Are Remote Collars Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, or Motivators?
by Robin MacFarlane
Shock Collar? E-collar? Remote Collar? Which one is it?There is so much information available about remote collars and electronic training these days that the average person might have a hard time deciding what to believe or adhere to.
The idea that remote collars are cruel and can only be used to punish a dog is usually supported by those who want to ban and remove them from the market. On the flip side, some individuals speak of the tool as if it were the golden scepter, key to solving all dog problems.
Among trainers there is the operant conditioning argument about whether electronic collars are tools of negative reinforcement or positive punishment. Add in the idea that some of us believe e-collars can be used as "positive motivators" and some real confusion starts to set in about how to use these tools and what to call them.
Who do you listen to? Who is right about what these tools are?
I'd say they all are, to an extent anyway. That really is the fascinating aspect of learning about remote collars. It is also what can make it a daunting process to the new person trying to train their dog with one. The reality is: how the dog will perceive the sensation of stimulation is entirely dependent on the operator and how he chooses to use the tool.
Everything depends on the level of stimulation, the amount of collar conditioning that has or has not been done, and the situation in which the stimulation is being applied.
Let's walk through a few scenarios to see what I mean:
Example 1: Dog eats feces and owner wants it stopped. Owner purchases a shock collar, puts it on the dog and waits for the dog to demonstrate the behavior. At the time the dog begins to eat the poo, owner holds on the button set to a high level. Dog startles, yelps and hustles away from that part of yard.
This is a straightforward use of punishment. Will it work? Perhaps, but maybe not. The dog may associate attempting to eat poop with discomfort and give up the behavior or she may associate that location in the yard with discomfort and avoid going back to that spot. With repeated applications of this approach it is also possible the dog may become hesitant to be in the yard at all.
Example 2: Owner collar conditions the dog using a just right level of stimulation. The dog now understands she can control the sensation by performing some behavior.
Dog goes toward the poo, owner uses the e-collar to apply moderate level of stimulation just as the dog leans to investigate feces. Owner remains silent and does not alert the dog to his presence or observation. Dog withdraws from feces and then continues to wander about the yard. Owner repeats each time dog attempts to sniff/eat feces. Collar is interrupting the attempt to eat the poo through negative reinforcement. As soon as dog moves away from the feces the sensation turns off.
Will it work? Yes, probably. Owner likely will have to continue to monitor and repeat numerous times in order for the dog to generalize the behavior. It is also possible it will re-occur in the future and owner may need to revisit the training from time to time.
Example 3: Owner e-collar conditions the dog using a just right level of stimulation. The dog now understands she can control the sensation by performing some behavior. Owner teaches a recall to the dog using the e-collar.
Dog finishes toileting, owner calls dog to Come using low e-collar stim simultaneous with the command. Dog immediately turns and moves to owner, owner gives dog a treat for coming back in the house door. Owner repeats this several times until dog begins to return to house immediately after eliminating.
This is what many of us might term positive motivation. The e-collar tap has no negative effect on the dog, it is tactile sensation that gains attention (and distracts from potential movement toward the poo) and is followed with reward for an alternative behavior.
Will it work? Yes, probably. It is also possible it will re-occur in the future and owner may need to revisit the training from time to time.
You can see how there are multiple training approaches to a behavior problem using the same tool. How do you know what is the "right" way? Any of the three can potentially solve the problem and each may have some limitations.
My personal belief is that Examples 2 and 3 are more fair to the dog. I've never been a proponent of using an e-collar to problem-solve without first doing some e-collar conditioning. The results are hit and miss and can create stress for the dog. Unfortunately, the type of use outlined in example 1 is likely the leading reason why these tools still carry the label "Shock Collar" and all the negative images that go along with it.
The tool itself is neutral. It is how we use it that determines the outcome for the dog.
And for what it's worth, if you're dog is eating it's own poop, she probably has an underlying dietary deficiency. Look into the food you're feeding, evaluate the quality of the protein, and consider adding more B complex vitamins to your dog's diet.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.
FREE or only a penny with the following collars:
Delta XC, Delta SPORT XC
Dogtra IQ Plus
and several more...
Here's Why You Should Train Your DogDoes Your Dog Know her Place?Teaching a Recall? Start Slow and Make the Dog SuccessfulTeaching the Down CommandHouse Manners"Pay Me!"How to Strengthen Your Dog's Understanding of "Stay"How Long Does My Dog have to Wear the E-Collar?Consistency Without an E-collarSkills Every Puppy Should LearnDogs and Doorbells -- Oh My!Stop Your Dog from Bolting to the Door!Use Food Lures to Shape Your Puppies Introduction to Sit, Stand and DownPuppy Training 101: Play Biting ProblemTeaching Your Puppy to "Kennel Up"Dog Tricks: How to Teach Your Dog to Walk BackwardsWant a Standing Ovation? Teach Your Dog to "Take A Bow!"Want Your Dog to Come to You? Try Moving Away from Him."Catch me if you can!"Tired of Fido Stealing Your Snacks?E-Collar, Leash, Treats, Toy, and the Dog. How to Manage it All!Dog Tricks: Teaching Your Dog to DanceBefore You Expect a Dog to Stay on a Place, Teach Him to get on Willingly.Adding E-Collar Prompting to your Place CommandImpulse Control Games are a Time Well Spent Playing with your Dog!Juggling All Your Training Equipment?
Watch Ecollar Training VideosProper Fit of E-CollarIs Your Dog Collar Wise?"How long does my dog have to wear the collar?"Pressure NecrosisUsing Treats in TrainingCan I Use an E-Collar on My Small Dog?I Need a Shock Collar!Dog Training: Keeping it Real: Training Your Dog Should be EasyWhy Would I Want to Use an E-Collar on My Dog?A Tired Dog is a Good DogThree Things You Must Know to Have a Reliably Trained DogAre Remote Collars Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, or Motivators?The Best Way to Rescue a DogIt is More than Just Pushing a Button: Part OneWhat About the Leash?Tennis Ball, Tug or Cookie? What do Rewards Have to do with Good Training?The More Important Tool: Part 4 of "It Is More Than Just Pushing a Button."Do You Need Impeccable Timing in Order to Use a Remote Collar?What Does Your Dog's Future Look Like?6 Essential Things to Teach to Have a Good DogThe Top 3 Reasons Your Remote Collar Doesn't Seem to be WorkingHow Long Does It Take to Train My Dog?Put a Plan Into Motion for Dealing With Your Dog's Behavior Problems!Why are You Grateful for Your Dog?Are You Struggling to Get Your Dog to Stay? Try This.There are Only 3 Levels on a Remote Training Collar?The One Thing You Must Know if You Want to Train with an E-CollarHow to Help Your Dog Understand What You WantPhotos: One Great Reason to Teach a Place Command to Your DogNew Puppy TipsSit? or Sit! -- The Case for Intonation When Speaking to Your DogNumber of CommandsSo Your Dog Knows Sit. Now What?20 Reasons to Teach a Place CommandE-Collar Use: Training vs. EnforcingKnow How to Train a Dog, Know How to Use a Remote Collar?5 Ways to Enhance Feeding Time"But my dog doesn't like it."Outwit Your Dogs if You Want Better BehaviorWeaning Off E-Stim: Tap, Tell or HelpProofing: How to Help Your Dog Really "Get It."Should Your Dog Sleep on the Bed With You?Human Body LanguageGood Health: The Missing Link for a Happy and Well-Adjusted Dog?Are You the Center of Your Dog's World?E-Collar Training: Be Sure to Do This Before You Go Off LeashWhat Behavior are You Rewarding the Most?The Importance of Routine Nail Trims for Your DogWhen is the Right Time to Start Training My Dog?Is it Important that a Dog Learn to Heel?3 Things to do Right Now to Avoid Separation Issues with Your DogTraining Your Dog to Stop BarkingHow to Use a No Bark Collar