So you know at the outset, I have serious misgivings when it comes to the concept of shocking a dog—under any circumstances. But then I also hate pinch collars with a passion—along with other oft-misused training tools. I’d rather see a shock collar well applied (yes, there’s a method to the madness) than most people’s version of multi-pronged leash walking.

I recently read about a Chicago trainer who’s being prosecuted for animal cruelty after some very public, very inappropriate use of a shock collar. So strange was this trainer’s methods that some witnesses claim they saw her using two at a time on a Bischon. This is reprehensible (and bizarre) behavior on the trainer’s part, to be sure. So I’m happy to see her get her day in court for her ignorance and the harm she did to these innocent creatures. But it got me thinking about the use of these training methods, especially since I recommend underground fencing for recalcitrant jumpers and runners.

It’s true enough that any of the harsher training methods can be effective, but these cases need to be considered carefully by an expert trainer or behaviorist before embarking upon their use. Just as in the case of feline declawing, my belief is that the issue isn’t black or white—as long as caring professionals are recruited to help make decisions and implement the use of these tools along the way. Understanding that an electrical shock applied through a collar is a painful last resort that may or may not help is a judicious place to start.

My biggest pet peeve on the subject? Any yahoo can buy one of these collars or euphemistically termed, “e-leashes” on the web or by catalog. Drs. Foster’s and Smith, who boast the “veterinary recommended” nature of their products, sell these by the bushel for anyone who cares to try their hand at training their Great Dane pup who got too big for his britches before anyone tried to apply standard training methods. What appears on their home page for canine training? You guessed it.

Laziness. That’s what most shock collars come down to. A quick fix for the inept.

I’ll concede that my own patience and skill when it comes to training is minimal for one who knows how it should be done. I’m lazy. (I even resort to having others trim my own pets’ nails.) So I keep Frenchies. Their placid nature makes them an easy train. I adopt adults or older pups so that others will have undertaken the more work-intensive aspects of raising a dog.

“Know thyself” is the credo these so-called dog lovers should adopt. Don’t get a dog if you can’t handle the heat. Same goes for cat people who don’t know enough to bring home a scratching post with kitten’s first litterbox only to claim their cat is requires a declaw to safeguard their precious furnishings.

Enough of the rant…back to the shocking thing.

Having said all this against the promiscuous use of the shock collar, safety is perhaps the only reason these products should exist. Underground fencing for the wanderlust-obsessed unfoiled by conventional fencing and traditional methods. E-collars for those undeterred by common on-leash dangers (i.e., those driven insane by porcupines on the hiking trail). Pool perimeter training for a subset of poor swimmers (though other methods are more effective in many cases). These are the exceptions.

These products are tools designed to be used infrequently and with the assistance of a trained professional. Ideally, their use should be relegated to the one-time shock that signals avoidance of an area or stimulus—not for routine use under normal circumstances (as with the maddeningly ubiquitous shock-me-when-I-bark collar). For that reason, it’s my belief that few owners should be entrusted with their solo implementation.

But given the dangerous behaviors of some pets, isn’t “shock therapy” appropriate for some pets? Let me know what you think as I consider this issue more broadly.