FAQ: Do You Use Shock Collars/e-Collars?
I usually don’t use e-collars for obedience training. Never say never, but 95% of the time, that would be an unnecessary and foolish idea.
However, I sometimes use them. Generally speaking, electric collars (e-collars) are overused in dog training. There is no need to train obedience with e-collars just because we can. I don’t even remember the last time I used an e-collar with a dog in our Board and Train program. It’s rarely necessary. If I think it is the best option, I will discuss it with you before I use it with your dog and explain why and how, so you can decide.
Aversives are used to either stop behaviors that must end or stop dogs from choosing competing reinforcers (e.g., squirrels) over commands. Many things can be aversive; it depends on context. Something that may be aversive in one context is not aversive in another. For example, a time-out (removal from a situation). If your dog doesn’t like visitors and you put him back in his crate, he may enjoy that. While another, very social dog, would hate it when there is a new person to interact with. It all depends.
E-collars are aversive. That’s the point. That is their purpose. They allow to quickly teach a dog to NOT do something by attaching unpleasant consequences to it. Sometimes they are necessary or at least the easiest and fastest way to a necessary outcome, but the keyword is SOMETIMES.
Using E-Collars for Stopping Behaviors
Let’s say your dog eats sprinkler heads, self-mutilates his tail, or chases kids on skateboards. In such scenarios, including an e-collar at some stage as part of a larger training plan can make a lot of sense or may be the only responsible option. For example, a dog chases his tail, catches it, and self-mutilates to the point of serious injury—daily! Are you interested in embarking on a 6-12 month differential reinforcement program that may or may not work out? Probably not. It would be irresponsible and not in your dog’s best interest to let him suffer further injuries. There are many other scenarios. With an e-collar, such behaviors can usually be reliably suppressed with a couple of applications.
Using Them For Competing Reinforcers
Dealing with competing reinforcers is another fair application for e-collars. For example, your dog has learned whatever commands you wanted him to learn with toys or food and is good at them. But, every time you go on a walk with him through squirrel alley, all he wants to do is chase them. For dogs, squirrels are fun to chase! If that is what your dog loves doing, you need to be able to stop him before he takes off and maybe gets hit by a car and dies. If done correctly, it won’t take many repetitions to end this dangerous activity next to a street. He can still chase squirrels in the backyard if you don’t mind.
In summary, yes, I sometimes use e-collars when I think it is in the best interest of the dog’s well-being in a particular case, but it’s not a major or frequent part of my training.
If you are interested in learning more about how e-collars should and shouldn’t be used, I recommend a recent podcast. On the Training without Conflict Podcast, Ivan Balabanov provided some great insights for dog trainers and dog owners. The episode is called The Disadvantages of Low Level E-Collar Conditioning.
If you are interested in more details on the aspects and components of dog training, I recommend my article on Positive Dog Training.
If you are ready to get help with your own dog(s), please use our dog training contact form to schedule a free phone consultation.