E-collars, or shock collars, are a hot, controversial topic among dog handlers, trainers and owners. Some people are strongly against their use, calling them cruel and inhuman. Others feel e-collars are indispensible as a discipline tool – as long as they are used properly.
This sharp polarity in opinion has raised a body of myths that ought to be busted because they are factually incorrect.
MYTH #1: E-COLLARS ARE A DEVICE OF TORTURE
• Just like power tools, e-collars have to to used responsibly. The proper protocol is to find a “working level” with it. This is the lowest level of sudden stimulus that the dog will even notice.
Typically, a dog will show he has noticed this unexpected, unfamiliar stimulus by perking his ears, or turning his head or some other body movement that registers surprise. If the ears fall back, or the tail goes down or the dog vocalizes with a yelp, then the device is too hot and must be dialed down immediately.
The objective is to apply the very least amount of stimulus to make the animal notice an unpleasant sensation. That is it.
Modern-day e-collars are sophisticated in their building, and offer many subtle levels of increased intensity. The animal’s comfort is the first concern, but the nature of the mechanism is such that it’s usefulness is often misinterpreted by people who do not understand the safety features built into the product, or have no experience in actually using it.
Just like a power tool it has the potential of causing harm if applied ignorantly. E-collars come with great responsibility, and nobody without proper knowledge should be handling it in the first place.
MYTH #2: USING E-COLLARS IS A NEGATIVE TRAINING TECHNIQUE
• From the dog’s point-of-view, any training that goes against its natural impulses is a negative technique. Even yanking and jerking the leash is a negative method of passing on instructions. At the end of the day, there is no denying that what we are trying to do is to change the animal’s natural behavior because it is not convenient for humans. Like chewing shoes and soiling carpets, for example. Dogs love to do it, but it’s not convenient for us.
Many handlers believe that attaching a `negative’ or `positive’ tag when it comes to dog training is an exercise in futility. The goal is to socialize the dog well enough to live a happy, fulfilled and rewarding life within the parameters of human society. And just like babies going through the uncomfortable teething phase, there are developmental `bumps’ that have to be overcome with dogs as well.
MYTH #3: E-COLLARS CAUSE PSYCHOLOGICAL DAMAGE
• A lot of research has gone into e-collars since they were invented in the 1960s. There has been no evidence of nerve, brain or psychological damage.
MYTH #4: E-COLLARS HURT AND SCARE THE DOG
• The phrase “negative stimulus” often conjures up images of the dog receiving strong electric pulses, but the purpose of the training tool is only to make the animal aware of a faint impulse that is unexpected and not something he enjoys. Dogs might display surprise or even mild confusion the first time an e-collar is applied but according to experts, they are neither scared nor hurt by the experience.
The remote collar is set to the dogs base level (smallest amount of stimulus the dog responds to) because that is how trainers communicate with their dogs through the e-collar. The level on the remote will go up with different distractions or places because the dogs attention is heightened. The remote never goes high enough to hurt the dog. Different dogs have different levels, some are higher or lower than others, so the matter of comparison does not even apply. Trainers know that every dog is a unique individual and they plan training in a way that best suits that dog’s own training path.
In many ways, e-collars are similar in functionality to an E-stim or a TENS unit at a physical therapist or a chiropractor’s office. It’s a same concept but works at a much lower frequency/level.
MYTH #5: E-COLLARS TURN DOGS INTO IMPULSE-CONTROLLED ROBOTS
• This is not true. The training goes faster, and dogs quickly pick up lessons in what to do to shut the stimulus off. Unlike humans, dogs do not have mental associations of electric devices when they are faced with an e-collar. It’s an annoyance, as far as they are concerned, and when they follow instructions, the annoyance goes away. And high-value treaties come.