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