Reasons why the Use of Electronic Collars in Dogs is Counter-Productive
Electronic Collars: Love at First Sight or Dreaded Training Tool?
The world appears to be split in two when it comes to the use of electronic collars: those who love it and those who hate it. Banned in several countries, the United States still allows its use; electronic collars indeed are sold freely at many pet stores and online nation-wide. While its use requires knowledge and good timing, many times it is used deliberately by dog owners seeking fast, immediate results. For this reason, it is best if used by a professional dog trainer or under a dog trainer's guidance and advice. Because electronic collars may cause deleterious side effects, it should also ideally be used as a tool of last resort, mainly used when all other training methods have been exhausted and for issues of primary importance where the dog's life may be at stake.
Risks of Using Electronic Collars in Dogs
The use of electronic collars is something that should not be used lightly. More and more dog trainers are acknowledging its potential for problems and are preferring kinder training methods. The positive reinforcement training trend which is greatly expanding, suggests the use of rewards to reinforce wanted behaviors, while unwanted behaviors are ignored. Electronic collars are a form of positive punishment, they therefore use pain and discomfort (depending on its setting ) to help decrease an unwanted behavior.
Why Electronic Collars are Risky
There are many drawbacks and risks in using electronic collars. For this reason, its use should not be taken lightly. We will see why the electronic collars should be used as a tool of last resort, and why you may want to avoid trainers who recommend their use deliberately and for minor issues.
1) Its use is not suitable for all types of dogs. Over-sensitive dogs may become fearful of the shock and it may create a state of mind that clashes against learning. If a dog is too fearful its cognitive functions may shut down. Soft dogs, fearful dogs and over sensitive dogs may not learn with the use of such a tool.
2) If you do not know the underlying emotion causing the dog to behave in a certain way, you may actually exacerbate the problem. For instance, let's say the dog gets fixated on other dogs because it is fearful and acting defensively, the shock may further increase the level of anxiety.
3) There are risks for ''superstitious behaviors'' in other words, dogs live by associations. For instance, if your dog hears the doorbell he knows it means guests, if your dog hears the can opener he knows it means food, if he sees the leash he knows it means walks, and so in a negative way, if he sees a fire he knows it means hot, if he sees lightening he knows it may likely mean thunder, if he sees cane he may think pain if he was ever hit, and therefore finally if he sees other dogs he will learn it means ''shock'' and therefore may learn to dread their presence and dislike them even more.
4) You may need to use a shock collar repeatedly and use ''refresher courses'' to keep up the training. For instance, in Arizona dog trainers may use electronic collars to train dogs to stay away from snakes. Every time the dog gets near the snake it gets shocked. The dog learns to associate snake with discomfort or pain (depending on the setting used) and therefore, learns to stay away from them. However, the trainers point out that dogs trained this way must undergo routine proofing sessions every now and then, to remind the dogs that ''snakes are still harmful''. This for the simple reason that if dogs see snakes out of training, and nothing happens for some time, they ''unlearn'' the snake's level of danger. If you are therefore using an electronic collar to stop barking/lunging at other dogs you may have to use it routinely after some time, if the behavior resurfaces.
5) Poor timing can create more problems. Dog owners who have shocked their dogs after giving a command for correcting non-compliance often did so without giving the dog enough time to respond to the command. This led to the command becoming a "predictor" of a shock.
An Alternative Training Technique to Electronic Collars
As a positive reinforcement trainer using scientifically proven training methods, I personally prefer to avoid the use of electronic collars in my repertoire of training tools. But of course, difficult cases will present at my door with clients begging for help. How do I help them? I personally prefer to use a ''watch me'' for cases of dog to dog aggression and other behavioral problems where dogs get ''fixated'' on things. ''Watch me'' offers the advantage of :
1) Being economical and always available: you do not need other tools other than your eyes and a treat pouch!
2) Being a ''size fits all'.' It works on ALL dogs: soft, confident, insecure, defensive, anxious, stressed you name it!
3) Offering an in-dept solution. 'Watch me' ultimately changes the dog's emotional state and there are ZERO risks for superstitious behaviors. With a dog used to barking/lunging upon seeing another dog, I would work him under the threshold at first. Then, if upon seeing another dog he hears my cue to make eye contact, this will teach him that good things happen when a dog is spotted. Positive associations are created!
4) Increasing the dog owner/bond. Your dog learns that good things come from you when he is fearful, defensive, fixated or scared. You become a sort of safety blanket that brings relief when something unpleasant or disturbing approaches. No pain or discomfort is needed!
These are just my thoughts and the way I train. Of course, different trainers may offer different approaches but this is what I like to stick to. ''Watch me'' has worked so far and with tremendous results. I also like to use clicker training for solving serious behavioral problems. Therefore at present time, I never had to even think of using aversive tools as the electronic collar, and hopefully I will be resourceful enough that I never will!
Learn what dogs really think about shock collars: Shock collars from a dog's perspective
For further reading
- Why Hitting Dogs is Unacceptable
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- Positive Reinforcement Training: Tips and Tricks to Effectively Train Your Dog - Yahoo! Voices - voi
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