Are punishment-based tools for pets ethical?

Hafsa Rasheed, Opinions Writer

Regardless of their stance on punishment-based tools, many pet owners would agree that pets can be difficult at times. Sometimes it’s hard for them to communicate their needs since they’re… well, not human. It can be frustrating to care for a pet, but is it ethical to resort to punishment-based tools such as shock or prong collars?


Punishment based tools fall into the category of negative reinforcement. According to, negative reinforcement is defined as the “encouragement of certain behaviors by removing or avoiding a negative outcome or stimuli”. Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, is defined as “the use of pleasant stimuli to encourage certain behaviors”.


So why are people so divided over whether negative reinforcement is ethical or not? The issue is, people have different priorities. Although positive reinforcement sounds like the better option, it’s proven to be time-consuming, and any real effects can be seen up to a year after enforcing it. Negative reinforcement, however, produces quicker results. People who have commitments to their family or work don’t really have the time to train their pets to be more obedient through positive reinforcement. They would find that using punishment-based tools such as choke collars and prong collars provide quicker results. Their pets start to associate bad behavior with physical punishment and will usually stop out of fear.


Many people would argue that owners punishing their pets and instilling fear in them just so they can have some peace of mind is selfish. They may also argue that punishment-based tools should be considered abuse. According to Oxford, abuse is to “treat (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly”. This fits the description of punishment based tools, so it absolutely can be considered abuse. Another argument is that people should only get pets if they’re willing to put in the time and work to eliminate bad behavior without instilling fear in and abusing their pets. If they simply resort to punishment, it would be fair to assume that they’re lazy and aren’t willing to understand their pets’ needs and treat them kindly.


At the end of the day, there will always be differing opinions on negative reinforcement. However, regardless of which side you’re on, it’s important to acknowledge that your pets have feelings and emotions. They’re not little toys for you to treat how you wish. They deserve your time and patience, your love and affection. They depend on you to take care of them, and a little kindness goes a long way.