Teaching your dog how to obey your commands can be difficult if you have a willful breed or are inexperienced or inconsistent with your training methods. Either the dog doesn’t obey your commands or doesn’t understand you.
Therefore, you might need a firmer method of training. This is where a dog training collar can help. A dog training collar provides a negative stimulus to the dog when it engages in unwanted behavior, controlled by the owner or trainer and tailored to the strength of the dog.
Dog training collars can cost up to several hundred dollars depending on the number and type of features they have and whether any warranty is offered. Accompanying literature like pamphlets and training DVDs adds to the price.
This is a special collar that uses a certain stimulus like a mild electrical shock, a scent, a vibration, or an ultrasonic frequency to startle the dog as a response to bad behavior. This works by the principle of positive punishment or the introduction of an undesirable stimulus. However, it must be used in conjunction with positive reinforcement.
This is the introduction of a reward like dog treats as a response to good behavior. Over time, you should be able to phase out both the administration of the collar and of treats, relying solely on simple vocal commands for obedience.
Each type of collar has a slightly different activation mechanism. Most of them are activated by remote, but others have a built-in transmission module. For example, collars that are specialized for curbing excessive barking use a microphone and activate their deterrent mechanisms when they detect the sound of the dog barking or the vibration of its vocal cords.
Electroshock collars make use of small electrodes attached to the collar and contacting the skin to deliver a mild shock at the press of a button. Four basic collar types exist.
A vibrating collar uses a small motor that, when activated, causes the collar to vibrate at a low or a high setting, depending on the selection. Vibration provides another alert to use in addition to a vocal command. These collars aren’t used in aversion training - training to avoid bad behavior - so much as they are just used as an extra way of calling the dog to you.
Many dog owners look at vibrating collars as a more humane way to get a dog’s attention than to use other training methods, and it may work for smaller or more docile dogs. Larger, more willful breeds might require something stronger. Vibration collars work well for dogs who have lost their hearing and therefore don’t respond to their owner’s voice or to a clicker device.
To use a vibrating collar, gradually introduce the collar to the dog, allowing it to get accustomed to the extra weight. The collar has extra technology inside it that adds to the weight and can make the dog uncomfortable if worn for extended periods.
Use short training sessions, like 10 - 15 minutes at first, and reward the dog liberally with treats. You want the dog to look at you and come to you when the collar vibrates. By rewarding with treats, you teach the dog that the collar is harmless. If possible, attempt to get a collar with soft rubber prongs and size it snugly on your dog’s neck. It should be tight enough, so it doesn’t slip off, but not so tight that it chokes.
A scent or spray collar is a step up toward aversion therapy from the vibrating collar has little bearing on aversion, the scent or spray collar adds a light spray of a compound that your dog will find annoying or unpleasant to experience. Usually, this is a citrus mist or something like citronella. You can most often see spray collars on dogs who are undergoing anti-bark training.
We’ll talk specifically about anti-bark collars since these are the most common implementation of the technology.
The citronella spray doesn't work on all dogs; a few may like the scent or not be sensitive to it. When you run out of citronella spray, you can substitute another mild scent or even just water. Dogs don’t like having water sprayed on them any more than cats do, and a small spray does no lasting harm.
Spray collars have a small reservoir of citronella spray - the strength of the solution is up to you - that activate on either your command or automatically with the help of a sensor. Most collar sensors have two triggers: the sound of a bark and the vibration of the dog’s vocal cords.
Only if the collar picks up both of these signals does the spray activate, so you don’t have to worry about the microphone picking up other dogs’ barking and punishing your dog for no reason. Inconsistent application of aversion training confuses the dog and lessens the effectiveness of the training.
Using solely aversion therapy to curb barking isn’t a good idea. After all, dogs bark for a variety of reasons. Your canine friend might be bored, stressed, or want attention. It might also be trying to warn you of an intruder while you’re asleep. While a rare scenario, it could happen, and your dog would have been trained not to bark even in a dangerous situation like this.
A better approach is to use the citronella collar as additional reinforcement to your vocal commands so that eventually the dog responds solely to your command. If you have control over the spray, combine it with whatever word you want to associate with the command to stop barking, and reward your dog when it obeys.
When dealing with barking, don’t yell at your dog to stop. It can interpret your yelling as an invitation to continue barking or that you’re joining in. Simply ignore the dog if it’s barking to get attention. It takes some figuring out why the barking occurs, but you can do it in time.
Eventually, it should only take a stern command to keep your dog quiet when necessary.
An ultrasonic dog collar uses high-frequency tones as its deterrent. When the user activates the collar or the dog triggers it automatically, the collar emits a tone that humans cannot hear but dogs can. They find it uncomfortable. It has much the same effect as using a dog whistle.
Like citronella spray collars, ultrasonic collars are often used as bark deterrents. Most models trigger the tone whenever they detect a bark, but some provide a manual mode.
An ultrasonic collar is a bit of a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it provides a discreet correction method that humans cannot detect. Your dog, when properly fitted with a collar, can undergo training without anyone being the wiser.
This characteristic also works against it. With vibrations, citronella sprays, and even electric shocks humans can experience the sensations and determine their strengths. A tone that humans cannot hear by definition cannot be tested with accuracy.
We can't ask a dog how it's feeling. Therefore, we don't know what, if any, hearing or psychological damage the dog may suffer from the long-term use of a sound collar. It is probably best to use one sparingly.
Even so, your dog should under most circumstances be deterred from barking with only limited time wearing the collar. As with other types of collars, combine aversion training with rewards for best results.
An electroshock collar does exactly what it sounds like: it administers a static shock to the dog when it misbehaves.
The current that's sent through the dog varies based on the needs of the user and the pet's size and temperament. Small shock, but larger or more aggressive breeds only respond to higher levels.
The collar contains a receiving device connected to a wire, which connects to two contact points at the back of the dog's neck. The shocks should roughly resemble a static discharge from a doorknob.
If your dog is extremely skittish or timid, an electric shock collar may not be the best idea. It can make the dog afraid. A fearful dog can become aggressive and lash out, even if it was docile before.
Repeated electrical shocks also lead to nervous system damage and psychological damage, just as it does in human electroshock therapy if improperly handled.
Muscle damage and minor burns are also potential results of the use of an electroshock collar. Use them judiciously and with the guidance of a professional when possible. Also, ask your veterinarian for advice.
Electrical shock is a powerful deterrent despite its drawbacks. For this reason, shock collars play a critical part in pet containment systems, so your dog will stay in the yard. These systems have a wire that runs underground as a boundary marker. When the dog approaches the spot where the wire is, the collar sends a shock to deter the dog from venturing farther.
For obvious reasons, you should only keep an electric collar on a dog in dry weather, and never when indoors. Indoors should be a safe space for your dog so it doesn’t have to worry about the shock of the collar.
Another concern about electroshock collars is the battery going dead without you knowing. If your dog is engaging in unwanted behavior during the training phase and the batteries of the collar losing a charge
An electric collar can malfunction, meaning it may not work at all or worse, give a dangerous shock to your dog because of a short circuit. Inspect the contact points regularly and keep them clean and dry, Dirty contacts increase electrical resistance, which creates heat and can cause burns. If your electric collar does not respond, have it repaired or replaced.
You don't want to accidentally injure your dog. This would severely damage the trust and love you've built with your pet over time. A dog's trust can be hard to get back when broken.
Critics of the shock collar see it as an inhumane “quick fix” that should be avoided by people who care about their dogs. The shock, they argue, causes undue pain and is more likely to induce fear and stress in the animal rather than foster a loving relationship with the owner.
The shock collar can, like any other tool, certainly do more harm than good if misused. In the hands of a competent professional it can be helpful depending on the dog it’s being used to train.
Electronic collars work in one quadrant of operant conditioning.
Operant conditioning is one of the simplest forms of learning, divided along two axes: the positive-negative axis and the reinforcement-punishment axis. Positive refers to adding a stimulus and negative refers to taking it away. The shock collar and other similar ones are positive punishment conditioning. Positive reinforcement can be just as effective as a shock.
The question now is: is it ethical to risk discomfort to your dog in the interest of quicker training? There is no easy answer; it’s up to you to determine and to know the risks of the shock collar.
Try to use positive reinforcement-based training first to see if that works, and only if that fails should you introduce positive punishment. Do so under the guidance of a professional because he or she will know what problematic behavioral signs to watch.
The biggest ethical reason to use an e-collar for dog training is to eliminate a behavior that could otherwise result in euthanasia. It’s not a pleasant thought for any pet owner, but one that needs to be accepted nonetheless.
If your dog has, for instance, an aggressive streak, it could lead to it biting a person or child when it feels threatened. Poor understanding of certain breeds like pit bulls and Rottweilers make them more likely targets of demanded euthanasia. More stringent training, coupled with plenty of love, can keep willful dogs in line. However, an e-collar should probably be your last resort.