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
  • This was very helpful. We just took in a rescue who is 10. We are starting our second week with him and our other dogs. He was starved and abused but we don’t know the extent. He’s been very good with the others until recently. Fighting with our 4 year old female and becoming aggressive when we attempt to get him to move. He also steals food off the counter and from the cabinets. We’ve started crate training but he isn’t having it. He had not been taught any commands and had anxiety as well as being afraid of several things. Gaining his trust is a task and we know it will take time. He doesn’t want to play with the other dogs, or even without them, but doesn’t mind sitting with them. He will get the zoomies and I believe he wants the others to chase him but we don’t know if he will turn on them. We take him for walks throughout the week and he does great. We are hoping that the collar will help reinforce positive behaviors without causing him any more stress.
    Ultimately we want to keep him safe as well as our other dogs.
    We are also working with our humane society on getting some training tips.
    Any other suggestions?

    • Hi Heather,

      Keep a leash on him in the house so you can more easily manage his behavior. Use baby gates, the crate and other means to keep them safely apart when you are not actively supervising.
      If he has not had a complete physical recently, I’d suggest a visit to your vet to make sure there are no underlying health issues at play.
      At 10 he’s had a long time to develop habits and it will take time if you want to change them. If you don’t feel things are progressing as you would like with the HS training, see if you can find an experienced professional trainer in your area.
      Good luck,
      Robin

  • Robin,
    My dog is a rescue puppy from a local shelter. He has been raised with cats and no other dogs, although we play with our puppy friends a lot! More recently, he has taken a stance of being possessive with toys around his other doggy friends, and he begins to get aggressive with me and the other dogs. When there are no toys, he is a good boy! I know that the simple solution is to prevent having toys, but that doesn’t always work. In our most recent incident, he bit down on my hand when I tried to remove the toy from his mouth. In your professional opinion, would an E-Collar be beneficial? I hate to buy one and work with it if there is a better solution to the problem. He is only a year old, and I cannot keep doing this for 10+ more years….

    • Hi Becca,

      The e-collar in and of itself is not going to solve a problem of possessiveness. E-collars are useful for obedience. So if, for example, you dog was running toward another dog that was playing with a ball, you’d be able to use the collar to enforce a recall before he got there and a potential fight broke out over the toy.
      I agree that not having toys present when he’s with other dogs is a key step in managing. I never expect dogs to share toys or valued possessions…so do, but I never expect it. Therefore either I supervise REALLY closely and intervene before any potential squabble or I keep toys entirely out of the picture when my dogs are around others.
      All that said, it is important to teach your dog tolerance of having things taken away. You being bit is not acceptable and a dog, IMO, must learn to relinquish items to his/her owner. (Expecting a dog to relinquish to a stranger…again, it might be very possible, but I don’t just expect a dog to do that..takes a lot of work and it depends on the dog in question)
      ..so as far as your dog learning to give things to you and building trust for that to happen…my suggestion is to find a competent trainer to work with in your area. In person coaching is going to be the best way to move forward so you don’t get hurt again.
      warm regards,
      Robin

  • im so glad I saw this above post , exactly what im going through just two neutered males one is 3 and the other is 18 months and my female is 5 . the “baby is a mixed breed pup Pyrenees GSD and a shake of cattle dog . and no I didn’t go for that he’s a rescue that came in at 10 wks old . like they all did . had him embarked to see as his ears were not standing at all . He’s always smiling always happy but, he’s now thinking he is #2 not my 3 yr old , drew blood last night , I can’t have this so in lieu of a e collar its going to be a treadmill first ( they have a huge yard and we do training everyday throughout the day ( sit , down , stay , on me ) but he’s just like a jelly belly all of a sudden and yup fight broke out , then another and last night was awful. we are now on ok outside time and then , back to kennels for the boys , I hate it . he also had started trying to mark in the kitchen so that was another reason I have him in kennel at night as he can not be trusted. Vet says he’s fine no urinary or otherwise issues just a bully in the making . So I am going to try a treadmill and see if that will unwind him and the other one a bit . thanks.

  • I have 3 spayed females in my home. Each brought in as puppies. Ages 7, 5, and 2. Everything has been great up until a couple months ago when the 2 year old starting showing signs of guarding her food. They are on a fixed schedule and eat twice per day. We had a fight break out when the 7 year old walked too closely while she was eating. I broke it up. Picked up the food and everyone was fine. I started separating them when they eat and things have been great. But now the 2 year old is being aggressive with the 5 year old, posturing, and has started a fight a couple times. No food involved. Yesterday, I got home from work and let them all outside as normal. Things were great. Tails were wagging. The 5-year old found something in the grass and was sniffing at it. The 2-year old came to see what it was. Next thing I know there’s a full on fight. Then the 7-year old jumped in. It took me a few, but finally got it broke up. The two year old keeps lunging so I ordered the other two inside. They went. I had ahold of the 2-year old by her foot keeping it raised above her head to keep her off balance. Once the other two were out of sight, She stood there with me holding her foot. Never tried to bite me or nip at me. I let her go and told her to “walk” which is my command for “heel”. She stayed right with me. I have asked inside. She came with. But was very timid. When she got near the 5-year old again, she postured.. tail went down and ears went back. I finally had to put her in another room hoping to cool her off. But This continued through the night. I’m terrified right now. I called vet, they can’t get me in for 10 days. I set up a consult with a behavioral training center, first available is 9 days out. I don’t know what to do. I already had to to doctor doe first fight with my hand. Now I’m gonna have to go back for both hands from yesterday fight. Thoughts? Suggestions of what i can do? ive never used e-collar and dont want to just slap one on her and make things worse. please help.

    • Theresa,
      I’m sorry you are going through these difficulties. Unfortunately, I have no simple words of wisdom that will solve the problem. An e-collar isn’t going to do you a significant amount of good other than potentially improve the recall of the 2 year old so you can call her too you PRIOR to her picking the fight.
      Managing a pack is no easy task, and while some groups of dogs co-exist peacefully without any incident, it has been my experience that the more you add to your group (particularly when they are all same sex) the more the likelihood of fights increases. The 2 year old is moving into maturity and (baring no physical issues with the 5 year old that she may be picking up on, because dog will often attack perceived weakness)…she is likely jockeying for rank and therefore resources.
      Plenty of exercise both mental and physical for the 2 year old, combined with solid obedience work. Supervision and management at all times and separate when you are not there to keep the peace. Keep your appointment with the vet to clear potential health issues (check out the 5 year old as well) and hopefully the behavioral training center can give you further insight when they see the dogs interact together. There may be some cues they can point out to you that you can watch for so you can intervene before situations escalate.
      good luck,
      Robin

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