Shocking and pronging fearful dogs?
One of the most common misconceptions (and stories propagated by certain groups), is that using an e-collar or prong collar on a nervous or fearful dog will make them worse at best, and ruin them completely at worst. I won’t get into the agendas behind why these fear inducing ideas get pushed on owners, but I will try to explain why most folks misunderstand how these tools might actually help a nervous or fearful dog.
Here’s what I hear in regards to using these tools with these kinds of dogs: how is shocking and hurting already fearful dogs going to make them better? Why on earth would you torture an already fearful dog with pain to try to make them better?
Okay, so let’s clarify some stuff here. You don’t use the e-collar or the prong collar to punish the dog’s fear, you don’t say “bad dog” when the dog is fearful and shock it or pop the leash, I’m afraid that wouldn’t get you very far, and would in fact cause harm. No, you use these tools to train the dog and to help build confidence. But if you don’t understand how these tools are used your only conclusion is that they must be used punitively to try to blast or pop the dog into a new state of mind! (Lol, I’m still amazed that that belief is circulating out there!)
So here’s what we actually do with these tools. We use the prong collar to train the dog to walk next to us without fleeing and freaking out. We teach the dog to sit, down, place and hold these positions in a gentle, mild, guiding fashion. We use the prong collar and the training to override the fear and insecurity. We’re using gentle pressure from the collar to override the dog’s current state to give the dog access to a new state. A more relaxed, confident state. We don’t correct the dog for being fearful, we train the dog to be confident and ignore its default state. Slow, mildly, and steady.
As for the e-collar it’s much the same – but even more powerful psychologically. Once again, we’re not using the e-collar to say “bad dog” and hit the button for being fearful. What we are doing is teaching the dog to listen to the e-collar pressure (at very low-levels) rather than their internal fear pressure. We teach the dog to heel, sit, down, place, and especially recall. Once again, we’re teaching, not blasting or correcting – we’re gently teaching “listen to us, not your fear. Listen to the training, not your anxiety.”
Why is it more powerful psychologically? Because the dog feels it’s doing the work him or herself. Yes they feel the e-collar pressure, but in their minds they’re performing activities they wouldn’t normally be able to on their own – they feel they’re doing it themselves. They know they could run, flee, hide…but they don’t…and that builds confidence and security. The leash and prong are great, and can help many insecure and fearful dogs make great strides, but dogs still know a human is attached. Once a dog is off-leash trained completely, they seem to move into an even more amazing gear of confidence. Why? Because they’re doing what they never could before. And they’re doing it themselves. That’s how you build confidence and help eradicate fear.
So to sum up, let’s review how this works again. Fearful dogs will always take whatever is the quickest and easiest way out to avoid discomfort. They will flee, hide, run etc. The tools and the training we’re using flips that concept on its head. The dog learns that walking next to you is more comfortable than pulling and trying to get away. The dog learns that recalling to you is more comfortable than running away. The dog learns that holding sit, down, or place, is more comfortable than fleeing. Are we making fear, insecurity, and anxiety mildly uncomfortable? You betcha. That’s the whole concept. Turn the dog’s perception about what’s comfortable and uncomfortable upside down. Make listening and responding and hanging tough – even when it’s scary or hard – the better choice, the more comfortable choice. Make listening to fear, insecurity, and panic the less comfortable choice. And what do you get from that? You get a dog who slowly learns that he or she is more confident, is better able to cope, and is stronger than they originally thought. They break through old patterns of fear they were stuck in – because those old patterns worked, and helped them gain immediate comfort. We then replace them with new patterns. Patterns that actually make the dog’s world bigger and more comfortable, rather than keeping it small and painful.
Fear is an awfully strong emotion. That’s why using food (alone) and other tools often fail. The fear is simply too strong to be impacted. So the dog remains stuck. That’s why prong and e-collar training can succeed with fearful dogs when other approaches can’t.
Here’s a few clips from an extremely fearful case I had several years ago, Ruby 2. She was incredibly fearful. Getting her out of the crate or just to walk with you was near impossible. The fear was so strong. Trying to get her to come to you was completely impossible – all she wanted to do was hide and avoid. Her male owner couldn’t get near her without fleeing, peeing, pooping (and it was the same for me!) Eventually she was totally e-collar trained, and as you’ll see, it all changed.