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 days ago and I thought it a great topic to bring to The Truth About Shock Collars blog.

The answer is yes, I do use remote collars as part of the training program when dealing with aggressive dogs. Using the electronic collar as a way to redirect the dogs 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 their aggressive behaviors and then push 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 idiots 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 won’t run properly anymore? I’d say I was the problem, not the tool.

So lets 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 leash, come when called and stay in one place. I also typically teach a *look* or *watch* command to dogs dealing with aggression. 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 the 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 the obedience we can begin to expose him/her to the triggers. The collar is used for the 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 level of challenge in 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 are displaying fear aggressive issues need confidence building and desensitization exercises as part of their program. It is important to know how to properly time the use of food and other reward markers to help build confidence and better behavior with these dogs.

And there are cases where genetics are playing a major influence.

The most important consideration in determining the likelihood of success is the owner. There is no tool that 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 that are struggling with aggression issues. The underlying cause should be understood, the triggers identified and then a plan of treatment determined.

The e-collar can be a large part of the process by being able to effectively re-direct 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.

Comments

216 comments
  • We have a three year old English bulldog who is just all of a sudden started showing some aggression towards one of our household members. We’re considering a E collar and want to know the best way to approach the training.

    • Hi Annie,

      I’m sorry you are having challenges with your bulldog. When aggressive behaviors come up suddenly, it is important to rule out potential physical causes first. I’d suggest a thorough exam and complete blood work (including thyroid testing) with your veterinarian. After ruling out physical causes, find and an experienced, professional trainer in your area to assess the situation and provide guidance.
      Good luck, I hope you find answers soon.
      Warm regards,
      Robin

  • My English Pointer mix has had professional training using an e collar but the trainer would not do any off leash e collar training since my dog has fear aggression (towards other dogs). Do you agree with her opinion? Also, meeting off leash dogs when hiking is a disaster (my dog is always on leash) since she is immediately aggressive and fights have occurred. I am hesitant to use the e collar in this type of scenario in case it increases her reactivity – can an e collar be beneficial in this type of situation?

  • I have had a 3-year old mixed breed rescue dog that is part Anatolian Shepherd for 6 months now. In point of fact, he displays textbook Anatolian Shepherd behaviour. He is great with me and those he knows and is usually good with new people and dogs at the off-leash park but will occasionally snarl at a person or another dog. He also displays intense territorial aggression towards people and dogs around the house and yard. He snarled and lunged at a friend I had over when I first got him, before I knew he had this behaviour. That same day, he met this friend just off our property and was fine with them. He has improved a bit over the past few months and will decrease, if not stop, his aggression on verbal commands to stop from me. I have recently decided to use an e-collar to try to control his aggression at the dog park when it occurs. One reason is my concern with liability since I don’t have physical control over my dog when this behaviour occurs and it can be quite scary. I have only shocked him twice and both times he stopped the aggression and retreated. He hasn’t repeated the aggression in some time now. FYI, I tried to give him a vibrate pulse or two before the shock but a) circumstances don’t seem to allow for that and b) he is agitated and ignores the vibrate pulses at that point. Also, when I let him out back on his line, I tell him “no barking” and he is now conditioned to basically meet me at the back door to come in if he barks at a passing dog or person, so he definitely learns the consequences of his bad behaviour. Am I doing it right with the e-collar at the dog park and should I consider using it in the house when I have guests over, something that doesn’t happen much at the moment? It isn’t as much a liability concern in the house as I have control of my dog on the leash or with his crate but the barking level can be quite high.

    • Hi Dave,

      This is not how I would approach using the e-collar. The vast majority of the time, I use it to reinforce desirable behaviors (like a recall) rather than to punish undesirable behavior. I would suggest you consider purchasing my training video set to learn more about this approach.

      Additionally, I would discourage taking him to the dog park. I am not a dog park fan in general. Dogs need a good relationship with us, their primary family. They don’t need to visit with strange dogs or strange people on any routine basis. That really isn’t “natural” and even less so for a guardian breed. I totally believe in training and developing a dog that is neutral around strangers (dogs and people) but that sort of learning isn’t going to happen in the setting of a dog park.
      Work with your dog; train, engage, play…but don’t leave learning to chance by cutting him loose in a dog park where you have zero control over other peoples behavior or their dogs behavior. It sets your dog up to fail.
      Check out the video series and reach out to me if you would want to do some private coaching.
      warm regards,
      Robin

  • Hi there! I have a 19 m.o. “GoldenLabradoodle” & her “boyfriend”, a 1 y.o. standard poodle puppy (in training to be a service dog), have started to get aggressive towards other dogs on the outside of the playground fence. They feed off each other & its getting worse. It seems to be territorial? They are both so sweet when everyone is off leash in there. We aren’t sure how to correct this behavior. Its hard to grab/separate them once it starts. I have an ecollar, do i buzz/beep her before she goes to the fence? Or use the low zap when she starts barking? Thank you so much!

  • I have 2 female dogs that have been together since pups they are now 7. The one keeps starting fights with the other one and its all different things. I took them to a trainer and worked on a lot of things they advised. It did get better but this weekend it happened again. I don’t understand the switch in her. She is so sweet but again she keeps going after the other one and I am so scared of what could happen. The first fight ever was very scary and she had a lot of damage done. What am I doing wrong with the collar should I have it on her at all times? Each time there was an incident they did not have the collars on.

    • I would get a thorough vet workup done, especially on the one being attacked. Often one dog will begin to attack another if it senses a physical weakness. Taking advantage in that way is not uncommon in the canine world. For the time being I would separate them to maintain safety until you have a plan in place for better management. After a thorough vet check, find a professional in your area to help you get a handle on what things you can do to improve the living situation with them.

      E-collars can be worn approximately 8-12 hours a day, and should not go beyond the manufacturer’s recommended wear time.
      good luck,
      Robin

  • We have an 11 month older boxer, that is extremely explosive and reactive towards other dogs.
    I’ve been training her with a vibration collar and recall has been good.
    Today I was out in the garage doing to some tidying up and had Jackie out with me, I did do the come and recall and vibrate several times, before I showed her the trust, then a couple of bird landed in the neighbors yard, and she was gone, did not listen, or come to call, then at the same time 2 people were walking their smaller dogs on a leash on the street passing our house, thats when she went crazy, and went often both dogs, ignored all my vibrations on the collar, ignored all my recall commands, I finally did get her and put her in the house in her kennel, went back outside bush people were very unhappy and we are likely going to get a visit from bylaw.
    The collar I have is not a shock collar, vibration only but today I saw it of no value, Will a shock collar snap her out of that attack mindset ?, otherwise it’s a matter of time before we have a full blown contact incident, and we will be forced by bylaw and police to do what we dont want to do.

    • Hi Graham,
      Vibration only collars do not have adjustability. I personally use collars that have both stimulation and vibration as training options. The stimulation allows for variable intensity…which is what is needed when a dog’s arousal level changes.
      The analogy I would make for having a feature that is adjustable is similar to what happens if we are really excited by something. Let’s say we are at a football game. There are 10 seconds on the clock. Our team is down by 5 points, it is the 3rd down and we are on the 3 yard line. There is a lot of excitement going on…If I need to get your attention for something important…Do I need to brush my hand against you or grab your arm?
      How much tactile pressure it takes to gain your attention in that moment is very individual (and it is for our dogs) but certainly the level of sensation changes in that situation versus if we are just sitting in a quiet, not exciting situation.

      If you decide to get an e-collar are you confident in how to use it? Do you know how to find a stimulation level that influences your dog? Do you know how to TEACH your dog to understand it so she doesn’t blow you off OR become confused when she feels it? Do you want to feel confident in having her off leash in the future and know that you have better control?

      If so, I would suggest you either get some help from a trainer highly experienced in using e-collars OR if you cannot find someone purchase my DVD series to get some solid education on how to do it.
      warm regards,
      Robin

  • Hi Robin,
    My dog tends to growl at dogs if they approach while she is getting pet — she’s very possessive over people. I can’t get her focus away from a new person while she is greeting them whether to enforce no jumping or worse growling at an approaching dog. Do you think the e-collar could help with this?

      • Isn’t interrupting the dog jumping the same as punishing a dog for bad behaviour…..?

        ““That’ll teach Fido not to jump at people!” Sorry but that thought process belongs in the idiots guide to dog training 101.”

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to contradict yourself here.

        • If we are discussing Skinner’s operant conditioning quadrants then it will depend on timing. If the e-collar pressure is applied before the feet leave the ground then it is -R, if it is after the feet leave the ground than it is +P.

          But my thoughts were not confined within those limiting constraints regarding how to affect behavior. Intent of the handler plays a significant role in how the dog perceives information. If I tap a dog with a flyswatter, I can get them to play with if I am happy and making a game of it. But if I tap, using the same amount of pressure, with a harsh voice and body language I can make the dog afraid of it. My intent determines the association.

          If a mother grabs her child’s hand away from a hot stove while conveying “no my darling, that can hurt you”, versus grabbing the hand away and yelling “Stop that!” Is it an interruption or a punishment??

          Once we toss the limiting constraints of our thinking, we become much better dog trainers.
          Robin

  • I am desperate. My almost 2 year old Frenchie girl is an absolute sweetheart with us at home. She is loving, playful and so patient. She absolutely hates anyone that comes into our house who she doesn’t know. She launched her self at a family friend and nipped her hand. I would say close to really biting her hand fully. I can not take her out to walks, I can’t have people over. She runs out the door as soon as she gets a chance. I love our girl, I hope with persistent we can help her

    • Most dogs can make significant improvement. The best bet is to find a balanced trainer in your area that will work with you to make improvement. You might look at the IACP website to see if you can find someone in your area.
      Robin

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