Everything You Need to Know About Correction Collars for Dogs
Think your dog needs a correction collar? Before you go out and buy one, you’ll want to be absolutely positive that it’s necessary. See, in most cases, “correction collar” is actually another name for “shock collar,” something that should only be considered as a last resort training option. So, let’s start by figuring out if it truly is the best training collar for stubborn dogs or if there is another option. If you decide that it’s right for your situation, then we’ll talk things to consider before buying one.
What kinds of dogs need correction collars?
The better question is “what kinds of dogs need to be corrected,” as the answer is completely different. Basically, if not correcting your dog puts himself, you, or other people and animals at risk, he needs correction. For example, if he lunges at other people while you’re walking him, he needs to be corrected. Likewise, if he’s barking so excessively that you’re at risk of being fined for violating noise ordinances or evicted from your apartment, he needs correction.
However, even in those cases, shock collars should be the “nuclear” option, only used after you’ve exhausted literally every other type of training possible. Then, and only then, should you consider a correction collar.
What to consider before buying a correction collar
If you read the above and thought, “we’re definitely at the ‘nuclear option’ point with our dog,” it’s still not a good idea to run out and buy a shock collar. First, you’ll need to consider the following.
Have you consulted with an expert?
Before investing in a shock collar, consult with two different experts. First, call up a trainer that specializes in positive strategies. Ask them for their advice and see if they’re willing to take your dog on as a client.
If they tell you no, which is sometimes the case with aggressive dog problems, make a second call. This time, to a trainer that actually specializes in “tough” cases and who has experience with correction collars. You’ll want his advice on the right collar to choose and what settings to use once you get it.
Are you prepared to use the collar the right way?
There’s a common misconception that shock collars train your dog for you without any input. That’s simply not true. If you just pop one on your dog and set it to shock him whenever he barks or lunges, you’re doing it wrong. In fact, you’ll end up causing more damage. Shock collars can cause mild-mannered dogs to become aggressive, easy-going breeds to become neurotic, and worse.
Instead, you’ll need to be prepared to actively train your dog alongside the collar. Basically, you’ll issue a command (quiet, for example) and wait to see if your dog obeys. If he doesn’t, then you can use the collar’s lowest setting (and work your way up, if necessary) to get his attention. When he stops, you must immediately reward the correct behavior. Otherwise, he’s just getting hurt without knowing why.
If after all that you still feel like correction collars are the way to go, it’s time to decide which type to try.
Types of correction collars
While “correction collar” is synonymous with “shock collar” in most cases, not all of them are created equally. Furthermore, not all are equally as horrifying. So, let’s break down a few of your options, starting with the least harmful method and working our way up.
Vibration correction collars
Correction collars that use vibration rather than electrical shocks are definitely the least “invasive” of the bunch. In fact, many owners of deaf dogs use them as part of their positive training strategy. The vibration gives feedback and marks correct behavior, much like a clicker does for hearing dogs. When used as a correction collar, though, you’ll actually be marking the unwanted behavior.
The vibration essentially startles your dog, which often makes him stop in his tracks. For example, if his barking activates the vibrations, he’ll stop to figure out what’s going on. The moment he does so, you’ll be ready to reward him to mark the wanted behavior.
Correction collars that spray
Spray collars are the next step up in terms of the least painful correction collars. Most use citronella, which is considered safe for dogs in the amounts used by the collars. However, water-spraying correction collars are an even better option, at least as a starting point.
As with vibration collars, you’ll need to stick close by so you can give commands and reward your dog when he responds to the collar by stopping his unwanted behavior.
Now we get to the least desirable of the correction collars. Before you buy one, check with local ordinances. Shock collars are banned throughout much of the UK, many EU countries, and certain cities throughout the US. If you decide to go forward with one, choose an option that offers multiple settings. Some have as many as 99 different shock levels. It’s also vital to choose a collar designed for your dog’s size. A collar made for a large breed is potentially deadly to a small dog, while one made for a small dog is ineffective against a larger one.
It’s super important to reiterate that you should always get training from a professional dog trainer before using a shock collar. This is definitely one type of training that you can’t just “wing” and try to figure out on your own.
Start with the absolute lowest level possible every time. You may also want to take your dog to a professional before you even buy a collar. They can help you determine the right size and fit. If it’s too tight, the prongs can cause serious damage to your dog’s skin. Likewise, if it’s positioned incorrectly and the level is too high, it could actually even kill your dog.
While many proponents of negative reinforcement training tout the use of correction collars, remember that they’re not a miracle cure to “bad” behavior. They should only be used as a last resort after you’ve tried everything else, and only after you’ve consulted with an expert. Even then, never use them on an unsupervised dog.