Don’t Take Shocking Shortcuts
When training dogs, I employ a wide variety of tools to reinforce good behavior and correct undesirable behaviors. Leashes, crates, collars, treats—each of these has its place and purpose and can help me and my clients achieve our training goals. However, these tools are only effective and productive if they are used appropriately. No tool is a “magic wand” that solves all problems.
Unfortunately, many of my new clients believe that an e-collar is a magic wand that can be used to undo months of overlooking undesirable behavior. They come to me after 6 months to a year of inconsistent or nonexistent training and want to put an e-collar on to shock the bad behavior out of their dog. An e-collar is not a training shortcut. There are no training shortcuts. Effective training requires repetition and consistency. Without them, there are no tools that will help change a dog’s behavior.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard new clients say, “Well I tried, but this one is stubborn.” This usually means they have yelled, corrected, and complained about bad behavior without teaching good behavior. In order to break an undesirable behavior, you must replace it with a behavior that you deem appropriate. Don’t say, “I don’t want him to jump.” Instead, say, “I want him to sit when people come into the house.” Teach your dog the sit; correct him if he refuses to obey; reward him if he accomplishes the sit; then add distractions to proof the sit.
Dog training requires repetition and consistency over time for the desired behavior to become second nature for the dog. There is no alternative to putting in the time. You must make time every day to teach and/or reinforce the behavior in a controlled situation. You have to take the time to address undesirable behavior when it happens—even if you are in a hurry or feeling distracted. If you are unwilling or unable to make and take time, an electric collar will not help. In fact, trying to use one without investing the time will make the situation worse. Every interaction with your dog is a teachable moment. Going straight to an e-collar instead of putting in the time teaches your dog that he cannot trust you and will never be able to predict what you want or when you will correct it. You must be prepared and willing to focus on your dog. If you are not, it is unfair—and ineffective– to try to take a shortcut to ending problem behavior.
When people call me with complaints about their dogs’ behavior, the root of the issue is always one or both of two main causes. (1) The dog has not learned to respect their owner. (2) The dog has not been taught an appropriate behavior to replace the undesirable behavior. If he is jumping and barking at guests, he hasn’t been taught how to greet people appropriately.
Neither of these causes is the dog’s fault. You, the owner, have all the tools. The dog only has the tools that you give him. If you try to use the tools you have inappropriately or take shortcuts, your dog will never have the tools he needs. An electric collar can be an effective tool in certain situations. But shocking is never a replacement for time, consistency, and repetition.