Training the Wolf

Shock Collar For Your Dog: 6 Training Rules Of Thumb

In the last shock collar article, I mentioned finding a good level at which to stimulate the dog. I called it the operational level. If you have not done that, go back and read about it before you start trying to train your dog. In fact, all of these articles build on each other, so make sure you have read all of these:

With this article, we will be done with all of the prerequisites for training with a shock collar. But before we start with the actual training, I do need to mention a couple of "rules of thumb". These things are generally true, but there are exceptions to these rules.

1. Teach The Behavior First Without The Shock Collar

The first thing that needs to happen is the dog needs to be taught the behavior without the presence of the shock collar. Using the example of recall, I would first teach recall in the back yard with a clicker and treats. Get the dog coming well in the yard. Once the dog is coming well, I'd take the show on the road and teach a recall in a few different locations. Again, all with treats. This needs to happen before you ever strap a shock collar to the dog.

2. Use A Different Aversive Before Using The Shock Collar

This is called "overlaying". If you were teaching a dog to come and planned to reinforce it with the shock collar, you would first give the "come" command while tugging on a long leash. Later, you would tug on the long leash and stimulate the collar at the same time. Eventually, you would only reinforce with the collar and stop using the check cord. This teaches the dog the meaning of the shock collar and, more importantly, how to turn it off.

3. More Voltage Does Not Convey Understanding

Too often, too many trainers think that the solution to a problem is to increase the voltage. This is a fallacy. Think of it this way:  I have never taken an Economics class. If you have me take the final exam in an ECON 101 class, I will fail. If you hit me in order to convince me to do better, I will still fail. You can hit me harder and the outcome will be the same. I will still fail. And not like you. And cry.

Likewise, shocking a dog for not complying with a command he does not understand will not work. Increasing the voltage will not work. This is abuse, not training. It just hurts and confuses the dog.

If you are in a situation where you are finding that you need to keep increasing the voltage...the dog is yelping, but not complying, put away the transmitter! You are destroying your dog! Take a step back and figure out why the dog does not understand. Go back to the fundamentals.

Remember when you tested the shock collar on yourself. Remember the range between noticing the collar and the collar hurts? Your dog has a similar range. Keep it in mind.

4. Sometimes, You Need A Little More Voltage

Emphasis on "little". There are times when a dog is distracted by the environment, and your operational training level is not enough. If the dog is distracted and driven, you can increase the voltage. A little at a time. One click at a time. The exception to this might be if the dog is charging toward a busy road. But, try a little bit more if the dog seems especially excited or distracted. But, if you are not getting the results you want pretty quick, stop. Go back to the drawing board.

5. Sometimes, You Need A Little Less Voltage

If your dog is wet, your operational level may be too hot. Don't be afraid to try stimulating at a lower level to start with.

6. Sometimes, You Need No Voltage

The number one rule of thumb when training with a shock collar is to use the lowest voltage necessary to obtain compliance to a command that the dog already knows. When training with treats, there comes a time when the behavior is well instilled. You start fading out the use of treats. Same with a behavior that is reinforced with a shock collar. You will also begin to fade out the use of the stimulation. So, don't be afraid to give your dog the chance to see if he will comply without stimulation.

Finally...I have laid all the groundwork. Next up, some actual training examples. Please, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. A faithful reader stated that it is easy to screw up a dog with a shock collar. She is absolutely right. If you have unanswered questions, please ask rather than possibly screwing up your dog.

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Rick Bohning

I do a lot of things. Most of them take my money. The only thing I do that earns me any money is writing software. All the other things I do are funded by said software gig. A short list: Husband, hunter, angler, worshipper, philanthropist, dog trainer, falconer, gardener, kayaker, and scuba diver (just certified).

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