Flyswatters and Shock Collars: A Question of Effective Dog Training Methods?

Effective Dog Training Methods

How do you define effective dog training methods? I know in the professional world we often get caught up in the scientific discussions of punishment and reinforcement and what constitutes effective use of each. That path of discussion can often lead to heated opinions of the necessity of punishment and for me that brings up the topic of the versatility of a remote collars. Are they only a tool of punishment as some assert?

More importantly, is the dog’s experience of a remote collar always that of punishment?

Is it always a “penalty imposed on an offender for a wrongdoing”? (definition taken from Websters New World College Dictionary)

Before you answer that question, let’s consider some other things that might typically be considered punishment when directed toward our dogs. Could I use a flyswatter as one of my tools for effective dog training methods?

What would you call it if you swat your dog with a flyswatter? Is it punishment?

What if you blast him with a squirt of water or hit your dog with a stick or shake noisy objects at them?

All punishment, correct? Right up there with shock collars…no if’s, and, or buts about it. You might even categorize them as effective dog training methods for punishment based training…

But, I happen to think differently. I believe what is aversive and punishing is defined by the recipient. And that the recipient’s expression of what is aversive is defined by the experience…which in the case of training dogs is created by the trainer.

If you wish to stay locked into the mindset that tools can only fit into one quadrant you may not want to watch the video below or bother to read further. Often what we “know to be true” is only true in our experience. It is false for someone else’s experience.

Stepping outside of our own paradigms can be disconcerting.

Ultimately, we have control over how our dogs perceive any tool we bring into the training scenario. We set the tone and create the experience. My dog’s react the way they do to these supposed “aversives” because of the way I introduced them and created their experience with the tools. Any good protection trainer, or bite sport competitor knows exactly what I’m talking about. A dog’s experience of any tool or situation is created through mindful application.

What made the difference? How come these “punishment” tools (water blasts, shake cans & flyswatter) don’t look very punishing to my dogs?

I believe the answer is: Intent.

Intent determines how one will use a remote collar or any tool and how it will be perceived by the dog. The mental attitude we take with us when we train will determine the majority of our outcome, regardless of our tool of choice.

My advice for anyone considering using a remote collar to train their dog is to check their intent before they put the collar on the dog or start pushing buttons.

If your intent is coming from frustration and wanting to “show the dog once and for all!” it needs to shift before you start training. Using the e-collar that way certainly fits the definition of shock collar and it is not what I want you to do.

Just as my dogs have learned that a blast of water, a flyswatter or a loud, noisy shake can means “play time” your dog can learn that the remote collar means fun learning together and interesting adventures to go on. If you’re interested in learning to use the tool as part of a balanced training program, you’re willing to spend the time and energy teaching your dog what to do rather than just what not to do, my guess is you’ll end up with a dog who loves his e-collar and is an eager and willing participant in your training time together.

It all starts with intent: Shock collar or remote training collar, it’s your choice of what kind of effective dog training method you want it to be.




  • Shock collar.

    Remote training collar.

    Two names for the same piece of equipment, which – whatever you call it – utilises electricity on the dogs’ skin, and in the sensitve neck area where so many important structures lie.

    • You do realize the electricity is used on the skin of humans too? TENS units have been around and used by the medical profession for some time. They are quiet safe and effectively aid healing and diminish pain. It all depends on how it is used. Also I think it is worth noting that a dog’s neck is different than a human. Quadrupeds have far more muscle. You would be more accurate comparing their neck to our thigh or calf.

  • Hello everybody…I’m a dog trainer in Kamloops , BC, Canada, I use e collar to train most of dogs…IN special to the gun dogs( hunting). Most the times I hear the follow quenstion…” but do you keep the ecollar all te time in your dog?”…so I always answer saying…” do you keep your dog on leash? safety matters right? but tell me which dog does look happier? the dog that has the leash all the time or the dog walking with me off leash..?” I’m a big fan of e-collar, but I’m against pet owners buy those collars without a trainer to explain how works! visit our facebook s page…” someday retrievers”…and watch videos with ecollars! take care a have a good one! The Brazilian Dog Guru.

  • Hi Robin, I’m at my wits’ end with my dog, Luna. She’s a sweet little seven year old maltese who is generally very good when I’m around, but when she’s home alone, she barks and bothers the neighbors (she moved into my apartment in NYC last year when I felt she wasn’t getting enough attention living with my parents). The problem is, she only really barks when she’s alone (occasionally right when I get home, to which I respond with “NO” and a startling rap on the nose). My problem is that this isn’t enough, and living alone with a full time job, I don’t know what else to do. I got her puzzle toys with treats inside (she’s very food motivated, but a little dense), I’ve tried the citronella collar but she ignores it (and licks it, oddly enough), and I’m trying a PetSafe anti-bark shock collar but I think the one I have is a little intense so I’m going to call and get the dampers from them. My question is just advice on what more can/should I do? I think she has separation anxiety and I’m not sure what more to do.

    • Hi Gaby,
      Separation anxiety is usually marked by other symptoms besides just the barking. Usually destructive behavior, particularly toward doors/exits of the apt. If you suspect separation anxiety (rather than just being easily aroused by outside noises, thus the barking) then I would suggest a visit to your veterinarian to discuss options.
      Other thoughts…if you’re not crating her, you may want to do that. If she has not been acclimated to being in a crate you will have to teach her that first and need to do it when you have some free time at home, not just on a day when you leave for the whole day. Many dogs will feel more secure, and less inclined to “defend” the house if they are crated when you are away.
      You might also try leaving either a radio or tv on while your gone to help mask outside noises that may be setting off the barking.
      Increasing her exercise is probably a good idea. If she can get a really good walk in before you go to work, she may be more settled when you leave. Excess energy is often a cause of “naughty” (barking, chewing, digging) behaviors that we humans don’t like. Another consideration is to hire a dog walker to come in mid-day to get her out for some exercise.
      I would also stick with the bark collar idea, although you may need to get one that offers a wider variety of levels or perhaps vibration so that you can find a sensation that effectively interrupts the barking without it being “too high”. Make sure you are present when you acclimate her to the bark collar. It is important to be there to help the dog to understand that stopping the bark = the sensation will stop. A toy breed can be challenging to fit properly in a collar and sometimes that is why they “don’t work” it is essential that both contact points make solid contact with the skin, otherwise it won’t work at all. Also make sure she is not wearing it more than just your work day hours (8 or so/day) Because of the need for a snug fit, pressure sores can develop if the collar is left on for too long. This can be avoided by making sure you take the collar off when you are home and switch the side of the neck you have her wear it on so that it alternates each day.

  • Intent…… so important.

    I know a farmer whose dog jumps into a high pressure hose (high enough pressure to push him back) he absolutely LOVES IT on a hot day. My gun dog has to be locked up during fire works, not because of fear, but because he hears the bangs and thinks someone is going hunting without him. I’m afraid of him putting himself in danger by running towards the fireworks. Yet every year I read in the paper about people wanting to ban the firework displays because they’re so scary for our poor little pets.

  • Cynthia- I agree. That is the only phrase they seem to know. Anything can cause “pain, fear & intimidation” but really why would someone what to do that to their dog?
    If you have ill intent in the first place then maybe you shouldnt have a dog?

  • Brilliant Robin! Your dogs are a hoot. So intimidated by you!

    I know a bunch of people who actually LIKE the smell of gasoline. Another example of an aversive being in the mind of the beholder.

    Thanks for posting.

  • The next person I hear using the words, “pain, fear and intimidation” is getting sent right over here to watch that video!

  • What is the “intent”?….very nice analogy Robin!

    I was asked by one of my students the other day as to what I thought about a certain training tool. My answer was that the better question to ask was if the chosen training tool was being used appropriately and effectively.

    So I love your question in evaluating the tool…if the intent is to effectively communicate with the dog at the “just right level” than a remote training collar is an excellent training tool.

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