Failing to Prepare means Preparing to Fail
My mixed-breed seems to be getting along well with the family, but as young dogs go, he has a titanic amount of energy, one thankfully matched by my equally exuberant daughter. However, that often gets in the way of obedience. Despite being taught the basics for weeks now, he still gets uncontrollably riled when the cats outside start running around. Despite telling him to sit and stay, he still makes a mad dash for the window or door, whichever can give him a better view. The only time I can get him to listen to basic commands is if I physically stop him and literally wrangle up his attention.
This was why I was considering stronger reinforcement methods. Positive Reinforcement alone isn't cutting it and it's starting to feel like I'm just bribing him with treats, not very different from what I used to do with my daughter.
However, a shock collar or electronic collar still uses electricity. I did my initial reading about it and depending on where you look, it's either a cruel device from the 1950s or an effective and fast-acting tool for training, sometimes used for high risk, extreme focus training for Search and Rescue or Police Dogs.
Regarding the technical stuff, what's consistent is the amount of energy it outputs. There's no clear measurement available online, but the best comparison I've seen is how similar it is to muscle stimulators. They send a low-energy series of electric shocks that causes muscles to jolt. For muscle stimulators, it's a useful method of therapy as it helps move muscles that haven't moved in a long while. If an electronic collar does the same thing, it means it won't send electricity enough to cause burns and pain, instead, it will make their muscles pulse, which I imagine would be uncomfortable if it was on my neck.
There are other alternative training devices. One is spray collars a.k.a. citronella collars. They work by using a solution of citronella oil, one my cats absolutely hate. We bought a lotion to keep mosquitoes off us during the summer months, and our cats would not approach us. I imagine the same irritation will happen if the spray collar sends a burst of that close to their nose. It will help keep bugs off of Maui though, and perhaps help me harmlessly rid him of unwanted behavior.
However, a spray collar cannot be used for negative reinforcement. I cannot remove the spray's effect when I want to. Instead, the spray collar will induce punishment, since I'm likely to use the collar when Maui does something bad to stop him in his tracks. This won't work with my reinforcement training method.
Since I also want Mauji to stay inside the house and inside the yard, there are shock collars out there that trigger when the receiver nears the antenna. This antenna is either in the form of electric fences (technically not the ones that actually shock) or an underground wire, or in some models, where the signal of a transmitter ends using some boundary control software. It has a form of conditioning where it will beep first for a few seconds before delivering the shock if Maui doesn't stop his advance. This way, in theory, Maui would have a negative association with the beep. If he doesn't hear the beep, he won't act.
However, once again, I am picky. I want a more active approach and I don't want to do the setup required. I might opt for the wireless, but that requires some estimation on when the collar will trigger. I also want to reinforce certain positive behavior so this won't do.
In the end, I need a tool I can control, specifically for reinforcement training. I still don't know enough about the training method, but from what I've seen so far, there is a simple but technical method, one that used two of the four quadrants of operant conditioning: Namely Negative Reinforcement and Positive Reinforcement.
Since I know what kind of training I need, it shouldn't be hard to find a shock collar that suits my needs, right?
There are so many things to consider. I can't just buy one then toss it, then check the next. The price differences are also quite wide. There's this one electronic shock collar that's rather affordable, has a high range, a load of features, and comes with two receivers. However, there are also products there that are thrice the price but have the same features, with just a higher range. Sure, I'm determined to get one, but how do I pick the right one?
I believe that in today's times, the wisest move is to get the best value for the lowest price. There are things that bloat the price of products, especially electronic devices. Logistics, better quality parts, branding, and quality control. With this information, it may be better to just buy the most expensive one, but like buying phones, unless I truly need certain features, I'll stick to the mid-range ones with the following traits I think I'll need.
The remote collar must have a high remote range. I've played with toy remote control drones enough to know that the range in the specifications isn't always what I'll get. Factors as simple as the humidity can cut signal strength, and sometimes, things as mundane as you gripping the remote. So whichever the collar is, it must have impressive range. If I plan to take Maui to a park, I'd like the security of being able to stop him if ever he's doing something that may harm him, or mess something up, like chasing a park critter or running into a lake.
Which then goes to the next things I'd need: Something to help me locate him should I lose him. When I browsed the products, I'd only ever seen LED lights and a crude distance gauge. So I'll settle for remote activated LED, which also works better with high-range remote training collars.
With the money I'll spend, I'd like an electronic dog collar that I can use for other things. I won't be training with Maui all the time and I'd be sad if it ends up in storage in a month or two.
As for the actual training functions, it seems that all of the collars have shock, vibration, and some kind of beep. There are many ways to adjust the levels, some ranging from 1-10 to some reaching as far as 1-256. I don't know yet how to move forward with this, but I can imagine changing levels from 1-10 is much faster than picking something from 1-100 or 1-256.
I'd also like something that lasts. It's bad enough to have one that I'll chuck into storage after 3 months, so it's worse if it's something that goes to the trash before. Most of the electric collars are water-resistant, or waterproof. Considering that I'm only worried about the rain and not an impromptu dive in a pool, having a water-resistant remote is enough. The receivers all seem to be waterproof, so that's fine.
Then comes battery life. I've not seen any actual battery numbers, like how my phone is 6000 maH and can last an entire day of heavy usage before it needs a charge. All I see is that on average they last around 40 or 50 hours. There are some who use actual batteries, but I do not like buying batteries every now and then. Some of them look like I can only buy batteries from the same people where I would buy the collar.
This is all nice, but what's good research without an antistrophe. Something about shock collars is when you look at the cons, there's a chance you'll see something slightly graphic, like two hole-like wounds on a dog's neck and a host of literature about how they cause increased stress, anxiety, develop a phobia, and increase their aggressive behavior. These are likely some of the reasons why certain places have a ban on shock collars.
There are also technical problems, like collars suddenly shocking on their own, sometimes with an erratic or max level of shock. Or receivers heating up, probably because of the Lithium-Ion battery perforating or failing in some way.
Unless the receiver undergoes catastrophic failure, burns shouldn't happen. Unless it's a really low-quality remote collar that doesn't have some sort of way to regulate the flow. I do know one familiar wound that can look like a burn, which is pressure ulcers. They cause blisters and eventually, turn into hole-like wounds. I can imagine the metal prongs can do something like that. Perhaps that's why there's a rule where I shouldn't keep the collar on for more than 10 hours and rotate the receiver every two hours.
As expected, since we're using electricity, there are some risks to it. But I want results. Like placing a screw into a wall, I could just use my hands and do it very slowly or use a tool like a screwdriver. Even with the screwdriver, I still need to be careful. Even if it doesn't work, I still like the idea of being able to recall Maui by using a controlled beep or giving him signals via vibration for certain things. Being able to locate him via remote-activated LED isn't bad either.
As always, having a pet has its fair share of responsibilities. I know for a fact that investing in them early on makes it much easier in the future, just like my aquarium. Maui will be with me his entire life, so just like how I want my daughter to be a successful and functional member of society, as a pet parent, I want Maui to be a polite and lovable member of our family.