To put it mildly, there is a lot of debate about Electric Collars. There are several different kinds being used, starting with Bark Collars, then Electric Dog Fences, and the latest evolution being the Remote Training Collars. I have never used, nor recommend these training devices, because I feel they are potentially confusing for dogs. Using these devices run the very high risk of negatively reinforcing behavior in ways unbeknownst to the person making the correction. I feel I should write about this, because I am seeing an increase in calls regarding dog aggression where, as it would turn out, electric dog collars have been used. It’s not clear if the electric collars caused the behavior, but I strongly feel it may be exacerbating a dog’s behavior.
We must consider the absolute Law of Association when working with our dogs. Just like humans, dogs learn through association. For example, the very premise of an invisible fence is that a dog will associate the sensation of electric shock with a small flag in the yard and later associate it with other environmental markers. The end result being the dog will not want to cross the barrier even though the collar is no longer being worn. While one can make the argument that this is for the dogs own good and physical protection, we must consider the behavior and mental side of things, which I don’t feel is being considered at all. The latest version of electric collar is when used for training purposes via remote control. Once again, even under the best of intentions, there are many ways by which the sensation can be associated to other things the person pressing the button may be unaware of.
Since we don’t live in a vacuum when training or conditioning dogs, we run the very real risk of associating subtle environmental factors with collar stimulation (ranging from a mild unsettling vibration to electric shock). Being that a dog’s predominant sensory organ is the nose…we can all too easily create an association between the collar’s stimulus and a certain smell. Taking it a step further, there are numerous human trial studies and articles supporting the link between scent and memories, which eventually all ties to emotions. Being that dogs are emotional creatures as well, I feel we need to extend the same level of consideration to an animal that is so heavily invested in the world of scent. A world which they clearly have greater sensitivity to than ourselves. Of course, association can occur with other perceptions as well whether it be around the visual or audible presence of children, dogs, plants, men, women, cars…the list is virtually endless.
It has been my experience that there are simpler and less confusing ways to solve behavior problems with our dogs, rather than introducing another stimulus into the mix. If your dog hears too much “NO!” in its life, then give me a call and let’s change it to more “YES!” There is a way!