Both the prong collar and the e-collar are amazing training tools. They are truly humane and effective. The prong collar is a wonderful training tool for teaching your dog to heel, and definitely can be used to correct reactive behaviour in dogs. However, in some reactive dogs, the prong collar can escalate the level of their reaction.The e-collar, on the other hand, can be used for ALL aspects of obedience training, including teaching reactive dogs to stay calm when stimulated by other dogs, squirrels, birds, people, skateboards, bikes, roller blades, cars, etc. Used properly, the ecollar doesn’t escalate the level of reactivity in reactive dogs.
The e-collar actually calms anxiety and reactivity in dogs by bringing their focus back to you and interrupting their behaviour, thereby allowing them to make better choices. Therefore, the ecollar is the tool you want if you have a dog with high anxiety, fear-biting, insecurity, leash reactivity, dog-on-dog reactivity, skateboard reactivity, etc.
First, you must find a level on the e-collar that convinces your dog that you mean business. This level will be different for every dog. Soft dog, lower level; hard dog, higher level. You must find your dog’s baseline with the e-collar. Then you must be prepared to quickly dial up the intensity if your dog blows you off at the baseline level when he is highly stimulated (another dog, squirrel, skateboard, etc.).Adrenaline is an anaesthetic, so it will dull the correction from the ecollar, allowing the dog to react past the base level. This won’t always happen, but be prepared. The one dog your pup really hates could definitely be the time when you have to dial up the intensity. You have to meet intensity with intensity… and the intensity of the ecollar correction has to over-ride the intensity of your dog’s reaction to the trigger (dog, squirrel, skateboard, car, bike, etc.). In a high prey drive dog, that trigger might be a squirrel. In a dominant dog or fearful dog, that trigger might be another dog. My dog gave in easily to not chasing squirrels, but she did not want to give up reacting to other dogs (not all dogs, just a few specific dogs). Why? Because my dog is a dominant female. She doesn’t act submissive with any dog, period! She has to know that I’m in charge, I disagree with her behaviour and I will not tolerate it. That makes her understand that she is submissive to me… for me she will bare her belly! It makes her relax and enjoy just being a dog. She can pass by a trigger dog because it’s no longer her job to alert the pack (me) to danger. It’s my job to tell her that it’s okay to pass by that dog nicely; in fact, it’s your job to pass by that dog nicely.
We’re Not Asking Your Dog to Like Other Dogs…
Your dog doesn’t have to play with other dogs or even like other dogs, he just has to ignore them. That’s all we’re asking. My dog isn’t very interested in playing with other dogs. Sometimes she will, but mostly she just wants to do her own thing… and “the walk” is definitely her thing!
It’s All in the Timing
The trick, as with any dog training tool, is in the timing. You want to correct your dog the exact nano-second she changes from a soft-faced, ears back demeanour to an alert demeanour when she sees or hears another dog, a skateboarder, etc. As soon as those ears prick up or go forward, the forehead wrinkles, etc. you must correct her. You should know your dog and be aware of your dog’s body language well enough to spot this change the instant it happens. And that’s when the correction MUST occur. You can use “No” to mark it. Just say it quietly, no need to scream, “NO!!!!” Let the e-collar carry the weight of the correction. If the dog blows you off and continues to look at the other dog, raise the level and correct again. Now, correct every time your dog turns her head towards the other dog until the other dog has passed by. You can also get the dog to sit or even lie down while the other dog passes, but NO looking at the dog is allowed. Reactive dogs can’t be allowed to look at any dog, skateboarder, etc. that they have just shown any sign of being reactive to.
You don’t need to correct your dog for a quick glance at the trigger, if they are passing by nicely, with a soft face and no alert reaction (ears pricked or forward, forehead wrinkling), posturing or staring. However, if they react, every glance at the trigger after that should be corrected. They are not allowed to look at the trigger once they have reacted. Usually they won’t react to that particular dog/skateboarder again, and eventually it will generalize to all triggers.
Another trick is to turn your dog around and have him sit with his back to the other dog. That makes it easier for him to focus on you and ignore the stimulus of the other dog, skateboarder, etc.
Use Food to Deepen the Lesson
You can reward good behaviour with a treat, if you like. Food can deepen the lesson, but isn’t 100% necessary. Good behaviour means NO reaction, no alerting, posturing, staring (a quick glance is okay as long as they haven’t alerted).
The foundation for all dog training begins in the home with a lock-down approach. Everything the dog does is orchestrated by you in a fair, firm manner. Waiting at thresholds (doors, gates, etc.), waiting for food, going to “place” and staying there until they are released (no sneaking off to another room, mat, bed, etc.). They are not allowed to follow you like a shadow from room to room. Use the “place” command to break this neurotic habit. A “Velcro dog” is not a happy dog; a “Velcro dog” is an insecure, neurotic dog. Using you as a security blanket will forever inhibit their ability to become a confident, happy dog. Dogs are not children. Petting and soothing a nervous dog will NOT make it less nervous; it will actually make it more nervous than ever! Why? Because petting and soothing are reinforcements or rewards for the behaviour that is occurring at that moment. Your dog is thinking, “Oh my goodness, something terrible must be happening because I’m nervous and my owner is telling me it’s okay to be nervous!” Remember, dogs live in the moment. You can’t reason with a dog; they are instincual beings. Intelligent, yes; intellectual, no.
People use dogs to soothe themselves. They like the dog to be clingy and needy because it makes the person feel wanted and needed (I am helping this vulnerable creature). However, in the process of making themselves feel good, they are harming their dog’s psyche. To be happy and healthy, a dog needs to be confident and comfortable in its own skin. Yes, even your teacup Chihuahua needs to be able to go to its bed and stay there without following you around all day or being tucked under your arm all the time. Want to make a dog snappy and snarly? Baby it! Want to make a dog scared of everything? Baby it! Want to make a dog prone to fear-biting? Baby it! Want to make a dog nervous on the leash and possibly leash reactive? Baby it!
If you think your are not “babying” your dog, think again. After being given the “place ” command, will your dog stay in its place for hours at a time until you release it or give it a new command? Or will it decide to go somewhere else if the doorbell rings, the mailman comes or a visitor arrives? Or if it simply gets bored or curious about what’s going on in another room or out the window? If you let it get away with that, you ARE babying your dog! That dog is not obedient! People think if their dog will sit for a moment or two that they know the “sit” command. Nope! Your dog must sit until you give it a new command or release it. (Common release words are “okay,” “free,” and “break.” I prefer either “free” or “break” because they are not common works in our vocabulary. Your dog might think you just released it if you say “okay” to the mailman!)
My dog doesn’t like the noise of certain kitchen appliances; they make her nervous. To combat this I am working on making her stay in her regular “place,” rather than slinking off to hide in the kennel or in the bedroom. If she slinks off and hides, she is fortifying her own nervousness. If she is forced to face her fears, she will become more confident, happy and relaxed. Eventually, nothing will bother her. One trick is to stack the “down” command on top of the “place” command for these more difficult situations. The “down” command will help the dog relax more.
Building Up Respect
Does your dog bolt out the front door if it’s open? If so, your dog needs to learn the threshold rule. Dogs do not go through open doors or gates unless given a command to do so. That doesn’t mean they can’t go from room to room in your house… unless there is a room they’re not supposed to go into. Then you can teach them the threshold rule for that door as well.
It’s all about building up respect for you and your property in your dog’s mind. Dogs are all about ownership. So, you must own everything! The house, the furniture, the people, the food, the toys… everything!