COMMON E-COLLAR MYTHS ADDRESSED
As a balanced dog trainer who has delved into the world of e-collar training, I am often confronted with common misconceptions surrounding the use of this tool. Due to poorly made models of the past combined with methods such as high level “correction only” training with e-collars, it’s no wonder they have gotten a bad name over the years. This is why I am taking the time to address the most common rumours, myths and misconceptions I hear on a regular basis surrounding e-collar training. As Winston Churchill once said: “The lie gets half way around the world before the truth can get its pants on.” So I am here to help the truth buckle that belt up tight for the long run, because after all, slow and steady wins the rumour race.
Most often, the people I receive the most negative response from surrounding my training with e-collars have never actually used the tool themselves! They form their opinion based on what they read on the internet, most of which is fear-mongering and shame directed towards owners who are considering using the tool. I once had a woman (who, might I add, was not a dog trainer) attempt to sabotage a local Facebook Buy and Sell post that I had out by “blowing my cover” and announcing that I use prong and e-collars to train dogs, and suggested that people do their research into their trainer before hiring one, as well as recommending force-free techniques such as ones utilized by trainer such as Victoria Stillwell. Okay…first of all, no one was blowing my cover. I am 100% open and honest about how I train, tools and all, as it is plastered all over my Cascadia Dog Training Facebook page. Second, it amused me that she assumed that I automatically use force to train dogs because I use tools such as prong and e-collars. This speaks to her ignorance surrounding proper use of these tolls. I did have to agree with her on the fact that everyone should do their research into hiring the right trainer for them! The irony in that though, was that this woman did no research on me and my training methods/philosophy before slamming all of the above, she merely formed an opinion based on what she had read about the tools. Lastly, Victoria Stillwell is an author, not a dog trainer. She was hired by the producers of “It’s Me or the Dog” to come on the show and play the part. Again people, do your research.
Now, without further ado, I will get into the myths. For more in-depth discussion surrounding these myths, please view the Facebook Live presentation on my Cascadia Dog Training Facebook Page.
Now for the e-collar myths:
1) E-Collars shock your dog
For the love of everything, PLEASE stop calling them shock collars! The sensation given by a well-made e-collar (such as E-Collar Technologies) feels just like a TENS machine used by physiotherapists on humans. It’s an electrical impulse that stimulates the muscle and applies pressure to the neck of the dog. To train, I use what is known as the working level of the dog, which is the level at which the dog gives me an indication that they detect the stimulation. This indication can be an ear twitch, blinking, or looking around to figure out where the sensation is coming from. Most dogs’ working level is below the threshold of what humans can feel. The brand of collar I use has 0-100 different levels and most dogs have a working level of between 4-7. Most humans can’t feel it until 10.
2) The dog only obeys out of fear
A dog that is properly and humanely trained on an e-collar will fully understand what a low level reminder is, much like a tap on the shoulder, and will also understand what an interruption is and more importantly understand what it is they are being corrected for and why. Dogs learn, through proper conditioning on the e-collar, that life is a lot more comfortable if they live within certain clearly set boundaries and limits. My personal dog does not live in fear of the e-collar, much like I do not quiver in fear around a hot stove…I just know, through previous experience, that touching a hot stove has consequences, so I choose to live within the boundaries of not touching it.
3) The dog will only obey if the e-collar is on
This myth has some merit to it, and by that I mean this can actually happen. It is done by creating what is known as a “collar-wise” dog. They recognize that the only time the collar goes on is when the owner/handler needs to have control of them. The way to prevent this is by having the dog wear their e-collar all the time. Initially, all commands are trained using low-level stimulation, then the stim is phased out slowly, and then when the dog fully knows the command, the collar is used for interruption and maintenance. However, keeping the collar on all the time, regardless of whether or not you are using it, is essential to both avoiding a collar-wise dog, and creating a dog that respects and obeys you based on their own decision to do so.
4) E-Collars burn the dog’s fur and skin
E-collars do not produce heat. As a matter of fact, I did a great demonstration of this on the Facebook Live presentation I did by holding a piece of toilet paper up to the contact points of the collar and applying continuous stimulation on the highest setting. Guess what?! No smoke, no fire, no burn marks on the toilet paper. Sometimes what can happen is the dog can get what are referred to as contact sores from the contact points of the collar if left in one spot on the dog’s neck for too long. This can be avoided by switching the position of the collar on the dog’s neck every few hours, or switching to nickel-free contact points if the dog is exhibiting a sensitivity to the metal.
5) The dog will get electrocuted if it goes in water with the e-collar on
Nope. Not true. As a matter of fact, high quality e-collars are made to be waterproof up to a certain depth as long as the charging port on the back of the collar is sealed tight with the plug. Sport dog trainers use e-collars to train dogs to retrieve water fowl, so having the collar be waterproof is essential. One thing to be mindful of is watching the working level of the dog when their fur is wet. Most likely the dog will become more sensitive to the sensation of the stimulation once they have been in the water as the wet fur parts well and provides better contact with the skin of the dog, resulting in a lower working level.
6) E-Collars are for lazy dog trainers
I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want to use a tool that speeds up a process and makes life easier for everyone involved. Who wants to walk 10 kilometres when they can drive or ride a bike? Does that mean that cars are only for lazy people? Dogs understand pressure and that’s exactly the sensation that the e-collar provides, and in turn, makes for faster, more effective training.
7) E-Collars only escalate aggression towards other dogs
Yes, just like any underwhelming sensation given to a dog in a heightened state of mind, e-collar stimulation can aggravate the dog and push them to an even more aggravated state. However, if used properly, the e-collar can be the most effective tool for interrupting the state of mind of the dog before it gets to the point of exploding into a fit of reactivity or aggression towards another dog. This is provided there is a balance between completely underwhelming the dog, and using a level that is too high and overwhelms the dog. The secret is to diffuse the intent before it escalates by finding just the right level that will snap them out of it.
8) E-Collars should never be used on fearful or anxious dogs
Actually, if used properly, e-collars can be one of the most effective tools to interrupt the anxious or fearful state of mind of a dog. They can be used to settle behaviours such as incessant whining, spinning on the spot, nervous licking or chewing, and pacing. All it does, when used properly, is distract the dog’s state of mind and we can then show them what we’d like of them instead!
9) Using an E-Collar ruins your relationship with your dog
Nothing could be farther from the truth. By setting clear rules and boundaries through proper e-collar training, you establish a better, more respectful relationship with your dog. By setting expectations for your dog, he or she will clearly understand what is acceptable and what is not, and therefore, creating a more harmonious relationship between dog and owner.
10) E-Collars are only used by owners who want to abuse or hurt their dogs
This would be a very expensive way to do this, as a well-made e-collar costs upwards of $300. There are so many cheaper alternatives to abusing a dog, should someone really want to. On this note, please keep in mind that any tool can be abused and unfortunately used to inflict pain and suffering in a dog.
In my experience, clients who wish to e-collar train their dog actually have a hard time with the idea that they have to increase the working level when the level of distractions increases, because they don’t want to hurt their dog. As I always say…a phone on vibrate at a concert won’t get your attention the same way it would in a library.
So everyone, the bottom line is to do your research into whatever decision you are trying make surrounding training for your dog. Call different trainers that use different methods and look for social media content that shows results. Most importantly, go beyond reading testimonials and get in contact with their past and current clients. That is how you find out what could work best for you.