What Is the Word on Shock Collar Safety for Dogs?

Shock Collar Safety for Dogs

The question of shock collar safety for dogs is a topic that comes up frequently. Just last month I was in Cleveland, OH working with Bill Wittrock of Obedient Dogs and More.

Our group was composed primarily of professional dog trainers but there was a pet dog owner in the crowd that peaked my interest considerably when he shared a personal story during our opening discussion.

Joe Golob is a surgeon who also happens to own a Newfoundland pup named Barkley.  He had been doing some training with Barkley using an electronic training collar and wanted to learn more.

In the spirit of science and compassion, Dr. Golob decided to do some experimenting to make sure he was doing his dog no harm in using a remote collar to train her.  I asked Joe if he would mind sharing his findings with all of you.

I think his passion for exploration of shock collar safety for dogs and personal discovery of some truths is pretty cool. I hope you enjoy his story as much as I did.

E-Collars and Cardiac Arrhythmias?

As a new person to the world of canine e-collar training, I came across many web pages which described the horrors of the “shock collar”. One myth that I found particularly intriguing was the electricity generated from an e-collar can cause cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) and even asystole (sudden cardiac death). In the spirit of one of my favorite shows on the Discovery Channel, Mythbusters, I decided to put this myth to the test.

I am a surgeon, so one night when on call, I stopped by my surgical intensive care unit and connected myself to a continuous EKG machine. I then placed my Dogtra 1900 NCP on my neck, my leg, and my chest. I used both the nick and continuous button with low, medium, and high levels of stimulation while watching and recording my EKG. As I suspected, no arrhythmias and obviously no asystole since I am still alive to tell my story.

So this myth is clearly ‘BUSTED’. There wasn’t even enough current generated to cause interference with EKG reading. I feel with proper instruction, e-collars are a very safe and humane way to train dogs. I continue to use my Dogtra collar. I love my dog and she loves me! I have no doubt I have the best behaved dog in my neighborhood thanks to my e-collar training!

Joseph F. Golob Jr., MD

MetroHealth Medical Center

Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma Critical Care


  • While I’m not opposed to using an e-collar, I have a hard time accepting this “myth” as busted. When you shock yourself, your body is prepared for the jolt and you know how high the intensity is set. I would like to see him repeat this with someone else doing the shocking and varying the intensities, for the sake of science!

    • Hi Kourtney,
      I agree. We certainly could use a lot more science regarding remote collars and their use. Never the less I have to give Dr. Golob some significant credit. Being a novice to remote collars he didn’t just buy into hype and did go to some pretty extraordinary lengths to find out a few things for himself!!
      warm regards,

  • My experience with e-collars is that they have vastly different effects on different dogs. This isn’t surprising given the tremendous phenotype variation in dogs. I also feel that dogs who have e-collars put on them to address barking resulting from separation anxiety often become more anxious, while other dogs (esp. Working type dogs) seem to tolerate them without much concern during training.

    What prompts my comment though is just annoyance that a surgeon would seriously try to sway opinion in this way. I’m glad he was concerned and curious enough to give this a try, but it’s somewhere between laughable and scary for him to suggest that he’s accrued evidence of anything other than his particular collar was functioning. Obviously, the vast majority of dogs who have had e-collars used on them have not died, so that illumination that it didn’t kill a healthy adult human is not a terrific contribution.

    I think it *would* be interesting and possibly useful to gather up some data on e-collar use on dogs with heart problems to note any correlation between the usage and a greater than expected incident of problems/fatalities. However determining an actual causal effect would best be left to a lab test, and who wants that?

    Meanwhile, continuing in the vein of bad science, I would be interested to know how many cardiologists would readily assure their patients that exposure to regular, moderate shocks is harmless. I’ve had my share of jolts from hot wire fencing (set low for well-trained horses)and that certainly got my heart racing. I mean, I could insert a bad surgeon joke here about my surprise he got a reading at all…Hardy-har-har. 😉

    • I don’t agree that it is necessarily “bad science” and I do give the Doc credit for doing what he did. At least he drew his conclusions from first hand experience and a desire to “find out for himself” rather than just what someone told him or what he read on the internet. For that test subject it did show no change in the rhythm of the heart regardless of placement or intensity. I agree we can’t automatically draw the conclusion that would be the same across the board if their were a broader study.

      As for “how many cardiologists would readily assure their patients that exposure to moderate shocks is harmless?” You pose a valid question. Now I’m curious if there are any warnings against using a TENS unit on cardiac patients? I’ve had many treatments at various facilities over the years and never have I been asked it I had a heart problem before they hooked me up…but they perhaps they are actually reading those long patient forms before taking me back for treatment.

      • Thanks for the reply and interesting analogy with the TENS. I actually HATED mine, and I did find it uncomfortable and creepy, but of course everyone else I know who’s tried it thought it was great. I’d rather slather on capsaicin, which really does hurt!

        • …and that is the really tricky thing about trying to define pain. It is so subjective. For me the TENS and capsaicin are relief from pain. This is why I get my undies in a bundle when some are so adamant that e-collar stimulation = pain. (and then they toss in the word fear as well) ONLY the recipient can accurately define what they are experiencing. I’ll never say that an e-collar can’t be painful, and it most certainly can be startling when used at a “high level” (which I will on very certain situations, recommend) but I will go to my grave believing that the primary way I utilize an e-collar is not painful to the dog.

    • The electric fence shock goes through your body and to the ground, and could conceivably affect the heart if the shock was great enough. It certainly is a LOT worse feeling than e-collar stim. The e-collar stim dows not go to ground, it only affects the part of the body where the contact points are. I don’t believe there would be any way for it to affect the heart unless you cut open the body and applied the contact points directly to the heart.

      Robin, you know the science, what do you think?

      • I don’t believe there is any way that the e-stimulation from a remote collar can enter or go through the body. From everything I have seen/read the electric pulse only goes across the skin surface from contact to contact. Plus the amperage of remote collars is around .003 milliamps. There is simply not enough amperage to cause a problem.

  • My akita just passed away suddenly. He was four. He was born with a large heart murmur that they said went away. He could be very stubborn when distracted but was otherwise a great family pet and loved by all. He saw the vet as needed, went to doggie day care and the neighbors all called him Mr Mayor. My heart is broken as I wonder if his e collar may have sped up his demise. Your article is comforting and I believe I used his collar very responsibly, but still I wonder. Cooper was very tolerant with children, loved most people, you could go in his food bowl at anytime,take a favorite toy or play with his tail. Just don’t come in his house by yourself if he did not know you. We spent so much time with him and now I wonder that in training him, (e collar was only used for off leash walking), he really loved exoloring, could I have hastened or exaxerbated his condition. Your article was helpful as I sit and miss my buddy. Cruel comments from cruel people should be ignored. I know this is an old posting but I feel better just wrinting it down and letting someone perhaps know that a great, great akita has left this world. His little sister akita is a bit depressed right now, so I must work to keep her balanced even though I grieve. Again, thank you.

    • Hi Tina,

      So sorry to hear of your loss. It is never easy to lose them. I have been using remote collars with my dogs for a very long time. My dogs are 12, 10, 9 and 3 and one also has a slight heart murmur. I have no concerns that the e-collar contributes to health problems. The static only goes across the skin contact and does not go “into” the body. Never the less, I understand how easy it is to worry about our dogs and wonder if we are doing all the right things…know that you gave your boy a good life and he enjoyed those times with you and having his freedom to explore.
      take care,

  • “In the spirit of Mythbusters.”

    Somehow I get the feeling that Mythbusters would understand the difference – even just in size – between a dog and a human. Your anecdotal evidence is neither scientific nor related in anyway to dogs developing arrhythmia.

    This is bad science and you, sir, are a horrible person.

    • Hi James,

      I understand your comment about dogs and humans being different. Certainly. But this was an effort to be applauded to at least experience the stimulation at all levels and in multiple places for himself as is often suggested by opponents of remote collars. And Joe took it a step further by hooking up to an ekg machine as well.

      I would love to see more scientific study of e-stim and the use of remote collars. Unfortunately most of what has been published about the use of remote collars is pseudo science that reeks of agenda and emotional laiden intent.

  • It’s good to see a rational explination using your own personal reactions. There will still be those who argue that, you human, dogs are different, you’re probably larger than the dog. As as a 30 yr e-collar veteran, I’ve shocked myself on purpose and by accident. I know a High 5 Tritonics charge will travel half way down the back of my thigh ( if I sit on on the collar with the transmitter in my hand accidently pressing the button as I climb in a pickup truck. ) The biggest problem with the collars is the operator. What has been lost is the original intent. Conditioning. The level only has to be high enough to stop the dog from doing what it is doing but not enough to frighten.

    • Linda, I couldn’t agree with you more. The biggest issue surrounding the e-collar is the user. As Robin says, the level has to be “Just Right”. Not to low, not to high. However accidents sometimes happen and it is important to know that although it may frighten your dog, it doesn’t cause physical harm. When you sit on your collar, you feel the muscle contraction down you leg, but it doesn’t keep you from walking. Correct e-collar use is safe for dogs…and even humans as we have both experienced.

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