E-collars are such a taboo topic among many animal lovers, along with prong collars and muzzles. My stance is that it is your job as your dog’s owner to know what tools and methods are best for you and your dog. Every tool can be abused and misused. Dogs have sustained injuries from the improper use of e-collars, prong collars, nylon collars, leather collars, harnesses, head halters and the list goes on. Realize that abuse with training tools occurs when an owner decides to be neglectful and abusive. Lobster does in fact wear an e-collar, he is the only one of my dogs who does and he is by far the best behaved and best trained dog I have. And honestly, I have a better relationship with him because of the e-collar. So here is the story of how I have arrived at e-collar training with Lobster and why I refuse to let anyone tell me what is best for my dog just because they do not understand or it makes them feel uncomfortable.
When I first adopted Lobster it was clear that either in his previous home or in his time at the shelter, he was the boss. Don’t get me wrong, Lobster was and always has been very affectionate and sweet and playful, but, when it came time to be crated or told to not chew on this, or get down from there – basically any effort by me to deviate his behavior away from something he was not supposed to be doing, he would snap at me. His issue appeared to be only with establishing dominance with me, with my dogs and my cats he is a total push over and constantly submissive and avoidant at the first sign of conflict. Of course, I was surprised when I first tried to crate him by putting his food in his crate then slowly trying to guide him in with his collar, as soon as I would touch his collar and attempt to navigate him he would snap at my hand/arm/wrist. So naturally being taken a bit back by the situation, I backed down and backed away from him, figuring he was probably stressed out from everything that had transpired in the last few days. Going from the rescue in New York, to being transported from NY to Philly by one person, then from Philly to Michigan by another person, then driven from Michigan to Minnesota with me. In the following weeks I began to realize that Lobster had some deeper issues with aggression in relation to feeling any form of dominance from a person. To be put plainly; Lobster thought he was tough shit and in charge.
Over the next few weeks it was clear some proactive steps would have to be taken to ensure I was going to be able to manage Lobster and be safe in the process. I refuse to have a dog in my home that thinks he can do whatever he wants, that is not behavior I support and it is also behavior I cannot have with four bully breed dogs. As Mike (head trainer of Primal Canine) has put it, dogs quickly and easily pick up bad habits and bad behavior from other dogs. Adding Lobster to my pack has added another dimension of dynamic, making it even more essential that I establish rules and boundries – crate rotation, crating when I am not home, crating my dogs while I sleep, not allowing them on furniture etc. Initially I said I did not want to do e-collar training with Lobster, I wanted to try everything else possible and spend some more time forming a bond with him in hopes he would be more responsive to direction from me when we had a solid relationship. So we tried multiple things to ease then tension of crating like treats, and kongs and chew dogs and lots of praise, and instead grabbing his collar to direct him or pull him off the couch I tried having him use a drag leash so I could direct him that way. Lobster eventually became wise to bribery with treats, toys, food and would persist with whatever undesirable thing he was doing. Same with the drag leash, at first it helped to not directly grab him by his collar but then if I was across the room, coming over and grabbing the leash became as tense. He started becoming more confident in trying to bite me and small snaps at my hand eventually manifested into harder bites, and even a few attempts to get at my face that thankfully I was able to move away from in time. But I wasn’t ready to give up and knew no matter what I was going to keep Lobster and find a way to make this work.
The day before Thanksgiving, Lobster was perched up on the gate leading into my kitchen because he was super anxious to get into the car and head to my parent’s house for the holiday. I attempted to lead him away from the gate so I could continue to get things packed in the car but he refused to get down. I was finally able to push him off the gate so I could get into my living but as soon as I got on the other side of the gate I was frustrated and was going to crate him so I could finish packing in peace but tensions rose and he wound up biting me a handful of times on both hands and arms and on my left leg. Thankfully I was wearing a winter coat and mid-calf height boots so the physical damage was minimal but it was at that point I decided that if I was going to keep Lobster, we were doing e-collar training.
Over the next few weeks, Lobster did a board and train with Primal Canine and we started him on e-collar. Three weeks later, Lobster had transformed from a dog that had reached a point of being unmanageable for me, to a dog that I now have such an amazing relationship with. His recall is amazing, his off leash training and his ability to listen and focus on me is something I never thought was possible. Everything has been great with Lobster since December, we have had no incidents and I barely even think about or remember the issues him and I first had. He was meant to be here with me and I am so glad I never gave up on him. Gone is the tension between him and I, there is no longer a vying for dominance, there is no more frustration of trying to crate him or direct him away from chewing up a dog bed or climbing on things he is not supposed to. Because of his training I can now take him anywhere, around anyone and anything with confidence knowing that he understands that he needs to listen to me. Above all, I now have a dog that I trust, and a dog that trusts me.
We get dirty looks when we are out walking because people assume that Lobster is some unhinged, wild animal and that’s why he has the e-collar. It bothered me at first, worrying about what people thought of him especially because of his breed and what people thought of me…probably assuming that I am some monster torturing her dog with an e-collar. But the now I just laugh when people act judgmental about it. Usually the people who are giving me dirty looks are the people who have a dog hauling them down the street, barking and lunging at other dogs, while the owner is tugging on them yelling the same command over and over as their dog doesn’t listen with this growing look of frustration on their face. If you don’t want to have control over your dog, that’s fine. If you want to use other tools or methods to train and manage your dog, that’s great. Just respect what each person has decided what is best for their dog and realize that one method of training and one tool is not going to work for every dog. If someone has to muzzle their dog to keep you and others and their dog safe, let them. Because if a muzzle, or e-collar or prong collar is the reason that owner can control that dog and keep others safe – that’s sure a hell of a lot better than an incident occurring, and the price being paid by that dog because that owner was more concerned about what others think. I would rather see a dog with a prong collar being controlled by an owner, than a wild dog wearing a nylon harness.