An Unnecessary Fear of E-Collars: Two Seconds of Discomfort or a Lifetime of Misery?

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I tried everything with my dog Stretch. I had Googled every remedy. I had paid for expensive Veterinary Behaviourists. I started working from home. I ignored him, scolded him, yelled into pillows, complained to my friends and family, and had deep conversations with Stretch about his behaviour and how everything would be alright if he just listened to me. I starved him, overfed him. Gave him processed food, fresh food, cooked food, and table scraps. I tried pheromone collars, essential oils, calming baths, anxiety sprays and weighted blankets. I tried cozy beds, firm beds, luxury beds and an old hessian sack. Trust me, if you have just found a new anxiety relief remedy – I’ve already tried it.

My dog Stretch was eight years old when I moved out of my family home to move in with my partner, now husband. And It wasn’t until we had established our own daily routine that we realised how anxious, possessive, unsettled and just plain sad Stretch was. For the first (roughly) two years of our new life together, we watched Stretch create a perfectly flat, circular track in the backyard by pacing ALL DAY. He wouldn’t eat or drink water while we were away. His normally smooth, virtually non-shedding Dachshund coat began to leave skin and hair flakes all over the house. He would collapse from exhaustion as soon as we got home. Finally, being able to rest now that the whole pack was back together. On top of that, even through his exhaustion, he would actively rile up enough energy when needed, to perform something we liked to call “freak-outs”, where he would bark and spin in circles if he couldn’t get to one of us, someone new had arrived, or a door had been closed, and he was on the other side. The side that meant he was not with us. It was a madhouse of pure stress and fear. We could feel it in every room of the house – mainly because Stretch followed us around with his anxious energy to every room of the house.
Without a shadow of a doubt, my little ol’ man had clear signs of Separation Anxiety.
Over the next two years, we worked with trainers from the “Purely Positive” movement, following their guidance to a T before being referred to a Veterinary Behaviourist (who, honestly, gave no actual training advice) because the “positive-only” training was making his mental state worse. I followed these Anthropomorphic training methods for two years and used the three, yes THREE, prescribed anti-anxiety, sleep-inducing medications.

By the time I had woken up to the fact that Purely Positive training and medications were doing more harm than good, Stretch had developed a host of chronic health issues: yeasty ears, constipation, weight loss and weight gain (all at different times), poor dental health, poor gut health and joint and muscular pain. Stretch, unfortunately, lived with his pacing, panting, worrying, howling, barking, scratching, not-eating, not-drinking, lethargy, anger and, of course, general anxiety, until my husband and I were able to drum up the courage to try a new (to us) scary method of dog training.
Enough was enough. Stretch’s health was more important to us than our reservations; plus, we had already tried everything else; what was there to lose?

While I don’t fancy bad-mouthing any particular trainers, centres or Veterinarians, I would love to share with you the person who finally helped Stretch become at ease, Hailey from Zenergy K9 Training – A Balanced Dog Trainer.
I never had any issues with Balanced Dog Training methods; in fact, I’ve always used balanced training, I just didn’t realise it. The Purely Positive movement is so loud on social media that it clouded my judgement on selecting the right help for my boy. It was almost compulsive. “Well, I didn’t want anyone to hurt my dog, so naturally, I would want a Purely Positive trainer… right?”

Upon our first consultation, Hailey immediately knew that Stretch needed serious help. He had been freaking out and practising anxious behaviours for his entire life. At this point, that was 10-11 years. She suggested using an E-Collar and provided us with a bunch of rules we needed to follow to help keep Stretch’s anxiety levels low, such as not patting him if he’s crying. Ya know, stuff that makes so much sense after someone else has told you.
My husband was ready to try it right away because Hailey was our last resort, but I couldn’t bring myself to use it. “Isn’t there any other way?” I asked, giving her the exact annoying reaction that many dog owners today still give. “Yes.” she politely said, “but it takes longer and, it might not work for Stretch.” She reluctantly explained how we could encourage Stretch to relax by providing him with solid boundaries in the house and healthy outlets for his energy. All practices that we would follow with or without the E-Collar anyway.

Within two months, I had seen more improvement than when I followed Purely Positive training. I was so, so happy for Stretch. It had been years since he had waited in the lounge room for us to answer the front door.
However, there was still more work to be done. I continued having follow-up sessions with Hailey, and we followed her methods as best as we could, but some situations were just too complicated. How was I supposed to ask Stretch to stay on his bed and relax if I’m outside, behind a door? How would I stop Stretch from running to the front door to bark? Do I really need to crate him while I work? Does a lead need to be dragging behind him, annoyingly flapping by his long body, making him walk all weird and sideways all the time? “Nope. You can use the E-Collar.” Hailey chuckled. “Damn It!” I thought to myself. There was no escaping this E-Collar business. Stretch was old, I certainly didn’t want to be zapping him left, right and centre, and he was very naughty; I knew I’d be using it a lot if I was to go this way. “Ok, I’ll give it a try…” I so didn’t want to use this. I didn’t want to hurt my dog into listening to me…

Boy, was I wrong. In a good way. The E-Collar is the absolute best tool I have ever used, and every reservation I had was gone after the very first training session on how to use it. The first thing we did was hold it in my palm and then on my neck and push the button. If I was going to use this on my dog, I had to know what it would feel like. To me, it felt like a muscle contraction. The higher the level, the higher the contraction. I even had a friend who happily put it to the highest level right off the bat. He jolted in his skin, laughing at the feeling and sight of his muscle contracting and leaping from his forearm.

I thought using Purely positive training was the nicest way to train Stretch out of his anxious ways. But in reality, my issues with using a socially unacceptable device kept me from properly communicating with my dog. Kept me from getting him through anxious situations by telling him, “Hey, I got you!”. It kept Stretch from living his best life. While I’ll never get those years back with him, we’ve gained an amazing new sense of freedom. I can actively remind Stretch to stay calm and prevent him from freaking out because he understands what a tap on the shoulder from the E-Collar means. I’m so glad that I learned what an E-Collar REALLY is and what it actually does before it was too late.

Once I could work with Stretch in a way he understood, he spent more hours relaxing than stressing. This gave his body a chance to recover. Chronic Stress is not good for anyone. We’ve known this for a very long time regarding our human lives, but for some reason, we tend to put our own feelings and emotions onto our dogs, our best friends, without first thinking about what is best for them. My fear of E-Collars prevented me from learning about them. Had I understood what they did, I might have tried using one a long time ago.

In our new, easier world that we live in, pain is generally easy to avoid and often looked at as a negative. “I won’t go for a walk in the morning because I’m too tired. I’d rather stay up late watching T.V.”. Or “Running hurts so much! I might just walk on the treadmill and catch up on a series.”. We see these difficult situations as just that – difficult, instead of understanding that getting through that mild discomfort could lead to an amazing new you or give us a relaxing start to our day. There are many instances where the achievement of getting through a difficult task feels so much more rewarding than just being handed everything, and, in a way, this is what I was doing with Stretch while working with the Purely Positive trainers. There was no “work” for Stretch or way of holding him accountable.
“Do your homework or no dessert!” we say to our kids while our dogs are running madly around the house, doing backflips off the sofa and then getting to tuck into a bowl full of salty goodness.
When you hold your kids accountable for their behaviours, they begin to make good choices. And good choices are choices defined by you. The adult who has a lot more life experience. The same goes for your dog. Many people say, “My dog is my baby!” and yet they teach their baby the right way to behave and forget all about Spot, who’s been chewing on the couch legs all afternoon. We tell our kids to “eat their veggies” and then pour a bowl of god-knows-what into our dog’s food dish. We create rules for our children because it’s good for them. Why are we not properly communicating the same to our dogs?

Why are we letting our dogs live a life of misery instead of putting them through two seconds of discomfort? Because they don’t like that healthier food brand? Or they prefer to sleep on my lap, so I just won’t sit with my partner? Or they just scratch my legs because they want to play ball? Or they cry all day because they miss me? The list of reasons why we prefer to let our dogs live a life of misery goes on.

I’m not trying to encourage you to use an E-Collar. I’m hoping to encourage you to treat your dog with respect for who and what they are and to use the tools and methods you have at your disposal to guide your dog through living in our human-run world. Regardless of how uncomfortable that might make you feel. You owe it to your dog.

Links of Importance:
Zenergy K9 Training
Walking Dog Company
Beautiful Beasts
Divine Canine Training
Havawalk
*These are businesses that I follow for training advice; you might like to check them out also.

I have no affiliations with anyone mentioned in this blog. These are my words in my own account of my life and experience with my dog, Stretch.

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