WHY I AM NOT ABUSIVE AND E-COLLARS ARE IMPORTANT
Updated: Dec 1, 2022
My story advocates for use of e-collars - we need these tools - but slowly are being banned
For anyone who suggests I’m abusive, or use fear or pain to train I can assure you this could never be further from the truth. And when anyone tries to suggest this is the case, I laugh, because if they really knew the truth of the relationship Chess and I have, the devotion to his mental well being while keeping himself and others safe and alive they would never utter such a ridiculous statement. If they new how tuned in we are, and the unbelievable communication we have, they would probably never try to shame another for using aversive tools. The only one that would feel shame is themselves.
In short, Chess is now 8.5 and he lives his best life. All dogs deserve that! If I didn’t trust myself, Chess would have never made it to his 1st birthday. And I would have lost out on finding a career that I love. But more importantly, I would have lost the most important being in my life if I hadn’t opened my mind to the possibility of e-collar training.
I am sharing with you my story, the mistakes and the emotional turmoil. I’m writing to share hope for anyone who has been told to euthanize their dog because of behavioural issues, or even that you have to live with changeable behaviours limiting life experiences, or turning to anxiety meds etc.
First get second and third opinions from trainers of different styles, you may just find a trainer who can help you and your buddy. You’ll know when you find one.
Of course, an e-collar used incorrectly with out training the dog onto the collar first means the dog has no idea what is happening, they can’t magically know why/where the sensation on their neck is coming from. So of course this can create or worsen behaviours.
It’s important to note, that I do not advocate for e-collars to be sold to the general public.
I 100% believe, due to the complexity of each dog mixed with a lack of knowledge from most owners, a trainer who is experienced in this type of training should be used. It is also important to understand that treats, leashes, flat collars etc are all tools that can and are frequently used incorrectly and can definitely all cause adverse effects when done so.
I am not writing though to get into the technical ins and outs.
There is a lot of emotional hype out there when it comes to any aversive tools especially the pinch collar and e-collar. I can tell you, after going to school and becoming a Master Trainer, I had more questions then I had answers. I followed my schooling up with a year of researching the dog training world and all the options. I was so confused by all the different information, it took me that long to decipher what was real and what wasn’t.
Up to that point, I had only treat trained, or “positive only” trained my Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He could and would do anything for treats. He could roll over at 12 weeks, play dead at 14. He mastered heel and other obedience and he loved doing it. I can say, that this was an integral part of our bonding and creating a communication that is still second to none. He was a dream puppy, chewed one cord and one corner of a mat, that’s it. And maybe had 4 accidents in his life, one was chicken related and not a great day for either of us lol.
At around 5.5months, the dream slowly started to dissipate.
He went after his first puppy. It was a 4 month old golden retriever. Chess was still smaller than the golden, and being his first time there was no damage done. It wasn’t the “pitbull” attack that most people picture, he was still a little potato. In saying that tho, I knew in my heart that what had just happened didn’t feel right.
It took me until he was about 7 months old to put it together, any puppy under 5 months was his trigger, and by now I could see he was serious, deadly serious.
I hired trainers and talked to many others. The consistent message I was told was to euthanize him. That was in no way an option for me to consider. I did though make sure that I was responsible in not allowing him to practise this behaviour. A behaviour that I was to come to realize is genetic.
After looking high and low on the internet to find answers with no luck, I signed Chess and I up for dog training school. Still no answers on how to stop him performing what seemed to be something he would enjoy so much to do. No one anywhere had answers to our problem. Not in New Zealand, or Europe or here in North America.
After school, I turned to a pinch collar, this helped the behavioural issues I created from my own fear and anxiety of walking my dog around other dogs, especially in Vancouver, Canada where there was already so much judgement just being a square head. He was again a “good boy”, with one looming issue.
After all my research, going deep into the training world and adding a new tool to my belt I felt confident in my stance. I was to call myself a balanced trainer, I was confident knowing that dogs do require boundaries and discipline as well as positive reinforcement. That a dogs communication is clear and obvious.
I barely trained another dog through this time, mostly I assisted a friend who went from training school straight into training. She at times got a dog a little over our capability, together with my research and her skillset together we would figure out the tough nuts. It was these guys right from the beginning I knew I wanted to help the most. But I had a lot more to learn before throwing myself into the deep end of only behavioural issues. I learned very fast through a few of these how little we really learned in school.
I think Chess even laughed at the certificate saying we were Master Trainers 😂
It was understanding where I fit in the training world that gave me the permission to start actually working with other people’s dogs on a professional level. The unique ability I already had reading human and non verbal language was to eventually be an asset in dogs. Learning to ‘read’ dog is different obviously but the idea is the same, so didn’t take long before I could trust in my ability in this area too.
This also helped with learning Chess’ body language better and his intent. He was still a young buck, full of piss and vinegar, and the pitty type breeds are tougher to see what ’s happening because play and fight look very similar, so you can’t just rely on basic body language reading.
Chess now around two years, having a little more experience under my belt with training other dogs. I still had no clues how to help my boy, who at this point has started to help me train other dogs. Just no puppies. This is when I rolled over and tried out the e-collar. I researched and watched hours of videos, then went out and bought a cheap e-collar from the pet store. We tried, I failed. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t do any harm, in fact I was so afraid to do so with all the fear mongering out there, I gave up pretty quickly.
I dropped the idea for a few months, after some frustrating moments with my boy and still not feeling 100% confident of my control over him in some situations I went for it again. This time i bought a highly rated brand that trainers were using and raved about. We went through some learning curves through the process.
I made mistakes and he forgave me. Then, I cracked it!!!
The first time I put the collar on, it was sitting at 50 or 60 (which is really high, and hurts in a quiet state of mind), I accidentally hit the button almost as soon as I tightened the collar. To be sure, he was both confused and horrified. Seeing his reaction, then looking down and realizing what I had accidentally done, I was also. I didn’t panic or make a big deal of it, because if I knew anything it was that if I was chill he wouldn’t have too much more to think about it. I hung up the collar once again, only for a couple of weeks this time as I got up the gumption again after allowing my own feelings from the situation settle. I brought the collar back out confidently and with out the story of my last mistake. He didn’t have any kind of averse reaction to putting the collar back on, he has/had so much trust in me, and no matter what he always knew I would never want to hurt him.
With much more care we started to learn the communication on the collar together. He wasn’t ever and still isn’t afraid of me or the collar. He neither loves or hates the collar, he doesn’t really think much about it when it’s on, even years later. Through the years I had other moments of accidentally getting him on higher numbers for no reason, and when I do, I look for him and when we make eye contact he looks at me like “you right?” And I say, “yeah, sorry bud, you’re good” and he keeps on the merry path that he was on before I rudely interrupted.
The only one who hung onto anything in the beginning was me. After that first mistake and seeing his reaction made my heart hurt that I hurt him accidentally. He was over it pretty quick because I didn’t allow him to feel or see my horror and guilt. It was me who needed to not for a couple of weeks, because of my big feelings, not his. He has hurt himself, or been hurt by other dogs way more than this hurt. And to be fair in the early days, I think he also accidentally hurt me more with his excitable bounding square head butt to the nose. Ooooh…
Now, for the first time, I have a dog I can call back in an instant. I have full control on and off leash and we could relax more and go so many more places. The learning continued though to the point in which I was able to have confidence in introducing puppies while ensuring their safety, while teaching my boy he’s not allowed to do what he so instinctively wanted to. This took patience, positive reinforcement, an understanding of body language, energy and corrections.
I became proficient at training dogs onto the e-collar and saw the massive benefit to the health and well being most dogs living in our world, but especially dogs with unwanted behavioural issues.
Everyone inevitably asks if Chess would still attack a puppy. The honest answer is, yes! But under my care and instruction Chess can be around them with out attacking. He has in fact helped raise a pup from 9wks old. It was hard for him at first but I was so very proud and elated that he could now be a positive influence in their lives too. In saying that, it’s because of our connection, communication and my understanding of him that keeps him and everyone else safe. I do believe that in no time under someone else’s roof he would indeed be “that pitbull” again.
The e-collar itself doesn't change behaviours, but it does assist in the process. For the more intense of behavioural problems you will at least have the ability to have the control to manage it, safely and comfortably.
Chess hasn't worn his e-collar for a couple of years 99% of the time. But we always have it as a seatbelt. He is still a dog, and the guy who sleeps in my bed and gets all the loves. He will still try to push the boundaries occasionally, but mostly, I find that endearing now.
Now, as a Master Trainer I can see why no one could help me. And I can understand after working with so many humans and their dogs that even if they could help me most people should not own Chess. I dedicated my life to figuring it out not because I’m a good human but because he wasn’t just a dog - he was my mate, he had no judgements, no worries or cares, he’s a little being that I couldn’t imagine discarding because others wouldn’t even try.
I looked at the world through his eyes. He slept on my head. And he would semi regularly fall out of bed while sleeping, and after hearing a thunk I’d look over the edge with his cranky baby face looking back at me like i did it. He fell out of bed again just a few months ago and with the same reactions from both, me in a half smile, half ooh that would have hurt face, saying “it wasn’t me”, with his squinty sleepy eyes glaring at me as if I pushed him off again. He makes me laugh. His whoo whoo’s every day makes me smile. And his sheer joy moments cause me have no control over him and make me “look” like a terrible trainer, but it’s in those moments of pure joy and glee that reminds me what life is really about.
E-collar training is the most amazing for nervous dogs if you know what you are doing. Nervous dogs really excel with the e-collar and can build their confidence when paired with +R and the knowledge of what a nervous dog requires from the human.
E-collars are a tool, and don’t create any harm on their own accord. When trained correctly e-collars are not a forever tool, it is for training purposes (for the majority). And dogs can mostly come off it in around 2-3 months. Though the collar is for communication purposes, there are times where pain is inflicted. For example, a bulked bulldog, wildly aggressive, no fear generally would take you with him trying to attack semi trailers. His power, low centre of gravity, and intensity made for a VERY dangerous situation not just for him but anyone hanging on to him. I can PROMISE you no amount of +R training was going to stop this guy. And even if maybe, in the 6months to year it would take you to get there, he may already be dead, and the very least would have continued physically damaging and scaring the owner.
So yeah, sometimes dangerous situations need a statement so they can still enjoy what the rest of life has to offer.
A dog that is well versed in the communication of an e-collar is typically afforded a lot more freedoms. Whether you have a happy 6 month old lab or a dog with behavioural issues, e-collars are an amazing tool for promoting healthy, happy, well balanced dogs
IMPORTANT : e-collars are NOT shock collars as you may see or read about. This is intentional dumb fkery.
An e-collar feels like a tens machine that you get at the physio, it tenses the muscle, there is NO shock. Yes, turn it up enough it still hurts, but it's a VERY different sensation and outcome.
So please, for the lives of dogs. For the sanity of owners. And for the ability for dogs to have more freedom to be dogs in a world that seems to be closing in on them all the time SHARE this until the cows come home.
With the right tool, the right trainer, the right owner, ANYTHING is possible. And being able to use them with severely nervous and dangerous dogs creates more safety for all. With your help we can help curb these terrible myths that are getting dogs euthanized.
**Photo - Chess and the now adult heeler who thinks Chess is his dad. The puppy Chess helped raise. This is one happy mumma over here ;-)