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Shock collars for dog training

Shock collars or e-collars are valuable dog training tools that can help a dog or even save her life in certain situations.

I fostered a Pomeranian mix named Elli who was terrified of being alone in the car. Whenever I opened or closed a car door she would go into a complete panic attack and bark, scream and pant.

I spent hours and hours using positive reinforcement techniques to help Elli with no success.

Every day I put her in the car and practiced hundreds of repetitions of opening and closing the car door, getting into and out of the car and leaving her in the car for a few seconds. I provided her with a secure kennel to ride in and loaded it with all kinds of goodies. I remained as calm as possible.

We made no progress.

One way to stop a dog from barking in the car is to completely ignore her until she is quiet, but this only works if you are dealing with a dog with low or mild anxiety.

Elli was an extreme case and was never able to quiet down for even a second. If I got out anyway and ignored her, she would bark until I returned. 

I tried standing with my back to the car for a half-hour. I tried walking out of sight but where I could still hear her. Her barking always escalated the longer I was away because she was in a panicked state of mind.

To keep putting her through this kind of stress was starting to seem abusive.

Elli’s case is one example where a shock collar (also called an e-collar) can be an effective dog training tool to teach the dog self-control. I never actually used one with her because she was adopted before I asked the rescue if this would be OK.

I was worried about little Elli and her frantic anxiety and wanted a second opinion from someone I trusted. My friend and professional dog trainer Ty Brown summed it up nicely when he said that dogs need to learn the skill of “turning off the switch.”

If there is no outside pressure on the dog to change her behavior, there is no need for her to grow as an individual and develop self-control, Ty said. Dogs usually aren’t creative enough to think of behaviors to make themselves feel better other than the ones they are currently doing.

“Few individuals ever gain self-control without an outside and compelling force that inspires them to action,” he said. “Pressure and stress are often viewed as four letter words but in reality they are essential to growth.”

Reasons to use a dog shock collar

Shock collars are not the answer to every dog behavior issue. If a dog is getting too many corrections for all kinds of different behaviors, she could easily become confused, stressed or scared. Just like a choke or prong collar, the shock collar must be used properly.

Elsie the golden retriever and Ace the black lab mix

Using a shock collar is actually very similar to using a clicker for training because the vibration must be given at the precise moment the dog does the behavior. They are great for teaching a dog physical boundaries or to stop jumping or barking.

Here are just a few reasons to use a shock collar for dog training:

1. Being ignored is usually not enough motivation for the dog to stop a behavior.

Elli was just one example of a dog that needed some outside pressure in order to change her behavior. She was an extreme case, but I see less intense examples all the time where the dog keeps on jumping or barking simply because she’s having fun! Who cares if her person ignores her, she’ll just keep on barking because barking itself is a reward!

2. Shock collars correct the dog at the exact moment she does the behavior.

Dogs need to be corrected the instant they are doing the unwanted behavior. There is no quicker or clearer way to correct a dog then to push on a button triggering a vibration. Shock collars allow you to correct the dog as she is barking or crying or jumping. “Leash pops” are not always effective if the handler has the timing or the intensity off.

3. Shock collars help a dog understand physical boundaries.

Because I used a shock collar to teach my mutt Ace the boundaries of my parents’ large yard, he now gets to have full range on their property every time we visit. I spent under 30 minutes teaching him where the boundaries were and in three years he has received two vibrations.

I now trust him 100 percent to stay in the yard no matter what, even without the shock collar. My dog will not even chase a tennis ball across “the line.”

4. Shock collars speed up the training process.

It is very possible to train a dog to walk on a loose leash or to stop jumping or barking without a shock collar, but a shock collar speeds up the process. Some people spend the dog’s entire lifetime trying to get her to walk on a loose leash by constantly pulling back or stopping every time she pulls. Usually after 10 years the dog still pulls.

I could’ve spent months teaching Ace to “get back” when he got to the edge of the property through repetitions and rewards. But in reality I don’t have that kind of time, and I would’ve never trusted him 100 percent without the shock collar.

5. Shock collars allow the dog to experience more.

Some dogs would never get to run off leash if it weren’t for the freedom given to them by the shock collar. There is a reason so many hunters use them for their sporting breeds. It would be unfortunate if a dog had to spend her life behind a fence or on a long rope simply because her owner thought a shock collar was inhumane. Think of it as learning to ride a bike. The kid is going to fall and scrape her knees once or twice, but after that she gets to experience more freedom and adventures.

6. Shock collars allow you to correct the dog from a great distance.

When my dog is barking outside and I am inside, there is no way for me to properly correct him without a shock collar.

Sure, I could stand outside with him and verbally correct him or pop his collar every time he barks. I could also ignore the barking and give him food when he’s quiet. But in Ace’s case and for most dogs, this isn’t enough motivation to stop barking.

When not to use a shock collar

1. The collar should never be used as a punishment.

Think of the vibrations as instant corrections, not punishments. If your dog gets into the garbage while you are at work, it is too late to correct him when you get home. The dog must be corrected as he is getting into the garbage. The same concept applies with delivering corrections with a shock collar.

2. Never use a shock collar when you are angry.

Someone who has a short temper shouldn’t use a shock collar. If you are upset with your dog because she doesn’t understand something, stop the training session and think about how you can be more clear.

3. Do not use the shock collar with a highly sensitive dog.

Dogs that are very shy, skittish or easily freaked out by loud noises and new things will do better with positive reinforcement and desensitization.

Different kinds of e-collars for dogs

1. Citronella collars

Citronella collars are anti-bark collars designed to spray an unpleasant blast of citronella into the dog’s face every time she barks. These kinds of collars are often used to teach a dog to stop barking.

I’m not a big fan of these collars because I like to be able to have full control of when my dog gets corrections. Sometimes it’s OK for him to bark. I also don’t want him to get a correction if another dog near him barks. Another problem with these collars is that the spray needs to be refilled after about two hours or they don’t work. Dogs are smart enough to work around this.

2. Anti-bark collars

Some anti-bark collars come with a remote, but most vibrate when triggered by the dog’s barking. This isn’t so bad if you have one dog and want to train him to stop barking in his kennel.

But I would be leery of these collars if you have multiple dogs or if you want to use the collar for training in situations where another dog or noise could trigger the collar.

3. Remote collars

Remote collars are my favorite because the remote gives me full control of when to correct my dog. I am able to set the vibration to the setting I want, and I can give my dog a verbal command first.

The remote allows me to correct him at the exact moment necessary by pushing on a button. I don’t have to worry about my dog getting unnecessary corrections from out of nowhere.

Do you use a shock collar for training your dog? Why or why not?

Let us know in the comments!

Kim Chappell

Monday 17th of December 2018

I use and recommend QUALITY remote e -collars, like the Mini Educator by E collar Technologies. The basic commands like sit, down,and heel are all taught with a collar and leash, I layer the remote collar over already known commands. I train the dog to understand that the stimulation they feel coming from the collar on their neck means they need to look to the handler for instructions. I first fit the collar properly on the dog, it has to be tight enough it will not slip around on the dogs neck. To find the dog's "working level" I start at the lowest level on the collar, which is a one out of one hundred on my collar. I go up slowly until the dog shows the first subtle reaction to the collar- often just an ear twitch or a reaction like if a fly landed on them. Now I will let the dog move around in a quiet low distraction area on a lead or rope. I will call their name and "here", at the same time I say the word "here" I will give a nick (split second stimulation) on the collar at the dog's working level. If needed I will lightly pull on the leash/rope to get them to come to me. I will give a treat and praise when they get to me. I repeat this several times, if the dog veers off instead of coming right in I will give another nick and verbal "here". Lengthen rope and increase distractions to proof dog often. Go to a safe fenced area and work on distance recall. I start at the dog's current working level of stimulation, and raise it as needed once the dog understands the collar to get the desired results. I go off leash often with my foster Australian Cattle Dog, every time I call "here" I tap his collar at a one or two. His recall even at a distance is phenomenal , instant spin and come in fast and happy as he knows he will be praised for it. Every now and then I give a treat, sometimes a "jackpot" handful of treats which keeps him always hoping for it. I use the word "break" as a release word- so he can go from a heel position and just run where he wants to. For this dog I use the e collar to correct whining after I taught him "quiet". I can keep him in PLACE on his cot from across the room with just a tap on the button, and keep him in proper heel position. Every time I use a leash correction I can layer that with the e collar. I NEVER use an e collar to correct something the dog is afraid of- adding physical discomfort to mental fear can make the situation much worse. In my opinion a quality remote collar is the best form of canine to human communication available, and my preferred training tool.

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Thursday 19th of December 2013

My husband and I have a 6 month old bloodhound mix, Humphrey, who has selective hearing. He knows a few commands like sit and stay but all of this leaves his mind when company is over....or when he ever he feels like it. He jumps up, plays too rough (I have the bruises and scratches to prove it). He steals things off my husbands desk and nearly bites my hand off when I try to get them out of his mouth. No matter what we do he just won't listen. He was also neutered a few weeks ago which we hoped would help but it just hasn't. We have signed him up for training classes at our local PetSmart starting this weekend. My husband has also ordered a vibration/sound/shock collar with a remote. It really is a last resort for us but we plan to stay away from the shock setting and just use vibration and sound to get his attention and stop bad behavior. He is going to be a big boy, and while he can be a cuddly sweetheart, we need to nip those bad habits while he's small because we are hoping to start a family soon :)


Wednesday 11th of September 2013

So I come home tonite and my room mate has put a shock collar on our Jack Russell mix.... and the dog is cowering in the corner and won't let me near it to take the collar off. Roomie tried and has a bleeding bite for his effort.... So how do you take a shock collar off a dog once its been abused with one? The dog won't let me touch him without trying to bite me... every time he moves he gets shocked, it seems, I haven't read the directions on the thing but there is no question that its triggering him...there is no remote... I have no idea what this thing is, I would never bother..... I never would have done this and it was done without my permission... so how do we remove a collar from a panicked and aggressive dog?

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 11th of September 2013

I would consider waiting for the dog to calm down and come to me.


Tuesday 14th of May 2013

Hi there, I have an 8 month old male puppy. He was recently neutered. After this, he has reverted back to many of his early bad habits. He picks up things on the floor and runs away with them, and often chews them. He also sometimes digs (rarely, but there is 2 or 3 small holes in the garden). I have taught him how to drop, and he DEFINITELY knows how to do it. He drops immediately if there is a ball in his mouth and a game of fetch is on its way. He listens to me when I say drop, but not my mum. Would using this method work to enforce the drop and reduce the likelihood of him picking up things in future (NOTE: there is small children in the house, items being left on the floor is inevitable, I try to pick up what I can)

-Leave out a box with his toys in, give plenty of exercise

1.When he picks up an object that Is not from his designated box of toys, call the 'Drop'

2. After 2 seconds if he does not respond, tap him with low level stimulation on the collar and repeatedly tap until the item is released. (Say 'Drop' again as the ball is released)

3. verbally praise and then direct him to his special toy box

Would this work??? I read up about this sort of method on the 'Dogtra' collar website.

*****I would NEVER shock my dog to the point that it was moderately painful, it is more to get his attention and to show him that when the command is said, he can stop the mild taps by performing the command. I do not want to use the collar for any other aspects of training, I prefer long lines, a clicker and a bag of treats. But it is getting to the point where in the hosue he is now being naughty, and then stopping, just to get a treat for stopping.