Electric collars: A shocking choice for 4-H dog training

Basic 4-H dog obedience training should be done through positive training methods, not with electric collars; learn more about proper training strategies for dogs.

Young boy training his dog.Electric collars, also called “E-collars” or “shock collars,” can be used for many purposes such as invisible fences, bark collars, hunting/herding, obedience, agility and behavioral training. These collars can range from a small vibration or beep all the way to a sharp electric current. 

Basic obedience training should be done through positive training methods and not electric collar training. Many e-collar supporters agree and only feel the e-collar should be used in problem cases or more advanced training when there may be too much stimuli present in the surrounding area.  Many of those same supporters also try to emphasize that the collar needs to be used correctly or not at all.  It needs to be paired with positive methods, praise for the sought-after response and consistency.   A step system should also be used; for example, first ask for the desired response, when that doesn’t work you follow by asking for the desired response with a beep or vibration and only then when those are exhausted do you use the shock. 

These collars should only be used when you have a clear understanding of how to properly use them and should be used in cooperation with a dog trainer skilled with these collars. However, youth should not use these collars for 4-H dog training no matter what the situation. 4-H philosophy is to use positive training methods and it is questionable that youth are developmentally ready to use this type of training.

Positive training methods include consistent language when asking the dog to perform a task.  Once the dog attempts this task he/she should be immediately praised for their efforts.  Each the time the task is performed the handler will expect a little more before the praise is given.  This practice is fun for both the youth and the dog.  If the dog is not responding to praise, a handler may use bait (treats) to help motivate or keep the focus of the dog.  Some dogs will perform for their favorite squeaky toy or other treasured item.  The process is the same as the praise but instead of praising the dog after an attempt to perform a task you will reward them with their toy. 

Training a dog takes time and consistency but with positive training like this, the dog will be very happy and content in his/her learning. It is also easy to make adjustments when the handler makes an error with positive practices verses electric collar practice.

According to “Ages and Stages of Child and Youth Development: A Guide for 4-H Leaders,” youth want to make decisions but still depend on adult guidelines, and suggest that adults establish guidelines that give parameters for youth to follow. Youth often make choices that are unrealistic or quick.  In the case of an e-collar if a quick decision is made to use the shock when it isn’t warranted, it can cause the dog confusion, frustration, depression and even anger. Using any equipment inconsistently or inappropriately can cause a wide range of behavioral problems. Youth should be taught by leaders and parents how to use positive training methods that will not cause damage when mistakes are made. The same results can be reached with these positive methods. In the end the dog and child will have a much stronger bond and happier experience while teaching the child valuable life skills.

Michigan 4-H Youth Programs strive to teach youth valuable life skills at developmentally appropriate times.  The companion animal program provides opportunities for youth to learn about proper care, management and training of their companion animal while focusing on life skill development. 

For more information on how you can involve your child in a companion animal program, please contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.

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