THE USE OF REMOTE TRAINING AIDS (Collars, Fences)
Some owners find that the electronic devices work when other behavior modification solutions fail. The negative feedback of the static electric shock, combined with proper training, can help curb unwanted behaviors. These devices have been used to control hunting dogs in the field, to keep dogs from nuisance barking, and to prevent dogs from entering certain, off-limits areas. In addition, there are specific situations where containment is needed and above-ground fences are not allowed. In a case such as this, buried electric fences are the logical alternative. Finally, there are times when shock deterrents are the only form of behavior modification that work to correct a problem. When other attempts fail and the dog's behavior may lead to removal from the household, electronic collars are a viable alternative. This is often the case with dogs that bark incessantly.
If one is considering the use of electronic correction collars, it is important to learn how they work, how the dog needs to be trained, and which options are available. These training collars work on the concept that an animal will learn to avoid the discomfort of a static electric shock by avoiding the situation that caused the shock. The use of a transmitter and a collar allow the correction to be administered when the owner is not visibly present or touching the dog. Ideally, the dog will believe that the correction is caused by the behavior, not the owner, and learn to avoid the behavior, and therefore prevent future corrections. These types of collars are primarily used to control unwanted behaviors that occur when the dog is physically separated from the owner.
Not all training collars are the same. When choosing a remote-training collar, it is important to identify the stimulus that sets off the correction, the type of correction, and the size of dog that the collar is intended to be used on. Also, check if the collar can be set to different levels of sensitivity (what triggers the correction) and different levels of stimulation (intensity of the correction). Other concerns would be the type of battery (rechargeable, replaceable), the weight of the collar, and whether or not it is waterproof. The combination of these traits will allow you to choose the most appropriate collar for your pet. These collars are available either as training collars, which allow the owner to remotely administer a corrective stimulation in response to an unwanted behavior, or as anti-barking collars, which administer a pre-programmed correction in response to barking and do not require the owner to be present.
Electronic training collars consist of a hand-held transmitter and a receiver attached to a dog collar. Usually, the collars have several levels of stimulation. Many have features that allow the owner to alter the length of the static correction as well as its intensity. Some have a 'good dog' tone that the dog is taught to associate with a correct behavior. These collars require training of both the owner and the pet to avoid problems. It is possible to administer a correction of too great an intensity or too long a duration if the collar is inappropriately sized for the dog, or if the owner becomes frustrated during training. It is also possible for the dog to misunderstand the correction and associate the shock with items around the dog, not the behavior. Accurate timing of the correction and the 'good dog' tone will reduce any misunderstandings and increase effectiveness of the collars.
An alternative type of training collar uses a different type of correction to stop the dog from unwanted behaviors. With this collar, the static electric shock is replaced with a citronella spray. The dog wears a collar with a small container of citronella attached to it. The owner remotely triggers a puff of citronella when the dog is caught performing unwanted behaviors, such as digging or jumping on the table. The citronella works because it smells, sounds, feels, and looks odd, and basically startles the dog into stopping its unwanted behavior. Coupled with obedience training, citronella remote-activated collars often work well to stop incorrect behaviors. The remote training trigger can work up to 300 feet and the collars come with training information. The collar's citronella canister is easily refilled once it is emptied.
Anti-barking collars are a specific type of correction collar designed solely to stop nuisance barking. They work on the same principles as training collars, but do not require a person to activate them. Instead, the correction is triggered either by throat vibrations or the sound of barking. A dog that coughs should never wear a collar of this type, as the vibration or noise of coughing can set off the collars. Unfortunately, some environmental sounds can do the same thing. When using an anti-bark collar, it is important to initially monitor the dog to make sure that no environmental noises or vibrations inadvertently trigger the collar.
Basically, there are three types of anti-barking collars or devices. All deliver a correction that is triggered by barking and stops when the barking stops. However, they differ in the type of correction delivered. Electronic collars deliver an electrostatic shock if the collar senses the throat vibrations that accompany barking. Ultrasonic devices and collars respond with a high-pitched tone that is triggered by vibration or sound. Citronella collars respond to the sound of the barking by releasing a puff of citronella in front of the pet's face.
As with training collars, anti-bark electronic collars may come with different levels of sensitivity and shock levels. They are available with different types of batteries and some are waterproof. Some have built-in safeguards to prevent accidental triggering of the device. Make sure that the collar is appropriate for the size and weight of the dog to avoid problems.
The second type, an ultrasonic anti-bark collar, is also sized to the dog, but usually has only one level of response. Ultrasonic devices are also available as free-standing units that do not require the dog to wear a collar. They usually work within 25 feet of the dog and respond to barking by emitting a high-frequency sound that disrupts the dog's behavior and stops when the barking stops. These units do have sensitivity adjustments to allow them to be tailored to specific situations.
The third type, a citronella collar, works by releasing a puff of citronella if the dog barks. The citronella is contained in a small canister on the dog's collar and released in response to the sound of barking. The citronella stops the dog in mid-bark with an auditory "puff", a visible spray, and the smell of citronella. The citronella is easily refilled when the collar canister is emptied.
No matter which type of anti-bark collar is used, dogs learn when their anti-bark collar is on and working, and will resume barking if the collar is removed or not working. This means that most dogs will need to wear them every time they are in a situation that triggers barking. So dogs with electronic collars will resume barking if the batteries stop working and dogs with citronella collars will resume barking when the citronella canister is emptied. If these collars are only used when the owner is absent and proper replacement behaviors are not taught, the dogs may need to wear them for the rest of their lives whenever they are left alone.
Other electronic devices are designed to keep pets in certain areas and out of others. The most widely accepted use is in containment fences, often called invisible fences or underground fences. These systems are designed for outdoor use and basically fence the pet into a yard or area without the use of an above-ground fence. They are highly desirable in communities that do not allow fencing structures, as they allow the pet to run around the yard without the fear that the pet will run away.
These fences use an electric shock to keep pets from crossing a buried wire that runs the perimeter of the area that they are allowed to run on. Basically, after the cable is buried, the dog is shown where the perimeter wire is buried. Small flags are used to temporarily mark the boundaries. The dog is outfitted with a collar that emits a warning tone when the boundary is approached. If the dog continues toward the boundary, an electrical shock is created by the collar. As with other training collars, the intensity of the shock can be regulated. All systems require a collar with receiver, a transmitter, and boundary wires. The system you purchase should come with a training manual, instructional video, and boundary flags. The collar should be adjustable and suited to your pet's size. Variable intensities allow you to adjust the static electric correction for sensitive dogs.
As with all training collars, it is critical that proper training of both the dog and the owners take place prior to use of the underground system, so that the system can work properly and the dog can learn without becoming frightened. The dog needs to learn the boundaries and understand the use of the warning tone. Several practice runs with verbal cues need to be performed prior to using the transmitter. The video and manuals should be followed. Improperly used, the dog may not understand the point of the shock and become frightened of the yard or outside.
Electric fences have several advantages. As mentioned, they can be used in neighborhoods where fences are not allowed. They are also an economical method to 'enclose' a large area of land for your dogs to run and play on. They can be used to section off a section of your yard for your pet. They cannot be brought down in a storm, and can give you peace of mind that your dog will not suddenly run into the road. They cannot be dug under, jumped over, or gnawed through.
There are a few concerns to be addressed when using an underground fence. They really are designed to be used when you are present to prevent difficulties that can occur in your absence. Be aware that other animals can enter and leave the yard as they please, even if your pet cannot. This means that wandering animals can cause problems for your pet. In addition, a great stimulus can cause your pet to 'forget' its training. If a cat runs through the yard or a biker goes by, the dog may endure the shock and bolt from the yard. Finally, the shock is administered by distance from the wire, not location. If the dog manages to leave the yard and tries to return, it will be shocked when it approaches the wire from the outside of the yard. Also, it is critical to remember where you buried the fence to prevent accidental shocks. For example, if the fence runs under your driveway, do not drive out it with the dog in the car unless you have removed the collar!
When purchasing an underground containment system, be sure to find out the length and gauge of the wire, whether or not the battery is rechargeable or replaceable, and whether or not the system is equipped with lightening safeguards. Use the heaviest gauge wire that you can afford and do not mix types of wire. Make sure that the collar is appropriate for the temperament and size of your dog. Read the manual, watch the videos, and get training tips from others that own the fences to increase your success.
The concept of the electric fence is no longer used only out-of-doors. Several adaptations of the collar allow these systems to be brought inside to keep pets away from rooms or areas that are off limits. There are several available on the market. A good example is a simple system from Innotek called Zones. Cordless, battery-operated 'zones' are placed near areas to be avoided, such as a trash can. If the pet approaches one of these zones, the pet's collar emits a warning tone. Just as with an electric fence, if the pet continues to approach the forbidden zone, an electric shock is emitted as a correction. The pet learns to avoid areas that trigger the warning tone to avoid the correction. The diameter of each forbidden zone can be adjusted from 2 to 12 feet, so a smaller zone can be set to keep the pet out of the trash and a larger zone created to keep the dog away from the dining room table.
As with all the other electric training devices, indoor containment systems work best if accompanied by obedience training. Dogs are smart enough to know that the devices only work when they are wearing the collar. As previously discussed, a dog that is corrected without being taught an alternative behavior will rapidly revert to the unwanted behavior if the correction is discontinued. So a dog that is taught to sit quietly or chew a toy instead of getting into the waste basket learns a better 'replacement' behavior and will eventually leave the basket alone at all times. A dog that is merely shocked when it gets near the waste basket may learn to avoid it while wearing the collar, but may very well return to it the minute the collar is removed or the batteries need replacing.
Whether a containment system or an anti-bark collar, none of the remote correction devices are designed to replace obedience training, exercise, and time spent with your dogs. They are not a 'quick fix'. However, when used correctly, these devices can protect your valuable pets and your valuable property. They are most effective at preventing unwanted behaviors that occur when the owner is absent, such as getting into the kitchen garbage can. Anti-bark collars can be especially useful, as nuisance barking usually occurs when owners are not present to stop it and is extremely difficult to stop even when the owner is present. Anti-bark collars can stop barking when nothing else works and may prevent removal of the dog from the premises.
If you decide to supplement your training regime with a remote-activated correction device, do your homework. Read, ask questions, and talk to others who have used the devices. Formulate a training plan that will allow your pet to learn acceptable behaviors while learning to avoid the bad behaviors that trigger the corrections. Examine the difference between ultrasonic, shock, and citronella units. In many cases, citronella collars may be preferable to electronic collars for control of barking or unwanted behaviors that occur when you are present. Static electric devices are needed for buried fences and often used to keep pets away from designated rooms or objects when the owner is not present. Choose carefully and follow all label directions to ensure success.
Dr. Jane Leon
Omaha Vaccine Company