After having written an earlier article about the much maligned shock collar, I have received a few questions pertaining to the purchase and use of a shock collar. After I answer, I often have a niggling fear: does the person asking this question have all of the information related to a shock collar? Because a misused collar can create problems as well as fix them. ( I have long wanted to use the word 'niggle' in this blog...it was kind of a let down, actually.)
This series of articles (starting today) is meant to provide all y'all with all the information. Answer all the questions. Give all the background info that is needed. It needs to be a series, because otherwise, the sheer volume of information would choke even the most spinster/bachelor of librarians. Here we go.
There is not a single behavior that "requires" the use of a shock collar. Every thing can be taught entirely with positive reinforcement. Ev-er-y Thing. Positive reinforcement is not a difficult concept, but using it to develop some more complex and long behaviors occasionally falls in the domain of the professional and full time trainers. Some of the upper level R+ training falls in the domain of the true training artists. For mere mortals like me, my tool box is not so deep, and I will carefully use the shock collar when I cannot apply a better solution.
1) The bad behavior happens outside of your reach
One question I have gotten is if a shock collar might be used to fix a dog who is jumping up to greet. The reason I do not like a shock collar for such a situation is that it is just an extra tool that gets in the way. If the boisterous dog is jumping on you, you have physical contact with the dog and can shape the behavior with touch right then and there. In contrast, a shock collar can be useful for behaviors that occur outside of your reach.
2) The bad behavior is great fun for the dog
There are things that a dog does which we consider bad behavior, but the dog does them because they are great fun or rewarding in some way. Chasing the cat, counter surfing, and barking are some of these self reinforcing behaviors. A shock collar may be useful in those situations. By making the behaviors less fun or rewarding, it gets easier to break the offending behavior.
Consider off leash behavior from your dog's point of view. Often, when you call the dog in, it means the end of fun. Being off-leash is a very rewarding situation. A shock collar can be useful to make it less fun for the dog (at least for when you call).
3) The bad behavior does NOT require wearing the collar 24/7
Another question I have gotten quite a bit is: "Can I used a shock collar to keep the dog from bolting out the front door". The problem with a shock collar in this instance is that behavior is a surprise one. You never know when the dog is going to bolt. So, to always be ready, you would need to have the dog wear the collar all the time. The problem is that where the prongs press against the skin, pressure sores can develop over time.
If you must have your dog wear the collar for an extended period of time, make sure you switch it up as to where the prongs are connecting.
In summary, there is a very narrow field of behaviors where a shock collar can be useful. Within that narrow field, however, a shock collar sometimes can be very very effective.
That is all for today. Future articles will include (but not limited to):
- Choosing the right features
- Proper placement
- Getting the dog used to wearing the collar
- Finding the right level to train the dog
- Some training examples
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