Canine Learning Center, Inc.
Remote Training Collars

Remote Training Collars

Should you or shouldn’t you?

by Leah Spitzer


Remote Training Collars go by many names including Shock collars, Electronic collars and e-collars.  Remote training collars have a device on the collar that emits a mild to moderate electrical charge to the dog’s neck using a remote manually operated device.  In other words, you, as the trainer, can correct your dog by simply pushing a button, even if he’s a great distance away. 

Remote collars come in many sizes and levels of sophistication.  On the more sophisticated models, you can control the level of electrical charge from the remote unit.  Others need to be adjusted at the collar.  Some have only a few levels and some offer as many as 15 (or more) levels of electricity.

While many trainers are still only using this collar to help control dogs at a distance (after basic training has been instilled) some trainers are now using this type of collar from the first day of training.  Personally, I have a real problem with that. 

First and foremost, a dog must learn, in a safe environment, what is expected of him as well as what is considered inappropriate behavior.  He must learn the meaning of our words as well as our expectations of when those commands should be carried out.  First we teach the language, and then we teach reliability.

There are many, many ways to do beginning training fairly and correctly.  But in this author’s opinion, none of them include using electricity.  Let’s just take the “sit” command as an example.

If I say to a dog, “sit” and he’s NEVER associated the act of sitting with that word, then to correct him at that point would be unfair. I could just as easily say “asseoir “to you and if you don’t speak French, you wouldn’t know that I was asking you to sit! The dog is just trying to learn our language at this stage.

I can help the dog associate the word with the action in a multitude of ways.  Here are just two of many: 

  1. Take a dog treat and lure it over his head until he rocks into a sit.  Praise and pop the treat in his mouth.
  2. GENTLY take his collar in one hand, and slide your other hand down his back and behind his “knees” (stifles).  GENTLY pull back on the collar as you tuck his “knees” in. Reward with praise or a treat.

Now, what if, as your very first step, you said, “sit” and then applied an electrical current to the dog’s neck.  What if he had no idea that “sit” meant get into the position?  Would that be fair?   

Proponents explain that it’s just a tickle, and the dog will “move away” from it into a sit position.   When the dog sits, the “tickle” stops.  I’m not a fan of placing this type of responsibility on the dog to guess the right answer when the outcome is to avoid a correction.  Guessing to avoid or stop a correction can create a fearful learner, not a willing learner. I'd rather the guessing games were for rewards.  There's plenty of time to add appropriate corrections in later after the dog has a thorough understanding of the language we are teaching him.

So when did I use shock collars?  I have only used them on the command to come and only under the following circumstances:  

  1. The dog has a good understanding of the command and solid reliability under normal circumstances with mild distractions.
  2. All other methods for reliability under high level distractions have failed.
  3. The dog’s safety, or the safety of other animals, is at risk.
  4. The owner has a complete understanding of all the introductory steps as well as a healthy respect for the collar’s power.

 Here are some examples of times I have used it: 

·     A farm dog whose “come” command was flawless when in our training building, on a long line, or inside the home.  But when she spotted the goats, she would ignore the command and go after the goats.

·     An agility dog that had a good understanding of “come”, but would leave the ring to visit with other dogs. The owner had followed all the learning steps to teach a reliable come, but in the agility ring, the dog would still leave.

·     An obedience competition dog who had a good understanding of “come” when in the backyard, or at the training building, but would leave the obedience ring on a whim. The owner had followed all the steps to teaching a reliable come and was following all leadership protocol at home.  

See a pattern?  The dog has a good understanding of what is expected of him, but he is going to be around distractions that are just too great for him to resist.  Then and only then did we introduce the shock collar.

I was on an e-list for dog trainers years ago and during a very heated discussion about shock collars, one trainer shared a very sad story: 

One day, she had a gentleman come into her training school asking if she would like to buy his electronic collar.  You see, he had put it on his schnauzer because he had heard it could help the dog learn to come.  The dog got out with the collar on, so he said “come” and pushed the button to send the electrical charge.  The dog panicked, ran into the street, and got hit by a car.   You see, not only had the man not taught the dog the meaning of the word “come”, but he introduced the collar to the dog in an inappropriate way, and without the supervision of a knowledgeable trainer.

So what’s the moral of this story?  If you are considering a Remote/Electronic/Shock collar for training: 

  1. Make sure your dog already has a solid foundation of training behind him. 
  2. Find a trainer who has a healthy respect for the tool and follow their advice to the letter.  This is NOT a training tool to be used by the inexperienced.  There is a right way and a wrong way to introduce this type of correction to your dog.  You need the help of an experienced trainer.
  3. Think again.  Is there really no other way to accomplish your goal?  Ask your trainer for alternatives before you decide.

In thirty years of training, I can count the number of times on one hand that I really needed a shock collar for training.  When I did, I was grateful for it as it made the dogs safer and/or improved their quality of life.  But I can count the times on one hand that there simply wasn’t another gentler way of solving the problem and training the dog.  

Think twice, and then think again.  It may seem like a quick fix, but that’s only an illusion.   This is not a training tool for the inexperienced.  It must be used with great care, with impeccable timing, and with the experience and knowledge of how a dog learns.  If you try to do this yourself, you can do great harm to your beloved pet.

Copyright 2009 by Leah Spitzer Reprint by permission only.


(For more information on how to select the right trainer for you, please see my article Selecting The Right Trainer and Program For You)




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