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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!

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