training collars for dogs
March 3, 2005 4:21 PM   Subscribe

We have 7 month old dog that needs to stop nipping and barking. What has been your experience with training collars?

He is already confined using an invisable fence.
posted by JohnR to Pets & Animals (14 answers total)
Nipping is hard to stop. You have to either carry a toy around with you and shove it in his mouth when he starts chewing on your arm/hand/whatever OR stick your hand in his mouth and hold on to the bottom jaw (that's what worked with my dog).

Barking - dunno. I've heard that the citronella collars work well.

Good luck!
posted by bikergirl at 4:38 PM on March 3, 2005

He's a baby. You don't need a training collar, you need training, are you in regular obedience classes? Neither nipping nor barking are behaviours which are best modified with a training collar (although nuisance barking can be modified fairly efficiently through the use of a citronella collar AND training). What are you doing when he nips, and how do you react to it? What are the circumstances surrounding the barking, and what do you do about it?

Some info on training bite inhibition here.

By "confined using an invisible fence" do you mean he lives outside? Or just that this is how you confine him when you let him out.
posted by biscotti at 4:46 PM on March 3, 2005

Response by poster: biscotti .....He doesn't live outside. He has a multi- yard to play with two other dogs. He only nips and barks at new people. My son grabs his collar and makes him sit whenever this behavior occurs.
posted by JohnR at 5:02 PM on March 3, 2005

Response by poster: (Multi-acre yard) I should add that the yard is very busy place with many people coming and going. Also we are not always available to intervene on all these aggressive episodes
posted by JohnR at 5:22 PM on March 3, 2005

We broke our puppy of nipping fairly quickly by yelping when he nipped and immediately walking away from him (just for a minute or two). We got the advice from a puppy book, though I admit it sounds like an old-wives' tale. It seemed to work for us, though!
posted by handful of rain at 5:40 PM on March 3, 2005

Is this a dog with herding breeds in him? If that's the case, besides being young, he's also probably doing what he was bred to do especially if there's a lot going on in the yard.

Biscotti is right, obedience training for you and the dog will definitely help. He'll begin to understand you expect certain behavior(s) from him. You'll be taught how to communicate with him(voice and hand signals work great combined with clicker training). Then when you correct him by saying "no" or whatever you choose, he'll understand what you mean.

Our dog has border collie and blue heeler in her and was nippy and mouthy when she was younger. With training she caught on really quickly. Handful of rain's suggestion is good too. Our dog also responded to a yelp and the ending of the interaction for a short time. Refusing to give attention for inappropriate behavior can sometimes be more effective than scolding.

Concerning training collars--you could actually end up conditioning him to associate the unpleasant "correction" with new people, which would not be good. For that matter, getting grabbed by his collar could lead to negative associations too.
posted by lobakgo at 6:16 PM on March 3, 2005

Response by poster: Is this a dog with herding breeds in him?
He appears to be mostly german shepherd. We 'saved' him from an abusive environment at 3 months.
posted by JohnR at 6:26 PM on March 3, 2005

You can easily train a puppy not to nip (and you really should do so quickly, nippy dogs are not good), but you can't do it if you don't have time to hang out with the pup. A weekend with him constantly at your side on a leash with you monitoring every encounter can teach him what makes you happy and what displeases you while greeting visitors.

I'd arrange for visitors over that weekend, and if he nipped at a visitor, I would make sure he understood I was very displeased. That would involve grabbing him, putting him down, looking in his the eyes for an extended time saying "No, no bite!" in a firm voice. Then he'd have to stay beside me, and I'd pet but not praise him.

When the leash and the lessons finally convinced him to greet guests properly, I'd joyously praise him, with over the top emotion. And then repeat it as soon as possible. On the leash, you can begin to control how fast he is able to greet visitors and can prevent the nipping while teaching right behavior and reinforcing it.

Training collars mostly work because they help the dog distinguish training time versus slack-off time. Training amounts to teaching a dog how to read you. That requires time and attention, the collar is just a prop.

[On preview: if he was abused, be very gentle with putting him down. Very gentle. Also what lobakgo said.]
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:40 PM on March 3, 2005

My sister's Jack Russel Terror was bad at getting teeth involved when playing. We trained her to always carry a toy when she was playing which kept her from using her teeth. To do this whenever we played with her we'd have to stop say "no teeth" (or something) and put a toy in her mouth and start playing again then praise her while she was playing that way.

It's been about 8 years and she still grabs a toy when playing with us or her dog tag.
posted by substrate at 6:50 PM on March 3, 2005

I would have him on a lead attached to your waist whenever possible, and I would certainly not be allowing him to run freely when people are coming into the yard, you need to be right there to show him what is acceptable and what is not, and allowing him to have the freedom to continue the unwanted behaviours will simply make the behaviours more ingrained and harder to eradicate (barking and chasing/nipping are self-rewarding behaviours, the more you allow him to do them, the more they are reinforced). You need to control the environment or control the dog. Teach him to sit when he meets strangers, institute a "no manners, no reward" policy - jumping and nipping results in people ignoring him completely. As Mcgillicuddy suggests, set up a weekend of visitors, assuming you have taught him to sit, have the stranger walk up and greet you, ask your dog to sit, reward him for this, then allow the stranger to interact with the dog (further reward if he likes strangers). However, I'm stilll not clear on what specifically is happening, if what you are seeing is fearful, rather than enthusiastic, behaviour, do not try and solve this yourself, get to a good trainer (I would get to a good trainer regardless, training is how you learn to communicate with your dog, and the better-trained a dog is, the more confident and nice to be around it is). You can make a fear problem substantially worse by trying to address the behaviour rather than the underlying issue, especially if you use old-fashioned harsh methods (I would not be getting overly assertive with this dog, there is no need to elevate to the level of grabbing and staring him down at this point, in my opinion).

lobakgo's suggestions, substrate's redirection suggestion and handful of rain's yelp-and-ignore suggestion are all bang-on and, far from being old wives' tales, are actually the most behaviourally-correct way to do this with a puppy. These are the methods most often suggested by behaviourists and trainers who are current with modern thinking and research into dog behaviour and learning models. Try not to think of this as what you don't want him to do, but rather what you do want him to do, and ideally make what you want him to do incompatible with what you don't want him to do (he can't bark if he's learned to run and get a toy to bring you when he's excited, for example). The dog is a baby, he needs guidance and education, not dominance. I do think the issue is fundamentally training-related, getting into training classes will be a huge help.
posted by biscotti at 7:30 PM on March 3, 2005

Response by poster: However, I'm still not clear on what specifically is happening, if what you are seeing is fearful, rather than enthusiastic, behaviour,
Fearful, I believe. Possibly pack pecking order behaviors too.
posted by JohnR at 3:48 AM on March 4, 2005

In that case, JohnR, I would get to a good trainer asap, and definitely do not try and handle this yourself (and DEFINITELY do not start using harsh "put the dog in its place" methods - fear is the flipside of aggression, and you could turn a dog who just needs some help figuring things out into a fear biter, which can be a death sentence for the dog). "Pack pecking order" is really a misunderstood and misused concept in dog training and behaviour, and isn't really very useful to humans trying to train their pets. There are some good books out there which can help you with this (a very good idea is to do some reading before you talk to trainers, since then you will be in a better position to judge how effective their methods are likely to be. Scaredy Dog, The Cautious Canine and Fearfulness are all good basic primers in the basic ways to manage fear in dogs (you essentially want a desensitization program). And gentle, positive obedience training is a must, the more the dog understands about how to get along in human society, and what's expected of it, the better. Please do not allow the dog to continue doing these behaviours in the meantime, even if this curtails some of its freedom (and especially if you're using an invisible fence, which can mean the dog's getting zapped when it approaches strangers, which is a very bad combination of things), you do not want the dog to hurt someone. Good luck, and please feel free to contact me if I can help at all (email's in my profile).
posted by biscotti at 5:32 AM on March 4, 2005

I don't think you should start trying to "put the dog in its place" as some people have mentioned above. It simply makes the dog more scared and nervous. There are many differences of opinion on these issues, but I would rather that my dog like me and listen to me than fear me and appease me.

The main problem is that the dog is not well socialized with new people. Some dogs take lots of work on these things. My dog is not well socialized with other dogs, because I sprained my ankle and couldn't start her puppy class before her critical formative period ended. You said you rescued your dog at 3 months from an abusive situation, which makes it much harder to socialize. So don't worry, you're not doing anything wrong.

Arrange for a constant stream of new visitors, and always provide them with treats that your dog loves. Carry a plastic baggie of these treats everywhere with you. Let the visitor give the dog treats. If the dog knows how to sit, down, shake, etc, have the visitor make your pup do something first. If the dog is still unruly, pop it in the crate immediately without saying a word. After a few minutes for time-out, bring the dog back out and repeat the scenario with the visitor.

This way, the dog will learn to associate new people with treats. One training book I read called these "puppy parties." This should help with the nipping and the fearful barking. Just remember that this is a lifelong commitment, so a weekend will not cut it.
posted by MrZero at 6:17 AM on March 4, 2005

Another book recommendation on dealing with fear--Help for Your Shy Dog. I found it very helpful. And a book on modern concepts about canine learning and training I'm sure has been mentioned in other threads is Culture Clash.

Concerning finding a trainer--one of the very best schools for trainers is The San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers. The author of Culture Clash is the director. There is a referral page here for graduates in California, by state, and by country. It would be a good place to start looking for a good trainer.
posted by lobakgo at 8:25 AM on March 4, 2005

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