“Electrostimulus” collars or eCollars (sometimes called Shock Collars) are one of the modern tools for dog training. Positive trainer Eric Brad looks at the top 5 reasons to consider using one with your dog!
I talk a lot in this column about science and behaviour based training. I’ve made the case many times that all dog training is based in Operant and Classical Conditioning even if the trainers don’t realize that they are employing those behavioural principles. And while many positive dog trainers are aware of the science behind what they do with their dogs, more traditional trainers may not be as well versed in the science or terminology.
All dog training works, eventually. I believe that firmly. So I thought it might be appropriate to take a look at an alternative method of dog training that is very popular in some circles of the dog world. Just as technology has brought us the “clicker” and automated reinforcement devices, it has also provided some trainers with a tool that they swear by and promote as a tremendously efficient way to train their dogs. I’m referring, of course, to that miracle of modern technology knows as the eCollar or “shock” collar.
For those not familiar with them, eCollars are electrical devices attached to a collar that fits around your dog’s neck and is capable of delivering an electrical charge directly to the dog ranging from a mild tingle to a potentially painful shock depending on the setting used. The collar is operated by a remote control used by the trainer. A simple push of a button delivers the charge or “stim” (short for stimulus) as some eCollar manufacturers call it and is used to “correct” the dog even at long distances.
So, in honor of this first day of April, in hopes of a wonderful spring, I thought I would explore what I see as the top five reasons a trainer would choose a “shock” collar or eCollar for training their dog. Let’s dive in!
Reason #5 – I can’t accurately throw things that far.
One of the great advantages of eCollars is that they work at ranges farther than I can throw something at my dog. One website lists “short” range at less than 1/2 mile and “super long range” at up to 2 miles. Holy cow! That’s farther than even my voice would carry if I wanted to scream at my dog to “correct” him! No longer am I limited by my proximity to my dog to effectively interrupt whatever it is he is doing with a physical correction. Now I can stop working on my throwing arm with that soda can with the pennies in it and focus instead on pressing the button on the remote. That will save a lot of effort!
Reason #4 – Punishing my dog works better if he can’t figure out it’s coming from me.
Hey, everybody loves their dog, right? Who wants their dog to think of them as the bad guy? Certainly not me! Using an eCollar gets me totally out of the picture when “correcting” my dog. If my dog isn’t cooperating in our training exercise, I can deliver a correction from a distance and let my dog believe that god, woodland faeries, or even the spirit of all good dogs has interrupted them to get them back on the straight and narrow. Maybe think of it as a conscience that you can strap around your dog’s neck. When she’s not doing the “right” thing I can help her out with a few little reminders. And best of all, she can’t ever come to resent me for it because, hey, I’m way over there.
Reason #3 – I can work the TV, I can work my dog.
By using an eCollar in my dog training, I can use a skill I have been developing for most of my life – operating a remote control. Goodness, they make a remote control for nearly everything, don’t they? Garage doors, unlocking or starting your car, turning off your space heater, working the TV; the list goes on and on. It only stands to reason that someone would come up with a remote control to work my dog. They say you need to have good timing when using an eCollar remote. Well, no one is faster than me at hitting the remote the instant a commercial comes on my TV. Moving to that kind of training seems like it would be a breeze for me. If I can watch my favorite hour-long TV crime show in 45 minutes by accurately fast forwarding through the commercials, I should be able to get my dog trained in no time!
Reason #2 – I can “correct” my dog more efficiently and more often.
If you’re the kind of trainer that finds it easier to tell your dog when they’re doing it WRONG than when they’re doing what you want, then this might be the perfect tool for you. Let’s face it, there are many more things you don’t want your dog to be doing than there are things you want to train him to do. An eCollar gives you a tool that is ready to go again immediately after you use it! Unlike that can with the pennies, there’s no need to get another one or retrieve the one you just threw. Just flick your thumb over that button again and Voila! – job done. Now you’re free from those pesky limitations on how often you can correct your dog in order to get just the right behaviour. Don’t forget to recharge between training sessions!
Reason #1 – Pushing a button to get what I want is as clever as I get.
Why would you want to spend hours learning positive reinforcement training techniques from heavy scientific books and lengthy videos when you can just buy an eCollar and this 46 page book by Stephen C. Rafe on training with “electrostimulation?” All of this talk about reinforcement rates, aversives, behaviour suppression, positive punishment, negative punishment, Pavlov and Skinner is more than most people want to deal with. Is your dog not doing what you want? Push the button! Still not doing it? Push it again! He will figure it out eventually. They always do. Dogs have been trained with punishment for centuries and only a few people have been mauled to death for it and they probably should have chosen a more appropriate breed for their size. And besides, with an eCollar, I don’t even have to be in the same room with my dog to correct him!
Happy April Fool’s Day from Canine Nation. I hope my little excursion into the absurd made some of you laugh. I’m sure it will infuriate others. And I’m dead certain that somewhere someone is thinking “Hey, you know….that doesn’t sound like a bad way to go.” Such is the state of dogs and dog training early in the 21st century. There are lots of ways to live with dogs and, bless them, they are a very tolerant and accepting animal. They stick with us through thick and thin.
A few closing thoughts. I very pointedly did not use the terms “shock” or “pain” in this article. That’s because not all eCollars use an electical shock. Some use a vibration. Many also use a sound as a marker in the same way positive trainers use a click to precede a reward. There is science behind eCollar training although I find the logic of using it a little confusing considering other alternatives that have proven to be more effective. That said, eCollars are used humanely and effectively by skilled trainers every day. However, the potential for misuse is something I find very unsettling. But that’s me.
Since it is the hunting dog community that seems to make a great deal of the advantages of eCollars in getting great results, I thought I would leave you with video of a hunting dog demonstration that was presented at the world’s most prestigious dog show, Cruft’s, in England. It’s amazing what positive training methods can achieve if we take the time to learn and use them properly.
Here’s hoping I gave you a smile.
Until next time, have fun with your dogs!
NOTE: For the humour impaired, this article is a satire. The sentence above that contains the phrase “eCollars are used humanely and effectively by skilled trainers every day” is included for accuracy. Although a small minority, such skilled and special needs trainers do exist and are successful. This is not intended to imply my endorsement of the use of shock, choke, or prong collars. Acknowledgement of special cases where such tools are used without harm should not be taken as an indication that I recommend or endorse their use in training. I DO NOT! There are literally hundreds of alternatives to the use of these devices that dog owners should be using to minimize the physical and emotional risks to their dogs. There are just better ways to train.