Shock Collar Usage and Safety: A Recap.
It was time for Matty's training again, so I went there and asked how she liked using the shock collar on Matty. It was very effective according to her, but she has a lot of questions for me regarding its safety. She did her own homework but heard it from someone who uses it a lot. So I gave her a crash course in shock collar training safety and long-term use. I also learned a couple of things on my own.
First and foremost, Range is King.
Shock strength and other training features mean nothing if you have a poor range. If you have a shock collar with 100 yards, it's likely you'll get less of it. With my shock collar, the paper says 3/4 miles. Though there wasn't a proper open place for me to test that, I had two scenarios that made me appreciate its range. One was when it managed to reach Maui when he was almost 3 blocks away, between several tall houses. That's probably not 3/4 miles, but it's pretty impressive for me. However, there was a non-training moment that truly defined the range.
When my wife was so sick that she was stuck in bed, I felt a little creative and used the collar as a communication tool. I replaced the metal prongs with the included plastic prongs and placed the receiver in my pocket. When my wife needed me, all she has to do is press the beep or vibrate and we have a simple code combination. It's faster than using her phone because sometimes the message doesn't send, or my phone could be charging somewhere. I needed an electrolyte drink for her so I went out to the store which was a 10 or 15-minute walk away. To my surprise, the receiver vibrated. She didn't know I was out and thanks to that, I managed to rush home just in time to help her with something important.
Second, Shock Strength.
The problem with this second one is there isn't really any kind of way to measure it, and from all my research about it, not a single product shows how strong the shock exactly is. The only ones I see are the super expensive shock collars that specifically say that they have a strong shock.
Human skin is significantly different from dog skin. For one, dog skin is way drier because they don't sweat as efficiently as we do, so electricity won't conduct as much, so if the shock isn't as "strong" for you, then it's likely not going to be enough to keep a dog's focus.
The shock collars I've used on myself, (just to be clear, these were for testing purposes, not because I'm some kind of masochist.) didn't register much of a sensation. The one my friend had was mildly prickly at best, and the boundary training collar Matty was using lacked punch. I need the shock strength to keep them alert, but not so strong that I end up hurting them, or even giving them emotional damage. If you're going to use the collar to help them with unwanted behavior, you need something that can warrant a response apart from staring at you expectantly.
I truly understood this with Matty. This huge Labrador was near mentally impenetrable, or maybe he just doesn't know the dynamics of our language yet. Either way, he didn't respond to the wireless fence static shock collar, but only responded when I used mine and dialed it up to 6. When we started e-collar training, Matty was suddenly very attentive, and based on his body language, he seemed to enjoy it or at least enjoyed the part where he gets treats. When we tried training with just positive reinforcement, he'd rather just play with us. So when it comes to negative reinforcement or aversive training, it's better to go strong, since it's easier to lower the power through shock levels or using those silicon tips my shop app keeps recommending.
I have no clear idea how anyone can buy electronic collars that are "strong enough", but my best bet is that collars that are in the higher price ranges, maybe $100 equivalent and above. I presume the higher price range is due to more powerful parts and not just the weight of the brand. I sadly could get reach my friend who knew his way around electricity so we could deconstruct this, so I just have to work with what I got.
Third, Water Resistance
Unless you're strictly training indoors, I'd recommend you get one with at least IPX6 waterproofing. I washed the remote and the receiver a few times already and it's really handy to do so. I also keep the shock collar on Maui even though I'm not training and there were some cases where he frolicked in the grass while it was raining while I was out. I knew this was the case as he was very muddy when I came back, and there was a nice big muddy patch on the grass. The receiver and collar were also coated with mud, and I was worried that it was damaged somehow. I rinsed the mud off and wiped it dry. It still worked as if I got it out of the box.
A device with lesser resistance would have water damage. The thing about water damage is that it's not always instant. Water could seep in and slowly degrade it from the inside and two weeks later, the device could start malfunctioning and you wouldn't know it's water damaged until you open it up.
I think the rest of the features are all up to preference. Some like dials, some like buttons, and battery life isn't that heavy as long as I can use the collar for the day, but I think if any of the three features I highlighted are lacking, then I might not use the collar with the same freedom as I did mine.
We had a discussion about the safety and like the features, I had a few highlights I want to insist on.
The First One: Do Not Keep The Collar On for More Than 8 Hours
The excessive capital letters are there for a reason. One of the reasons why there are dogs that have those two infected puncture wounds in their necks is because the receiver's metal prongs are pressing on the skin for too long. I've seen some reviews of other shock collars blaming the actual electric shock for somehow burning two holes into their skin. These holes were caused by the skin cells not getting enough blood due to the pressure and slowly dying. Eventually, they give way, causing the holes and allowing bacteria to enter and infect the wound. Since the prongs get in the way of the recovery, the wounds get worse over time.
The only way to avoid this is to rotate the collar every hour or two, or just keep it on only for 8 hours. I see 10 hours in some articles, but I'd lean on caution.
Second: Test the receiver and the remote control before each use.
It sounds a bit excessive, but it's better than discovering that the shock collar is malfunctioning when you're already using it. It would be horrible to find out that the remote collar was stimulating at a much higher level, or is randomly doing so without any input from the remote control. The testing is easy anyway, as modern e-collars come with that small plastic tester. (At least I think they all do.) Align the tester to the prongs and check the light it emits when you trigger the shock. Raise the level and lower it so you can study how much the light brightens. It should also show how the shock behaves. The continuous button should not be a continuous stream of light, but instead, just rapid flickering. At least my collar does this, and it means it's not constantly delivering energy, which I think could generate heat.
Third and Last: Proper collar tightness and usage of prongs.
This goes hand-in-hand with the first one, but this isn't just about the tightness, but also the right type of prong to use depending on the fur. Maui has long but relatively thin fur. If you part the hair with your fingers, you'll likely see his skin, so I use the medium-sized prong for him. In comparison, Matty has both long fur and when you part the hair, you'll see finer, shorter fur under it, which can get in between the prong and the skin. The solution is to use longer prongs so that they can wiggle in between the coats.
A shock collar with weaker shock strength could be downright useless if the prong cannot make proper contact with the skin, but you also need to measure tightness. The general rule is if two fingers can fit snugly between the collar and the neck. If you have a dog with shorter hair, I think you can do three fingers since the prongs make good contact already. I think it should be sufficiently tight, more on tight over loose.
One interesting question my daughter asked is why it has to be on the neck. It wasn't because she was thinking about placing it somewhere else, but because Maui had to wear two collars and she felt like it was against the laws of nature. It did make me think why. The prongs affect the neck skin and muscles, creating a prickly sensation and likely causing a few of the muscles under the skin to wiggle. A shock collar should not be powerful enough to reach the vocal cords though, because of all the time I used mine, I never heard Maui nor Matty make a weird sound as if their own chords were getting affected unless silence is part of them, which then I could be wrong.
There are plenty of others, especially during training, but I think if these three things are ignored, I think problems will arise quickly.
After we finished the discussion, she was ready to buy something soon. She also suggested something interesting.
She tells me to bring Maui with us and train Maui in front of Matty. Matty gets to see how another dog is trained, and he also gets a chance to socialize with another dog. Very interesting.