Here’s the back story as to how the remote training collar became an important tool in my dog training tool box. I started professionally training dogs in 1995 (16 years ago) with choke collars, pinch collars and praise as that is how I was trained to handle two police canines. Although, I quickly began adding treats and toys to the equation so I would have “both sides of the coin”; positive reinforcement and corrections. Rather than expecting the dog to learn from just consequences, I wanted to teach the dog what to do by using a motivational source. After the dog learned what was expected, then it was fair to enforce non compliance with a correction.
Later, as part of my dog training business, MichiganDogTrainer.com; I endorsed primarily positive training and clicker training for my pet dog clients as it was a gentler approach. Additionally, the pet dog world that I knew was focused on teaching positive training methods almost to the absence of any corrections. Thus, I switched to the Easy Walk Harness instead of the choke and pinch collars.
However, pure positive reinforcement didn’t provide the results I sought especially with high energized dogs who had trouble focusing and self controlling their impulses. Therefore, I started using a remote collar with my high drive Malinois, Police K9 Draco (retired): I needed to harness her drive, obtain off leash reliability and remain the “good guy” in her eyes that I was not able to get from just motivational methods or standard corrective collars. Her performance dramatically improved not only in the field but also in home manners because of the remote collar training system.
I also started using the remote collar with “select clients” (whom I knew really needed the remote collar and would be open to it). Some of these “select clients” were Feisty Fido clients (clients with dogs who were aggressive toward other dogs) who were not making progress with only positive reinforcement methods. After the dog learned the foundations of remote training, the owners were able to interrupt their dog’s staring and obtain their dog’s attention without the dog generalizing that dogs and people were con-sequencing him. Thus, now desensitization and counter conditioning techniques could be successful components of training whereas before we couldn’t get to that point with some of the more reactive feisty fidos.
Due to the “pure positive” culture of some celebrity trainers, I was led to believe that remote collars should not be broadly used by John Q. Public due to their lack of training experience or lack of timing (which can be taught and practiced). The pure positive reinforcement crowd also professed how cruel the remote collar was to the dog, consequently their continual reference to it as a “shock collar.” Their arguments of such are based upon outdated and poorly done studies. However, I knew their version of a shock collar wasn’t my remote collar based upon my own experience. A recent study, the Hannover 2008 study, “Comparison of Stress and Learning Effects of Three Different Training Methods: Electronic Training Collar, Pinch Collar, and Quitting Signal” determined that the Electronic Training Collar and Pinch Collar had higher learning effects than the positively trained Quitting Signal and the Electronic Collar resulted in less stress behaviors than the dogs trained with pinch collars.
I knew the remote collar could be used at a low level that gained the dog’s attention without inflicting pain. It could improve a person’s timing and offer a strength equalizer for clients who were outmatched by their dog’s size and/or physical strength while enhancing the relationship between the dog and it’s trainer. I also knew my clients were intelligent people seeking humane, effective and quick results. Therefore, the argument that they could not learn timing and how to use the remote collar properly did not make sense to me.
After I met my friend and professional colleague Robin MacFarlane of That’s My Dog, Inc.; I realized the responsibility of John Q. Public being able to learn how to use the remote collar properly did not lie with the client but instead with the ability of the trainer to provide good education that would resonate and be easily understood. Being a professional dog trainer, it is my job to teach human and dog clients alike.
At first, it was challenging to speak out on behalf of remote collars (e.g. commenting on The Truth About Shock Collar blog posts) because it was not politically correct to do so. Additionally, if I became an advocate, I feared not being able to reach pet owners whom may not be open minded at first to learn the truth about remote electronic collars. However, I quickly replaced those thoughts with the realization of two questions:
1. What is in the best interest of dogs?
2. How can I best serve my clients’ needs?
Then my hesitation was gone in an instant. Everything we do and stand for should be in the best interest of dogs and to serve our clients’ needs. Thus, I am proud to be an outspoken advocate for professional remote collar training.
I teach the dog what to do and during the learning process mistakes are just that, mistakes, not necessarily non compliance. In the beginning, the mistakes are sometimes ignored and the focus is placed on rewarding correct choices. The remote collar is a great communication tool which gives the dog information as what not to do as well as what to do (e.g. don’t jump on me and instead sit to greet me or don’t pull on the leash but instead be aware of my position and turn with me when I turn to walk in the other direction). Additionally, I have found the remote collar to be the most effective way to teach the dog to pay attention to their owner, obtain a reliable recall, to leave an item alone as well as many other useful and life saving skills. It’s a very effective, humane and smart way to train pet and working dogs.
So yes, the remote training collar is an important part of my training toolbox along with praise, food treats, the Easy Walk Harness and sometimes even a clicker. It has allowed countless number of my clients to keep their dog in their home as a loving companion and to enjoy new awesome adventures together.