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

184 comments
  • Hi!!

    I have a one and a half year old German Shepard that i rescued about a month ago. He is super sweet and lovey. I have been using the e collar for place,here, and wait commands and he picked it up in literally no time. He’s such a good boy but lately has started showing aggression towards people that come visit my home. When they come in he is fine with them, will walk up and ask for pets and loves and has no issue. After some time (usually when it gets dark) things change and he will start barking at them and act as if he has never met them before. He doesn’t show his teeth or try to bite, he just barks at them. Not sure what to do in those situations since it seems like a switch just flipped. I could use some guidance!

    • I would suggest you get him to a DVM for a full work up. In particular have his eyes checked to see if there is a vision problem.
      warm regards,
      Robin

  • Hi Robin,

    I have a 18 month terrier mix who has a resource guarding issue. She only does it with other dogs, usually over balls and sticks. I take her to a large open dog park often and i most of the time can stop the behavior before it happens – in i see someone with a ball ahead, I call her over and put her on a leash until we pass. But it inevitably still happens. I can usually see the moment that precedes any snapping, she always stiffens up with the ball or stick in her posession, and looks up at the nearby dog. I was thinking that a e-collar would be a good tool to have to use either when i see this stiffening, or before that, at the moment when is see her get any ball or stick. Would this be proper use of the e-collar? To activate it at this moment and redirect her attention to me and try to call her over? Your advice is very much appreciated!

    Chris

    • Hi Chris,

      That can be a tricky situation. It is possible to use the e-collar as a preventative measure to call your dog back to you BEFORE she targets another dog. Once she has target lock on acquiring the item…then it can be dicey…might work, might not. It all depends on how well collar conditioned the dog is prior to using the e-collar in that scenario.
      If you are going to chose to start her on an e-collar put in a LOT of practice prior to letting her off leash in a situation where the possessiveness might pop up. Think of it as goal setting and structure the training situations so that you practice in more and more difficult scenarios as you progress.
      For instance:
      Start your e-collar recall training with no distractions like a paved parking lot with no much of anything going on in the surroundings.
      Then add a few minor distractions like going to a grass area where there are new smells
      Then add some treats in the grass area for more distraction.
      Then add some of her toys.
      Then work in an area with people/dogs in the surroundings (but not too close)
      Then work with people/dogs a bit closer
      Then work calling her off of a toy/ball (meaning she doesn’t get to “get it” each time but has to turn around mid chase)
      Etc, Etc, Etc.
      All of this work is done with the addition of a LONG LINE on the dog. The goal is to get her coming back to you reliably without needing to use pressure on the line and ensuring that your voice and e-collar pressure are adequate to bring her back. Make sure to reward her for coming back. And up the value of her reward for the fast returns (minimal reward for slow returns)
      If you do enough work (and I would say do MORE than you think you need to…because too often people under estimate) Then you can get there.
      If you need assistance, hire a local pro to help you, get my DVD’s from Gun Dog Supply or set up a consult with me to give you more guidance about the process.

      Absolutely, under NO circumstances, put an e-collar on, take her to the park, wait for her to target lock on another dog and then use the collar…that is a recipe for potential problems.

  • Robin, I got Mickey my little rescue dog in November 2020. He is a terrier mix. I love him. He is a wonderful dog. He does have some aggression issues with me though. He definetely has picked my husband as his person. LOL he adores my husband. He is loving and sweet and playful with me also but he has made it clear that my husband is his person. My husband works from home & Mickey has a little bed under my husbands desk. (desk is really a long table so the underneath is open so it isn’t like me walking in would be a surprise – Mickey can see me in the hallway) Mickey will start growling when I walk by the office/room. If I step in the room he growls more and if I step in and get close to my husband he lunges out from under the table and attacks me. Yes, he bites me. I have tried to not be afraid because dogs can sense fear but I truly am afraid of my own dog. He also gets aggressive when my husband and I have food on the couch. LOL- in a way thats good because we mostly eat at the table now like we should so Mickey forced us into a good habit. If we do decide to eat on the couch to watch a movie we put Mickey in the crate. Today my husband was out & Mickey was on my lap on the couch. I put him down because I wanted to get off the couch. He growled – so I figure he didn’t like me getting off couch right above him so I scooted to other side of the couch. He kept growling. So I am telling him No, Stop but he doesn’t. Maybe I should have just stayed on the couch. I don’t know. But I got off the couch probably 3 feet from him and he lunged at me and bit my foot. I did yell at him at this point and went to kitchen. He chased me into the kitchen growling and bit the top of my foot and my heel. I just don’t understand. I am so good to Mickey and I am so confused by his agression and he scares me. He is not agressive to anyone but me. I am very good to my dog so I just cant figure this out and it is heartbreaking. Aside from this aggression to me, he is the perfect dog. He is walked twice a day, we throw toys with him often, he gets brushed and tons of love. What do I do? I want to get a shock collar but your article says to not get one exclusively for the bad behavior. After spending this afternoon crying I look forward to your advice because I love Mickey and I don’t want to be afraid of him.

    • Hi Cosette,
      Wow, I’m really sorry to hear about all of these challenges. I can read the emotion in your words. It is hard to love a dog so much and feel like “why are they doing this to me?” But let me say, one of the first things you will need to do is learn more about dogs. They are a different species and they don’t “think” like humans. He is resource guarding and it is NOT ok.

      First off, I advise you to seek a professional in your area to help you. If you can not find one in your area or one you feel confident in, then we can set up some coaching and I can help you that way. This is a complex issue that I simply can not advise you here with a few paragraphs.
      In the meantime, I suggest you keep a light weight leash attached to his collar (he can drag it around the house). This gives you or your husband a way to safely take a hold of him and lead him away from areas (or off of the couch) that he is guarding.
      Additionally, download my Leadership guide and begin instituting better structure around your household.

      On a final note, and I hope you can take this as it is intended. I want to help you but I can’t sugar coat reality.

      No, he’s not a wonderful dog. Not at this point at least. There may be potential that he can be a wonderful pet and myself or another pro can hopefully get you there…but calling him wonderful right now is like saying “I have a wonderful husband…but he hits me sometimes.” 🙁
      This is NOT okay behavior and it needs to be changed for your safety and anyone else that may come into your home.
      best to you and if I can be of further assistance, please reach out via the contact button on my site.
      Robin

  • Hello
    i have a 3 year old GSD, I sent him for training for over 6 weeks with a reputable trainer due to him being aggressive. . He was refusing to let anyone in my house or backyard, unless he actually knew you and reactive on the leash when walking past people.. the bigger issue was he grew up with my sons girlfriend but now is completely aggressive towards her and i cant figure out what triggered it.. so when i got him back from the trainer with an ecollar he gave me and a 15 foot lead he said if you use these you should be fine well not so much.. I have been working with him everyday to say the least and he has become aggressive again and still goes after my sons girlfriend.. i have implemented where we greet her or any one outside of the house first and then i give a ball or something he acknowledge as a friendly gesture… he will at times allow her to then play with him but you can tell he can switch any time so I keep him on the lead when she is over.. I am at a loss and my son and fight constantly as he has had it with the dog being this way especially since at one time he loved her. I do blame myself as i do baby him alot but its usually only me and him most of the time. i just need to know how can i break the aggression with her as she is part of the family and i want her to be safe and able to come in my house without him going after her.. that is my main goal right now.. .he is crated during the day when i am at work… .any guidance would be grateful….

    • Hello Catherine,
      I wish it was a matter of a few sentences and I could get you on track. Unfortunately that is not the case, aggressive behavior is complex. It takes time, understanding and typically, several techniques combined to get a handle on. And even with that, sometimes there is not an outcome that makes the dog safe to live with. I would be happy to chat with you if you’re interested in setting u a consulting call. You can read about that option here.
      I can say that the e-collar is often quite helpful for obedience and increased control, but it can’t make a dog “like” someone. That is where other work usually needs to be done. Additionally, if the way you interact with your dog (and behavior you allow) is different when you are alone with the dog versus when you have visitors, that is a problem. Rules and structures need to be clear and consistent in order for a dog to understand. As a starting point, you may need to clean up some of the leadership routines in general.

  • Hello! We have a 9 month old cockapoo whom we have had since 10 weeks old. He has aggression when he has something in his mouth and is commanded to “drop it.” He refuses to let go, and will growl and snap and bite. He has also randomly snapped and bit our teenage daughter when she simply leaned on him after playing with him. He is otherwise a playful, high energy at times, and very loving puppy. We are worried about the aggression and are trying an e collar as a last resort. We love him so much and really want to be able to keep him. I appreciate any advise! Thank you

    • Hi Penny,
      I’m sorry to hear of the challenges you’re having with your pup. Unfortunately, these issues are not a quick and simple fix and the e-collar should not be a tool of last resort. Using it to simply punish him for undesirable behavior isn’t the solution. E-collars are hugely valuable when used to assist in creating reliable obedience training and allowing for off leash freedom. I’m only guessing but I suspect, there are a number of issues within the household dynamic with him. For one, leadership is probably lacking or at the least, misunderstood in how to appropriately interact with him so there is clearer communication. I’d suggest you download this short leadership guide on establishing better structures within the house.
      Also, teaching him to drop things is part of building trust rather than simply demanding he let go. Resource guarding is not unnatural (although it is NOT desirable or safe in a household). You can start out by trading him for items and it will also help if you don’t overreact when he gets something he should not. Make a game of it and encourage him to bring things to you in exchange for something else.
      Additionally, I would strongly advise you find a professional trainer in your area to help. If you can not find anyone suitable, I do offer long distance coaching and I’d be happy to set up a session to speak with you.
      Robin

  • Hi Robin,

    I have a Chihuahua/Dachshund mix who is around 6 now. We got him when he was around 2 from an animal shelter. He has always had small aggressive behavior towards seemingly random occurrences. Sometimes pulling the blanket on the bed a certain way will cause him to growl or snip. He’s also very fearful of foreign objects coming near him unless it’s an established toy. He had an ear infection about 6 months ago and even trying to get the drops into his ear caused him to growl and snap at us. It was simply not an option. More recently he was diagnosed with diabetes and pancreatitis. We got him stabilized for a couple weeks, but he is fighting the insulin injections (5 units 2x a day) tooth and nail. If I bring the needle near him, he’ll sniff it and be ok, but if I move it towards his back, he will growl and snap. I was able to toss a blanket on him playfully over his head, then administer the shot, with no issues at all, but this only worked for a few days until he figured it out. Now if I use the blanket, he’ll pull it off and turn around to look at me. I am struggling to administer his shots without being bitten daily. He was recently re-hospitalized after fighting his shots and me being unable to administer them for 36 hours. I am trying my best to show him that it’s ok and he needs the shots, but we’re quickly burning through money with emergency vet visits and unless we can figure out a better solution, he will have to be put down. Do you have ANY advice?

    • Hi Cody,
      That is a tough situation, I’m really sorry you are going through this. I feel for the little guy…he has had so many repetitions handling for unpleasant or painful issues that he doesn’t trust touch anymore. I would suggest you seek out someone that can help you teach conditioned relaxation. Check to see if someone might be in your area who has worked with Kayce Cover I would also try to find a nutritionist that can help create a biologically appropriate diet (real food – not kibble) that would better support the body with the health issues. Perhaps someone from the Answers Pet Food company could help or lead you in the right direction.
      Good luck, I hope things can turn around for you and for him.
      Robin

  • Hello, I have a 2 year old Australian Carlyle dog mix. I got her from a shelter 5 weeks ago. They told me from the beginning she was very shy and scared/aggressive when encountering other dogs. For the past 5 weeks I have been taking her on walks in my neighborhood and keeping a large distance to the other dogs walking simply allowing her to see other dogs to see how she would react. She has lunged, barked, growled. I have started to use treats to distract her when we see another dog and have her sit and keep her eyes on me until the dog passes. That worked for a couple of weeks but not so much anymore. Sometimes I am able to grab her attention back to me by making a sound and tugging quickly on her leash. But sometimes I am not able to break her fixation until the dog walks away. I ordered an e collar to use on our walks or when I take her to the park. I only want to use it so that she will listen to my voice and command in those situations. Am I doing the right thing and taking the right steps??

    • Hi Idalis,
      You are on the right track in working to maintain attention to you and rewarding calmness in the presence of other dogs. If you add an e-collar to the training plan, continue with that thought process. However, I do think it would be very helpful to find a pro to work on integration into a pack. Someone that offers pack socialization classes can mix your dog in with other dogs that are stable and help “teach” your dog more appropriate communication skills. Over time, that type of training can make great headway in reducing your dog’s anxiety and behavior around other dogs.
      best wishes,
      Robin

  • Hi Robin,
    I am currently housesitting for a pack of dogs with aggression issues. The smallest one, Lily, is the biggest problem – she is an Australian shepherd and over the last year has become extremely aggressive towards the oldest of the pack, Bailey – another female Australian shepherd. The others are Emma – a very gentle mixed breed, and two of her male puppies Frank & Teddy (3 year olds). Lily acts as pack leader, and Teddy acts as alpha male. Lily can’t stand Bailey anymore, and will growl at her if Bailey is within 5 feet of her. if Bailey gets too close and doesn’t listen to Lily’s growling, Lily will latch on to the back of Bailey and yank her around aggressively until you either throw water at her or rip her off. If you don’t remove Lily effectively she will bite. I acknowledge that there is a serious need for a professional to come in, but I am not the owner and can’t make that call. I’m a close friend who knows these dogs very well. If you have any advice for me, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m currently rotating the dogs between inside and out, so that the pack is broken up a little, for my safety. I do have a shock collar that I can use, but I want to be effective with it if needed.

    • Hi Sarah,

      I would advise you simply manage the group very carefully to keep everyone safe. I don’t advise taking liberties to train anyone else’s dog unless they are involved in the training plan.
      warm regards,
      Robin

  • Hi there, I have a 2 yr old Australian Cattle dog mix (around 80lbs) that has recently become aggressive when passing by other dogs. This is a newer habit that has come up over the last year and I am not sure how to deal with it. She is great off leash has no issues with barking or aggression however when she is on leash and spots a dog even at a fair distance she begins to crouch in a stalking stance or completely stop and lay down. As the dog gets closer she tries to lung and barks very aggressively. I know she mainly is interested in playing but I don’t know how to handle her when this happens. I know it’ll take time to move away from this behaviour but is there anything you can recommend?

    • Hi Kerry,
      I believe the ideal way to work on issues such as this is with the assistance of a professional trainer through some private lessons. It sounds as though your dog is frustrated due to wanting to play and not being able to get to the other dog. Working through these issue is relatively easy (assuming there is truly no aggressive intent) but it takes a thought out approach of developing impulse control in your dog. Meaning that she learns to maintain her “impulse” to lunge, dart, chase, and remaining calmly sitting, laying down or standing near your side (which ever position you direct her to hold) while the other dogs pass by.
      Find someone to help you and expect to start at some distance where she is successful and gradually work up over the course of training to a realistic passing by of other dogs. You may need some training tools to assist you in, so find a trainer that is versed in a variety of tools rather than limited by strict adherence to a specific methodology.
      warm regards,
      Robin

  • Hello, I have a blue heeler mix. He had human aggression but we kept taking him to home depot so he’s less human aggressive. We had taken him to a rehabilitation clinic but unfortunately that didn’t solve his dog aggression. We take him to the dog park as he is mainly afraid and not sure how to play really. We have taken him twice and he does sort of fine. But I’m not sure how to go about the shock collar training when this type of dog needs hands on experience to be brought out of his shell while at the dog park. He is two years old. I just would like to be able to take him with his two sisters so they can all play with the other dogs.

    • Hello Xena,

      Working to help a dog reduce reactive or aggressive behaviors, as well as build good social skills, is an ongoing commitment. I hope the rehabilitation clinic gave you some ideas to impliment and you can keep working at it.
      As far as incorporating a remote collar into a dog’s training, my current DVD set is available on hard copy or digitally and you can purchase it here.
      That will take you through the collar conditioning process and you can use that process to work to expose him to more environments and help expand his comfort level in new situations.
      As for the dog to dog socialization, I am not a fan of going to dog parks to do that. There are too many unknowns and it is an environment you don’t have much control over. If there are dogs there with poor social skills he may be bullied and that will only set him back. Instead, try to find a trainer that operates some form of a group socialization class. If you cannot find someone in your area, then it would be better to expose him to groups of your friends dogs that you know to be well socialized. The best way for a dog to “come out of their shell” around other dogs is to be integrated into groups of stable, well-mannered dogs that have good communication skills with other dogs.
      best,
      Robin

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