Saturday, May 14, 2011

Signature Dog Blog: Electronic Collars - A Not So Shocking Story

              Yogi (one of my favourite clients) and Roman enjoying some sunshine!

So much has been written and talked about with respect to the electronic collar (also referred to as the remote collar, e-collar and shock collar) and its use on dogs. Not much of this has been positive – in fact I have read very little that has been positive.  And, I agree that the electronic collar can be used to provide pain and punishment to some dogs as with anything it can be abused when placed in the wrong hands.

Let me share with you my own very personal experience with the electronic collar. I have a male Doberman and his name is Roman (pictured above wearing his e-collar). I purchased him about three years ago as a return from the breeder. While he is a magnificent looking dog – he came with enough baggage for ten dogs – he was like a fast moving train about to be derailed. In addition to his lack of walking skills, he did not know sit, down, come, his name….well you get the picture. Since he arrived, he had been too much for me to handle, I tried to walk him on a choke chain (that quickly cut his neck which is about the size of a medium-sized tree trunk), next I tried a prong collar (that made his neck bleed and they just kept breaking) the martingale and harness were also tried and as you can guess these tools failed miserably. I tried treats and really every possible tool and training technique I knew of. Then I simply threw up my arms and said I won’t be walking him. Sure I tried trainer after trainer. Some trainers were helpful and some progress was made – another trainer wanted him on a gentle leader (you know how that went). This same trainer told me all Roman needed was a really good treat to get him to listen - she called it "the million dollar treat" you guessed it...more money down the drain. Over time, Roman continued to improve as my husband worked with him religiously – but the improvement was very slow and only slightly measurable.

Then a friend suggested the electronic collar and showed my husband how to use it – from there Roman got worse. This was because he did not know how to use the collar and was using it more as a punishment tool, as our friend instructed. This method only escalated Roman’s behaviour – which by this time could only be described as brutal.

Then we went away for a weekend and we took Roman and our other Doberman Madeline along. That weekend Roman ate a bird, nearly killed a cat and tried to go after a horse. We were beside ourselves. I cried alot and my husband and I blamed each other for Roman's behaviour. Even our friends said we must have made him this way. When we got home we contacted yet another trainer who was recommended to us and who worked with special cases and the electronic collar. My husband worked with this trainer and Roman for several months and there was some decent progress. Roman could now attend group classes and he was less unruly. But the progress quickly stalled as we reached a plateau and we still had not achieved any decent walking skills and I still was not able to handle or walk Roman as he still pulled and lunged like bull and his anxiety was still extremely high. I could not even take him to the vet as I could not control him at all. Then we made a decision to just take him out a couple times a week and that he would mostly just be a house dog. Desperate people we were and we were making a desperate decision. I know this is crazy but walking a screeching, barking, shaking, terrified 85 pound Doberman was becoming a chore – the neighbours feared him and the most common thing people said to me was “will he eat us?”. While I was sure he wouldn’t - BUT if he wanted to eat something – I could not stop him. No one could!

Then by chance through my own business, Signature Pet Services, I met Jill Sharp at Life Without a Leash. She had been recommended to me by local dog expert Joan Klucha to help some of my clients – so I contacted Jill so that I could meet her and watch one of her training sessions for my clients’ benefit – not my own. I had no intention of getting another trainer for Roman – we’d already had three so far. I met Jill at her training centre and watched her interact with a woman and her dog and as I watched Jill I saw she had an amazing and very quick connection with the dog and seemed to tune into him immediately. Her instructions to the woman handling the dog were simple to follow. So….I got to thinking….could Jill help Roman get back on his leash and out in the world? Could Roman one day be a well behaved dog like my other Doberman Madeline?

I booked a private session with Jill and she taught me how to use the electronic collar and to properly handle Roman. I had very little previous experience with the electronic collar and did not even know how to turn it on. So I had my lesson with Jill and she gave me some simple homework to do with Roman. The next day I took Roman out into my cul-de-sac and began putting my homework into place….low and behold I was getting good results and fast too! I was in shock (no pun intended) and could not believe it.

I continued to do the homework everyday and I had two more private sessions with Jill and also attended one group class. That was almost a year ago and I am still doing my homework regularly with Roman – but the coolest thing is that I AM WALKING ROMAN AND HE IS REALLY GOOD ON THE LEASH. He always wears the electronic collar and a flat leather collar on our walks – he is more relaxed, happy, responsive and well behaved. I am 100% in control of him at all times. Now the neighbours say things like “Wow, he walks so nicely on a leash”, “Your dog is so well behaved”, and the best one is….”Did you get a new dog?”.

In some ways Jill Sharp and her training methods have given me a new dog – a new and improved Roman. Roman sometimes wears his electronic collar around the house and while he was always really good in the house – he is now amazing. And, if you think Roman wearing the collar in the house is a bit much – the minute I touch Roman’s electronic collar he comes running to me and sits and waits for me to put it on. I know it is not just because he thinks he’s going out – he is actually comforted by it. Because he knows there is no more yelling or collar yanking corrections should he step out of line. He simply gets a command with a tap on the collar and that is it….all done he does what is asked.

At our home, the electronic collar is never ever used as a punishment tool!

A great big thank you to Jill Sharp for making Roman a better dog, a happier and more relaxed dog, and a dog I can handle and walk…but most importantly the bond between Roman and me (that was not very good before I met Jill) is incredible. And, the love I feel for Roman is now the same as the love I feel for Madeline, my other Doberman. My family is lucky and very grateful to have had Jill Sharp come into our lives.

If you are having problems with your dog and you have tried everything - give Jill Sharp a call at 604-309-0603 as Jill just may be the answer to your problem.