Can Aggression in Dogs Be Fixed with an E-Collar?

Aggression in Dogs: Can an E-Collar Help?

Robin,

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!

Thanks,

Tony

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.

Here is a link to one of the many success stories we have in using an e-collar while dealing with aggression in dogs.

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.

Comments

256 comments
  • Hi. Love this summary and concept of “training” rather than punishing. I have an 11 year old male staffie x lab that is now consistently attacking his cancer riddled female housemate(bull arab x sharpey) due to weakness in tribe or more attention…and possibly more I guess. The biting that bleeds is concerning as it’s beyond a dominance growl or scuffle….
    I’m seriously looking at an ecollar and training(ecourse) of usage to grab attention and redirect. Its becoming a stressfull environment thinking a fight will break loose every day. Any advise and confirmation of my thoughts will be much appreciated.

    • I don’t think the ecollar is the right choice for this situation. While it can help to improve and reinforce obedience, the behavior you are seeing is not unusual in that one dog may start attacking another once they become ill or feeble. I believe it is best that you manage them both separately and keep them apart so there is not risk to the female. I’m so sorry your going through this. It is a tough situation.

  • Hello! Do you do virtual coaching? What area are you in? I would love some help.
    I have three pit bulls: 4 year old female, 1.5 year old female, and 4 month old boy.
    My 4 year old female has always been ridiculously extremely playful and always got along with any other dog. Since I got the 1.5 year old dog (when she was a puppy), my 4 year old has been more defensive and at the dog park – even when solo without any of my other dogs there with her – she may have an interaction which turns into a dog fight. It may also be worth mentioning that when I got the 1.5 year old, it was the same month that I became divorced and left my husband completely (and semi violently, unfortunately). In terms of when my 4 year old is aggressive – it’s rare but too often. And it’ll always be a dog which she has just met, and on site, she will attack violently. I don’t know how to manage this since she loves to socialize and I want the best for her but can’t risk the danger. I’ve been avoiding taking anyone out to the dog parks for about a year, but realize that may only be making the problem worse, not socializing them at all.
    The 1.5 year old seems to have picked up this aggression, it just seems like it by the way she’ll bite through the fence when another dog is near her fence, so I am now nervous about both of them. I need to fix this. Please help.

    • I do offer virtual coaching, but my first piece of advice will be about changing expectations. We would not work on wanting to get back to the dog park and attempting to introduce her to strange dogs. Many dogs are selective in who they want to socialize with. Often they have a group of known dogs they get along fine with but don’t do well meeting new dogs and “making new friends”. Building some neutrality around strange dogs is the goal so that we can peacefully walk by in public, but expecting off leash interaction/play with all other dogs is unrealistic for many.

      I’d also get a long line on the 1.5 year old and start taking control in the yard so you can put an end to the fence fighting. You would be best to find someone in your area to work in person if at all possible. Getting control over this before they mature more and the 4 month old starts eventually as well is super important. You’ve got a your hands full with the group dynamic and how this behavior might trickle down and they all end up learning it.

  • I have a 4 year old pug that is aggressive to another of my dogs different breed when he goes to the door to go out. Both are males. I spray the pug with water and he backs off but still does it each time. Would a shock collar be a good training method to end this behaviour?

    • If this is the only situation you need better control over, a leash will do the trick. Put a leash on the dogs before going to the door and use it to minimize any darting. Teach your pug to sit or go to a Place a few feet away from the door and work on having the dogs go through one at a time based on when you give them permission to go through. If they attempt to bolt as you open the door, use the leash to help manage and close the door immediately. Open it slowly and interrupt any attempt to bolt. As they calm down and start to look at you for direction, give permission, one at a time, to go through. Repeat each time you go to the door to let them out and over time it will become the new normal behavior. Eventually you will no longer need the leash but do remember to close the door and deny access to the outside IF they attempt to go through without permission.

  • Hi,
    My husky has some resource guarding issues. When he has a toy or food he will growl and even snap at me and my family members, it is also not every-time he has a toy or food only sometimes. Other than this issue he is a great, loving, and pretty obedient dog. Would you recommend using an ecollar on him to correct these behaviors? I truly am searching for some advice.

    • Hello Trysten,

      An ecollar is used to gain a dog’s attention and improve obedience. I have a series here that is comprehensive in teaching how to use one. Building trust to reduce resource guarding is a different skill and depending on the level of severity of guarding behavior you are dealing with, it can be a long and detailed process. If you are interested in working on it, I would suggest finding a professional in your area to help you. If you cannot find anyone local, I can assist you through the virtual coaching sessions.

  • I have a 5 month old GSD who is displaying good aggression/resource guarding. He has been physically aggressive with both owners and growls when we get near him. He didn’t start this until about month 4. We have been hand feeding him to avoid overly stressful commands or physically removing him or his food from the room. He is great taking commands otherwise and takes treats very well. He is a well mannered pup outside of his food issues. We will eventually use an e-collar for training purposes but it seems a bit much to use it for feeding. We are not really sure what to do next… any suggestions?

    • If you would like to do some virtual coaching with me, please reach out to my email in the contact form. I’d be happy to help.
      The ecollar can play a role in the obedience aspect but my protocol for resource guarding is a several week process. It is a three pronged approach in which we a) build trust, b) teach relinquishment of items when needed and 3) diminish defensiveness around resources by counter-conditioning the triggers that most dog’s cue and begin to load on.

  • Hello we have two Great Pyrenees males from same litter. They are two years old. We have never had a problem with them being aggressive until last few days. One male will start growling at the other and it turns into a fight. This only happens in our home. Outside they run play with each other and there is no problem. Inside is a different story. They are fed separately and always have been, so it is not a food issue. They have free range in a fenced in yard that is at least four acres. They normal go in And out of the house when they choose thru doggie door. They have always gotten along until last several days. And when I am home alone with them, and they fight, I am unable to pull dogs that weigh 140 lbs each apart. Any suggestions?

    • I am guessing they are reaching maturity and fighting over some sort of resource in the house. It might be space, it might be you, something else or a combination. Regardless, I would suggest you keep them separated for now. Consider one of the following: A lifestyle of management through crating and rotating, B) rehoming one of them or C) Investing in a very good trainer to help you and even with that, you will be doing some lifetime management.

      Keeping siblings of the same sex can be very challenging,

  • I have a 18 month that was most likely in a kennel most of her life. She is learning most things with just communicating but she play bites aggressively at times I have tried deterrent spray that makes her wound up more we have do time out the biting hurts when she misses the clothes and gets the hand this is my last resort

  • I have a 2 1/2 month old puppy that is extremely aggressive. When he does something bad and we tell him no he starts to try and bite us. Also when he gets into paper or puppy pads and we try and take the paper out of his mouth he gets super aggressive and usually draws blood. Or when he plays with his brother he will be super aggressive and when we tell him no or to chill he starts trying to bite us.

    • Hi McKenzie, Your puppy is quite young and these can be normal (but certainly not desirable) behaviors. The puppy needs to learn to willingly release things and you need better skills at how to teach him what you want him to do. It is normal for a pup to get into all sorts of mischief simply because they don’t know any better.
      I would suggest you enroll in my Puppy Training course. There is a lot of information you will find helpful, inclusing information on training, building good social skills, and reducing defensive and possessive behavior. Get started ASAP so you can raise him to be the well behaved dog you want him to become.

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