Here is a story about a severely fearful aggressive German Shepherd Dog (GSD) that belongs to Jen Mackler, a search and rescue worker in Colorado. Jen was a trainer who used positive training methods almost exclusively. (She'd used an Ecollar ONCE, to proof a recall on her SAR dog after the positive methods had failed to give reliability). Take notice of the steps she had taken before writing to me.
"Roma is a fear driven dog (unknown history - was a stray, VERY head shy and submissive with people). We have mostly conquered the head-shyness with strangers through positive reinforcement with clickers and treats. I feel I have built her confidence as much as I can at this point (I have had her almost two years). She has lunged at and tried to bite (got a pantleg!) one person who came to the door. She puts on HUGE displays of aggression at squirrels, dogs, and people who walk within 10 yards of our house (this includes lunging, stomping, full hackles, growling/snarling, "kill shaking" toys or *anything* that is nearby). I'm concerned that these aggressive displays will turn into an attack if she accidentally gets out or off leash. She did attack my other dog over a toy, after which she went into daycare once a week, and became better socialized with other dogs. Under the right conditions, after she has been introduced properly, she plays perfectly with other dogs and puppies without getting out of control. It's just that the sight of another dog (from the house or a leash) causes a complete snarling, lunging meltdown to where she has occasionally bitten MY leg because it was the closest thing she could get her mouth on.
Jen was an experienced dog trainer who had used the "kinder, gentler methods" with great success. She'd trained her certified SAR dog (credited with at least one find) with them, and had been using them, exclusively for many years (except for proofing the recall on her SAR dog). And so when Roma started having problems, she tried for about two years, what she knew and had success with. There was some improvement, but then Jen came to the end of her rope. After receiving suggestions to try the pinch collar, she did. When it didn't work, a member of her SAR team (who had used an Ecollar with great success) suggested that she try that tool. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
A few months later, I met up with Jen at a SAR dog training session that I was attending. While I was talking with her about Roma, the dog was on leash a few feet away from me. Someone nearby closed, not slammed, but just closed, a car door. Roma was frightened by this, and responded by coming up at my face in an all-out attempt to bite me! I had Jen put my retractable leash on the dog. I fully expected to get bitten during the next few minutes when I lead her out in front of the group, to do some work.
I led her away from the group, and spent a few minutes finding her working level. I then let her wander out to the end of the Flexi. I pressed the button on the Ecollar transmitter, and pulled her towards me. After she began to walk towards me, in response to the leash pull, I released the button. This continued for about 20 minutes or so. When I started doing this Roma stayed at the end of the retractable leash, as far away from me as she could get. At the end of this time period, she was sitting quietly next to me. I knelt down and Roma climbed into my lap and began licking my face. The group, who had been watching and knew Roma's history, jokingly accused me of having switched dogs on them when they were not looking.
The next day we went to a park, and I worked on the sit and sit at a distance with Roma.
Jen purchased an Ecollar from me, and I went home, leaving her with instructions to keep working on the recall and sit. A short time later, on one of the online forums that I frequent, another debate brewed about the use of the Ecollar.
"I worked with Lou Castle last weekend . . . My only previous experience with Ecollars was several years ago when I purchased a CHEAP one with three stim levels, that I used on my SAR dog for proofing her recall. On the lowest stim level used on my hand, I had to drop the collar, [because] it was so uncomfortable -- kind of like touching an electric cattle fence. At the time I felt that this "cruelty" was necessary to prevent my SAR dog from potential injury or death from not having a reliable recall. In that situation, in two short sessions, it worked, and I have never had a problem with her recall since.
"...after having personally felt the extremely low levels of stimulation necessary to get a response from my very sensitive dog (Roma), I believe this is far more humane than any choke collar. I have tried everything with this dog --standard obedience classes, prong collars, Halti/Gentle Leaders, clicker training, Tellington Touch and even herbal sedatives. While her basic obedience around the house improved significantly with these methods, nothing really addressed her fear based aggression around strangers, cars or other dogs. I've been working with Lou's collar now for only a few days and the changes he has described are all true. I have been continually puzzled at how or why this method has improved her confidence in fearful or emotionally charged situations. I can't explain it, but it works...
"I should also say that in addition to being a SAR dog handler in my free time, I'm a veterinary student and am simultaneously working on a PhD. in Neurobiology. If I were AT ALL concerned about negative neurological or behavioral consequences of Lou's methods, or his Ecollars, I would not use it on my own dog. Be aware that not all Ecollars are alike and not all Ecollar trainers are the same. In my case, with a dog prone to bite and chase cars, this is the safest thing I could be doing for her."
"...Roma is doing spectacularly. By the way, she was very friendly to a "stranger" who came to the door at home while she was wearing her Ecollar. James called her back from the door with the "here" command, I let the person in, Roma was released and greeted the stranger in a very friendly manner - no growling or snapping, she sniffed and then sat down...Remarkable, she seems to completely forget about being aggressive when she's wearing the collar."
"Hi Lou, Roma is doing SUPER. I've taken her to the dog park for the last two weekends and she was under superb control the whole time. I had to stop bringing her a year ago when she began the dog aggression-losing her mind barking-growling thing. Now, with Mr. Ecollar, she is an angel. People were oohing and ahhing at her obedience and she had a great time - let people pet her and everything. So, Roma has a new life"!
Please read that last sentence again: "Roma has a new life!"
My theory on why this method works to give dogs confidence, is that the dog is forced by an unseen force, the Ecollar, to stay in one place. The penalty for going into fight or flight as Roma was doing, is the discomfort of the stimulation. Please note that I'm still working at the level where the dog first feels the stimulation. The dog wants to avoid that penalty and as such, holds her position. A child rides by on a bike, and where the dog used to chase and try to bite that child, she is forced to hold her sit. She is doing the work. She is not being restrained by a leash. Lo and behold, nothing bad happens to the dog.
A few minutes later, some children playing nearby start screaming and laughing. Roma used to run in abject terror when this occurred, but now the consequences of a stimulation make her do the work, and she holds her position. Again, nothing bad happens to the dog.
A few minutes later a car passes by. This used to terrify Roma who would run until she ran out of strength. Now, she holds her position and she doesn't die!!
Roma has learned that not going into fight or flight brings pleasant consequences, that is, nothing bad happens to her.
The last time I spoke to Jen, she told me that she still brings Roma out to SAR training. Roma is not a SAR dog but Jen likes to socialize her at the training sessions. Roma has become a pest. She runs from person to person, nuzzling their hands, asking to be petted.