This is a charged topic in the pet lover community and it will inspire passionate responses. Only respectful comments will be allowed.

Should I use a Training Collar on My Dogs? In this blog post, I explore the pros and cons of using training collars and share the thoughts of two experienced dog trainers to help us make the best decisions.

Rodrigo turned nine years old this year and he’s an amazing dog.  He’s been my biggest challenge and I’m thankful that he was our first dog because every dog after him has been a piece of cake.  Rodrigo taught me that dog training is ongoing and doesn’t stop after a couple of puppy classes.  He taught me patience and the importance of “listening” to my dog.

Recently, we added a fifth dog to our family. This wasn't planned and we weren't prepared. Our new puppy came to us at 7 months old with very little training and it's been an adjustment for us and our dogs. We've come full circle; my experience raising Rodrigo has given me the patience to work with Apollo. But it's not always easy to train a headstrong, large breed puppy.

Should Training Collars Be Used on Dogs?

I respect the dog training community implicitly.  The work that trainers do is keeping dogs in their homes and out of shelters because they are training humans to raise a well behaved, happy dog.  That being said, I have a habit of keeping dog trainers at a distance because the dog training community is passionate and some are very aggressive when sharing their opinions. Over the years, I’ve had dog trainers compare me to Hitler (now that’s random), insinuate that I beat my dogs, predict that I’ll drop my dogs off at a shelter when I get bored with them, and more.  These statements used to bother me, but today, I try to understand that the insults come from a place of frustration and I try not to take them personally.

Dog encounter's bird in a pet store.

Lately, the training world (both professionals and self-proclaimed experts) have found me again after I shared a video of a dog looking at a bird at a pet store.  When I saw the video, I thought it was cute that the dog was interested in the bird.  That’s not what other people took away from the video:

  • Some felt that the birds were being abused by allowing the dog to look at them.  Although the birds were in an enclosure, instinct would tell them that they were being hunted by a predator and cause a tremendous amount of fear and stress.
  • Most people had a problem with the prong collar on the dog. I read that it wasn’t positioned right; others said it was positioned perfectly.  I read that it was abusive; others said that it was part of the training.  I read that they caused pain and health issues; others said that as long as it was used correctly, it was fine.

Needless to say, I was confused.  After 50+ comments, it would have been easy to stop the bickering by deleting the video but I’m an inquisitive person and I’ve learned that before I judge anything (or anyone) as right or wrong, I need to ask questions.  I wanted to learn more.

Should training collars be used on dogs?

My Experience with Training Collars

I’ve always thought training collars were cruel and a tool for people who either practice the alpha form of dog training or people who were too lazy to properly train their dogs.  Yep, I used to make sweeping judgments about everything without doing any real research.

Today, I’m not so anti-training collars for three reasons:

  1. I don’t know much about training collars and have never used them.
  2. I don’t have a dog that would be a good fit for a training collar.
  3. I’ve met plenty of people who I don’t think are lazy or need to be the alpha who are successfully using training collars.

Vibration Collar

I purchased a training collar with Rodrigo on the advice of a trainer and it didn’t work out well at all.  This was a vibration collar (no shocking option) so I thought it would be fine.  It’s not causing my dog pain, it’s just like tapping him on the shoulder when I need to get his attention.  Right?  Wrong!  It didn’t work.  He didn’t seem to notice it and the collar broke when the trainer was showing me how to use it.

Pet Corrector

Another tool I used with my dogs was a spray called Pet Corrector – it made a short hissing sound and friends call it “Cesar Millan in a can.”  I thought that this would be a great way to get my dogs to stop unwanted behavior (counter surfing, excessing barking, jumping, chasing the cat).  While it did temporarily stop unwanted behavior, it also created fear and anxiety in our home.  So I tossed it away and worked with a dog trainer to improve these behaviors in a positive environment and it worked.

Benefits of Training Collars

According to the Internet (yep, I went there) and people on social media, training collars are great for dogs that have reactive issues, separation anxiety, or are headstrong. I often see big dogs with prong collars and I've been told that without the collar, the dog would be dragging the owner everywhere.

  • Allows pet parents to correct behavior at a distance.
  • Some feel that training collars reduce aggression.
  • Training collars are useful when voice commands won't work.
  • Provides the dog with instant feedback on their behavior.
  • You're able to “punish” your dog without being the bad guy.

When using a shock collar (often called e-collars), the “shock” is similar to a small rubber band snap, or so I've been told, and it only serves to get the dogs' attention. They're not supposed to be used to cause pain.

I know plenty of people who use training collars (usually the vibration collars) with success, so it's hard to believe that ALL training collars are bad. But does that mean that they're right for my dogs?

Risks of Training Collars

My major concern about training collars stems from stories and images of dogs that have burn marks around their necks or injuries from prong collars that dug into the skin. Obviously, the worst stories are from people who abuse animals and had no business with a dog. But the images don't go away.

In speaking with people about training collars, the risks include:

  • Physical pain.
  • Injuries to the neck and trachea due to placement.
  • Increased aggression and fear; teaching a dog to associate a trigger with pain, thereby making their reactivity worse.
  • People are buying these collars without learning how to use them.
  • People are leaning too heavily on training collars and may be overcorrecting.
  • Some breeds don't respond to shocks (thinking of the Invisible Fence).
  • Where is the positive reward for good behavior if the dog is being corrected at a distance?

I share this list because, as I stated, there are people buying these tools without learning how to use them and it can lead to negative consequences.

Dog Trainers Share Thoughts on Training Collars

Because I have zero experience with dog training, other than the work I’ve done with my dogs under the guidance of a professional dog trainer, I reached out to friends to ask their thoughts on using training collars.  My questions were simple:

  1.  Do you recommend training collars for dogs?
  2. Why or why not?
Ronny LeJeune of Perfectly Rawsome. Ronny is a certified, professional dog trainer who practices fear-free techniques with dogs. She also offers meal planning and formulation services for raw feeders thanks to her education in canine nutrition.

Ronny LeJeune, Perfectly Rawsome

Ronny is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certified Counsel for Professional Dog Trainers. She is also first aid and CPR certified. And she’s a Certified Fear Free Professional.  Ronny doesn’t use aversive methods or equipment and in the dog training industry, she would be categorized as a LIMA trainer – Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive who uses the humane hierarchy as a guide.

So, what does all of that mean?

It means that Ronny doesn’t use force, intimidation, fear, or pain in her methods of training.  Many people believe that choosing to make training a positive experience, there are no consequences, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  In this form of training, a dog isn’t FORCED to behave, instead, the trainer develops a relationship and trust using fun.

Ronny doesn’t recommend the use of aversive training equipment such as e-collars or prongs.  She also doesn’t use head halters or gait restrictive “no pull” harnesses.  Instead of using these tools, Ronny recommends a routine and a “consistent training program systematically created to achieve a goal in the place of aversive equipment. Whether that goal is loose leash walking, come when called, or behavior modification for aggression.”

“I am interested in changing the cognitive process in dogs. When we are effective in training, we fundamentally change the brain and create new pathways. It takes time, patience, and consistency to create these beautiful Positive Conditioned Emotional Responses (+CER). My methods are not going to happen overnight. I am not in the business to deliver instant gratification. I work with puppies and adult dogs of all sizes and temperaments…dogs that literally want to eat me alive…and change is possible without aversive tools. It is incredibly rewarding to see my clients blossom when working with me. One of my personal dogs is dog selective (there is no consistency in dogs he likes or does not like which can result in dog aggression), is thunderstorm phobic (extreme stress and anxiety with storms), has predatory displacement with smaller dogs (will chase smaller dogs who display fear, it’s a chase to kill behavior)…and I have not once used any aversive tools to effectively modify his behavior.”

Ronny LeJeune, Perfectly Rawsome

Reading Ronny’s words gives me hope and makes me glad that I didn’t follow the aversive path for Rodrigo. I truly don’t think that type of training would be a good fit for him.  However, because I think it’s important to review both sides of an issue, I reached out to another friend to ask his thoughts on training collars.

Kilted K-9 is the creation of Dayton Cummings, a Triple Crown certified canine behavior specialist and trainer. Mr. Cummings offers exclusive training and care for the needs of your best friend and helper.

Dayton Cummings, Kilted K9

Dayton Cummings of Kilted K9 is a balanced trainer who trains according to the dog and owner, not a certain style or type. Dayton has twenty years of experience as a dog trainer and behaviorist.  He studied at the Triple Crown Dog Academy (which eventually split and became Dog Worx Academy).  Dayton’s training also includes working with his mentor and good friend Jim Sears. Dayton did the foundation work on Sears’ dog, and that dog went on to win the Nationals and to represent the US in the world in Schutzhund.  And Dayton’s work has included dogs that went to the Worlds and Nationals, as well as work with the Round Rock Police Department in Texas for two years.

Dayton shared that he uses a wide range of training collars and what he recommends depends on…

  • the age of the dog,
  • the dog’s temperament,
  • the issue that brought the dog to training,
  • and the owner of the dog. 

He will not use correction collars on puppies and he has a strong issue with training collars being sold without training by professional.

Pet store employees don’t have training on training collars and similar tools and aren’t equipped to offer advice. 

He shared that many remote training collars come with stereo instructions while pinch collars don’t include any instructions. This lack of guidance leads to people not knowing what size to buy, how to put them on, or how to use them effectively.

Before I use a correction collar on a dog he already has an idea of what I'm asking him to do. I do use pinch collars and recommend remote. I love the remote because it [offers consistent correction for] everything and it takes you out of the equation. For example, if you have a fearful dog “you” aren't giving the corrections, you are the one rewarding for good behavior. So you are the positive. You can correct from a distance without a leash. If you have an aggressive dog it basically does the same thing. Because if you correct a dog like that with leash and collar he could possibly come back on you. Those are just two reasons and why I find that most people who dont use them or are very much against them just have no knowledge of them or even how to use one. I've had so many people tell me they would rather have an untrained dog than use a remote or correction collar, which I feel is ignorant. What if your dog is off leash and running  towards [danger] and you have never given your dog a correction. What do you think the outcome would be. It's like never telling your kid “no.”

Dayton Cummings, Kilted K9

My Final Thoughts on Training Collars

One thing that I've learned as a pet parent and a pet blogger is that there are many sides to a story and that judging the choices others make with their pets without having all the facts is foolhardy. After doing my homework and speaking with both professional dog trainers and pet parents, I have come to the conclusion that, at this time, training collars are not a good option for my dogs.

If we were to use a training collar, it would be with our new family member. Apollo is a strong-willed Husky mix puppy who challenges us daily and will ultimately make us better pet parents. While I'm certain that with the guidance of a professional dog trainer, we could use a training collar successfully with Apollo, I would rather go the fear-free route because of his separation anxiety. My concern is that any adversive training will exacerbate his anxiety, making it worse.

With patience, consistency, and mental and physical exercise, I know Apollo will become a fantastic dog.

This is not to say that people who choose training collars are wrong; I'm saying that these tools aren't something that I feel are appropriate for our dogs. I'm thankful to those in our community who shared their experiences, positive and negative because every shared experience helped me better understand the pros and cons of using these types of tools with our dogs.

5 Ways to Find the Right Trainer for Your Dog

When we found out that we were going to be adding to our family, I reached out to a friend who helped us with the introductions. I also have great friends who are professional dog trainers who don't mind sharing tips.

If you are looking for a dog trainer, here are a few ways that lead me to great trainers:

  1. Ask friends. Many dog lovers surround themselves with friends who love dogs and can help direct them to great trainers.
  2. Ask your veterinarian. The pet lover community is a tight-knit group and many professionals collaborate with each other.
  3. Ask your breeder or rescue group. Many pet professionals have a list of preferred trainers to recommend to new pet parents.
  4. Check with local doggy daycares. Many employees of daycare centers are also dog trainers.
  5. Search online. There are several websites that have directories of certified dog trainers.

As with any service, confirm that the person you choose is a professional dog trainer, ask about their training methods, and read their reviews.