Shock collars and dog aggression: Or how do you stop a tea pot from boiling?

Dec 09

Shock collars and dog aggression: Or how do you stop a tea pot from boiling?

shock collar dog aggressionThere is a lot of buzz on the internet that a shock collar should not be used when dealing with dog aggression cases. The general war cry is that using a shock collar will make the situation worse and the dog more aggressive. The theory is that the dog will associate “pain” with the dogs or people in the immediate area and thus become more reactive.

While I understand the logic in that advice, it is only bigger case for the saying: “It is the fool, not the tool”. First off we need to understand it really isn’t a shock at all. E-stim is totally safe and levels on the collar are completely adjustable by the user. Learning how to use “Just the Right Level” as opposed to a high level Shock is the first key to understanding the truth behind the the training.

Remote collar training, properly done, will not make the aggression worse. Please note, I do use the words, properly done. All tools takes education to learn to use them well. To pick up a remote collar, strap it on a dog and start subjecting the dog to high levels of stimulation when he/she reacts toward another dog, person or object is at best going to shut the dog down and at worst make the behavior escalate.

My relenting question on the subject is: Does an individuals lack of education about a  particular tool, mean that the tool should not be used by anyone or banned, as some suggest?

Access to good educational resources is the key to stopping misuse. We need more education regarding dog training methods and tools, not restrictions and limited choices.

I have always tried to explain the idea of being proactive in managing dog behavior. The idea of early intervention is key, but trying to explain that concept clearly can be challenging at times. A friend and colleague of mine, Bill Wittrock shared a wonderful analogy he uses in helping his students to understand the importance of timing when working to curb a dog’s reactive tendencies.

It is the boiling tea pot analogy.

Bill explains:

I have found that most owners wait entirely too long to intervene with their dogs reaction to something that concerns them or they are uncomfortable with. We have all seen dogs like this. The dog is dragging its owner toward something they wish to investigate or straining at end of leash to get to another dog in an aggressive state of mind.

For example; imagine your dog first sees another dog that is about 75 ft away. The dog gives some sort of indication he has issue with what he sees (body tenses, ears alert, strains forward a bit). We will call this indicating position: yellow (caution.)

There is also a position: red (alarm). This is when your dog can no longer contain himself and begins barking, snarling, straining hard at the leash or taking off after the other dog. For our example lets say this red position is at 25 feet away from the other dog.

Now imagine your dogs brain as a little tea pot that is heating up. Yellow is when something noticeable first begins to show. The water begins to stir and roll slightly. Soon things are simmering and as the heat continues to be added the tea pot reaches boiling and reacts explosively; steam flies out, whistles go off and the lid pops.

In the time you walked from 75 ft (ears up, tensing body) to 25 ft (full on nasty behavior) heat (pressure) was being added to your dog’s brain and it finally could not contain itself.

If we don’t want the tea pot to reach boiling we need to add cold water to it when we see it starting to bubble. Same for your dog, if you don’t want to have him go into that red zone you need to intervene when you see him in the yellow position. This is the appropriate time to do something that redirects your dog’s focus to more appropriate behavior.

If you begin redirecting your dog’s simmering thought process at the 75 foot distance you are much more likely to not reach boiling. The remote dog training collar can be used very effectively for enforcing proper behavior in times like this. Each tap on the e-collar is like pouring cold water into the simmering tea pot. The goal is to keep the dog’s brain engaged and focused on you (through the use of obedience commands like sit, or watch me etc) rather than allowing the pressure to mount by focus on the other dog.

With practice and successful repetition a reactive dog can learn to mind his own business and go on his way without the drama of the whistles and steam blowing.

The other advantage that the remote collar training offers is that it is so neutral to the dog. The taps are consistent and feel the same to the dog no matter who is pushing the button. This makes it easier to communicate with the dog during times when the owner may be feeling slightly stressed by the situation.

Of course there are other factors in this scenario as well. It is crucial that the dog be collar conditioned properly before you start introducing him to the triggers that cause his reactiveness. It is also important to understand you don’t continue to add heat to the equation until your dog is back to the non-simmering state of mind. What I mean by this is you don’t decrease your distance from the other dog until you have your dog in a calmer and controlled mental state.

Dealing with dog reactiveness or true dog aggression is a challenging thing for a pet owner and I do suggest professional help. But don’t be afraid of the remote collar or buy into all the scare tactics out there. With proper education this tool might be just the added help you need so you and your dog live a less stressful, more rewarding life.

I’d love to hear your experiences. Willing to share some stories of success or problems? Personal experiences only please. “My friend told me she heard of x,y,z happening” doesn’t really mean much to those of us interested in examining the truth.

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7 comments

  1. Viatecio /

    If I end up getting Clara, I plan on using an e-collar on her.

    She’s dog-aggressive, to what degree and to whom is questionable, because she has been in mandatory social isolation (and will be through Dec 2011 when I *hopefully* adopt her), which some think has actually helped make it less worse since she is not allowed to interact or try to start any shenanigans.

    I feel that the different texture and “style” (for lack of a better word) of training will benefit her more than using motivational collar corrections. Doesn’t mean I won’t use a pinch collar if necessary, but I feel that the e-collar will help her more quickly and effectively.

  2. Good points and perfect analogy. We did this same routine with treats with Daisy my Dane mix. She was a rescue from 2 homes and 3 shelter stays and I knew this magnificent albeit reactionary dog was trainable but not for just anyone. An anti collar trainer had me do the approach routine with treats to get her to focus on me and we still do it in pet supply stores and events. Now with the addition of the collar I have her attention and 100% compliance. Food only goes so far. We worked on a long line with the collar for about a month before using the collar alone but she had some fascination for the howling sled dog kennel down the road.

    One day, with only the e-collar on, I lost track of her. She is white and fawn, same color as the surroundings that day. I swore I saw her squatting in the weeds. A movement caught my eye and she actually was up a 5 ft embankment to the road and headed for the noisy sled dog kennel down the road. By the time I got up the bank she was running down the middle of a 55mph state road, a pickup truck passing a semi truck at about 70 mph heading towards her. Fortunately, she got off to the side to a sled dog trail along the road and I waited until the trucks past. “No HERE!” in an outside voice that comes only from fear and hit the high continuous button. Molly my chocolate lab raced to my side Wrong Collar! “sit” I said (why waste it) Then back to Daisy now 100 + yards away. Flipped the toggle . “No HEEERRREE” 3 ft tall Daisy elevated and spun 180 degrees in the air and ran back to me glancing back at the invisible demon down the road. She trotted up as I was giving her “good girls” turned to heel at my side and barked at the demon that bit her. I told a field dog trainer friend that Daisy met Jesus that day.

    I learned to use the original collars A70 Tritronics from old time field trial trainers. I’ve changed how I use it annually, hopefully more thoughtfully. Few breeds are hardy enough to withstand the level field labs have been trained and even bred to withstand. I believe the way those trainers in the 1980s trained with the collar really created the high drive crazy labs we have now. The guys loved to press a button and if there was no vocalizing it wasn’t high enough.

    My rescues have trained me how to use it better and kinder. This last week after 3 months of working with praise, treats and setups with verbal commands including “quiet” I put the bark collar on the 1 yr old rescued Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. I had been using a conventional Dogtra to train “quiet, here” and “leave it” (God! for everything!) so he knew the collar meant “stop it” and could get him if he barked too much, for no reason. Most of his barking is security and isolation related. He also has been, chained out alone in 3 homes and 2 shelters due, in part to his excessive barking. I hadn’t used the bark collar in years and it took a while to locate it, get the odd batteries, and then find the plugs. I started with a #2, put Jack Barkley in his outdoor run and went inside with the other dogs. He started barking and continued for about 5 min with few breaks. His tail was wagging and I could see his head react with each e-stim. It wasn’t working I thought, the labs usually got it in 2 1/2 barks, so I changed the plug to the #4 plug. Again he started barking, tail no longer wagging and his head was taking a sharp snap with each e-stim. He ran around the run a bit, in his box, out of his box and it dawned on me. “He doesn’t know how to turn in off.” I walked out and said “Quiet” from the deck and stood there for a few minutes. He remained quiet and I reinforce “good boy, quiet” and when back inside. He stood there still for about a minute then turned to lay down in his box. I believe and have seen the collar keep dogs with these kind of isolation anxieties in a calmer state. The whining, becomes barking becomes panic, clawing at the gate and even attempted escapes. Just like the tea pot analogy. I think with the collar when they learn how it works that dogs want to avoid discomfort and will spend more time trying to avoid the collar correction then dwelling on their fear.

    This got long but I really appreciate your tips and seem to still be learning.

  3. Great analogy about the tea pot. I keep telling people to be “ahead of the curve.” But that is a better or another way to describe it.
    Wish you would stop using the word “shock.” The remote collar does not shock and by calling it a shock collar we are encouraging the incredible misunderstanding that is out there. I know it makes people more likely to click on your blog and buy things from you, but if someone like you keeps calling them shock collars, to the religious protesters who want the “shocking” devices banned, they must shock–otherwise you would not call them that. Shock is a word that freaks people out and the idea that a dog collar would “shock” a dog is terrifying to the ignorant and the uninformed. As trainers, writers and teachers we need to stop spreading the misnomer around.
    Sorry, this is a BIG pet peeve of mine

    Kate

    • Hi Kate,
      I understand your frustration. Believe me, it makes me wince when I type the words. You and I are among the educated ones, that is not the case for most searching for information on this subject. Unfortunately for now, I am going to keep using that description. You know me well enough to know that I don’t believe for one second that the remote collar is a shock collar…so there must be some darn good reason to I chose to use the words in my posts.
      Hope you will trust that and continue to support spreading word of this blog.
      Robin

  4. Laura /

    The dog being at the ‘yellow’ zone as you call it is already showing signs of stress therefore it is above threshold. Now you are zapping (or tapping it, whatever word you choose to use) it for showing signs of stress which is not fair to the dog. The dog should be worked below threshold, the ‘green’ zone if you so choose and rather than zapping it for signs of stress, it should be rewarded for offering alternative behaviors.

    @ Linda, the fact that you are using an electric collar on a dog with anxiety issues is not fair to the dog. You could see his head jerking? That is obviously more of a “tap” from a collar and a wagging tail does not always indicate the dog is ‘happy.’ In this case I would bet he was displaying flag tail. I feel sorry for your dogs. Dogs should not spend their time trying to avoid the collar correction, they should spend their time wondering what behaviors they can do “right.”

  5. Betty /

    This is great information. I actually just left a lot of this information at the home page under “contact us”. I had been dealing with my neutered male GSD getting more and more dog aggressive when he was on leash. Off leash he just runs over to dogs and wants to play. He had been through many group obedience classes and is doing agility. The group with which I train only use positive training/treat/toys. When he started acting this way more and more, the group I was training with kept telling me to use treats or toys to distract. He is not terribly food driven but does love his tennis ball. I am here to tell you that I could wave a T-bone steak, or ten tennis balls in front of his face and that did nothing. I tried working far from other dogs with the positive stuff and things just got worse. I tried gentle lead, prong, and choke chain and nothing worked until my new trainer had me use an e-collar. I feel like I wasted nearly two years on this problem.

    Like the boiling tea pot theory, my new trainer taught me how to look for the early signs and start working with getting his attention before things escalated. He is very well trained in obedience so I had a lot of good ground work in place already.

    I am just tired of the fact that I actually put a bandanna on him when we are working in public because so many people think like e-collars are cruel. I had already used them for years when I hike with my three big dogs. I rarely have to even give them a correction now if an animal such as a deer or squirrel run across our path. They know what “leave it” means because I had trained them with the e-collar to obey that command. They love it when I get the e-collars out and turn them on…It means time for a hike!

    • Hi Betty,

      Thanks for sharing your story. I am happy to hear you are doing so much better and working with a trainer who can give you solutions rather than excuses and limitations. :-)
      And I agree that it is time e-collars came into the light for the positive resource they are. Without this tool many continue on the same path of frustration you have personally experienced. Now you are happier, your dog is happier and you can both safely enjoy the new freedom of this “invisible leash”.
      Way back when I started this I used a bandana to cover my e-collars as well, I was worried about the perception….but no more. I’m proud of my dogs and their training and when others act superior and judgemental I ask them where their dog is and why they had to leave him/her at home? :-D
      all the best,
      Robin

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