump on the couch. Bowser trots into the family room, jumps up on the couch, and climbs into her daughter’s lap — at which point the electric shock hits him. She has now put her child in serious danger. Bowser will not associate the act of jumping up on the couch with the pain; he will associate her child with the pain and could very well become aggressive toward her.

In addition, proponents of shock collars will explain that the “zap” does not hurt the dog — that it’s the same feeling as a little static electricity jolt from touching the TV while standing on carpet. That jolt might not bother humans, but what is missing from this argument is the fact that aversive methods only work if they scare and/or hurt the dog. If the zap doesn’t bother the dog, then the dog will not learn. Electric shock collars do hurt and scare dogs. If they didn’t, no one would use them.

Garmin is a highly regarded name, and unwitting customers might assume the Delta Smart Dog activity tracker is safe because your name is on it. It is not. Please do the right thing for the dogs and their people and remove the shock feature from the device.


19 comments on “Shocking Dogs with Electricity Is Not a Game

  1. WTF?!

    Signed and shared.

    This company should be boycotted until they remove this product from the market.

    Electric shock by remote control. This is hideous. They are utterly clueless.

    • As horrible as this is, I am heartened that so many people care enough to sign the petition and speak out with me. It really does give me hope.

  2. Once again innocent lives suffer ,and, people can get away with it ……….. I agree with what was said earlier , that if the shock was as mild as they say then it wouldnt have the acquired effect ……….I wonder if they have tried this on a human neck ?

    • I met a guy yesterday who said his dad bought a shock collar for his GSD years back. Before he used it though he said it wanted to try it on himself. He ratcheted the power all the way up and put it on his wrist. His arm flew up from the jolt, and he cried out in pain. Took it off and threw the device in the trash.

      But the usual response I hear from people is, “I put it on, and it didn’t hurt.” I’ll tell ya — a little static electricity jolt doesn’t bother me, but one time I touched Emma the Beagle right after folding some laundry. I gave off a static electricity jolt, and she flew away in terror.

  3. Shocking, totally and utterly unacceptable. I will it be buying Garmin products until this product is removed. I will be telling as many people as I can about this too.

    • Thanks. I don’t know if we’ll be able to directly affect the way Garmin runs its business, but we can certainly warn the public. I think the outcry from the video on Facebook as well as this petition has at the very least called attention to this horrible issue.

    • Well, as my neighborhood is currently launching a new deer culling program, I’m witnessing how low the human race can go, but this petition has heartened me considerably. Thousands of people have stood up to say that this is wrong. It’s great to know that so many care.

  4. I just came across this online and want to offer a different viewpoint. I use the Garmin Delta collar on my dogs. I absolutely agree that there is the potential for harm and abuse with the collar; however, I would never use it that way, and no one else I know does, either.
    First of all, you can set the degree of shock from 1 to I believe 15. I put it on my bare forearm to decide what would be too much. At 12, it reminded me of a pinprick jolt- similar to accidentally touching a house wire. Not comfortable, but not excruciating at all. Garmin very clearly says in the manual that if your dog vocalizes when receiving a shock, it’s too high– the only response you should see with your dog is their ears pricking up, or shaking their head.
    Second, I used it for only one reason: to train my dogs for recall under absolutely any circumstance. I live near a very large woods, and take my dogs every day to run freely and swim. With the collar, you use a beep tone to train your dog to come even if they are outside of voice control (useful if they are at the beach, over a hill, or have simply run too far.) The tone tells them to come back. Ideally, you would only need the tone (or voice command). However, every dog owner must admit there are circumstances where a dog would not come– either they have run too far, or they are too distracted– playing, chasing something, etc. In the event the dog does not come for a voice or tone, you next can vibrate the collar. If the dog still does not come, you can use the shock feature.
    Most dogs only need the shock once or twice to know that they must obey the tone and come whenever they hear it. For me, using the collar means I feel comfortable letting my dogs run free in the woods, without worrying that they’ll run too far, into a road, up to someone who would prefer not to say hello, etc. My dogs come when I call, and I reward them for desired behavior, but no dog will listen 100% of the time. I believe the collar increases the chance that my dog will listen when it really matters– call it insurance.
    I know that there are people who use the collar for all kinds of things– I’ve read articles about how police dogs or search and rescue dogs are trained with constant shocks. Even using the collar for “sit” or “off the couch” seems inappropriate to me– those are desires, not a safety issue.
    One of my dogs, who was stray before being rescued, really was a dog who would just run away — very independent and stubborn. She would come if I had chicken, but if I didn’t, she’d look at me and just do her own thing. I hated using the collar, but after a couple of times where I did shock her (again, never stronger than what I would put on my own arm), she comes reliably whenever I use the “beep.” My other dog, who has low interest in being away from me, wears the collar but I have never needed to use more than the tone or vibrate.
    So, in summary, I understand the potential for harm and abuse of dogs, but not every person who choses to train their dog using the collar is abusing their dog. I use it because for my stubborn and willful (and lovely, sweet) girl dog, it allows me to comfortably let her run free in the woods, dig at chipmunks, chase scents, but still come back to me when I call her, because she knows there’s a negative consequence if she doesn’t listen, and a reward of treats and affection when she does.
    It works for us. She’s a happy, lovable, funny dog and I adore her– and I will use the collar if I have to, to keep her safe, to make sure she returns.

    • Hi Nina,
      I really appreciate you sharing your story! I recently wrote an article for The Bark on electronic fences, and I was surprised to discover that I was able to empathize with some of the reasons people use those fences. That said, I would still prefer that shock collars weren’t used. There are so many risks to the dog and to people and animals around the dogs. You sound like a wonderful parent to your pups, and they are lucky to have you. But some dogs can become severely emotionally scarred just from the sound of the beep. Or, if they associate that beep with the electric shock, they can develop severe sound phobias. There are just so many risks that can occur when using pain and fear to train dogs. And, when you boil it down, that is what a shock collar does. It uses pain and fear to motivate the dog. It might not be super scary, but they’re feeling it enough to know that they don’t want to feel it again, and so they “behave.”

      That said, I do SO understand your concerns about recalls. As a beagle, Emma’s nose makes it incredibly difficult to get her to come back to us if she is sniffing out in nature. I’m working on it though! I’m at the stage where Emma comes flying back to me in the dog park (which is notoriously sniffy for her!). Next round I’m going to put her on a long leash and practice with her in the woods behind my house.

      In the Academy we pair an emergency recall word with some food that is a delicacy like no other. Emma had never eaten roasted chicken before, so I used that. Every time I say the word, she flies to me for a chicken party. It’s adorable.

      Again, thanks so much for responding. It was nice to *virtually* meet you.

      • Can I just add that I hike off leash with my dogs everyday and have trained a stunning recall at long distances and with great distractions, using chicken, cheese and hot dogs. Using shock is a choice, but you can get the same results with the pain and you and your dog will both enjoy training so much more,

      • Can I just add that I hike off leash with my dogs everyday and have trained a stunning recall at long distances and with great distractions, using chicken, cheese and hot dogs and a whistor. You can get great results without the pain or fear of a shock collar.

    • I completely agree, people need to know how to use these collars. I have an invisible fence which keeps my dog in my yard. I think he’s been shocked once and now knows where is boundaries are. I’ve even put flags up in my yard where there is no shock at all but he is trained not to go near the flags. I also have a correction collar and have never used the shock only a beep & rarely vibrate. I would rather have my dog not run into the street and be hit by a car. If you use these colors properly they are great. No I would not shock my dog for jumping on the couch or on me for that matter.

  5. Nina’s post brings up a rather global point that troubles me. As a trainer I struggle with it very frequently with clients and on a personal level with fellow dog owners. These are people who, like Nina, love their dogs, want them to be safe and in general want the best for them. Not all are as thoughtful, unfortunately, as she in their consideration and use of a shock device.
    The point to which I refer is the statement: “She would come if I had chicken, but if I didn’t, she’d look at me and just do her own thing. ”
    I hear virtually the same words on a regular basis. .
    If a dog will come if you have chicken why not use chicken?
    Why choose the shock collar over the chicken I inquire?
    The answers I receive indicate that the need to use a high value reinforcer to gain compliance in a highly distracting situation/environment is repellent and annoying. They feel they should not have to “bribe” their dog. (This is either a misunderstanding or misuse of positive reinforcement BTW). Also they feel it is too much trouble to remember to take the chicken.
    However I never hear the complaint, ‘my dog won’t come unless he is wearing a shock collar, if he isn’t wearing it he just ignores me and does his own thing’. The dogs are always wearing them nor is it is too much trouble to remember to bring the remote.
    I find that both fascinatingly illogical and sad.
    In this case the opposite of bribe is threaten.
    Without going into a deep discussion of training, if you have to show a reinforcer(“bribe”) or a punisher(“threaten”) to get behavior from your dog your training is not complete. Regardless of the tools of choice they should be faded and not needed if they have been properly used as a teaching tool.
    If one cannot make it all the way to trained without tools (yes, some dogs are highly challenged by their own drives and the environment) is it not in the best interest of the dog to use one that will give pleasure vs one that at the very least produces stress and at the worst pain and fear?
    I would hope that stating this contrast gives folks pause to evaluate whether what they are choosing is really in the best interest of their dog or rather convenience for themselves(whether physically, emotionally or ideologically).
    I would say the latter is most frequently the case when opting to use aversive tools and all the more reason why a device like the Garmin, is so appealing and therefore so very dangerous. I too will have to boycott their products until such time as the shock feature is removed.
    Thank you Tracy for providing this forum and creating the petition. I was truly horrified when I learned of this product.

    • Thanks so much for bringing up this point, Virginia. I recently wrote an article for The Bark (that will be in the winter issue) about the fact that so many people say that their dog should behave out of respect or to please them, and if he doesn’t, he’s being disobedient or stubborn and should be punished. Many people are stunned to find that I ALWAYS have treats for Emma with me wherever we are. A friend even asked me the other day, when I was using chicken to counter condition Emma to something she feared, if there was anything else I could use besides food. I explained that some dogs love to play so much that tug or fetch is a great motivator, but when you’re talking about fear, food is the best tool to help the dog overcome it.

      Why are people SO averse (pardon the pun!) to giving their dogs food? It’s mind boggling.

      You bring up a brilliant point. People scoff at the idea of using food as a motivator, but shocking their dog is ok?

      I interviewed Jean Donaldson for that Bark story and she explained that aversive tools are a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors game. It *seems* like the dog is behaving out of respect for you, because you’re not reaching for treats to handover, but something that is not visible to the human eye (unless you look at the dog’s body language) is still happening to motivate the dog. He’s getting shocked, or he’s getting choked.

      It comes down to transparency.

      I deconstructed Cesar Milan’s “calm assertive” energy thingy to prove that point:

      Thanks so much for weighing in!

  6. I don’t believe that there has been integrity on the part of the company who have produced the shock collar for dogs. Any one should know that such cruel treatment of dogs would result in adverse behaviour such as aggression motivated by fear and uncertainty. I hope that many people will consider boycotting the company before too much profit is gained from the sale of such collars.

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