Woof!! and Happy New Year!

We’ve been pretty bogged down here in Iowa with cold, COLD weather and LOTS of snow….but it didn’t stop my 10 year old Malinois, Tommy from wanting to go out and play! A good reminder for me to just keep moving forward and making the best of what ever comes. Dogs are fabulous for being that constant ‘in the moment’ presence in our lives.

So what ever your New Year’s resolutions or hopes for self- improvement include this coming year  here’s my reminder to add a little something in there designed especially for your dog.

In fact I came up with a few possibilities for your consideration:

Learn a new trick or two.

Take your canine pal on a monthly visit to someone who needs their spirits lifted.

Include walks that allow you both to ‘just be’ and sniff out all the wonders of the woods, the beach or the quiet park at the end of the street.

Commit to a better weekly grooming routine (fur, feet, teeth and ears) so Fido looks, smells and feels good.

Upgrade to a healthier diet. Yes, for both of you! 🙂

Donate some time or resources to a rescue or shelter in your area.

Find a weekend get-away where you both can have some fun. (like our Dog Camp in June!)

More exercise. Yes, for both you! 🙂


robin macfarlane


or as the sign in my office says: Bark Less, Wag More & Play Often!
Happy New Year to everyone.

Robin, Tommy & Diva


This dog understands Tap = Attention!

Just wanted to share some photos from this weeks video shoot. One of our regular day care attendees, Sam got into the act while shooting some short clips for the  iQ Pet training collars.


If you think the idea of Tap = Attention doesn’t work then you need to have a conversation with this Golden Retriever!


photo 1

He nailed it by very effectively  interrupting our shooting numerous times.  When the director called “Action!” and we went to roll, he gave me the gentle paw nudge as soon as I started to speak. And it worked, I laughed, lost my line and we had to start again! He is most certainly, Tap literate!


Tap = stop that,this human needs to focus!

So, I pulled the tried and true move…hand on his collar to stop his interruption…but apparently couldn’t keep my eyes open and talk at the same time. 🙂

Tennis ball saves the day!

And finally we found the magic green orb. (note the tennis ball in director’s left hand) to solve the problem. Sam sat mesmerized for the total minute, we got the shot, he got his ball. 🙂




Remote Collar Training for Dogs: The Problem with the Numbers…

Remote Collar Training for Dogs Requires Skill?

There are several skills one must master in order to become proficient at remote collar training for dogs. Learning when to tap the button and how to help the dog understand the sensation are two of the main components for success. But the one that seems most intimidating for the novice handler is understanding how to adjust the stimulation level appropriately for the dog.

The e-collar instructional dvd’s  I created were titled “Just Right” for a reason. Just right is a level that is appropriate for the dog’s sensitivity and it is variable depending on the situation and distractions at hand.

The thing about “just right” is it is not a number. It is a sensation. The numbering system on the electronic dog collars are there to guide the human, they mean nothing to the dog. The problem with the numbers though is that humans tend to get hung up on them. As the numbers increase some people get increasingly uncomfortable. I supposed that has to do with our perception of linear systems and the idea of “higher”.

Too often I’ve witnessed handlers spend lots of time staring at the e-collar LCD screen making painstakingly incremental adjustments to the stim level. As a result, they aren’t actually watching the important part of the training equation, the dog. After all it is the dog that tells us everything we need to know about whether or not the e- collar stimulation level is Just Right or not.

When our clients become a bit obsessed looking at the numbers instead of the dog, we have a solution. We cover up the dial.

Now pay attention to the dog. Is the dog noticing the stimulation? Is there any sign that he/she feels it? An ear twitch, an increase pace in the step, a momentary pause in movement or a quizzical expression. Then you are probably at Just Right for teaching behaviors. Is the dog jumping, yipping or startled, then you are Too High. Is the dog continuing to sniff the ground, play with his toy, paw and jump at you, then you are probably Too Low.

That is the one question you ask yourself regarding the level and the answer is provided by the dog…is it too High, too Low or Just Right?

This is a technique I teach to all my students who are interested in remote collar training for dogs. It is absolutely the best way to learn to use a remote collar successfully. When I present an e-collar training seminar the question inevitably comes up, “what level are you working at?” and my response is always “just right”. I’m not attempting to be smart when I say that but I have no awareness of “what the number is.” I rarely bother to look at the transmitter…my eyes are where they are supposed to be when training, On the dog.

The best advice I can give others is to watch The Dog,  turning the dial to and fro according to what the he or she is saying.

The numbers on the transmitter are nothing more than a reference point. Take note of where your dog “typically works” and use it as a starting point but don’t get consumed with what number the e-collar transmitter is set on.

It really can be easy to learn remote collar training for dogs if you commit yourself to letting go of preconceived notions and just pay attention to the dog.

Happy Training!

Happy New Year!

Time to toss the old calendar and get ready to ring in a whole new year. The earth kept rotating and somehow we’ve made it through 2012 despite the predictions of impending doom.

Here at The Truth About Shock Collars we’ve continued on as well and it has been a good year. Let’s peak back at a few of the highlights: Continue reading “Happy New Year!”

Remote Collar Training for Puppies?

Training for Puppies: “Never shock a puppy?”

If you have a new pooch and you’re looking for some help with training for your puppy, you can find a lot of great information out there. You’ll also likely find some strong opinions like; “never shock a puppy”.

Those are some scary words, meant to entice emotion and title to one of the anti e-collar campaigns…and I agree with that sentiment. I would never shock a puppy. I would NEVER advise someone to run out, purchase an electronic collar put it on their 6 month old pup, wait for them to be “bad” and then push the button. That, in all likelihood would cause some adverse fallout including possible superstitious behavior around people, other dogs or even objects.

However, I would use an e-collar as a communication device to guide a pup into behavior that can be rewarded. I would collar condition a pup so they have an understanding of what the stimulation means and how they could control the sensation. Then I would use the tool to encourage behavior I want and discourage behavior I don’t want.

Now you might ask why I or others like me would do such a thing and the answer is “because if you actually know what you are doing with this piece of equipment it is the fairest, fastest, most humane tool you can use to train your dog.” As part of well-rounded training for puppies approach, the remote collar can be a wonderful addition.

I believe remote collar training done well works the way a GPS system works when you are driving your car. You receive information for when you are off course and information of what to do to stay on the right route. No one seems to feel it would be more appropriate to create a GPS unit that ONLY tells you when you make the right turn while ignoring your “off route” moves. If you think about that it is pretty humorous…but I imagine it would also be rather frustrating if you actually want to arrive at your destination on time.

Imagine for a moment that I tell you “hey, lets get in the car and drive to the destination I have in my mind and I’ll only tell you yes when we are on the right route and I’ll give you a dollar every time you make a correct guess in direction” we might have a grand ole’ time for a bit, but I’m thinking we won’t get there any too fast. Now add in the criteria that getting to the destination correctly also means only then do you get to get out of my car, go home and back to your life you might get a tad frustrated about how long the task will take. It seems that when time begins to matter…we prefer more constructive feedback.

That is my perspective on reliable training for puppies or training for any dog for that matter. It is feedback, yes and no are both communicated to the dog. The challenge with educating about e-collars is helping people understand that “no” does not have to be painful or startling. I honestly try to understand the viewpoint that the never shock a puppy advocates are coming from. I really get it that there are some who will use a tool out of frustration and I am keenly aware that there is some lousy equipment on the mass market. Neither of those points are going to be debated by me (in fact they are part of the reason I keep speaking out)….but those points alone don’t convince me that the tool should be banned from the market. If that is the “ban stuff” criteria, than there is a lot of stuff that needs to be banned in the world.

In place of e-collar bans we need massive education and we seriously need the manufacturers to step up and take a lead role in this…the quality e-collar trainers out here are doing the best we can but it is time for some support.

Now this is just speculation, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and question that perhaps what the anti e-collar advocates are really worried about is the fact that some of us can do things so much faster, with so much more reliability with this method of training that it is threatening to their careers. If they can’t compete with these type of results with their preferred tools and methodology then perhaps it makes sense that the easiest solution is to ban the tool that provides an advantage?

As far as making up your mind about if one should Never Shock a Puppy….tell me what you think of this little guy. He’s six months old. He came in because he puppy play bites, chases people, pulls on leash, does some nuisance barking, is scared of other dogs, jumps up a lot, and likes to play “catch me if you can”. This short clip was taken on the second day of his 2 week board and train program. As you are watching, pay really close attention and tell me how many times did I push the button on the remote collar? (cause Yes, I DID push the button, however I never shocked the dog)

Now here’s the disclaimer. If you have not used a remote collar before and you think this looks cool, it is but find HELP if you want to learn to do this with your dog. Training for puppies, or training for dogs, for that matter need not be that difficult. With a bit of time, education and commitment most anyone can achieve a well behaved companion.

Remote collar training can work for fearful and anxious dogs: ya just gotta know how to do it.

remote collar dog training

A remote collar is not magic.

I say that just about every time I meet with someone for a dog training evaluation. And then I explain what it can do for enhancing the dog and owner relationship if used properly. The key being, it must be used with knowledge.

Electronic collars are not one of those tools that someone can purchase and  “do it yourself”. At least most people will not be successful because the commonly held perception is that you put the remote collar on the dog and “shock the dog” when they are being “naughty” or “bad”.

That idea is absolutely the opposite of how to train a dog with a remote collar.

I think that is one of the things that Sammi’s owners learned when they trained with us. That this tool is only a tool. It does not replace the need to teach, to practice, to exude calm leadership and to use various forms of praise and rewards for all the things the dog is doing right.

What the remote collar can do through (when used with the right knowledge) is make the communication between dog and owner much clearer.

It will reduce frustration with both the dog and the owner and it will speed up the learning and allow for faster results. And for those who think faster doesn’t matter….tell that to the people who are considering giving up their dogs cause they don’t think they can make it work any longer. Fast would of mattered to all those dogs who have been relinquished to shelters cause the human didn’t believe there were any options left.

Case in point below when another trainer said that Sammi was probably un-adoptable.

Fast matters. So does knowledge. If you are considering using a remote collar to train your dog take time to really learn how train with the equipment. After that you will never look back, you will have crossed over to real freedom, real results and a much happier relationship with your dog.



Matt and I wanted to thank THATS MY DOG for the remarkable training that we received for our German Shepherd, Sammi. Sammi is a rescue
that we adopted at 8 months old , and we realized quickly she had behavior issues. She was aggressive, would bite,  jump up and knock us down.We could not have visitors in our home because Sammi was hostile.  She would not obey any commands. Sammi was confrontational and hostile toward our four young grandchildren and could not be allowed in the house when they visited. She would not stay off the furniture and bed, and would become vicious if we tried to get her off. She often blocked doorways and stairs, growling and baring teeth if we tried to pass by.

We enrolled Sam in obedience school and she did not do well .We were told we should surrender Sammi and that she was possibly unadoptable. Our next step was to purchase an electronic collar. We had no clue how to use it properly and it did not help Sammi’s behavioral problems. We were at the point that we didn’t know what to do and realized we might have to give Sammi up. We were frustrated, angry, sad, scared and tired.

A neighbor mentioned THATS MY DOG. We called and had our free evaluation with Robin. She said Sam was “reactive” and fearful and that she could help us. We had doubts but were willing to try. Kelly was our trainer. Every week she would walk us through the lessons and give us homework to do with Sammi. If we had issues or questions during the week we were encouraged to call Kelly. She was very patient, knowledgeable, and confident. We loved her and so did Sammi.

Learning to use the e-collar properly took some effort…we quickly began to see results.  Sammi tested boundaries often, but as we learned to consistently use the remote collar, Sammi realized what was expected of her. We also learned PLACE and it has been so useful when Sam is overexcited and anxious. We learned that the word OFF replaced a hundred other phrases. We learned not to yell at Sammi, instead let the collar remind her of what she had learned.

We never believed, even after we began to see progress with Sammi, that she would be capable of off leash. Sammi used to drag us on walks, bark at everything. It  was not a pleasant experience so we quit walking her. Now Sam and I walk every morning and she is in  a perfect heel position with no leash….and me looking at her proudly and saying THATS MY DOG !!!!!!!!

Our four grandchildren come often now….and Sammi is loving, playful and gentle with all of them including the 2 year old…who likes to tug Sam’s ears and lay on her back. There are not enough ways to thank Robin and Kelly for all they have taught us. We know without a doubt that learning how to properly use the electronic collar to train Sammi saved her life. She is now happy, well behaved, and a  pleasure to have in our family. We thank you for that and for giving us a dog that other professionals never thought capable of such amazing obedience.

Matt and Kim Potter

How to find a Professional Dog Trainer?

I’ve been away from writing for some time…my apologies to those readers who check back here regularly. As many of you know I’ve been up to my eyeballs moving our business location to a new facility. Due to that, I’ve been working on updating the TMD website and in doing so I usually end up perusing other websites to see what is currently in fashion. One thing I found of interest is the number of sites who host a list of “rules” on how to find a professional dog trainer.

There is some general information that is good, such as making sure the environment is clean and safe and finding out how much the trainer stays current on education and learning new things. There is also the “duh” type statements that if you see a trainer kicking or choking a dog as part of a learning process…well, just turn and run.

But often when you look a little deeper at these lists you uncover an agenda that is espoused by someone or some group who simply has little tolerance for philosophy’s or teaching methods that differ from their own.

Also I want to point out that generally these guidelines are written pertaining to a group class learning environment. If you are considering hiring a private trainer rather than attending a group class you will need to make your assessment based on slightly different criteria since watching a private lesson at an individual clients home would likely be out of the question.

So lets take a look at a few of the suggested guidelines some espouse.

One of the typical first questions centers around the attitude in the environment.
For instance “are the dogs happy?” It is suggested that the dogs should look as if they are enjoying the class, training should be fun. Also “are the people enjoying themselves?” Look for a class that “encourages all family members to attend and participate” is a frequent statement presented.

As a general guideline, I agree with these principles… The learning should be an engaging experience for the dog and the handlers. People should be having fun and it should be pretty low to no stress. But I think it is very important to make sure we are talking about a general obedience class and comparing apples to apples. This means the only goal of the class is to teach rudimentary behaviors such as Sit, Walk nicely on a leash or Lay down when told.

For many dog trainers this means a dog who has minor behavior problems like uncontrolled barking, reactiveness around other dogs, or significant pulling on leash will be restricted from participating in the class. They will either be asked to leave or will be kept off at a distance from the other dogs. Only dogs deemed social enough or with calm enough energy are being allowed to participate.

The dogs who are problematic and more reactive are not allowed to participate in the group class.

This often means those more challenging dogs end up in “the other trainers” classes.
And if that is the case it may not always be 100% positive and completely stress free. A dog learns through comparison: what works versus what does not work. When we take away options from a dog of something that was once rewarding (chasing bicycles for instance) and teach an alternative behavior in it’s place (to sit and watch the bicycle go by) there will be some bit of stress. Learning to change habits is not accomplished with zero stress…anyone who has ever quite smoking, went on a diet or started a work out routine understands exactly what I’m talking about. 🙂

That being said there is a very significant difference between stress (which is often a part of learning something new) and distress (which shuts a dog down and is non-productive in a learning environment)

A qualified trainer will not allow or encourage you to work your dog into a state of distress.

As for all family members being able to attend and participate, again as a general rule I agree. Consistency is a must in any good dog training program which means the more family members that learn “how” to work with the dog the greater increase in likelihood that the training will be an overall success. But once again, there are exceptions to that idea.
I for one do not encourage toddlers or infants coming to class, unless there is a family helper along who will be in charge of the young ones. It is non-productive for mom to try and train the dog and keep her focus there when she is also trying to manage the kids at the same time. Also when dealing with behavior issues of aggression to human or dogs, a child is not the appropriate helper/trainer for those situations.

If we are talking about a very rudimentary class where all the dogs are screened and known to be social and deemed safe around children, then by all means the kids should be encouraged to participate. If dog’s of varying personalities and with varying behavior issues are mixed into one environment than it should be at the discretion of the trainer whether to allow kids to participate.

The next item on the “how to select a trainer” guidelines generally revolves around tools. Statements seen may be similar to: “ Do not attend a class if dogs are wearing prong collars, choke collars or electronic collars.”

My question is; why? Why, other than a marketing agenda, would that be a recommendation? I completely understand that some trainers choose not to use these tools, but why is there a belief that ones skill level or ability to help their clientele is determined simply by what tools they keep in their tool box?

Again…lets go back to rule number one; simply access the dogs in the class. Regardless of the tool they are or are not wearing, are they generally happy and learning? Is the environment relatively low stress or not? If the dog is wearing a head halter and showing signs of mild stress because it is his first time getting used to it, or startles at the first sounds of a click…should one abandon the class or the trainer?

The idea of making a decision based solely on the presence or absence of a tool is short sighted. I have seen amazing trainers whose primary tool is a clicker and I have seen amazing trainers whose primary tool is a remote collar. Skill levels in this profession are far ranging just as they are in other service industries. A certain scissors or clipper does not make a talented groomer, nor does the scalpel make the veterinary surgeon good or bad.

A tool does not define a trainer nor their ability to help you with your dog.

So here are my suggestions for finding a truly professional dog trainer:

Decide on your goals, state them clearly to the trainer and ask if they can teach you to teach your dog the things on your list. For instance if one of your goals it to be able to take your dog for a walk down the street without him/her pulling you or lunging and barking at other dogs that walk by, ask the trainer if they can give you that result.

Find out approximately what time frame will be needed to achieve your goals. Be aware, no one can give you an absolute and time frames will also depend highly on your commitment to practice what you are taught but if it is going to take you 12 months and 4 levels of classes to get to the point of being able to take your dog off leash at the park and feel confident you will be able to call him/her back to you, I think it is fair to know that up front. After all you are exchanging your time and money for an expected service and goal.

Ask the trainer how they go about helping you achieve your goals. Be aware it is not feasible for the trainer to explain the whole plan to you in a few minutes (that is why you sign up for training). But you should be able to obtain some idea of a logical progression of how you will get from A to Z to achieve your goals.

Observe a training class and speak to some of the other attendees about their experience. Find out if they are happy with the results they are getting. Ask if their dog seems to be enjoying the learning process.

While observing the class pay attention to the instructors teaching style. Do they communicate clearly? Are the lessons explained in a way that make sense to you? Do they spend adequate time helping owners hone their skills or do they spend most of the time demonstrating with little practice time for the students? Some instructors are better at “show and tell” rather than really coaching their clients how to do it themselves. This is a poor practice, because after all, you are the one who has to become competent handling your own dog.

If the trainer tells you that your goals are unrealistic, for example: “You have a Siberian Husky and they can never be trusted off leash” take that as a cue to interview more trainers. Trainers that have a long list of excuses as to why your goals are unrealistic or can not be achieved, probably need a bit more expertise and experience themselves.

As mentioned previously, most of these guidelines revolve around the idea of observing a group class environment. Please be aware that many trainers teach through private lessons rather than groups. If this is the case, it may not be possible to attend a lesson since they are often taught at an individual clients home. However, you can ask for referrals and chat with former clients. Many trainers also video tape their work and may be willing to share some clips with you for reference. And of course there is always the idea of asking your family and friends for opinions. If you know of someone who has a well trained dog ask them where they went for training. A referral from someone who has worked with an individual trainer is worth far more than any opinion or list of guidelines you will find on the internet.

Long story short, dog training is a service industry. You are paying for a service and in return you should have some definable outcome that you can expect at the end. Be clear on what you are buying and remember to compare apples to apples.


The Abuse Theory: How Do You Use a Shock Collar?

How Do You Use a Shock Collar? Is it Abusive?

I’ve witnessed conversations by professional trainers regarding the average pet owner, that they don’t understand how do you use a shock collar for training a dog and therefore they should not be allowed to purchase one.

There is concern that without a high level of expertise and perfect timing JQ Public will use the tool abusively and thus harm dogs through application of *pain and fear*. Some trainers and behaviorists support the idea of banning e-collars because of these ‘abuse possibilities’. The thought process stems from the idea that dog owners purchase the remote collar, strap it on their dog and go about randomly zapping the dog every single time Fido does something wrong.

If that scenario were the prevalent case, I’d support limitations on remote collar use as well. However, I don’t believe it is the case. I’m not suggesting their isn’t the occasional circumstance where someone might use the tool abusively but it is certainly not the norm. An abusive person is going to take out frustration with the dog one way or another. Some people do cruel things. They do them with their hands, feet, a broom, a stick, rope, leashes, rocks, or a whole host of other things. If we are going to start banning stuff based on the “possibility of abuse” we have a whole lot of banning to do.

However, my main argument to the concept that the average Joe abuses this tool is based on my experience meeting so many people that have purchased a remote collar, took it home and then barely to never used it. Shortly after purchasing these folks realized that they didn’t know the answer to “How do you use a shock collar?” so they didn’t get much farther than charging it up or putting it on. Actually pushing the button was too far outside their comfort zone so the remote collar is gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere.

I clarified this point at a recent speaking engagement at the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers. During opening comments I invited the trainers to use a collar on me. Since this is a frequent snide comment made about my work (“Someone should put a collar on your neck and see how you like it!) I thought it only fair to demonstrate my commitment to the belief that the remote collar can be used as an interruption, a way to gain attention.

So to test my theory that limited knowledge of “how do you use a shock collar?” doesn’t automatically lead to abuse, I placed a live collar on my neck and had my assistant, Kelly make sure anyone who wanted to ask me a question push the remote collar transmitter button a few times in order to get my attention. This was the rule for my lecture, rather than the traditional raising of their hand. If someone wanted my attention they had to tap me to get it.

From my perspective it was a really cool experience. I got the dog’s eye view of how the remote collar can interrupt focus and redirect to alternative behavior. I’d be chatting away, focused on doing my presentation and would then become aware of the tap, tap, tap sensation on my neck at which point I’d stop presenting and say “ does someone have a question?” I’d scan the room trying to find the source of the interruption, and the controller of the transmitter would identify themselves and ask what ever it was they wanted clarification on.

From the audience perspective it was another story. The audience was more stressed about it than I was….can you guess how much my assistant had to convince these folks to just push the button?

She had to WORK at it and some people flat out refused. They wanted to ask a question but were “afraid to hurt me”. (of course it didn’t hurt at all because we use the Just Right level….) Near the end of the presentation I asked how many people had questions that didn’t get asked because they didn’t want to tap me or how many had to be convinced by Kelly to push the button….. a lot of hands shot up.

So the food for thought was… “if it took that much convincing to tap me, even when I willing agreed to the entire process, how hard is it to tap the button with a dog, the animal that you have a bond with, the pet that is part of your family?”

In reality most people don’t want to push the button, they are afraid too because they don’t really understand what does and doesn’t happen when they tap (and of course we need to fix that gap in knowledge about this tool)

The bottom line is when people don’t know the answer to “how do I use a shock collar?” they aren’t that slap happy to just strap a remote collar on their dog and start *zapping them*. The perceived rampant cases of abuse don’t exist. If they did, chew on this fact: In 2010 there were over 3 Million receivers sold in North America alone. That is JUST in 2010 and that only counts the collars sold by the three manufacturers who shared their numbers with me (Dogtra, Radio Systems & Tri-tronics). If we say that electronic collar use has been fairly prevalent for the last 10 – 12 years in North America and you do some extrapolating about how many units have probably been sold……where is the evidence of all these dogs living in fear and pain? Where are all the abuse cases?

People that purchase a remote collar actually care enough to try to train their dog or attempt to solve the problems they are having with their dog. They do so because they LOVE their dog. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t bother spending the money or waste their time trying to improve things.

I suggest we professionals devote our time and attention to creating more effective education and stop assuming that the average pet owner is not capable of using a remote collar or any tool for that matter.

remote collar
Tommy teaches Robin a thing or two

Generalizing a dog’s understanding of good behavior takes practice. (even when using the electronic collar)

There are many benefits to using an electronic collar; ease, convenience, distance control, quick results…there is a long list to the pros of e-collar training.

But I would be remiss if I did not point out that all these advantages do not alleviate the necessity to remember good training principles. Using an electronic collar to assist in teaching basic obedience or solve behavior problems does not mean Continue reading “Generalizing a dog’s understanding of good behavior takes practice. (even when using the electronic collar)”

Remote dog training collars: Tools of torture or communication devices?

There are many ways to use a remote dog training collar. Unfortunately the first idea that comes to mind for many people is the thought that it is the *biggest hammer* in the tool box and should only be used after all other possibilities have been exhausted.

I believe this philosophy Continue reading “Remote dog training collars: Tools of torture or communication devices?”