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Electric Collars: Enforcing Commands or Stopping Unwanted Behavior?
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As I expected, I received a lot of feedback in response to my first message about electric collars. This is a tough subject, and I hope that by having open and civilized dialogue we can all leave the subject better educated. 

When you think about e-collars, do you think about enforcing a known command or stopping unwanted behavior? 

I had been helping someone in obedience classes for 4-months when she shyly approached me with her problem. Her 9-month-old Labrador was eating his own feces. He would do so immediately, as soon as he finished defecating. Hoping to break the habit, she had been walking him on leash for seven months. She had tried all the food additives her veterinarian recommended. The behavior appeared to be compulsive and she was ready to re-home the dog.

I suggested we use the e-collar to enforce a come command. My thought was that if we could enforce the command, we could call the dog away from the feces, even when off-leash. 

We took the time needed to teach the dog to respond to “Come” with e-collar stimulation. With that skill in place, we took the dog out in the yard to exercise. As soon as he defecated and turned around to eat his feces, we called him and used the e-collar to enforce the command.

Within a few days, the dog would come as soon as he had relieved himself. The next step was to put the dog out in the yard by himself. As expected, when alone, the dog turned around to eat his feces. His owner, watching through the window would call “Come” as she used the e-collar to enforce the command. She adopted the attitude “You were done, so you should be ready to come in the house!”  The problem was under control and soon solved.   

The electric collar is most effective when used to enforce a  command, as opposed to punishing an unwanted behavior!

Sadly, uneducated owners only consider the tool as a way stop unwanted behavior. Had the Labrador’s owner simply put the collar on the dog and corrected him for eating his feces, a lot of strange behaviors could have been created. For example, the dog may have become afraid of being in the yard. Likewise, he may have assumed that picking anything up was bad, and stopped retrieving.  

Teaching the puppy to come not only stopped his unwanted behavior, it proved incredibly useful in a multitude of situations. The owner was soon able to turn her puppy loose at her parent’s farm and call him when he chased the barn cats or the horses. She was soon enjoying hiking and trail riding, activities she had only dreamed she would be able to do with him some day- when he was much older.  

So how did we teach him to respond to the e-collar stimulation? 

One of the ways that dogs learn is to be shown what direction we want them to move. By pairing e-collar stimulation with command and using a leash or long line to show the dog what direction you want him to move, you can fairly easily teach your dog how to respond to the stimulation of the e-collar. 

Pat and I have just completed a Digital Obedience Guide: Electric Collars - An Instructional Guide designed to show you how to teach your dog to properly respond to e-collar stimulation. Additionally, we will be conducting a Webinar on April 24 to answer your questions. 

Questions such as:

Is the e-collar a useful tool if you have training opportunities that will not allow you to use it?

If the e-collar is used to enforce commands, how many commands can you enforce?

I have seen the lives of many dogs saved because of an owner’s willingness to use an e-collar. However, for every dog who has been saved, I can recall dogs that were trained carelessly, didn’t understand how to control the stimulation, and suffered because of that.  

Our unwillingness to discuss the proper use of the electric collar is the primary reason that dogs suffer through incorrect use.  It is certainly not the tool needed for every dog or by every trainer.  However, let us not cringe at its mention or pretend it is not around, but learn what its strengths and weaknesses are, and learn when and how to use it effectively.

Click here for more information about the Digital Obedience Guide and the webinar.