Shocking the Disobedient Dog. How to Train Your Dog With an E-Collar

Introduce the Topic

Using shock collars for recall training is a controversial topic in the dog training world. Shock collars (also called e-collars or electronic collars) deliver an electric shock as a form of negative reinforcement when a dog does not respond to a recall cue. The goal of using a shock collar for recall is to teach the dog to reliably come when called, regardless of distractions.

Many people oppose the use of shock collars because they view them as inhumane and potentially damaging to the dog-owner relationship. Critics argue there are more positive methods to train recall that do not rely on punishment (Thriving Canine, 2021). However, proponents believe shock collars are useful training tools when used correctly by knowledgeable trainers. They view them as a means of communication to reinforce commands at a distance in ways that reward-based methods cannot (Reddit r/OpenDogTraining, 2022).

The controversy stems from disagreements about the proper use of aversives in dog training. Both sides want what is best for the dog, but have fundamentally different philosophies. Thoughtful discussion and ongoing research is needed to fully understand the impacts of different training tools and methods.

Understand Your Dog’s Motivation

Before resorting to a shock collar to make your dog come when called, it’s important to understand why your dog is not responding. There are several common reasons dogs may ignore the recall cue:

  • Distraction – Your dog may be too focused on something else like another dog, food, or a toy to pay attention.
  • Excitement – When highly aroused, your dog may be too amped up to focus on your command.
  • Fear – Your dog may be afraid to come to you in certain situations, like when you call him for a bath or nail trim.

Try to determine when your dog is most likely to ignore you and what is motivating this behavior. Addressing the underlying issue first through more positive training, building confidence, and removing distractions can go a long way before utilizing a shock collar. As the American Kennel Club advises, “You can’t just call your dog when you need him to come and expect him to listen every time” (source). Make sure your dog has a strong history of reward and motivation for responding to you before adding corrections.

Try Positive Reinforcement First

Positive reinforcement training should always be the first approach when teaching recall to a dog before considering other methods like shock collars. Positive reinforcement simply means rewarding your dog when they successfully perform the desired behavior. For recall training, you reward your dog immediately after they come to you when called.

The most effective rewards to use are things your dog absolutely loves like small tasty treats, a favorite toy, or excited praise and petting. The key is to give the reward right when your dog returns to you so they associate coming when called with getting something really good. Some examples of positive reinforcements you can try are:

  • Tasty treats like small pieces of chicken, cheese, or hot dogs
  • Throwing a ball for your dog or letting them play with a squeaky toy
  • Excited praise like “Good boy!” along with enthusiastic petting

Research shows that reward-based training leads to better recall performance compared to punishments like shocks. According to a study from UC Davis, “Positive reinforcement is a vital component of this training protocol. In general, you should only practice recall training when you are confident that your dog will obey” (source).

Introduce the Shock Collar

putting shock collar on dog

Shock collars deliver an electric current when triggered as a form of negative reinforcement. The shock is meant to startle or distract the dog to deter unwanted behaviors like excessive barking, chasing cars, or aggression [1]. The collars have a transmitter that communicates via radio signal with a receiver on the collar. When activated, probes on the collar deliver an electric shock through contact points on the dog’s neck [2].

It’s important that shock collars are properly fitted and used correctly to avoid injury. The collar should have contact points that touch the dog’s skin but not be so tight that it inhibits breathing. Start on the lowest setting and increase gradually as needed. Misuse can lead to burns, puncture wounds, and laryngeal paralysis. Consult a professional trainer for proper introduction and use.

Use the Shock Collar Correctly

When using a shock collar to reinforce recall training, it’s important to use the tool correctly in order to get optimal results without harming your dog. Here are some tips:

Start with the vibration or beep function before utilizing the shock. The initial warning cue allows your dog to learn which behaviors lead to the shock stimulus. Only activate the shock when your dog completely ignores a recall cue. Using the shock without a warning or for minor disobedience can lead to confusion. According to Dogtra, the shock should be a “last resort” when positive reinforcement fails.

using shock collar to reinforce recall

Avoid overusing the shock function. While an important training tool, the shock should be reserved for selective situations. Relying on it too often can cause your dog to become stressed, fearful, or confused. Make sure to pair it with ample positive reinforcement so your dog understands when they perform the desired behavior.

By starting with lower non-shock cues and limiting use of the shock, you can utilize an e-collar effectively for recall training without harming your relationship with your dog.

Pair the Shock with Positive Reinforcement

Using the shock collar properly involves pairing the shock with positive reinforcement. The key is that the collar serves to get your dog’s attention and alert them that they need to return, but the reward is what actually motivates your dog to come back to you. As soon as your dog starts returning after feeling the shock stimulation, praise them enthusiastically and give them a high-value treat. This helps your dog understand that coming when called leads to something good. If you rely only on the shock and don’t praise, your dog may become fearful and confused. By pairing the collar alert with a reward, your dog learns that compliance results in something positive. Over time, as your dog becomes more consistent, you can use the reward randomly to keep them motivated. The shock collar stimulus gets their attention, but the praise and treats inspire the desired behavior.

rewarding dog after shock collar stimulus

Work in Low-Distraction Environments First

When starting out with recall training using a shock collar, it’s important to begin in an environment with minimal distractions. This allows your dog to focus solely on you during the initial introduction to the collar stimulations. Start indoors in a quiet room without toys, food, or other pets around. Once your dog shows a reliable recall inside, gradually increase distractions by moving to a more active room, opening a window or door, or having another family member present.

Work up to having moderate distractions like toys on the floor or food visible, but avoid high-value items like treats or other dogs at first. As your dog masters recall in these environments, move training outside to your yard, then a park or field. Go slowly with adding distractions to set your dog up for success. The more solid their recall foundation is, the better they will perform when significant distractions are finally introduced.

Utilize Proper Collar Timing

Precise timing of the shock stimulation is very important when using a shock collar to train a dog to come when called. You need to administer the shock at the exact moment your dog is ignoring the recall command, not before or after.

The stimulation should happen as your dog is in the act of not responding to your recall cue, such as their name being called. If you shock your dog after they have already ignored you, they will not associate the punishment with the undesired behavior.

Experts emphasize that timing is crucial. As one trainer states, “In order to be effective in using a shock collar one must possess impeccable timing” (Source). Avoid punishing your dog after-the-fact if they do not respond right away.

To use the shock collar effectively, be prepared to administer the stimulation the instant your dog does not obey the recall command. Careful timing helps the dog understand what behavior is being corrected.

Monitor Your Dog Closely

monitoring dog closely when using shock collar

When using a shock collar, it’s essential to closely monitor your dog for any adverse reactions. Look for signs of fear, anxiety, confusion or stress. These can include cowering, trembling, panting, avoiding the collar, hiding, and loss of appetite. If your dog exhibits any of these behaviors, cease using the shock collar immediately. The electrostatic shock can cause psychological distress for some dogs. You never want to push your dog past their limits or damage the trust between you. Shock collars rely on suppressing behavior through fear and discomfort. This can lead to chronic stress or phobias if used improperly. While some dogs tolerate shock collars well, others can develop lasting trauma. Always put your dog’s well-being first. If you notice any change in your dog’s typical demeanor, err on the side of caution and discontinue use of the shock collar.

Consider Consulting a Trainer

Professional guidance is recommended when using an e-collar for recall training. A certified dog trainer can ensure the collar is introduced and used properly, avoiding misuse that could worsen your dog’s behavior. According to Dogtra, it’s important to partner with an experienced trainer when using an e-collar to teach recall.

A professional trainer can evaluate your individual dog and situation to determine if an e-collar is an appropriate training tool. They can also guide you on proper timing, intensity levels, and pairing the stimulation with positive reinforcement. This helps create clear associations for your dog between complying with the recall command and reward.

Trying to use an e-collar without proper education risks causing confusion, fear, or distress that manifests in anxiety or aggression. Consulting an experienced trainer ensures humane, effective use of the e-collar to reinforce the recall command.

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