How to Train a Dog With a Shock Collar the Humane Way

Today we’re exploring how to train a dog with a shock collar. Some will hear the term ‘shock collar’ and automatically think it’s an inhumane dog training method. 

The truth is that these collars have long since advanced beyond the use of a painful electric current. They now use subtler, less drastic shocks for a more humane approach that avoids hurting dogs.

If you would like a detailed, in-depth guide on how to train your dog, look no further: How to Train a Dog: A Dog Trainer’s In-Depth Guide

If you’re considering using a remote training collar you’ve come to the right place! We’ll help you make an informed decision as we look at the pros and cons of using this type of collar. 

Along with how to train a dog with a shock collar we’ll also answer and discuss the following questions and topics: 

  • Is shock collar training bad for dogs?
  • Different types of shock collars
  • Why you might use a shock collar
  • Risks of using a shock collar

Is shock collar training bad for dogs?

First, let’s debunk the myth that all shock collars use an electric shock to train your dog. 

The first electronic collar dates back to the late 1960s when people used them to train hunting dogs. Initially, these collars did produce an electric shock to train the dogs.

But today, shock training is an effective tool to prevent unwanted behavior when used correctly. Most modern shock collars use low electric stimulation or vibration, which won’t cause injury to your dog. 

When shock collar training is done with a thorough understanding of dog training theory and with the right timing, it can be a powerful tool to help you train your dog in the right circumstances. 

The shocking stimulation can range from mild tickling to a painful shock, so you need to be mindful when setting the collar. When positioned correctly, it may cause irritation and discomfort to your dog, but it shouldn’t cause pain. 

However, keep in mind that  while some dogs will get along fine with this type of training, others may not.

Why are there multiple settings if some are painful to your dog? 

There’s a variety of settings on these collars because of the size differences between dogs. 

Larger, stockier canines may need the collar set at higher levels than a much smaller or leaner dog. 

However, the emotional and physical sensitivity of a dog can vary regardless of the size and breed, so that is often more important to be aware of.

Different types of training collars

how to train a dog with a shock collar

There are different types of collars that use a negative stimulus to stop negative behavior. Some target specific behaviors such as barking, while you can use others as an overall training device. 

Shock collars

Shock collars, also known as an e-collar, remote training collar or electronic collar, use electric stimulation to gain your dog’s attention.  

While they’re often effective at suppressing bad behavior, they can also cause unwanted behavior when misused.

There’s a considerable amount of controversy surrounding the ethics and use of shock collars. But, when one is used correctly, it can be a valuable dog training tool.

We recommend enlisting the help of a professional dog trainer who has ample experience using shock collars to mentor you as you learn to use these types of collars the right way.

Invisible fence collars

An underground wire linked to your dog’s collar creates an invisible fence that keeps your canine confined to the space limits you’ve set, like your front or back yard. 

But when there’s no physical boundary, many dogs, especially prey-driven ones, may be tempted to cross the line. Should your dog get too close to the perimeter, the collar will make a warning sound before delivering a shock to your dog if they proceed any further.

If your dog does escape, the shock may work in reverse and deter them from returning, as the collar works whether trying to exit and enter. In other words, their safety zone suddenly doesn’t feel so safe.

Vibrating collars

Vibrating collars use rapid movement to get your dog’s attention. The vibration may be an irritating feeling, but it won’t harm your dog. This type of training collar is often used to communicate with deaf or hearing-impaired canines. 

Bark control collars 

A bark control collar, also known as an anti-bark collar, triggers automatically when your dog barks. Anti-bark collars use various deterrent methods such as spraying nontoxic gas and using ultrasonic tones.

  • Spray: when your dog starts barking, spray collars spritz a citronella gas toward your dog’s nose. The idea is that the unpleasant smell distracts your dog, which stops them from barking.
  • Ultrasonic: The collar emits an ultrasonic tone only your dog can hear when it detects barking.
  • Shock: Some shock collars stay at one level while others escalate from a very low setting that amps up if the dog keeps barking then resets after a few minutes.

Why use a shock collar? 

how to train a dog with a shock collar

There are a few situations that may benefit from using an electronic collar.

To begin with, they’re beneficial in off-leash emergencies. Your canine may be brilliant at responding to your commands when they’re on the leash. But, this doesn’t always mean you have control when they’re off it. 

Picture this. You’re out walking your dog off-leash in an empty field, and suddenly a rabbit crosses your path. Your dog darts after it, and there’s a busy highway not far from where you are. At this point, you need your dog to listen to your command immediately. Shaking the treat bag may not get the attention of a prey-driven dog.

A remote collar could immediately distract them from their prey and encourage your dog to return to you—saving them from imminent danger in a situation like this.

Because you can easily use the collars from a distance and in loud situations, they’re also great tools for use with specialty jobs training like hunting. Your dog doesn’t need to be able to hear you as they’ll automatically react to the collar.

Before using a shock collar, be sure your dog’s training has a solid foundation and he can recall the behaviors you want him to perform. 

Risks of using a shock collar

Discomfort

Even if the collar isn’t causing any pain to your dog, they may still feel a level of discomfort. For this reason, the preferred method of training among dog owners is through positive rewards and reinforcement.

Fear and anxiety

Some dogs can become fearful of these collars and experience anxiety and stress. Fear and anxiety can lead to aggression, biting, and other undesirable behaviors, such as urinating indoors. 

Overcorrection 

There’s a risk of over-correcting through improper use of an automatic bark collar.

Another dog barking can trigger automatic shocking bark collars. This can lead to your dog being shocked by mistake. These unnecessary shocks could easily confuse your dog, and training may become ineffective.

Shock and bark collar users should educate themselves on the details of how the collar works before trying to use a device like this. Finding an experienced mentor whose dogs are happy and relaxed while wearing an electronic collar is recommended. 

Lack of good behavior reinforcement 

Remote training collars only mark your dog’s bad behavior. As an owner, rewarding positive behavior is down to you. 

For example, the bark-control collar will shock your dog when it detects vocalization but won’t reward them for choosing not to bark. 

How to properly train a dog with a shock collar

how to train a dog with a shock collar

Teach basic commands using positive reinforcement techniques 

Your dog’s training begins as a puppy. Before using this type of training collar, your canine should know basic obedience commands. It’s best to teach your dog the basics using positive reinforcement techniques such as giving them treats and plenty of affection.

Dog shock collars are most effective as a reinforcement tool for already learned behaviors. Using a shock collar before your pup learns basic commands can cause frustration and stress, leading to fear or aggression.

Educate yourself 

Before you use a shock collar to train your dog, make sure you educate yourself on how to use it. 

The best way to do this is to find an experienced trainer to mentor you on using a shock collar effectively and without causing stress to your dog.

You could also ask your veterinarian for advice. They’ll be able to discuss whether a shock collar is appropriate for your dog’s learning needs.

Research into the use of shock collars found that using the collars on a high setting quickly causes your dog to feel distressed. Make sure the collar is set at the right level for your canine and their needs. We’ll discuss how to set the collar when we talk about conditioning. 

Do your research and buy a quality product 

It’s worth investing in a quality product like the Garmin Delta Sport with features such as a vibration mode and several stimulation levels. It’s also waterproof, so it won’t prevent your dog from doing the things they love like swimming or running through sprinklers. 

We get that not everyone has a big budget. But when it comes to training with a shock collar the last thing you want is to pick a cheap product. They could literally interfere with the learning process. Cheaper products are made with low-quality materials that could malfunction, randomly shock, or even cause injury.

Training a dog with a shock collar

how to train a dog with a shock collar

Collar conditioning 

Shock collars tend to be bulkier and heavier than standard collars. Give your canine time to get used to the collar before triggering it. 

Take some time to fit the collar properly. The contact points should be touching your dog’s skin and you should be able to fit two fingers underneath the collar. It shouldn’t be too tight around your dog’s neck.

Do not leave the shock collar on your dog all the time. The prongs from the collar can wear on their skin and form sores. This goes for invisible fence collars as well.

Allowing your dog time to become comfortable with the collar will maximize the chances of a positive response when you eventually use it.

Begin by putting the collar on your dog without turning it on. Do all the things you and your four-legged friend love doing together while they’re wearing it. 

This will help your dog feel comfortable and rid them of any reservations they may have had about their new piece of kit. The collar should always be switched off unless you’re training or walking your canine without their leash.

When using the collar, start at the lowest setting and trigger continuous stimulation. Then, slowly move up through the stages until you get a reaction from your dog.

You’re looking for an alert response with no vocalization. If your dog looks fearful or starts yelping or whining, the setting is too high.

Show your dog the behavior you want 

Teach your dog one command at a time using positive reinforcement methods.

Combine the collar with positive reinforcement 

The most effective way to use aversive training, like shock collars, is by combining it with a positive reward

For example, if you use a shock collar to get your dog’s attention, reward them as soon as they give you their attention.

You are using the shock collar in a similar way to a clicker. 

During clicker training, you first “load” your clicker by providing a treat each time you make the clicker sound. This way, your dog learns to associate a positive reward with the sound of the clicker.

You can use this same method with the shock collar by giving your dog a treat or affection once you’ve triggered the vibration and received a correct positive response from your dog. 

You’re more likely to get a good emotional reaction from your dog by rewarding them. Using negative reinforcement through the collar alone could cause negative behavior.

If you are using the shock collar as a deterrent, for example, to stop your dog’s barking, you’ll want only to use the collar to refocus their attention and interrupt the behavior.

After your dog stops barking, ask him to sit, then follow up with praise and treats. You are reinforcing good behavior by getting him to sit calmly. The treat doesn’t have anything to do with the collar in this context.

How to train a dog with a shock collar to “sit” 

Learning to “sit” needs to be taught ahead of time.

The best way to train your dog to “sit” does not involve a shock collar. Trying to teach your dog to sit by buzzing him with a collar will only confuse him. 

Positive reinforcement is much more effective when teaching your dog something new. 

How to train a dog with a shock collar to “come”

Take a long leash and place it around your dog’s neck, don’t attach it to the collar as this can interfere with skin contact. Next, get your dog to walk a few feet away from you. Call them to ‘come’ while triggering the collar and using a little pressure on the leash to coax them in. 

As soon as your dog begins to return to you, release the trigger and reward them when they get to you.

Eventually, you’ll be able to remove the leash as your dog should begin to associate the stimulation from the collar with the desired response.

Check out this video to see how this command is taught the right way. Notice how relaxed the dog is.

Use a collar only as a last resort and only on “vibrate” mode

It’s essential to explore and exhaust all other avenues before considering a shock collar.

If you have tried alternatives and still feel the need to use a shock collar, find one that uses vibration. A vibration setting will get your dog’s attention, but it won’t cause harm or injury.

The main aim of a shock collar is to eliminate unwanted behaviors and achieve a behavior response that’ll keep your dog safe. 

Once this is accomplished, you can forget the collar. You should only consider long-term use if you have a hard-of-hearing dog and only use it to get their attention, not to correct behavior. 

Long-term use is also acceptable for walking your canine without a leash. Or with chronic barkers in certain situations, such as keeping the dog’s owner from being evicted.

Know when to quit

When using a shock collar, each dog needs to be treated as an individual. Just because the collar was a successful training tool for one dog doesn’t mean it will work with the next.

Some dogs are more sensitive than others. If your dog exhibits fearful or anxious behavior when wearing the collar, this is a sign you need to quit.

Continuing to use a shock collar with an anxious dog responding negatively to the stimulus can make the dog become even more upset and possibly cause them to bark more. In these cases shock collars are not recommended. 

Know when to ask for help

Finding a mentor or expert before you begin training with a shock collar is the way to go. 

That way, if you suspect you are doing something wrong or are unsure, you can get help or clarification right away.

Many professional dog trainers are highly experienced in using shock collars. 

Look for a professional dog trainer whose own dogs are happy and relaxed. This is key since how their dogs’ act and work will show you how capable they are. 

Key takeaways on training your dog with a shock collar

how to train a dog with a shock collar

Shock collars can make excellent training tools when used in an appropriate situation and for the right reasons.They allow you to communicate with your dog over long distances and in noisy environments and to quickly get your dog’s attention. When used correctly, shock collars can produce incredible results. They can give you much more control than positive reward alone. 

Ultimately, however, for most dogs in most cases, positive reinforcement is a quicker and simpler training method.

Kate Basedow, LVT
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