The shock collar, remote training collar, or electronic dog collar is most commonly used in four areas –
- Keep dogs inside our property. Our dog is corrected every time he nears the fence-line. This is also known as an invisible fence or underground fence.
- Stop dogs from barking. The collar automatically delivers a correction whenever our dog starts to bark. If he continues to bark, the force, duration, and frequency of the shocks may be automatically increased.
- Train dogs and stop problem dog behaviors. Shock collars are most commonly used for off-leash training. However, some dog trainers and pet owners also use it for behavioral issues such as food aggression, and dog aggression.
- Teach dogs to stay away from dangerous animals and objects. A common use is in rattlesnake aversion training. A dog is shocked hard, but a very small number of times, when he nears a caged rattlesnake. This teaches him not to approach rattlesnakes in the future.
The use of shock collars on dogs is a very emotional topic. Discussions will often degrade into personal attacks, accusations of dog cruelty, and other types of name calling.
In this article, I will try to stick to the facts, and consider whether it is something I would use on my dogs. Note however, that facts are not always convenient, and facts are not always balanced between the two sides.
If you have already made up your mind about using electronic collars and are looking for validation, this article is not for you.
Electronic Collars vs. Shock Collars
Not all electronic collars are used as shock collars. There are three main modes – 1. Beep mode, 2. Vibrate mode, and 3. Shock mode.
All electronic collars have the shock functionality, but the beep or vibrate functions are optional.
1. Beep mode
In this mode, a beep is emitted whenever the collar controller is pressed. This beep can be used as a marker, in the same way that clickers are used in clicker training.
For the beep to be an effective marker, a dog needs prior training for associating the sound with a positive or negative consequence. For example, if the beep always precedes a sought after reward, then our dog may stop and wait, because he knows that something good is coming. Similarly, a dog may freeze or submit when he hears a beep, because he knows that failure to comply, will be followed by a painful shock.
The beep can also cause a startle response, similarly to blowing a whistle. This can be used to get our dog’s attention or to interrupt his current action. However, for this to work, we must only use the interrupt signal on very rare occasions. If applied too frequently, our dog will become accustomed to it, and just ignore it.
2. Vibrate mode
In this mode, the collar vibrates, similar to how our pager or phone vibrates to get our attention. Like the beep mode, this vibration can be used as a marker or as an interrupt.
Both the beep and vibrate modes do not deliver an electric shock to the dog.
3. Shock mode.
In shock mode, the electronic collar will deliver an electric current to the dog through two contact points at the dog’s neck.
This electric current will cause pain and physical discomfort to the dog, otherwise it would not be effective in conditioning him.
The amount of pain delivered to the dog will depend on three key factors –
- The power/voltage of the electric current,
- The duration of the current, and
- The frequency of the current.
The amount of pain that the dog actually feels, will also depend on the physical characteristics of the dog (e.g. size, skin, and fur), as well as the temperament of the dog. Some dogs are more sensitive to pain than others.
Sometimes, words like stimulation are used to describe shock collars. I even saw them described as gentle training collars.
Beware of these sales gimmicks. Accept an electronic collar for what it is. If you choose to use it, make an informed decision that is based on the actual pros and cons of the system, which I will discuss below. Note that the subsequent discussion is solely based on the shock functionality of remote training collars (not on the beep and vibrate modes).
1. Allows us to control the amount of pain delivered to our dog, and administer that pain from a distance.
One of the great challenges of implementing pain based aversive techniques such as leash jerks, muzzle slaps, and finger pokes, is in controlling the amount of force delivered to the dog.
- Too much force and our dog may break down, and become extremely stressed or fearful.
- Too little force and our dog will get habituated to the corrections, and just ignore them.
Master aversive trainers are able to deliver just the right amount of force, so that the dog will not repeat a bad behavior, but at the same time, he will also not become unbalanced and fearful.
Unlike other aversive methods, remote training collars allows us to easily adjust the amount of pain delivered to a dog, and to keep that level of pain consistent in subsequent corrections. We can also administer the pain from a distance.
However, it should also be mentioned that the amount of pain actually ‘felt’ by the dog as well as the resulting response, depends on many different factors, not just the level of shock applied.
Although these devices are presented as a highly controllable method of modifying behaviour, via the controlled administering of pain/discomfort (the collars are designed to allow operator to set the duration and intensity of shock), an individual animal’s experience when a shock is applied will be influenced by numerous factors. In addition to individual temperament, the experience will be affected by the dog’s previous experiences, frequency of application, location of shock, thickness of hair and level of moisture on skin (Lindsay, 2005). Given that many of these factors are not easily determinable by the operator, this makes the device far less precise than suggested.
2. Can automatically deliver a shock correction to the dog, even when we are not there.
Another challenge of implementing proper aversive corrections, is using the right timing. We want to correct our dog as soon as he performs an unacceptable behavior, and stop correcting him as soon as he stops that behavior.
Electronic collars can be tied to a particular trigger event, such as barking or proximity to our fence-line. In this way, a shock is automatically and consistently delivered to the dog, as soon as he starts to bark or tries to escape. In fact, the invisible fence or shock anti-bark systems are convenient, because we do not even have to be there to deliver the corrections.
Shock collars such as these may sound tempting and easy to use, but unfortunately, consistent and automatic timing does not necessarily mean correct timing.
Studies show that automatic collars are risky, because tying a shock correction to a single trigger event, such as barking or proximity, is too simplistic and will frequently result in bad timing. This can subsequently lead to aggression and other dog behavioral issues.
There are some anti-bark collars that use sound aversion to stop dog barking, for example the Ultrasonic Anti-bark Collar. However, customer reviews have been poor because the sound stimulus is often insufficient to prevent the barking behavior.
3. The source of the aversive stimulus is less clear.
When we use other pain-based aversive techniques, it is usually obvious that the pain comes from us. This may teach our dogs to associate people with physical distress, which can also lead to fear. If this happens, we may lose some of our dog’s trust, and jeopardize our bond with him.
For example, when we apply a leash correction, it is apparent that the pain originates from the leash, and sometimes (if not redirected), from us. Therefore, the dog may decide to fight with the leash, or worse, with us.
This is less of a problem with electronic collars because the source of the pain is obscured, and there is no leash to fight with. However, because the pain comes from seemingly nowhere, our dog may mistakenly associate it with something he sees in the environment (e.g. another dog), the environment itself, or to multiple unrelated objects and events. This may cause misplaced stress, fear, and aggression, toward those objects.
Automatic shock collars also have a high risk of over-correcting a dog.
1. May increase aggression in dogs.
According to Polsky’s study, dogs kept in shock containment systems (i.e. invisible fence or underground fence), can show extreme aggression towards humans, over and beyond their normal behavior.
Polsky’s results show that a big danger with electronic collars, especially automatic e-collars, is that they may cause dogs to make the wrong associations, and learn the wrong things.
Dogs may associate the pain from the shock with the environment or with objects in the environment (including humans , dogs, or cats), rather than with their escaping or barking behaviors. This may lead to anxiety or negative associations with those objects, which can ultimately result in aggression.
Some dogs that have been conditioned in this manner, may not want to set foot in the yard, for worry of pain. They may also start to attack humans and other animals, that wander too close to the fence perimeter.
Some dogs may get habituated to the shocks, and learn that if they can tolerate the pain close to the fence-line, they can escape. Once they escape, they are rewarded with no more shocks. In this way, the dog learns that escaping is a good thing, whereas staying in the backyard is not.
2. May increase stress in dogs and reduce their quality of life.
Schalke et al. conducted an electronic collar training study on fourteen laboratory-bred Beagles. Shock collar training was conducted over 7 days, for 1.5 hours per day. Then the dogs were released to freely hunt for 5 days, and to hunt on leash for another 5 days. Schalke’s study showed that the dogs who
… were able to clearly associate the electric stimulus with their action, i.e. touching the prey, and consequently were able to predict and control the stressor, did not show considerable or persistent stress indicators.
~~[ Excerpt from ScienceDirect.com ]
However, the two other groups of dogs that were not able to so clearly predict and control the delivery of the shocks, showed elevated stress levels, with the highest levels present in the dogs that were arbitrarily shocked.
Most importantly, the group of dogs that received a shock for not abiding by a recall (Here) command, were also significantly elevated.
Even more distressing, is that the results remained the same when the dogs were reintroduced to the testing area after four weeks. Their stress levels remained high, even though they did not receive any shocks during this reintroduction period.
The results from Schalke’s study indicate that electronic collars are extremely risky to use even for the short term. Stress levels of the dogs were high after just 7 days, and were elevated as soon as they returned to the shock treatment environment. This is consistent with Polsky’s study, which show that dogs may associate the shock and stress they receive, with the environment itself.
This study provides strong evidence that shock collars are inappropriate for most kinds of dog training, as even common recall training will result in elevated stress levels, and a lower quality of life.
3. May weaken our bond with our dog.
Polsky and Schalke’s studies show that dogs often associate the pain from electronic collars with their environment, as well as with people, animals, and other objects in that environment. Even after shocks are no longer administered, the dogs still attach the environment to something stressful and negative.
Therefore, using a remote training collar on our dog may cause him to associate our home or backyard, with stress and pain. Or worse yet, it may cause him to associate the stress with other dogs, other people, or with us.
Remember that Schalke’s results show this negative attachment forming in a matter of 7 days.
Alternative to Shock Corrections
When I first got my Shiba Inu, I had a lot of problems with him. At the time, I was under the false impression that reward methods would not work on my dominant, stubborn, and aggressive Shiba Inu. Therefore, I was using aversive training and briefly considered the use of electronic collars, because the other aversive-based methods were not working well.
However, after doing a lot of reading, I decided to give reward dog training a chance.
Reward training is not a miracle cure, and it will still take a lot of work, consistency, and patience, to train our dog. However, reward techniques can work on dominant, stubborn, and aggressive dogs. It has worked well for training my Shiba. In fact, he stopped showing aggression toward me and others, after I stopped using pain-based methods.
Common Justifications for Shock Collars
1. Save a dog’s life.
Proponents of electronic collars sometimes argue that they are used to save a dog’s life, by preventing him from running into traffic.
It is important to note that off-leash recall is never 100% reliable, whatever equipment or training methods we may choose to use.
This is why there are leash laws in most neighborhoods. This is also why off-leash parks require dogs to be on-leash when they are in the parking lot area, or in areas that are close to roads and traffic.
I use a no-slip collar and secure leash to walk my dogs in the neighborhood. I also regularly check the collar and leash to ensure that they in good working order. Off-leash exercise can be had in fully enclosed spaces or large parks, where we are far enough away from traffic that a failed recall, will not result in an accident. Do not play Russian Roulette with our dog’s life.
2. Do not cause much pain, just a tingle.
Some people try remote training collars on themselves, and report that it only causes a tingle, so it really does not apply much pain to our dog.
However, to closely experience shock collar conditioning from my dog’s perspective, I would have to put the collar on my neck and surrender the controller to a handler. I will not know why, when, or where the shocks will be administered.
As I carry on with my day, I may feel the need for a smoke. I reach for it, and feel a tingle on my neck. It is just a tingle, so I continue.
At this point, the tingle not only persists, but increases in intensity. I am strong willed though, so I keep going. After all, that is exactly why I needed the shock collar in the first place.
The intensity keeps increasing until finally, I drop the bad object. My hand shakes. The experience was unpleasant, and now I want relief more than ever. Unfortunately, I do not even have a patch, all I have is this locked-on collar that I cannot remove. My eyes stray and my hands start to reach again …
Electronic collars are NOT harmless, nor are they just a little tingly. If they were so, they would not work. Their use is illegal for children and non-consenting adults. Here is another case in Utah. Trying the collar on ourselves, and doing a single, short, expected shock, at low intensity, is *not* how the collar will be used on our dogs. It is merely a gimmick to convince us that the collars are innocuous. If they were truly so harmless –
- Why is their use banned for children and non-consenting adults.
- Why is there so much scientific data showing how risky they can be.
- Why are they on the “do not use” list of so many well-respected dog advocate organizations.
- Why would they “work” on our stubborn dog, when other pain based aversive collars such as prong collars or choke collars have stopped working.
Logic tells us that this is a false claim.
3. Everybody else is biased and dishonest.
Another common argument, is that those who point out the risks of remote training collars are biased and dishonest. Personal attacks or ad hominem arguments such as these are not only pointless, but they also discourage rational discourse and the exchange of ideas. More on bias.
In this article, I describe what attracted me to look into electronic collars as a possible training tool for my Shiba Inu, as well as some of the risks that were of concern. Based on the studies and articles that I found, I also include counter-arguments (if present) for each of those points. In general, I found very little scientific evidence to recommend its use, while at the same time, there are many studies that show the risks involved.
After reading the results of Polsky and Schalke, it is difficult for me to come up with cases where the shock collar would be appropriate in dog training. Perhaps the only case would be in animal aversion training, such as teaching our dogs to fear and stay-away from rattlesnakes.
If you know of supporting scientific studies or substantiated data which highlight the good of remote training collars, it would certainly contribute much to the discussion, so please share them with us.
However, based on current reliable data, shock collars are not something I would use on my own dogs or generally recommend to others. It is also worth noting that the ASPCA, AVSAB, RSPCA, Kennel Club, and Blue Cross, are all against the use of shock collars for companion dogs.
You said you were posting a non bias article but all your little side comments were really distracting and clearly show that you do not like shock collars but I am at my ends and still don’t know what to do. My beagle (2yrs) will not stay off the table, will not stop taking food from my kids, and will not stop eating his whole bowl of food and the other dogs food what am I suppose to do rewarding him with treats will only encourage his eating habits. When we found him at 8 months he was very small we thought he was newborn and he had a parasite as long as his intestines he never ate and was dying but the Korean vet was able to save him since he healed he eats like he is still deprived of food and he is now 2 1/2 years old. He eats till he get sick and pulls our dinner right off the table. Help please!
You are right, some of the caption comments are distracting and does not flow well with the article. I have changed them so that they are more in line with the tone of the article.
As for not liking shock collars – I think I am pretty clear that I decided *not* to use them on any of my dogs. I wrote this article to talk about why and how I arrived at this decision. I try to present the facts and keep emotional and personal attacks out of it. As for bias, everybody has a bias, especially when it comes to something that we care about deeply, like our dogs. I try my best to keep an open mind so that if new information comes along that can help me improve things for my dogs, I am able to listen and learn.
When I started looking at shock collars as a possibility for my Shiba Inu, I was concerned about the risks. However, I wanted to consider all of the available options so that I could make the most informed decision. After all, there are some tempting aspects of shock collars, chief of which is that they can deliver a correction from a distance and without a leash. After reading a fair number of articles and studies on shock collars, I decided against using them for the reasons stated above.
As for food begging and opportunistic eating, that is a common dog behavior. Beagles especially are bred to follow scent, and that includes the nice smelling dinner on the table.
Both my Sibes are also very food focused, and they will do much to get a food reward. Therefore, I use that to my advantage. For example, I do not give them free food in a bowl. Instead, I make them work for all of their food. They get food for doing obedience commands, staying calm, walking without pulling, brushing teeth, following play rules, etc. The key is that they only get rewarded for good behavior. Bad behavior = they get nothing or they lose one of their privileges. This is also called the Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF program).
During dinner, my dogs can stay in the eating area with us as long as they are calm. If they start fussing, then I give them a pre-trained command to get them to calm down, e.g. Go to Mat or Down. If they calm down, then they get rewarded. If they keep fussing, then they are escorted out of the eating area and no longer get to be with everyone else. If they continue with bad behavior then they go for a brief timeout.
Here is a more general article on how I trained my Sibe puppies and how I stopped bad behaviors.
Here is an article on how dogs learn.
Do you spend peaceful time with your dog and talk to the dog in a tone that is reassuring? Have you tired positive rewarding?
Ha- I tried to comment below and misspelled tried… I meant tried not tired and I meant comment to you. I understand what you’re going through. I took in a rottie mix who we hadn’t seen before that day. She had never lived inside and had little idea how to relate to people. Dogs act out for attention. Dogs who have been negelected need attention. Dogs who get tons of attention may need a break and a routine to help anxiety. Routines. Positive reinforcement, exercise, a healthy diet at the least. I understand the business of modern life doesn’t work well for our dog friends sometimes.
I have noticed that sometimes it helps to sit a just be with my dog so she can have my full attention at least a few times (3-5) a day. I speak in a kind tone and reassure her. We laugh sometimes and we cuddle and she doesn’t counter surf, eat food from the table or anything like that anymore.
Best wishes to you and yours and I hope your doggie trouble works out. Peace
I have a bit of a issue lately. My 7 month old Siberian husky has been ignoring me when I try to call him inside. We have 4 other dogs, one Great Dane(yr.6), n three Chinese cresent/fox terrier mixes(two of them are 3 and the other one is 2yrs old) n they all come inside when you even say one of their names. So u can see how disgruntled when I have to fight with home to get in. The issue is worse when we finish playing. He doesn’t know when im done. Im currently a college student n have a full time job so I understand i don’t have lots of time to be around him. He is always happy when i come home from those places though. I do currently live with my parents n the eldest of my siblings. My parents have talked to me about getting a shock collar for the front yard, since when he does get out the door with out a harness n leash. He is gone! I hand to chase him down several block n bring him back. Im lucky he doesn’t weight that much. And for his behave with the other dogs we have at home. He is fine inside but the moment he is out there with them he thinks they all want to play. They have all snapped at him when he is getting to rough, but he has physically harmed them now they won’t even leave the padio if he is out there with him…
I do both reward training n physical discipline. Which works when he is inside and when I was train him on leash n he is a smart dog n gets it the first time threw. But out side i can tell by how he acts is play with me!! And that i know is cause my little time home, family that doesn’t want to help, and his aggressive(to our dogs they think he is) play to our older dogs is putting more stress on me cause i worry about him ever second when im not home cause the sitters i have dont care… I do t want to go to the shock collar or give him to some one else… I just love him too much to give up on him for the three month i had him.
Yeah, recall training is challenging for Sibes because they tend to have very high prey drive, and are bred to run. Here is a nice list of the various recall training techniques –
After some training, both my Sibes will usually come when called if they are in the backyard. However, if they are after some prey, then all bets are off.
1. Bolting out the door
What has worked well for my Sibes is to train them on door-manners. Before I take a Sibe out for her walk, I get her to come to me by the door. Then, I ask her to “Sit” (previously trained) calmly while I put on her collar and lead. I reward her well for doing these things. After that, I give the “Stay” command and I open the door to put on my shoes (while holding the lead).
If she breaks from her “Stay”, I no-mark (Ack-ack), close the door, get her back into position, and repeat. We absolutely do not go out the door until I give her the “Break” command. In this way, she learns to wait until I am ready, before going out the door. Otherwise, we don’t go for our walk.
During play-time, I also establish rules that my Sibes have to follow. They are not allowed to place teeth on my hands or jump on me. When I call a “Stop” to the game, they have to stop and not resume until I start the game again by giving the appropriate command.
To teach them these rules, I make sure to reward good behavior with food and more play. However, when they do something undesirable, I no-mark (Ack-ack), stop the game, and ignore them. In this way, they learn that if they play rough, the game stops. However, if they follow game rules, then they get food and a fun playmate.
Here is more on what I do with my dogs during play-time.
3. Interaction with other dogs
Sibes are very energetic dogs, especially during puppyhood and they love wrestling and rough-play. They can easily overwhelm smaller dogs because of this.
I supervise my dogs when they play with each other and also establish some dog-to-dog rules of play. For example, there is no humping or stealing. If they start to hump, I will quickly interrupt and stop play. Then, we have an obedience break. If a dog keeps wanting to hump, then he goes to timeout and doesn’t get to play anymore.
Here is more on what I do at home to help my dogs get along.
Here is a more general description on what I do to train my Husky puppies.
I live in a rural area and have a young Pitbull that won’t stop harassing my neighbor’s goats/chickens/ducks, and his bad behavior is rubbing off on my good dogs. By the time I can respond in person, he’s home and sucking up to me.
I’m going to have him neutered and try a shock collar to keep him away from other animals. Call it cruel, but it’s either that or a bullet.
I have two dogs about 80 lbs. There are two problems we have can’t seem to fix with them as it is impossible for me to drop everything I do and run out to correct their behavior, as by the time I do, they already stops, or they associate that action with getting my attention.
1. My dogs will run to the fence and bark at the fence when the neighbor let out their dogs. They get so anxious and aggressive that they actually start to turn on each other. Not a full on fight, but definitely shows aggressive barking and biting at each other. I can’t introduce them to the neighbor’s dog because it’s a little dog and the neighbor doesn’t want to.
2. They chase after cats/squirrels and bark up the tree, sometimes lasting for 20 minutes.
I work at home and these behavior are driving me nuts. They are otherwise good dogs, walks great on leashes, no human aggression, no food aggression. We have used ceasar milan methods, but he never addresses these two barking problems. We are thinking of getting the shock collar so when that behavior starts, I can correct it from inside the house, so that they won’t associate ‘human’ with the shock, and if they stops the barking, the shock pain goes away.
If anyone else has any tips on what else I can do, please let me know. I know someone told me to use the hose but I don’t want them to fear water. I’ve throw a can full of coins out to divert their attention but it doesn’t last, they go right back to it.
Here are some of my experiences with dog barking.
Here is one on the Squirrel Instinct.
Thank you for sharing this article. My parents have a Shitzu female named Ruby that is a car chaser. Whenever a car leaves the yard she will chase it down the drive way, they live on acreage. We have tried scolding her and unfortunately she isn’t very food motivated, so we have no idea what to do next. My parents are very worried that she is going to get hit by a car. Someone suggested a shock collar, but I don’t think that is the solution. I would be grateful for any advice you can give me. Thanks!
Yeah, dogs are very attuned to motion, and those with high prey drive will give chase. Both my Sibes will chase squirrels, cats, birds, etc. Here are some of my experiences in dealing with their prey drive or as I like call it – their “squirrel instinct”. 😀
Recall training is another possible tool. Here is a useful article from the ASPCA that describes all the different recall techniques.
Hugs to Ruby!
I have a 3 year old italian greyhound. He has been fairly well behaved. We recently got a “mutt” who was found in the bushes. They play and get along well. When we walk them both together the Italian Greyhound (he is neutered) barks at cars, other dogs, and pulls relentlessly on the leash. he pulled at times on the leash before the new dog, but this is constant. I tried walking backward when he pulls, I tried stopping, lifting him up, and giving him a treat when the leash is loose. He still pulls and “freaks out” as we approach other dogs. Once we get to the other dog he is OK. Considering a shock collar and just not walking them together which means they both get 1/2 the walks, which I don’t want to do. HELP!
My Sibe Lara (over 1 year old) also gets a lot more excited when I walk her with Shiba Inu Sephy. With Lara, she likes being ahead, and she often wants to rush to a person or dog before Sephy gets to them. The “want to do it first” syndrome.
Sometimes, a dog may also feel protective over a new dog and want to evaluate possible threats first, or keep possible threats away.
With Lara, I leash trained her one-on-one. She is getting pretty good at that now, so the next step is I will walk her, and a friend will walk Sephy. In this way, I still have the ability/hands to train her not to pull, while she is walking with Sephy.
The dynamic is different when she is walking with another dog, and it is a more challenging experience for her, so more training is needed. However, I slowly build up to it by leash training her by herself first.
As for shock collars, they are risky to use and can have bad side effects. Studies show that dogs often associate the pain from shock collars to their environment or to the animals and people in that environment; rather than to their own actions. For example, if a dog gets a shock every time he sees another dog, he may associate the shock to the other dog, rather than to his own actions. This may, in turn, lead to fear and aggression issues.
Sephy used to be very reactive to other dogs when he was young. He was reactive even when we walk him by himself. Here are some things that helped Sephy become more calm with other dogs-
Hi, I enjoyed reading your views on shock collars and am still unsure what to do. I have 2 – 2 yr old male boxers (same litter) along with a 12 yr old female beagle/terrier mix. My problem is.. the “boys” are now each confined to their own cage. Approx. 8 – 10 mos ago they’ve decided that they both wanted to be the dominant male and try to kill each other every chance they get. Our female has also been attacked by the larger of the two boys. We’ve try clickers, rewards, etc. but once they’ve “locked on” to each other it’s everything we can do to get them apart. We, ourselves have both ended up in the emergency room trying to break up the fights. Costly for all of us! Dog trainers in our area won’t work with them or their methods are very undesirable. The next step is the e-collar. I’m worried that it may make them more agressive. I hate to spend money to find out later that’s it’s not going to improve anything. Any suggestions? We need help… Thank you
With Sephy, I did a lot of dog-to-dog desensitization exercises. The key with desensitization, is to only expose the dog to a small amount of the problem stimulus, small enough that the dog can handle it *without losing control*. Then, we get the dog to focus on us and engage him alternative and positive behaviors. Once the dog is comfortable with the low level stimulus, we can very slowly increase the challenge.
Desensitization exercises help a dog associate other dogs with more resources and positive outcomes, rather than with pain and fighting. It also helps them build confidence around other dogs, and teaches them to use alternate behaviors when dealing with conflict and stress.
The key is to keep the dog below threshold, because as you say, once the dog has lost control, he is no longer able to listen and learn. Rewards will not work, and neither will any kind of pain punishment. Introducing more pain into a fight will make the dog feel more threatened, and very likely escalate his aggression.
Even in regular training, shock collars are risky to use. Studies show that a dog may associate the shocks to his environment, or to the objects, animals and people around him, rather than to his own behaviors. For example, if a dog gets shocked every time he sees another dog, he may associate the pain to other dogs (rather than to his own reactive behavior) and become even more dog-aggressive.
What helped with Sephy is to carefully manage him and set him up for success. I made sure not to put him in situations that he cannot handle, and where he would resort to aggression. At the same time, I helped him associate other dogs with positive events through very structured desensitization exercises.
At home, I set up very clear rules of interaction between my dogs and I enforce those rules. They are not allowed to hump each other, or steal from each other. During meal times, I make sure they each have their own food toy to work on, and I supervise to prevent stealing. If there are any conflicts between them, they alert me and I will resolve the conflict.
From what you describe, it seems best to do whatever training you decide, under the direction of a good professional trainer. I am not sure why the trainers in the area will not work with them – perhaps you could elaborate? Have you worked with these trainers before? Were there bite incidents with the trainers? Also, what are these undesirable methods?
When I was looking for a trainer, I found the Association of Pet Dog Trainers site to be a useful resource. Here is their trainer search tool-
Thank you for replying to my message. I would love nothing more than to have all of my dogs out of their cages and play and get along like they used to. I can appreciate the desensitizing exercises but unfortunately once they are out together the fights are almost immediate. We’ve tried putting collars and leashes on them and keeping them by each one of us and allow them to get kind of close but all they do is lunge and/or stare each other down. It’s almost like breaking up a fight that hasn’t occurred yet. It gets very stressful between all of us. As far as the “undesirable methods”, I don’t believe in using tools (i.e. reed sticks and shock poles) to get their attention. Another trainer just doesn’t want to undertake such “viciousness” and are afraid they or others will get hurt as we have in the past by trying to break them up. Another one uses methods similar to Cesar Millan and they seem to work while he’s there (we believe the boys are intimidated by having someone else correcting them and are nervous of the situation and that’s why they listen) but as soon as he’s gone they relax and go back to their ways. I’m at my wits end because I know it’s me. Their trying to “own” me and all it’s doing is keeping my babies locked up. Now what? I’m exhausted! Please….. anything you can tell me would be appreciated. Thanks….
The key to desensitization is to use distance to separate the dogs and start from a state where the dogs are far enough that they are totally calm and non-reactive.
With Sephy, I did a lot of training at our local SPCA with one of their trainers. The trainer would have a dog in their quiet enclosed space, on-leash and engaged with her. I have Sephy on-leash with me. We stand far away from the other dog – far enough that Sephy is calm and not reacting to the other dog in any way.
Distance can be used in this way to weaken the stimulus of the other dog. In this way, we start desensitization with a very weakened version of the stimulus, and *very very slowly* work our way up. If the dogs are right next to each other to begin with, then we cannot do desensitization exercises because the stimulus is too strong, and the dogs would have lost control.
With Sephy calm, I can get his attention and get him to focus on me and engaged in doing obedience commands. Then, once we are comfortable at that far distance, I take one little step forward and repeat the exercise. I keep sessions short, and very rewarding so that Sephy views them favorably and looks forward to them. In this way, I slowly condition Sephy to associate other dogs with positive experiences and outcomes.
Here is more on our dog-to-dog desensitization experiences.
It sounds like most of these trainers are very steeped in aversive training. I would consider looking at the other group of trainers that practice leadership through resource control rather than physical force. Look for trainers with credentials from good training organizations, e.g.APDT, AVSAB, KPA, CCPDT.
Joelle Morrison says
Desperate situation here! I have had my Katrina rescue pit mix for seven years. She was a year and a half old when we got her; before I took her, I asked if she got along with cats and was assured she did. Wrong (she probably was still too traumatized to react). Along with her other issues (she had not been housebroken, still pees in the house anywhere from three to 10 times a day), she is violently cat aggressive and killed my beloved 11-year-old cat (she broke through a window screen to get to the cat, who was outside on the porch). Our other two cats were safe in a separate apartment with my son, but we had to move and are now all together. The cats are in my bedroom upstairs. My son is putting a metal gate on the stairway and I can put the cats into a middle room she cannot get into when I am at work (I’m 73 but I still work part-time) or out of the house. He wants me to put the dog down. Living like this is crazymaking. I have tried to get her into a sanctuary to no avail. I am considering an electric shock collar because I’m desperate.
Based on most of the things that I have read, it seems that shock collars are very risky to use. One of the big problems with shock collars is that the dog may associate the pain applied, *not* to his own behavior, but rather to the objects, animals, or even people around him. As a result, the dog may form a negative association to those things, and become even more aggressive towards them.
I went through a difficult time with my Shiba Inu Sephy when he was young. During that time, I considered using a shock collar. However, after reading many of the studies that have been conducted on its use, I decided against it based on the high risk involved, as well as degradation to quality of life.
I describe some of the study results in the article above.
Some things that helped me when I was going through difficult times with Sephy –
1. I got help from several local trainers. First, we went in for an evaluation session, and then we had a series a training sessions targeted at each of his problem behaviors.
2. I also did a lot of reading on dog training and dogs in general (both online and from books). I found that talking to other Shiba Inu owners helped a lot. Many of these people have gone through similar experiences as I have, and were able to offer good advice.
3. I very carefully managed Sephy so that I did not expose him to situations that he cannot handle. The more he practices his aggressive behavior, the more likely he will repeat it. Therefore, I want to minimize the number of aggressive incidents.
4. At the same time, I slowly desensitized Sephy to each of his aggression triggers. I focused on only one or two issues at a time so that I did not get overwhelmed.
5. I exercised Sephy well, and provided many structured positive activities where he could drain his energy. In this way, he had less energy to spend on other things.
Since it is not possible to place the dog, another alternative is to find a different home for the cats. Is that a possibility?
Dana Zier says
Hi I have a 6 month old dalmatian mix and she is very good for the most part, she is half house trained meaning she never poops in the house
But she will pee atleast once a day and I take her out constantly!!!! She also jumps on to the table whenever food is up there and eats it! I don’t allow her to have people food but she just helps her self!!! We have tried the reward system and it works for some things but not for others? I don’t understand why these two things do not register with her to not do them. She is spayed and is up to date with shots and the vet told me that getting her spayed would help with her peeing in the house but it hasn’t! And I have to wet vac my carpets constantly and we live in an apartment so I can’t get a run for her to be outside more!! And with the food thing she constantly has raw hide bones and I feed her twice a day so why is she acting like she is starving? Should I be feeding her more than twice daily? HELP PLEASE!!!!!
I got a new Sibe puppy last year, and she reminded me that the most important thing in potty training is supervision. 😀
We were doing really well on the first day and she didn’t make any mistakes at all. The next day, I let up a bit on supervision, and there were mistakes all over the place. After that I would supervise her all of the time. If I cannot supervise, even for just 1 minute, I put her in her puppy enclosure.
Here is more on our potty training experiences.
As for food, both my Sibes are also very food motivated and will do almost anything for more food. The key, I found, is to only give them food when they are doing good behaviors for me. I make sure to supervise carefully when there is food within reaching distance. Otherwise, I put all food away.
If they keep getting free food by jumping on counters, they are getting rewarded very well for that behavior, which will encourage them to keep repeating it. From their point of view, jumping on table = lots of yummy food.
Another thing that really helps with my dogs is the NILIF program. With NILIF, my dogs only get rewarded with food, attention, and other good stuff after they perform some simple commands for me.
Thank you for this great article. I hoe that you may have some advice, I have a four year old shar-pei. She is not really trained except for basic sit, high five etc and so trying to train her now has been tedious.
We recently moved from a house to an apartment, every time we leave she barks constantly working herself up into a state. We have never had an issue before with barking, chewing etc and now she seems to have picked up all these bad habits. We purchased a bark off, this has not worked.
Any advice is much appreciated,
Sounds like the barking and chewing could be from stress. My Shiba Inu is the same way, he likes having a fixed routine and becomes stressed when there are changes to that routine. The bigger the change, the more stress. When dogs get stressed, they may chew or bark (displacement behaviors) to help relieve some of that stress. We do the same thing, e.g. some people bite their nails, pull their hair, pace, etc.
Here are some of my experiences with dog barking and dog anxiety.