How Shock Collar Training Hurts Us All



TL;DR A personal post about shock collar training and how it tragically impacts not only our dogs but us as human beings.

I’m writing you because I care about you; I like you. From the start I was interested in your wellbeing. I wished a peaceful and joyful life not just for your dog but for you. Some of what I have to say might hurt, though. So, let’s agree now that this is not about you, not you as an individual, not just you, but you in great numbers, an amalgam of you the many.

You called me when your dog was two. She had bitten three people on walks, two of them runners. One of them threatened to file a report. She said she’d have your dog put down. You were crying. I was quiet. I listened. If you remember this call let me say again, this is not about you. You’re an amalgam, which means you call me this way about once a month, sometimes more, sometimes less. You are crying because you love  your dog and I’m listening because I care about you as a fellow human being. You mention the shock collar training you did. I don’t say anything. I think about it, but let you dry your tears instead.

When your dog was a puppy you used to laugh when she tried to pick up a ball half her size. She’d run a few steps and stumble. You laughed and picked her up and offered her a smaller toy and you played until she was exhausted and she cuddled on the sofa with you until you both fell asleep. When she got older your dog pulled on leash and barked at people. She got bigger, more gangly, stronger. You hired a trainer who taught you how to yank on her leash and then how to yank on her leash with a prong collar. You trusted the trainer and did what she said. It was a neighbor who told you about the shock collar. No, it was a friend. But, she called it an e-collar. No, it was your aunt. Someone told you. It was someone. They used the shock collar or sent their dog off to a trainer who used it. Their dog was perfect, they said. And, that sounded perfect to you.

You called to tell me your dog wouldn’t leave the back patio. You have a huge yard with an invisible fence. Your dog can see the woods and the wildlife and she has so much space, but she won’t budge. Why will she only poop and pee on the patio? You called to tell me your dog barks and snarls at men who come into your home. Your trainer used a shock collar to teach her this was wrong. Yesterday your dog bit someone coming in. You called to tell me your dog is afraid to go on walks. It’s cool and sunny out but she won’t walk past the driveway, even when you take the shock collar off. You carry her for the first block and even then she keeps pulling to go back, head low, panting the whole time.

When your dog was a puppy she came to you, face bright and tongue flapping out the side of her mouth. You called her your bouncing pom pom, the way she ran to you. You played and she licked your face and you thought you were the luckiest person in the world, which you were. Your friends loved her. She was beautiful. Even at 8 and 9 months when other dogs start to look awkward in their own bodies, she was beautiful. But she jumped a lot and knocked things over. She wanted to play all the time. She just wouldn’t settle down. So your neighbor-friend-realative told you about a place you could send her. Their dog went there for 3 weeks and was perfect. Perfect sounded good and you sent her away. She was thin and seemed a bit shy when she came back home. She was more subdued, slept more, hung out by your side and didn’t cause much trouble. When the barking started and the chewing, you sent her back again. If once was good, twice would be better.

I know this hurts, I tell you when you call. When we meet I tell you how shock collars work. That’s hard.

I know this hurts, I tell you when you call. We meet for weeks and I never tell you what the shock collar did to your dog. It would break your heart.

I know this hurts, I tell you when you call. You don’t hire me. We never meet. I have an extra cocktail with dinner. I forget that has anything to do with our call and forgetting feels good.

I know this hurts, I tell you when you call. And, it doesn’t matter. Your dog is shattered. You already know how this is going to end. I do too. I don’t sleep well that night.

Here’s the short version. Punishment is the introduction of a stimulus that decreases a target behavior. Example: if a dog experiences a shock to the neck when she approaches the boundary of your property, she will be less likely to go there in the future (she may stay on the patio).

You are explaining yourself to me. “It’s only the beep, she only got shocked once and now all we need is the beep.” You don’t want me to think bad things about you; you’re a good person; you are kind. I don’t think you’re a bad person. I like you. I feel bad for you. I want to help. This is what I wake up in the morning to do – to help you. I work hard at it. Sometimes it’s enough. Sometimes.

If I’m sloppy as a positive reinforcement dog trainer we end up with a dog who begs for food or stares at the treat bag. I’m not sloppy. I teach you how to not be a sloppy trainer, too. If someone is haphazard with a shock collar your dog never knows when the shock is coming, or from where (other than it attacks her neck from nowhere), or why. Why? Painful attempts to punish behavior always have side effects. Always. Your dog tries to escape the pain or the fear. She locks up on walks or runs away when you call. Your dog avoids situations altogether. She won’t leave the patio or her room or the driveway. Or, your dog lashes out. The pain out of nowhere with no escape – or the threat of it – is too much to bear. She growls, snarls, and bites. That’s usually when you call, when she’s had enough and lashes out.

You’re calling me because your dog, though physically healthy, is psychologically damaged. She paces the house, can’t seem to settle down. The vet put her on three medications that don’t seem to be helping. She cornered your husband in the kitchen. Your husband, the one who used to roll the too-big ball to her so he could see her tackle it and fall over. You both laughed so hard then. She was having fun, too. Now, she growls at your husband and at you. You’re afraid of her, your bouncing pom pom. Sometimes she lies by you, exhausted. But you haven’t been able to cuddle her in months. Not really. Not anymore.

I’m sorry. You’ve called twice today already and four times this week. Not you, but you in numbers, dozens over the past few months, scores of you over the last two decades. It gets to me sometimes and sometimes I am not strong; I am not calm. I shouldn’t let this stuff get to me. I definitely shouldn’t lash out at you. But, I tell you that the beep is like a man pulling his fist back. “You only need to get punched once to know the terror of what that means,” I say. I know my words are sharp and when I get off the phone I hate myself for saying it that way. I don’t know you yet. I don’t know what you’ve experienced, if anyone has ever raised a fist to you. I’m an asshole for going there. But, I also don’t know how to tell you that no this is not your fault but yes you caused this – because it’s not your fault (you were given shitty information) and because your choices did cause it. I know that hurts. It hurts me, too.

You call me and I can tell by your voice what this is about. We’ve worked together for months. There’s a veterinary behaviorist involved, a team of experts.

You’ve been wonderful and things have improved, you say. But, there was an incident.

You’ve been wonderful and things have improved, you say. But, it feels hopeless. That young vibrant dog you once had is long gone. You don’t think she will ever be the same again.

You’ve been wonderful and things have improved, you say. But, you are done. You don’t have any more emotional energy.

You’ve been wonderful and things have improved, you say. But, not enough. You’ve already called the vet. She’ll be euthanized in the morning.

I’m trained for these calls. And, as many times as you’ve called with this news I’ve never cracked. I hold steady. I care about you more than anything and I stand by your side. This is your decision, not mine. My role is to support you. When I cry it’s after the call. I cry for  you most of all. As my wise friend says, you were doing the best you could with the information you had at the time. I believe that. I cry for your dog, too. This should have gone differently from the start. But, it didn’t and here we are.

It hasn’t always gone this way for us, of course. You and I have had our high-fives and victory laps together and it’s felt great. You did it. You pulled your dog back from the brink. Your dog, for her part, recovered, healed well from the terror of the past. She made it. You made it. I am so happy for you, for her, for us. We’ve been through a lot, you and I, you big wonderful collective you. I’ve written too much already, I know, but I could write more. I could go on and on about you because I care about you. I like you.

I’ll end here with one small request. And, this part is for you, specifically you, reader. Will you be a voice for our dogs? You are someone’s neighbor. You are someone’s friend, someone’s family member. When someone asks you about training, about shock collar training, will you be the one individual who speaks up? They may not know any better yet, this someone you know, this someone you care about. You know better, though. Did you know shock collars are against the law in some countries? It’s because shock collar training hurts our dogs; it can damage them psychologically. In too many cases the fallout from this frightening and painful training hurts us as well, damaging our relationship with our dogs, endangering our dogs’ lives. Be the voice who speaks this truth. If this is your story, then tell it. Your neighbors and friends and family deserve to know better. Their dogs deserve a voice who will speak for them.


Michael Baugh is a dog trainer in Houston, TX. He specializes in aggressive dog training including helping dogs who are survivors of shock collar training.

Dog Behavior and My Fear of the Dentist



One-twenty over seventy-four. I’m lying back in the dentist’s chair with the wrist monitor to my chest when the beep sounds. Honestly, I am a bit surprised when I read the display: 120 / 74. That’s a fairly respectable blood pressure for me on any given day. On dental exam day, it’s an exceptional blood pressure.  A few years ago it would have been unimaginable. I broke into sweats during cleanings and exams. My whole body tensed at the sound of a drill. I fainted once while getting a lidocaine injection. Not today, not with 120 / 74. I smile, slip off the monitor and put on the protective glasses. How did I get from terror to today? And, you might be wondering, what the hell does this have to do with dog training?


I’ve helped a lot of people who have dogs who are afraid, afraid of the vet, but also afraid of people in general, afraid of other dogs, of garbage trucks, even dogs who are afraid of leaves in the wind (seriously). My own dog, Stewie, used to be terrified of vet visits, the needle parts especially. Helping dogs work through fear is a process. Notice I didn’t say teaching dogs to … or training dogs not to….  We are helping dogs. And, there are some consistent elements in the process.

  • Set your dog up to succeed. This means creating an environment in which your dog can at least experiment with relaxing. Create a space where safety is possible.
  • Teach a routine. This is optional in many cases. But, I’ve found it’s smart to give the dog a few tasks he can reliably perform for reinforcement. Dogs are great at learning patterns. (This is why I often teach a relaxed down or the look-at-that game).
  • Pay attention to what your dog is telling you about his feelings. If the scene is getting too stressful for him, give him an out. Take a break. Let him catch is breath and settle himself again. When meeting a frightened dog I’ll often ask the human to put the dog in a quiet room away from me several times throughout the visit. He may get as many as a half dozen repetitions of coming out to see me. Each time it gets easier. Taking breaks works.
  • Similarly, let your dog make some reasonable choices. He can tell you when he’s ready to try a more challenging experience. I’m always so pleased when a dog comes out on try number 5 or 6 and casually walks up to me. That was his choice. Part of the routine I taught Stewie for vet visits was resting his head in the palm of my hand (Yes, it is adorable). That tells me he’s ready for his jugular blood draw (no chin rest – no blood draw – not until he’s ready). Letting you dog make some of these simple choices on his own really does speed up your progress.
  • Don’t let anyone shame you. Ignore well-meaning friends who tell you your dog  needs more exposure or that you need to force a situation so he just gets over the fear. Rebuke the myth that giving your dog comfort somehow reinforces fear. This is bunk. And if an animal professional tells you any of this nonsense, gently call them out. At best they are giving you misinformation. At worst, it’s malpractice.

Six years ago I switched dentists. I set myself up to succeed and found a dental practice that truly understood fearful patients like me. (Healthy Smiles Family Dentistry in Houston). Together we established a routine. At this practice, when you arrive on time you are invited back to the exam area on time. There’s no sitting and stewing over what’s about to happen. I set down my phone and glasses. The hygienists and I chat. She never leaves the room (no more waiting alone at all). Then Dr. Vlachakis (Dr. V) and I chat. From the beginning the staff and Dr. V paid attention to what I was saying and feeling. It turns out they consider their patients’ physical and emotional comfort part of their job (Well, that’s refreshing). I remember my first visit when I tried to calmly let them know how scared I was. Meanwhile I was already sweating and my eyes were darting around the room like a scared dog. And, I hadn’t even sat down in the chair yet. “You’ll be okay.” They told me. “Have a seat whenever you’re ready.” I got to make my own reasonable choices. Sit down in the chair when you are ready. It’s a small thing, but a very big deal. They offered me nitrous oxide. I accepted (The truth is we needed to bring my blood pressure down). All I was having done was a cleaning, but I took the laughing gas. And, there was no shame from anyone.

It’s been like this from the first visit, and consistently every visit thereafter. I come in. We go back on time. I’m never alone. I set my phone and glasses down. I sit in the chair and strap on the blood pressure monitor, slip on the protective glasses. The hygienist and I chat. Dr. V and I chat. (She comes in even before the cleanings). And then she asks me, “are you ready.” I usually take a deep breath, even now. “Sure, ready.” Ready for cleanings. Ready for the occasional filling. Ready for an implant. Ready for veneers (Yup, I opted in for cosmetic dentistry). Ready with nitrous oxide for the early visits but rarely anymore. Ready for the chats and always for the kindness, and the sunny view from the chair, and the time to relax. Yes, relax (most of the time).

The blood pressure cuff is on the counter. The hygienist must have forgotten to put in in the drawer. 120 / 74. Wow. We are half way through the cleaning. She pauses to let the suction thing in my mouth do its thing. “You okay?” She asks. “Need a break?”

“Thank you,” I answer. “I’m good.” I take a breath. I’m good.

Michael Baugh teaches dog behavior in Houston Tx. He specializes in fearful and aggressive dog training. Michael also has no cavities as of his most recent visit to the dentist.

The One Thing Your Dog Needs to Know for Hurricane Season

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

It’s the one thing all of our dogs need to know for hurricane season – where to poop and pee.

But, wait. Don’t all our dogs already know where to potty? Yes, maybe. And, maybe not.

Most of our dogs know pretty well where to do their business near our home on a sunny or mildly inclement day. Things can get a bit iffy, though, if the weather is really bad (some of us already know that). And lots of dogs forget potty training altogether if they are staying in a different home or (worst case) in a hurricane shelter. It’s up to us to teach them specific potty instructions that will hold up under lots of circumstances.

The core of potty training remains the same:

  • Praise and treats for going in the right spot. We need to be there to pull this off. Practice in lots of places and in all kinds of weather. Pro tip: teach your dog to walk with you under an umbrella. This is so important for puppies, but it can be taught at any age (we can show you how).
  • Supervise your dog inside.
  • Safely confine the dog when you can’t supervise. These last two points are extra important if you are staying at a family member’s or friend’s house, in a hotel, or at a shelter.

And here’s a hurricane hack for folks who already have dogs who are sensitive to pooping and peeing in the rain. You can actually purchase a box of grass and teach your dog to do his business there – maybe in the garage or under a patio. All the same rules of potty training apply. But, remember, you’ll want to practice this now not in the throes of a storm. It may take a few weeks to nail it.

  • Guide your dog to the spot
  • Wait for the poop or pee
  • Praise and treat
  • Pro tip: Gather a bit of pee from your dog (you can use a saucer for this). Put it on the sod in the box. The scent will attract him to go there again.


  • Fresh Patch is one brand of grass sod in a box









Build excitement around going potty in the designated spot with a special cue. I use “let’s go potty” or “go outside go potty.” That’s always a sure bet for my dogs. If they hear that cue and go out to poop and pee, they are getting a treat for it. This is video of Stella and Stewie peeing outside during a Hurricane Harvey downpour (so proud of those two).

Related resource: Teaching Your Dog Behavioral Flexibility.

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA specializes in aggressive dog training. He lives in and works as a dog trainer in Houston, TX