Fear of Remote Collar Dog Training

Fear of Remote Collar Dog Training: Fear of the Unknown

Guest post by Michael Burkey, Michigan Dog Trainer

Its often said that people are afraid of the unknown, things they do not understand or things they cannot control. For one who has an inquisitive mind though, this concept can be hard to understand.

Bear with me for comical side note, I loved to watch David Letterman’s skits where he played a character on the street of New York called “Mr. Curious.” He would stop people on the street and ask them seemingly stupid questions.

On second thought, they were very stupid questions that no one would normally ask someone, hence the comedy of it. When they would quietly ask in response, huh? he would explain that he was “Mr. Curious.” The expressions on their faces were of disbelief and well….hilarious. This is not to suggest that I ask stupid questions but I do love humor and am very curious about a lot of subjects. So you can call me “Mr. Curious” in a more serious nature.

Hence, when I first started using electronic dog training collars (or as some others improperly refer to the modern day collars as “shock collars”), I was very curious if they could be used in a manner to teach and reinforce behaviors at a low level stimulation rather than as a punishment tool at a high level as they were commonly used in the old days.

For many years, I had been a predominately positive reinforcement type of dog trainer who always looked for different ways to train a dog that did not include corrections. In fact, my working dog colleagues, who used heavy handed leash corrections along with praise/ball rewards, often teased me that I had a dolphin as a partner instead of a dog. I considered this a compliment even though it wasn’t meant as one; as my dogs were extremely proficient in their Police K-9 duties.

When training a dog for reliability, fair corrections are appropriate if a dog doesn’t perform an exercise that the dog had already learned and understood.

For example, it is not acceptable for a dog who has been taught to come on command to choose not to come when called because there is a higher distracting stimulus such as a rabbit, deer, a running child to chase or a speeding car.

One can proof their dog against many distractions but no dog is 100% reliable and as we use to say in K-9 training, why did the dog do it?, because “he is a dog.” And, a dog who is a sentient being has free will. Therefore, as much as you try to proof your dog against distractions, sometimes the distraction may be too great or not planned for and a fair correction can get your dog back on track or in some cases save his or her life.

However, I was looking for a way to deliver a fair and humane correction that would teach my dogs don’t do this (after he had been throughly taught what to do instead) that would not harm his psyche or our relationship. Heavy handed leash corrections were not in my belief system.

Thus, I started utilizing electronic dog training collars set at a low level that would get my dogs’ attention but not cause them pain. The amount of stimulation used would only be enough to get my dogs’ attention, no more and no less. Therefore, just like with any other training tool it would never be used out of anger to punish my dogs. Along with treat and ball rewards it would present a clear picture to them without damaging our relationship.

Remember, I said to call me Mr. Curious? I came to this belief system by questioning and learning from world known remote collar experts. My early influence came from retired Police K-9 Officer Lou Castle of California. He was a pioneer in modern remote collar training for police and search and rescue dogs.

Later, I met Robin MacFarlane of That’s My Dog! of Dubuque, Iowa by accident really but life changing just the same. Originally, another remote collar trainer was scheduled to speak at a seminar in Michigan. I signed up to attend his workshop not because I agreed with his methods, as he had a reputation as being too harsh on the dogs but because he ran a very successful business and I wanted to see first-hand what I agreed and disagreed with regarding his methods. Again, call me Mr. Curious.

To my pleasant surprise, the original trainer backed out of the speaking engagement and Robin took up the assignment. I was and continue to be very impressed with her knowledge of dog behavior, the proper way to use remote collars as communication tools, and how to best teach students. She is not only an excellent dog trainer but truly also a life educator and coach.

She continued my learning as to the benefits and application of low level or as she calls it “just right” remote collar training. She too is a pioneer in the remote collar training system for pet dogs as well as police service dogs. I continue to learn from her and she has become a very good friend and colleague.

If Mr. Curious hadn’t been so curious about the first trainer and hadn’t stepped out of his comfort zone to sign up for the seminar, he would have missed out on the opportunity to meet and learn from Robin. And, how sad that would have been as she has enhanced my life in so many ways. From her, I not only solidified my technique as a remote collar specialist but I also came to understand the reasons why some people are afraid of remote collar training.

Some people are afraid of remote collar training because they have no personal knowledge of how it can be used at a just right level to reinforce and modify behavior, they are unsure if they will be able to learn how to utilize the unit properly and not hurt their dog and they do not understand the science behind the tool as their only reference are hot sources of electricity such as electric dog fences (which have to be used at higher levels than a remote dog collar), light sockets, livestock electric fences, or licking the end of a 9-volt battery as a child. I still don’t know why a child would do that but many of my male clients report that they and all their friends did it and of course it hurt. Fortunately, I wasn’t a “Mr. Curious” at a young age. LOL And, fortunately the sensation from the remote collar is nothing like these hot sources of electricity.

Every one of my clients who have felt the remote collar for themselves were pleasantly surprised. They described the sensation as a tingle rather than a shock. In fact, one previously apprehensive client even started laughing as she exclaimed upon feeling the just right level, “is that all it is, I’m surprised, that is nothing!” With that said, remote collar training is not the right choice for every dog, every situation nor for every owner. However, used at a low level it can greatly enhance the training of many, many dogs. In some cases it has saved their life because without it, many owners and trainers who are not remote collar specialists were at their wit’s end and considering enthusing their dog.

As a child I was very afraid of bats because our childhood home was infested with a family of bats. You could hear the bats chirping in the walls as they climbed up and down inside the walls. They would fly up from the basement into the living areas usually when my parents were gone and my brother, Jim and I were being tended to by a baby sitter. I remember the baby sitter putting a seat cushion over her head as the bat flew around the room and Jim and I hid behind her chair.

One time, the family cat, Tiffany, jumped up and caught a bat. But like a true cat, she was more interested in playing with the bat instead of killing it. She and the bat sat right in the doorway of the living room blocking our exit as they played their little cat and bat bounce game. Every time the bat fluttered its wings, Tiffany would swipe the bat with her paw. The bat would go still and remain motionless and Tiffany would wait for the bat to move again. It seemed to go on forever. The house had to be fumigated to be rid of the bats and for many years I was terrified of bats. However, as an adult I learned how incredible creatures they truly are and the benefits they provide the ecosystem. As I began to understand them, my fear lessened.

The other night while sitting under a tree in Singapore, a bat flew and hovered about ten feet above me attracted by the tree’s budding flowers. It’s quick and silent wing flaps were a beauty to behold. I did not experience any fear, just amazement and wonder. I understand bats now and the fear is no more. Such is the fear removed when people learn how to use a remote collar with a qualified remote collar specialist.

For dog training assistance in Michigan, contact the Michigan Dog Trainer. Your apprehension will be resolved as you learn the mechanics and benefits of training with the remote collar system. And, your dog will love you for the new freedom he enjoys with your family.


  • Thanks so much for both this website and post. I am an R+ trainer and work primarily with aggression, fears and other complex behaviors. While I firmly believe in R+ methods and the behavior modification process, I do like to keep an open mind to ways of better helping dogs and their people and in stumbling upon this website, my curiousity has certainly been piqued about this type of use of remote collars which in my “world” and community of R+ trainers is typically frowned upon and completely dismissed. At anyrate, the one question that I have after reading this article, is about habituation. Do the dogs not habituate to the low level use of the e-collar and consequently over time, require higher level shocks? Looking forward to learning more. Thanks again!

    • Hi Catherine,

      That is a good question, thanks for asking. It has not been my experience that the dogs habituate and therefore need increasing levels over time. As a general rule I’ve found the opposite to be true. As the dogs get into habit of paying better and better attention to the handler, the levels may even get lower. And of course with good training practices the stim as part of the cue can be weaned off of.
      That said, I still recommend that people have their e-collars on their dog when off leash, outside their routine environment. IF the dog needs a reminder to pay attention it is better to have the e-collar on and give a tap rather than be in a situation and not have anything to reinforce.

      You may be interested in this video where e-collar was a part of our training process with a very fear aggressive BC

      • Thanks Robin,

        So then, my understanding is that the collar does not operate as an aversive as with conventional shock collars? So my next question is: are there any risks of “fallout” with the e-stim collar if used appropriately? Also, when used as a part of behavioral modification, does the behavior that is being modified still undergo extinction or is the collar just a new contingency layered over the undesired behavior. Also, does behavior modification incorporating the use of this collar address the underlying root cause of the behavior, such as fear/frustration etc and work to change associations, or is it strictly operating on the operant level? Last, but not least, have you had success with use of this collar for modifying ocd type behaviors such as spinning, shadow chasing etc? Hope this all makes sense. I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions 🙂

        • Hi Catherine,

          The use would still be labeled aversive via purist wording of behavioral science . However, in the emotive language that is typically employed regarding e-collars, I do not believe “aversive” fits the definition in this case. IMO, there is a significant difference in using the e-collar as an aversive at “high” level (low/just right/and high are determined by the dog, not the number on the dial) for something like snake proofing, versus at what I refer to as an “interrupter” (just right) level.

          A couple analogies that comes to mind in describing the just right level:
          A tap on the shoulder to gain someone attention. For instance when my kids were highly engaged in video games, they did not seem to “hear” me unless I touched them and made physical contact. No need to slap them.
          A single hair stuck to your cheek that continues to tickle the nose is annoying enough to cause one to wipe it away. That hair is not painful but it is “aversive”.
          In both instances tactile sensation draws awareness away from some focus and toward focus on the sensation. In using the e-collar at a level that is “just right” we take that opportunity of shifting awareness and use it to redirect the dogs awareness of “doing something else” and this also affords the opportunity for rewarding that “something else”

          If you can describe what you mean by the word “fallout” I will do my best to answer.

          In my experience often the behavior undergoes extinction but sometimes not. It depends on the same set of circumstances as other behavioral modification techniques: How much does the person work at it? Are underlying health conditions addressed? etc. there are always many variables to account for…In the work I have personally done, there has been a high level of extinction. In some I believe there is management that has become the acceptable norm for the owner and they are content with that..One part I like about incorporating the e-collar is that it gives the owner the experience of success much earlier in the process, they are reinforced to continue trying. If management is the worst case we end up with….they at least keep the dog and it lives out its life in that home.

          Behavior modification should always address the underlying root cause. Desensitization and counter-conditioning must be added in order to get extinction. This is what we must continue to educate on…that the e-collar can be PART of a successful behavioral modification program but it is not the be all end all magic wand. What I have found to be the greatest value of the e-collar is that it speeds the process up tremendously, by giving a fair and effective way to regain the dogs focus in the midst of triggers. When we regain that focus, we can re-direct, reduce panic and counter-condition much more rapidly.

          I have had success with several OCD cases, but I didn’t win them all. 🙁 I have found that most of the tail chasers that come in need a chiro adjustment. There is typically one or more tail vertebra out. They still need the modification cause the problem was usually over looked for such a long time that the chasing became a habit. It is only my guess…but I suspect the misalignment causes some tingling and that starts the spin/bite.

          • Thanks Robin!

            I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. All of your answers have really helped in my understanding of how this tool is used and I am definitely considering adding it to my toolbox – so you just might see me in one of your upcoming workshops 🙂

            I definitely can see that the proper use of this tool could definitely speed up the behavioral modifaction process and provide more opportunities to reward both the dog and be a very rewarding tool for the owner as well.

            With respect to “fallout” what I meant was essentially “side effects” in the same way that we see with more conventional punishment (traditional shock collars, prong, choke collars etc, ) such as redirected aggression, physiological manifestations of stress, displacement or OCD behaviors, generalized fears/anxiety etc. By what you’ve said, I’m guessing that the answer is “no” based on what your use of the tool is. I’m sure that as with any tool, if it were misused, then we could see “fall out” but with proper use, probably not!

            At anyrate, thanks again for everything!


          • Hi Catherine,

            Yes, you are correct. I have not seen an increase of these fall out behaviors when the e-collar is used properly as part of a balanced program. It is really just like any training or tool…there needs to be some knowledge and education behind it’s use in order to get the good outcome with behavioral modification.

            all the best,

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