This is a dog training topic I’ve wanted to tackle for a long time.
In other words, over the years I’ve produced countless hours of content on how to train a dog with an electric collar.
But I realized that I didn’t have one great source where I could send people who were new to e-collars or had questions about their use or had been told things about these collars which may not be true. So I decided to create this blog post about the subject. I’ll likely be adding to it as time goes on. On this page I’ll address a lot of different angles and misconceptions on this style of training.
How do you introduce an e-collar properly to a dog?
This is a big one.
I’ve found that a lot of people go about introducing an e-collar to a dog in a faulty way. I believe this is what leads to a lot of the ‘bad press’ about these kind of training tools. When they’re introduced improperly they can create a lot of confusion and even pain.
But when they are introduced properly it becomes a wonderful teaching tool.
The key is to help the dog understand what that little stimulation means.
Too many dog owners simply strap on the collar and start hitting buttons when the dog is doing something they don’t like. This punitive and non-communicative approach doesn’t teach.
Think about it. If you were minding your own business and suddenly felt this strange tickle on your neck would you have any idea what that meant? If the tickle grew stronger until it caused pain would you then know? Not likely.
The same is true for your dog. Strap that collar on and start hitting buttons and your dog will be unbelievably confused.
Add some communication, though, and you can see nice things happen.
You need to understand that the small sensation from the collar is non-compelling by itself. By itself it means nothing. But when you pair something non-compelling with something compelling you can give meaning to that little, non-compelling sensation.
In the beginning stages of teaching the collar we use a lot of leash work to give meaning to that little sensation.
Here’s a short video that shows in more detail what I’m talking about.
What about for aggression or anxiety? I heard that an electric collar can make a dog more aggressive or anxious?
This is a common concern. And I, for one, think it’s a very valid concern. If you aren’t well versed with an electric collar it would make sense to think that ‘shocking’ or ‘zapping’ a dog is going to make the dog afraid.
This line of thought leads to two different misconceptions, though:
1 – The stimulation that comes from an e-collar is not what most people think. Kind of. Let me explain.
When most people are imagining what a ‘shock collar’ feels like they tend to relate that sensation with previous sensations they’ve had with electricity. For some, they may have had the unfortunate experience of touching a live wire while doing electrical work. Some may picture a static shock. Others might be thinking of that old wire that circled the pasture at the farm they used to visit. I’ve found that what most people think they are going to feel is completely incongruent with what they actually feel. Whenever we use the training collar with a client’s dog we always have the client feel it on their hand first.
In most occasions people are very timidly touching the collar, flinching, and pulling their hand away. They’re imagining that deep, penetrating shock that so many are used to. When I finally hit the button there is universal ‘shock’. (Pardon the lousy pun.) In about half of the cases the person can’t feel the stimulation coming from the collar on the levels we use. In the other half of those cases the person is surprised at how small the sensation is. What I hear more often than not is,”Nope. That’s not going to work on my dog. He’s stubborn. He’s strong. He’s a pain in the butt! It won’t work unless it’s a big, ole’ zap.”
This leads to the next misconception.
2 – Most people think that the stimulation that comes from the collar is done willy-nilly. They think you’re supposed to hit the button at moments when you’re upset or displeased at what the dog is doing.
If that were the case then, yes, this would definitely cause confusion, fear, or perhaps aggression. A properly deployed collar, though, is used in a communicative way. It’s almost as if you are tapping on the shoulder of your dog to grab his or her attention. Does tapping on a shoulder cause fear and anxiety to shoot up? Not typically.
So when you hear someone tell you that an electric collar can cause your dog to be aggressive or afraid, know that they are telling the truth. But only if that collar is used in an improper and dysfunctional way.
Watch the following video where I introduce an e-collar to a dog with aggression and anxiety issues:
My trainer told me that e-collars go against scientific training. Is this true?
In my industry I’ve been able to meet a lot of dog trainers. Sometimes this is online and sometimes it’s offline.
As you may imagine, when dog trainers get together online there can sometimes be some silly arguments.
While I no longer get into dog training debates on Facebook (political debates on Facebook, that’s another thing) there was a time when I looked to present my side of dog training to other dog trainers. On numerous occasions they came back and told me that using an electric shock collar goes against scientific studies proving that they don’t work or they don’t work effectively.
The problem is that each study they presented was highly flawed, highly biased, or sometimes wholly inaccurate.
Let me give you some examples:
Electric Collars Cause Dogs to Attack at the Perimeter of Their Home- This study is flawed in several different ways. First, it uses a tiny sample size. Five dogs does not create a reasonable conclusion especially considering the millions of dogs who have been behind electric fences and not acted aggressively.
It’s also flawed in that it blames the electricity for causing the aggression. In the scientific community there is a phrase you’ll often hear which is ‘causation vs. correlation’. What that means is that the presence of a variable may be a cause to a result or it may not even be correlated.
In this case, it’s disingenuous to say that because these dogs were wearing collars that those collars CAUSED the aggression. Any reputable dog trainer will tell you about ‘barrier aggression’ or ‘fence aggression’ or other similar phrase that describes the phenomena when a dog is faced with something outside of his territory that he can’t get to.
Many dogs who are otherwise friendly act aggressive when a barrier is placed in front of them. If we are going to blame a collar for containing a dog and building the frustration that comes from being contained then we must be consistent and also blame fences and windows for creating aggression.
The Impact of Shock Collars on Dogs– This was a study done by observing dogs who had been trained with electric collars and dogs who hadn’t. The conclusion of the study was that dogs who had been trained with the collar were more afraid, anxious, and nervous.
Pretty damning stuff, right?
When you dig deeper, though, you find some interesting notes. The study notes that dogs were particularly afraid when owners used the collar to simply shock the dog out of anger or frustration. It noted that owners who shocked their dogs when their dogs were running away ended up with fearful dogs. Several other similar cases were noted, each one of them detailing an incorrect and improper usage of the collar.
This is a frustrating study to read. You read about dog owners doing really dumb things with the e-collar and, in the end, the e-collar gets blamed.
Perhaps this is hyperbole, but if dog owners en masse decided it was time to start taking dog leashes and smacking dogs with those leashes do you think we would see dogs afraid of leashes? Of course! And how many dog trainers would be calling for a ban of leashes were such to transpire? None.
I will grant the fact that it is much easier to misuse an electric collar than it is a leash. Nevertheless, this study was highly flawed because it takes no thought to find dogs who were properly trained with the tool.
In relation to these studies I can go on and on. Needless to say, nearly every one of them is flawed on a fundamental level. I saw one study that claimed that corrections couldn’t be used because dogs who are hit and kicked didn’t learn as fast. I’ve seen ‘studies’ that were simply the collected observations of random dog owners.
Regardless, there is no legitimate scientific evidence that states that proper training with an electric collar is bad for your dog, a worse way to train than with treats alone, or anything that many will claim.
In fact, for those that claim that e-collar training violates tenets of science or study one must simply look to the basic scientific principles of conditioning behavior.
Behavior is taught, reinforced, learned, etc. through positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment. E-collars, treats, physical praise, leash corrections, toys, and so many other components fall completely under what would be considered ‘scientific’.
None of these four pillars is inherently better or worse than others. Every dog needs to be treated like an individual and trainers who claim to only train using a portion of these four pillars is actually the trainer who is discarding science in favor of being politically correct.
Is it humane?
Is training with an electric collar humane?
I mean yes.
This is a loaded question.
Training with an electric collar can be humane. And it can be brutal. But the collar is not at fault for either outcome. If you give a hammer and saw to this person they may be able to build a table. If you give a hammer and saw to that person they may be able to destroy a table.
There is nothing good or bad within the tool itself. It’s value is determined by how it is used.
Greg Van Curen is the owner of E-Collar Technologies. I reached out to him to tell me how the humane aspect of e-collar training has evolved over the years.
“Some twenty years ago, e-collars were used to stop problem behaviors such as chasing animals, excessive barking, digging, etc. using high levels of stimulation commonly referred to as aversion training. With the advent of newer technologies a modern e-collar produces a precision stimulation adjustable to levels that create a sensation that are just perceivable to the dog and not aversive. These equipment advances have allowed trainers to adjust their techniques to allow for conditioning the dog to the sensation of the stimulation and eliminate the discomfort and improve the learning process. The combination of positive reinforcement techniques and the proper use of a modern e-collar have brought about a new era of humane and effective dog training with unsurpassed results in a timely manner required in our fast paced society.” – Greg Van Curen – March 2015
You can accomplish everything you need to accomplish without an e-collar? Why use a shock collar when you can do the same thing without it?
Here is another concern that I’ve seen crop up from dog owners and dog trainers over the years.
I submit that at it’s very face it’s untrue.
In molding and shaping behavior you cannot create identical results using different tools, methods, etc. Heck, a skilled trainer can’t create identical results from one dog to the next.
Every dog is an individual. Every dog owner defines success or failure in different ways. It’s impossible to say that one person is achieving identical results to the next where this person is using treats and that person is using an e-collar.
What one person could say in all honesty is, “Based on the results that I am looking to achieve with a dog I can conclude that training without an e-collar helps me achieve my results better/worse.”
I’ve seen dog trainers make the claim that they can train a dog perfectly without an e-collar and solve problems like aggression, anxiety, or what-have-you. When you look at the results you’ll see something different that I would produce, though.
For example, many of these trainers will medicate the dog with mind altering drugs, engage in ‘maintenance’ where they will simply avoid other dogs so the dog they’re training won’t act aggressive, or engage in other methods for training their client’s dogs.
And if that is what the client is happy with, great! I have no problem with that. Every person is free to choose what results and failures look like for them.
I’ve defined them differently. And based on my definition of solving problems in a way that is the least invasive towards a dog and allows for maximum canine and human freedom and enjoyment, the e-collar is an indispensable tool and results are not found at this level without this tool.
So based on the results that we are looking to get with our dogs and our client’s dogs, no, you can’t accomplish the same things that we do without a collar. And that may be perfectly fine. It all depends on the desires of the human and dog on either side of that leash.
I would never shock my dog. How can you do that? You don’t need pain to train a dog!
I would agree. One of the biggest fallacies I often hear about e-collar training is that you are hurting the dog with the collar.
Let me run through a hypothetical with you.
Let’s say your dog was 20 feet away and you wanted to get his attention. If you had an arm that stretched 20 feet and you were able to simply reach out and tap him on his neck, would you be able to get his attention?
In most cases, yes.
Exceptions would typically revolve around the dog being heavily distracted (more on that in a second) but, let’s say your dog wasn’t distracted, could you grab his attention with a tap from your finger?
And if you were able to grab your dog’s attention with a quick tap to his neck would you agree or disagree that such an action is a humane way to communicate with your dog?
I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t agree with that statement.
And I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t see where I’m going with this.
The act of introducing an outside stimuli to get your dog’s attention or to teach him something is not necessarily bad. If I took my finger and tapped my dog we could agree that I was acting in a humane fashion. If I took my finger, joined it with the others, balled it into a fist, and hit the dog I think we could agree that such an action is not humane. So it was not the finger/hand that was humane or inhumane, it was the application.
The same is true with the remote training collar. If we’re using it to teach or ask for attention there is no need to hurt the dog. I think the thing that gets most people so riled up is the fact that the collar emits electricity and many people have a natural distaste for feeling high levels of electricity. If the collar was designed with a little tapping finger you could likely get a very similar result and no one would be upset. Maybe the technology will develop to that point someday.
But, for today, the technology allows us to create a small sensation through the use of electricity with pinpoint immediacy and accuracy.
Can a dog learn to be obedient and happy with an electric collar?
This question kind of relates to the previous question. People think that the usage of electricity will automatically destroy a dog’s character.
Done right, the collar is simply a communication tool and we can leave a happy dog as a happy dog while we teach him with electricity.
I had some dogs in the other day for boarding at our dog boarding place here in Salt Lake City. I’ve worked with these dogs since they were 8 weeks old and they’re 9 years old now. They couldn’t be happier going through their obedience routines that were taught and proofed with e-collar work.
Check them out below. And check out e-collar training with an open mind. You’ll be glad you did.