Aggression in Dogs: Can an E-Collar Help?
I was wondering if you use e collars in dealing with aggression in dogs? If so I was wondering if you can shed some light on the subject. I also wanted to take a minute to say thank you. Your information has really changed the entire way that I go about e collar training. I can not thank you enough!
The question above came to me a couple of days ago, and I thought it a great topic to bring to The Truth About Shock Collars blog.
The answer is yes. I use remote collars as part of the training program when dealing with aggressive dogs. Using the electronic collar as a way to redirect the dog’s attention is a large part of the success in how I go about rehabilitating dogs with aggression issues.
I realize that answer is in contrast to much of the information circulating on the internet. Warnings about NOT using a shock collar to deal with aggression in dogs abound. My guess is those warnings come from people who don’t use the tool on a regular basis and therefore have rather limited knowledge of how to do so properly.
Let me point out right off the bat that I don’t advocate putting a shock collar on the dog, waiting for him/her to display aggressive behaviors, and then pushing the button to punish for those actions. As in “That’ll teach Fido not to chase after other dogs!” Sorry, but that thought process belongs in the idiot’s guide to dog training 101.
Unfortunately, it is what some people do. And then, when the aggressive behavior gets worse or the dog yelps and runs away, those same people blame the tool rather than accepting the responsibility that they did not know what they were doing in the first place.
Seriously folks, if I go to the auto parts store, buy the best wrench set on the shelves, come home and lift the hood of my new Honda Element and start tinkering with the engine…..do I get to blame the wrench manufacturer when my car doesn’t run properly anymore? I’d say I was the problem, not the tool.
So let’s discuss the highlights of how to incorporate the use of a remote collar when working with dogs displaying aggression problems.
The first and most important step is to lay a proper foundation of obedience training with the remote collar. The purpose of the obedience is to give the dog “something else to focus on” (ie. a job) when presented with situations that normally evoke aggressive responses. The dog should be introduced to the collar through the foundation and attention exercises of learning to follow on a leash, come when called, and stay in one place. I also typically teach dogs dealing with aggression a *look* or *watch* command. In this way, we can create higher attentiveness to the owner/handler when the dog is faced with situations where we do not want to allow him/her to focus on the trigger. This initial training should be started in situations that do not trigger aggressive responses in the dog. It would not be fair for the dog to be learning something brand new when under the duress of those situations.
Once the dog has a solid understanding of obedience, we can begin to expose him/her to the triggers. The collar is used for obedience commands while the dog is in those situations that previously brought on an aggressive response. It is important to note that the collar is NOT being used to punish the dog for any aggressive response (barking, growling, lunging, etc) Rather, the collar is used to prompt and enforce an obedience command. The obedience is used PROACTIVELY before the dog reacts improperly. In this way we are redirecting the dogs attention away from the source of tension and back to the handler and the *job* the dog is being asked to perform.
Example: with a dog that is highly reactive to other dogs (growling, lunging, barking etc) I use the collar to enforce a Heel command and teach the dog he/she must simply walk politely near, around, and past other dogs. There is no punishment for being reactive. The e-collar is used to prompt attentiveness to the handler and the Heel command.
NOTE: This is a process that is incremental and advances in the level of challenge with respect to how quickly the dog is grasping the concept and being successful. If the dog can’t walk politely past a dog who is 15 feet away, don’t push him to walk within 5 feet. The goal is to keep the dog BELOW threshold and give him/her success at walking politely in the presence of other dogs.
One of the tremendous advantages of training with a remote collar when dealing with aggression in dogs is that it is far less subject to human emotion getting in the way and further escalating the problems. The handler can remain much more neutral in body language than when using other training collars or halters that require physical force.
The remote collar also has the advantage of being useful at a distance. Being able to enforce a Down command from 50 yards away or recall a dog who is on a sprint to chase a jogger is much more achievable to the average dog owner than through any other training method I know of
So the role that the e-collar has in dealing with aggression issues is that of the attention getter. The collar is used to prompt attention and hold the dog attentive to command even in the midst of those *distractions* (Other dogs, people, etc) that cause the dog to react with barking, lunging, snapping, etc.
I want to point out there are many other considerations when working with aggressive dogs, and I don’t suggest the average pet owner go it alone. Find a professional who has hands-on experience and a solid track record of success to help you.
In my years of dealing with aggression cases, I have seen many things influence the outcome of the cases. Possible health issues (thyroid, structure problems, ear infections, deafness, and sight problems, to name a few) should be ruled out by a veterinarian.
Dogs that display fear and aggressive issues need confidence-building and desensitization exercises as part of their program. Knowing how to properly time reward markers and use food is important to help build confidence and better behavior with these dogs. The long-term goal is to change their emotional response to their triggers.
And there are cases where genetics play a significant influence.
The most crucial consideration in determining the likelihood of success is the owner. No tool is magic and will solve all the problems. And there are no absolutes in training. Each case is different. It takes consistency and dedication to help dogs struggling with aggression. The underlying cause should be understood, the triggers identified, and then a treatment plan determined.
The e-collar can be a large part of the process by effectively re-directing the dog’s attention. Personally, I would no longer want to work with aggression cases if I could not use the e-collar to help with the process. In my time specializing in this training, I have found that the dogs learn much faster, there is FAR less stress on the dog and on the handler, and total rehabilitation is much more likely due to those factors.
If you are considering ecollar training, This series, E-collar Basic Obedience is the best place to start.
Please note: Comments on this post have been disabled due to the volume of people asking for help with their dog’s aggressive behavior. I simply cannot keep up with the volume and dispense personalized advice to deal with complex situations.
If you are seeking help:
1. Implement leadership structures into your daily routine immediately. You can access my leadership guide here.
2. Find an experienced and successful local trainer who deals with cases similar to what you are dealing with. If you can not find a local resource I may be able to help you through a series of virtual lessons.
3. Be prepared to put in significant time and effort. There is no quick fix. Training is a process and requires you to be committed to it.