What Dog Owners Need to Know About E-Collars

Friendly collar

Electronic collars often referred to as e-collars or shock collars, can be very effective tools for training your canine companion. Whether you’d like to keep your dog close to you while off-leash or put an end to any unwanted behaviors, e-collars can be used for a variety of applications and come in a range of styles with different features. 

As with any method of behavior modification, there are pros and cons. In fact, the e-collar tends to be a rather polarizing piece of pet equipment—dog owners and trainers often either swear by them or vehemently oppose them. When it comes down to it, determining whether an e-collar is a good choice for your pup is a personal decision. Here are some things to consider, including features, benefits, and drawbacks, when thinking about using an e-collar: 

Sounds and smells 

While most commonly associated with electric shocks to a dog’s neck, e-collars have evolved to have a variety of enforcement features and adjustable stimulations to correct your furry friend. On the lowest end of levels of stimulation to get your dog’s attention, some collars make noise, either a quick “beep” or an ultrasonic sound. Humans can’t hear ultrasonic collars, but the noise is particularly annoying and unpleasant to dogs, so this can be effective. Similarly, some e-collars offer the option to spray a small amount of citronella, which dogs find unappealing. 

Aussie

Buzz and shock 

E-collars can also produce vibrations, which do not hurt dogs but get their attention, nonetheless. These vibrations are somewhat less uncomfortable than shocks and can often be set to varying intensities. An electric shock is the most intense stimulation e-collars provide. These can also be adjusted depending on the intensity that is most effective with your dog. E-collars often include some or all of these features in one collar, so the less intense stimulations can serve as softer warnings for the dog before a more severe shock sternly reprimands them. 

Remote vs. sensor 

Depending on the features and intended applications of the e-collar, they can be either remotely controlled or activated with a sensor. The remote gives owners and trainers the ability to mark and discourage any unwanted behavior. A sensor-based system is used for more specific training purposes, most likely to discourage barking or establish a boundary in the case of invisible fences. Anti-bark sensor collars can detect the vibrations of your dog’s vocal cords, while invisible fences warn your dog when they are close or have gone beyond an electrical wire along the perimeter of your property. 

Benefits of e-collars

While initially used in training hunting dogs, e-collars are now widely used to help pet parents curb a variety of stubborn and unwanted behaviors in family dogs, from excessive barking to jumping and straying too far from home. 

Perks of sensor collars for boundaries and barking 

In boundary training, the e-collar is triggered by wires placed underground along the property line or owners use the remote to let the dog know exactly how far they can go away either from home or their people. Barking, which can be a particularly challenging behavior to train away, can also be helped by an e-collar. 

In both of these scenarios, not only is an e-collar incredibly effective in identifying the unwanted behavior for your dog but it also helps owners stay consistent with training. Sensor-based e-collars allow training to continue even while Mom and Dad are away or out of earshot or sight. Essentially, the collar does most or all of the work for you. 

Fast and effective 

Another reason some dog parents and trainers love e-collars is that they are highly effective and often produce fast results. The precise marking and clear and direct signal that e-collars provide to dogs help them relatively quickly learn a variety of commands and behaviors.  

Better for some dogs than others 

E-collars can be particularly helpful in training deaf or hearing-impaired dogs, as they serve as a method of non-verbal communication between human and pup. Some dogs can be more challenging to train than others, whether it be because they are seemingly stubborn or easily fixated, distracted, or excitable. As a parent to one of these pooches, you may struggle to feel relevant to your dog—they’re just never paying attention to you when you need them to. E-collars do the job of getting their attention and provide clear communication when yelling just isn’t getting the message across. 

While they are generally safe and effective with most dogs, it is not recommended that they be used with puppies. These little guys are still figuring out the rules of the world and what is expected of them, so it isn’t fair to assume they know what they’re doing and what it means to be perfectly behaved. 

Concerns and drawbacks

Shock value 

Chihuahua

Concerns or issues are usually associated with shocking your dog, which can be physically harmful if the intensity is much higher than what your dog can safely tolerate. For this reason, animal activists and proponents of positive reinforcement training often consider e-collars cruel. 

Potential for fear 

Another concern is that, if used improperly or with a sensitive dog, an e-collar can make them nervous and uncomfortable. A potential worst-case outcome is negatively impacting your relationship with your beloved canine. Your pup may develop fear toward you, and while this may get you the behavior you want, you don’t want your pet to constantly walk on eggshells. You should never train your dog with fear, as this reaction can worsen behavior, create new issues, and be dangerous for both you and your pup. 

The don’ts without the do’s 

It’s important to understand that e-collars are a form of aversive behavior modification rather than positive reinforcement. They do not praise and reinforce good behavior, so while you may be able to effectively deter negative, unwanted behaviors, an e-collar won’t help you communicate to your pup what they should do. With this, keep in mind that you won’t be able to rely solely on this method for all of your behavioral training. 

Lab

Are e-collars safe? 

Unless you are using an e-collar incorrectly (read the instructions!), they are considered safe. Any vibration or electric shock should be set to the lowest level appropriate for your individual pup to ensure it’s both effective and safe. While it will be enough to get your dog’s attention and deter unwanted behaviors, an e-collar used properly will not cause physical harm. 

While the shock isn’t necessarily hurting your dog, they don’t exactly like it, either. It’s important to consider your furry friend’s temperament and sensitivity and consider whether there’s a possibility that your dog will negatively react to the use of an e-collar. 

Consult the professionals 

You should only use an e-collar with the guidance of a professional dog trainer and after consulting your veterinarian. If used inappropriately and or in lieu of direct training, these collars can cause permanent damage to your pup’s personality and temperament. Again, fear can be a dangerous state, leading to anxiety, aggression, and a host of unwanted behaviors.  

Bottom line 

E-collars will be a highly debated topic in dog training for as long as they’re around. Any pup parent will know that the use of these collars, particularly if they have an electric shock feature, is polarizing in the canine community. Like with all behavior modification techniques, there are positives and negatives from each perspective. When it comes down to it, whether or not to use an e-collar is a personal choice that can be very effective for some dogs and owners while detrimental to others. 


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