The ATF’s E-collar trained detection dogs.

This following e-collar article is copied and pasted direct from, a government issued newsletter.

My friend and fellow Dogtra ProStaff colleague, Pat Nolan, has taught me a thing or two. His skill level and knowledge are unsurpassed. I can attest that these will be WELL trained dogs very capable of doing their job. Congratulations Pat on this wonderful accomplishment!

This spring, Labrador retrievers wearing virtual leashes will begin nosing around for explosives to make work easier for federal law enforcement personnel, according to contracting papers.

The five dogs, which will be delivered to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives starting in May, are part of an experiment conceived earlier this year to try electronically guiding canines from afar, ATF officials said. The bureau awarded instructor Pat Nolan, from Ponderosa Kennels, a $32,500 contract for “training Labrador retrievers for directional control work through use of remote-collars . . . at extended distances from a handler.”

E-collars, sometimes derided as “shock collars,” control dogs with pulses that should feel like small taps on the neck.

The Smithsburg, Md.-based kennel supplying the dogs was selected in part because it is near ATF’s canine operations center in Front Royal, Va., officials said, thereby reducing transportation and lodging costs that would be incurred with more distant vendors. Ponderosa Kennels was the only nearby vendor that could supply five sniffer Labs accustomed to e-collars within three months, according to a justification for awarding the contract without competition. The purchase is expected to save about $15,000 in recruiting costs.

“The temperament, drives and collective traits required to perform this specialized mission necessitates selection of dogs that exceed industry standards for conventional on-leash detection canines,” the papers state. The agency’s own canine trainers, who have evaluated hundreds of “improvised explosive device,” or IED, detector dogs, found that those animals exhibit common characteristics, officials explained. 

The Marine Corps Special Operations Command and Naval Special Warfare Command also have employed Nolan to train e-collared dogs for explosive detection work, according to the contract justification, which was signed last week.

“Rather than tugging on the leash or pushing the dog into position, we will use low-level e-collar taps to apply very slight but noticeable pressure that encourages him to act,” Nolan says of the digital direction technique on his business’s website. “This system of using the e-collar is even gentler than traditional leash training methods, offers increased reliability and, because the e-collar provides instant feedback to your dog, it accelerates his learning.”

Remote Training Collars and Dog Aggression

Remote Training Collars and Dog Aggression: : It Isn’t All About the Tool

This past weekend I hosted a guest speaker at my dog training facility in Dubuque, IA.  Chad Mackin joined us to present his Pack To Basics Workshop. We had about 25 professional trainers and a few pet owners join us for 2 days of discussion and hands on work tackling the difficult problem of dog to dog aggression.

We had a few interesting cases including Soldier Boy who made great progress in just two days. He went from growling, lunging and firing up at any dog who moved too close or too suddenly to moving off leash during the socialization sessions.

We also watched a foster Pitty make great strides in gaining confidence in the group. From needing to be removed from the room early on (because we couldn’t hear over his frequent barking outbursts) to moving within the group on day two.

There was also commentary about “marshal’s”, those dogs who learn how to instruct others and take it on themselves to oversee much of the group interaction. We saw very interesting video footage of Bart a Boxer who demonstrated his ability over time to grow out of the label “dog aggressive” into a position in the group that helped new comers learn the ropes and stay safe.

I choose a picture of my Malinois, Hero for the top image because he has been a That’s My Dog! marshal for several years. Although Hero never had a history of dog aggression, he is always my go to for stability and has a knack for teaching other dogs the best ways to avoid conflict and maintain calm within the social setting. He frequently attends our puppy preschool groups where I call him “Gramps” cause he knows exactly the right moves and pressures to teach the youngin’s  what is ok and what they need to keep a lid on. 🙂

Chad’s work is founded in the idea that utilizing a social structure (group/pack) is an ideal way to help dogs re-learn how to communicate effectively. I use the word “re-learn” because in the vast majority of dog-dog aggression cases the fundamental issue is a dog who learned inappropriate behavior due to factors such as lack of socialization, traumatic experience, poor modeling and often underlying pain issues. These various layers of stress need to be addressed and lessened but by participating in a controlled environment with a variety of dogs (many of whom are stable) the problem dogs can learn more appropriate behavior to replace the previous aggressive responses.

remote collar

Other than to say that Pack To Basics validated my own mantra that “Motion Dissipates Stress”…I’m not going to attempt to go into detail to describe Chad’s protocols. (it was two days worth of work!) It will suffice to say I’d highly recommend professionals who wish to help rehabilitate dog aggression take the time to attend the course and learn more.

Remote Training Collars: It’s Never Just About the Tool

My reason for bringing this information to the my blog is too emphasis that there are so many components to dealing with dog aggression, it is NEVER just about the choice of tools used.

I personally have found the remote collar to be highly valuable in assisting my goal of rehabbing dogs who favor aggressive responses to  certain triggers.

BUT the tool is not the magic and I want the message loud and clear that if you are dealing with aggressive behavior in your dog you need to get professional help.

If that professional says you CAN’T use  remote collars when dealing with aggression….then I will tell you they are simply under educated with the tools varied uses.

For those of you out there struggling with dog to dog aggression, please don’t give up. It is rare that the issue can’t be greatly improved and often completely resolved. You just need to find the right kind of help.


Bad Girls, Bad Girls, Whatcha Gonna Do?

It is time for my Halloween post.I had so much fun dressing up last year, I knew I’d find a way to pull out another alter ego this season.

With that in mind, I decided we’d discuss if the use of aversives are necessary when training a dog. I know it is a topic that causes much debate amongst trainers. It is kind of like politics with the topic getting heated and people tending to gravitate to one side or the other…

That is the question that I was mulling over on a recent drive to teach an advanced remote collar workshop in Indiana. It is probably more accurate to say I was stewing on that question because I just cannot seem to wrap my head around the entrenched philosophy that some trainers have. That all dog training can be successfully accomplished through 2 quadrants of learning theory. Those being +Reinforcement and -Punishment. What that means to you dog owners is: You give the dog something to reward (reinforce) when he does what you ask and you withhold those rewards if he does not do as you ask. So a cookie if you come to me, no cookie if you don’t. The purists among clicker trainers will tell you; “The cue is an opportunity for reinforcement for the dog. If the dog does not do the behavior then simply withhold the reward.” I’ve also heard it explained that their is a significant difference between a  cue, (which they use) and a command, (which others use – “others” being labeled as “force and intimidation” trainers).

The lingo applied is meant to paint pictures of “who” is the kinder, gentler trainer. What I take away from the discussion is: with a cue the dog is not required to follow through. As an example, if we are teaching a recall and the dog comes to me when called I reward him. If not, then I ignore his lack of response. The dog gets to choose if he wants to earn “an opportunity for reinforcement or not” No other consequence is applied at least via the belief of those who follow this training theory.

I guess my question to a trainer who was proposing this idea to me would be; if my dog doesn’t have to listen when I tell him/her something than what I am paying you to help me achieve and how long until I can expect some level of reliability in response in my typical daily routine with my dog?

In theory I  do get it. I get it from the stand point of working with animals in containment (marine mammals, zoos etc) which is where the techniques were heavily developed and refined. If there is so little other option (such is the case in a pool full of water and nothing else) It limits any real choice that the animal has in the matter. You get the toy/food through your cooperation OR you get solitary existence (no contact, no mental stimulation, etc) We simply ignore you and you will come around to our way of thinking because that is how you get to eat and gain any attention.

On a side note…Isn’t solitary confinement considered one of the higher levels of penalty in our judicial system?

This is the theory of ALL Positive training. Ignore what you do not want, reward what you do. And it does work. But, what it requires is extensive management of environment. Which again, is relatively easy with animals in captivity. I realize our dogs are “in captivity” so to speak. We own them and can control their access to things..but how tightly are you willing to monitor that? And do you truly want your dog to live a life of highly managed access to…well, to the world around them?

I know that I personally do not micro manage my dog that way. I want to live my interpretation of a “normal” life with my dogs. That means I want to leave them un-crated when I leave the house. I want to un-hook their leashes and let them turn and burn at the park, I want to have friends visit my house without expecting my friends to have to “ignore the dog, don’t look at the dog, don’t touch the dog”…in short I want to spend some time teaching my dog what my expectations are and then. Only then, AFTER a period of teaching….I actually want my dogs to have some responsibility in the matter. I want my dogs to make choices that ultimately allow them to be fully integrated in my life without my continual micro-management of them and the humans and other dogs around them. Giving the dogs an opportunity to make a real choice, IMO, means they are going to be exposed to consequences other than “I will ignore your lack of response.”

So back to my drive… did I get to all this spinning in my brain?

and how does it tie into dog training, aversives and the use of remote collars?

October 5th, 10 am…..I’m heading down Interstate 39 through Illinois, jamming to Foo Fighters when I glance at my odometer and see I’m pushing 90 mph. So I ease up on the accelerator, glance in my rear view hoping not to see those red flashing lights (again) and when the reading drops back to 75 mph I set my cruise control.

I’ve confessed to you before.

I AM a speed junkie. Yes. I am.

I LOVE to go fast. Once I grew beyond 5 foot tall I knew my dreams of being a jockey were over…but by then I’d learned about cars.

Maybe it was early imprinting, I’m 8 years younger than my brother so when he got his DL, I was just a tyke. He often was charged with watching his little sisters so that meant we got taken along on many of his excursions. (I’m sure he was thrilled) But for me…sitting in the passenger seat, flying the back roads of Wisconsin…I was grinning ear to ear. And when he turned 21 and started driving in the local stock car circuit…well that was a pre-teenage girls dream. Hanging with the cool boys!

I’m not ashamed to say I encouraged one of my early dates to bury the needle from the back of his motorcycle. Watching it tick past 120 mph was awesome!!

The down side is this deep urge comes with a price tag. A rather costly one and as years went on and insurance went higher….well, I’ve learned to monitor my behavior.

That is what I was thinking about on my drive down I39.

I asked myself: What if those red flashing lights were to pull me over frequently and often when I was observing the speed limit and they would reward my cooperation with $50.00 would that increase my desire to drive by the rules?

My immediate response was No Way.

If someone told me going the speed limit was an opportunity for $50.00 reinforcement but my speeding would be ignored I can tell you with absolute certainty I’d be in the left lane flying by you with a big ole’ grin on my face.

If they upped the positive motivation to $10,000.00 per good behavior. I suspect I would take them up on it for a while. At least until I earned enough for this baby.

But then, as Dog is my witness I AM putting the pedal to the metal. There simply would be a tipping point where the reward was not as powerful as my urge to go fast.

You see it is quite simple. Some undesirable behavior is never going to go away by ignoring it. The behavior itself is too reinforcing in and of itself. No amount of reinforcing an alternative behavior is going to stop my speeding. The only thing that has held me in check is having some consequence for my actions.

And those consequences DO NOT make me afraid to drive, nor do they make me dislike law enforcement. They simply have made me aware of monitoring my own behavior. They demonstrated to me real choice between the consequence of losing my license or being able to continue to drive.

This is what I came to on my journey. The idea that ALL positive works for everything, all situations….well, it’s a bunch of malarky. There is absolutely nothing in the natural world that works that way.

Please don’t misinterpret that I am diminishing the need for rewards and reinforcement in training…but the thinking that aversives aren’t needed is truly laughable. Those same people that argue this point will also try to convince you that head halters, front-clip harnesses and body wraps don’t work with aversive principles…somehow those are magically “all positive” too at least in the world of rainbows and unicorns!


I’m off for a drive…can you hear the AC/DC blaring??

dog shock collar


* special thank you’s to Mike Keating set design and photography, Jessica Bowlng & Capri College makeup, Maddie MacFarlane Dog training and Tommy, my heart dog & one of the worlds coolest Malinois. 🙂

A happy owner has a whole new dog with e-collar training (and a whole new perspective!)

When someone is delighted with the results of their e-collar training they can’t help but share their enthusiasm. The following is an e-mail sent to Eileen Balcom – Vetillo of A Whole New Dog in Earlville, IL. Eileen has been coaching Anna and her two dogs through a series of dog training lessons using a remote collar as one of the tools to improve communication and reliability.

I asked permission to share the note here because I believe reading the words from fellow dog owners rather than just dog trainers or behaviorists gives you a clear perspective on the outcome and value of e-collar training when it’s done right. I did take the liberty of highlighting a few of the sentences because it is important to point out things that help put to bed some of the myths and misconceptions that abound remote collars. These dogs are happy, their owner is happy and they have freedom they didn’t have before.

I know you have read these type testimonials before but I am going to continue to share them until this tool is seen for what it is, just a tool. One that can be used properly and without doing harm to the dog. One that can change a persons relationship with their dog for the better because it provides security without sacrificing freedom. Until the hysteria and over-reactions like trying to ban this tool go away….these words need to be seen.

Good job Eileen for coaching well done and good job Anna for putting in the time to do it right!

I have been walking Duke and Gracie and it has been just lovely…so nice…
I started taking them down by the dam here in Lake Holiday as there is a pretty open space there.
They can walk down by the water and it’s just something different. We still do our walk from pier back to house with leashes dropped in the AM.
What a feeling.. I still can’t get over it!

I can let them loose on leash and they play ball there , they run around, chase each other…I keep practicing the “let’s go” with them still And it is amazing….they come to me and life is good…They look so happy, which in turn makes me happy. I find myself smiling while we are walking.
People have commented on how nicely they are walking and when we come up other dogs, the other dogs look so out of control. Pulling and jerking the owners. Duke & Gracie wouldn’t pull and jerk me but I didn’t have them in control before.. I FEEL I do now..and that is more than half the battle.
They ask me what the ‘secret’ is… I tell them it’s “Eileen” J..I explain about the eCollar and the beauty of it..and then I do like you would.. I ask them..”Do my dogs look unhappy” when they give me a look about them not wanting to ‘shock’ their dogs…? I then ask “ so you’d rather pick them up off the street after they get hit by a car – God forbid – or run off and your heart is broken??” Then I say again “ do my dogs look unhappy or afraid?” I said to them you are probably doing more harm to your dog by jerking their neck back and forth than anything I am doing.
One guy I gave him a mini demo…I walked with Gracie – Duke was just laying down on side of road…sniffing grass….NOW that is calm,submissive..and guy’s dog is hopping all over..
So I walked with Gracie and did the turn around thing – 1st thing you showed me – “let’s go” and she turned and I said again “ does she look scared or hurt?” Of course I loved her up . I think he was impressed.
So I continue to spread the word…I had so much fun with them at the dam..we were all running and chasing the ball..I swear they were smiling!
Duke is really good with not even having to ‘stim’ him…I can say “Duke – come or let’s go” and his own portly self is coming my direction. Even in the yard other day when he was in hot pursuit of a squirrel.. this squirrel ended up falling off the telephone line and into neighbors yard but Duke came back …otherwise it would have been me, Duke and knocked out squirrel episode!
Update with dogs at the fence…Lexie the puppy and Gracie run/up down but I can see it is play and Gracie does come back when called…sometimes it takes a few times but much,much better
And we continue to work on place boards…even Wyatt – little boy next door, whenever he seem someone coming to the door,like UPS or mail lady – I hear him saying – the dogs are in training patient…so cute. Duke loves the place board for his naps.. I got the square one,it is bigger and hold both of them, even Bert from time to time – the 3 of them

Jim even does place board and find that it is a good thing. Let me know about the ‘walk’ if it comes together.
So wanted to share the news and keep in touch…take care
Anna and the gang in Lake Holiday

Shock Collar Training and Happy Dogs in North Carolina?

Remote collar training done properly yields awesome results. Not sure if it is the right decision for your dog? Here is more evidence that it can be a fantastic choice when you have the right education.

Elaine Pendell of Carolina Dog Training is another wonderfully skilled trainer who has done some private mentoring training with us here at That’s My Dog!

Four paw salute to Elaine and Amy for the great work you did together!

shock collar trained dogs

“Until Elaine came to visit us in our home and work with our pack on remote collar training, I could barely handle both dogs myself and sometimes I could not handle them at all. Taking them out for walks was not fun and was filled with fear and stress for me, as I never knew what would happen or who would pull my arm out. After Elaine’s visit, and our continued work with our dogs, we now have the calm, cooperative and fun pack I always wanted and hoped we could have. We recenly travelled to NY where friends own over 50 acres of hunting land. The accomindations are like camping and we were in the woods all weekend, with lots of new and different animal smells and noises. We were able to take the dogs with us and on waks ANY where I wanted to go with NO leashes…the entire weekend! WOW…now that’s what I call success! We are extremely grateful for Carolina Dog Training. Four months afer her visit, we are so happy and appreciative!”

Amy Dupre

E-collars, What level of stimulation is needed when training a dog?

One of the main myths surrounding remote collar training is that the collar has to be used  at a high and uncomfortable level in order to be effective.

This is actually far from the truth.

When I teach people how to find the right level to use for their dog I often use the analogy of turning up the volume on the phone. When you are having a conversation you adjust the volume so that you can hear the dialogue. If there is a burst of noise in the area, you turn the volume up and when the noise subsides you turn the volume down. The goal is to be able to hear and pay attention to what is being said. Continue reading “E-collars, What level of stimulation is needed when training a dog?”