Thursday, July 18, 2013

it's electric

Following the incident where Louie bit our neighbor's puppy, I called two professional dog trainers in order to have them complete an assessment of Louie.


Neither one of them called me back. So I met two dog trainers at two pet stores and told them about what has happened with Louie and asked for their advice about dog training.  Both of the dog trainers told me that Louie never ever should have turned on me and given his history of showing signs of aggression towards other dogs, they would strongly recommend that Louie be trained by a private trainer - in our home. That sounded like a great idea. If the dog trainers that offered private sessions would call me back. 

A few days later, we were at a festival in town and we met a private dog trainer at a booth she had set up. And she said she would come and do an assessment on Louie. So three weeks later, after trading several voicemails and e-mails, she came by our house.  When she came in, Louie ran over and jumped up on her and was so excited because peoplepeoplepeople he loves people!   Within a few minutes, the children had drawn him in to another room and were working with him on sit! stay! down! roll-over! while feeding him dog treats.  The dog trainer was duly impressed with our children's ability to direct him, and his obedience to their commands. 


Then the trainer told me a little about her training technique. I was expecting that she would be a dog trainer just like our last dog trainer was a dog trainer.  But now what with all the advances in technology, she uses what is effectively a shock collar that is controlled by a small hand held remote. She fit Louie with a demo collar and firmly said, "OFF!" when he jumped on her again while giving him a gentle (non painful) vibration. The next time he jumped, she again said, "No, OFF!" before cranking up a little juice on the collar.

Because she'd allowed me to feel the voltage of electricity that she'd be subjecting our dog to before she but the collar on him, I knew what he was feeling and it wasn't entirely pleasant. 

Once she zapped him, he immediately obeyed and stopped jumping. Not only that, but he seemed to become more attentive to her and what she was directing him to do. Sit, stay, down, heel. When she walked out the door to her car, she had control over his every move.  I could see that the possibilities with this thing were endless, not just for the dog - but for our children and difficult co-workers - and I couldn't wait to be her next customer! 


But then the trainer told us her pricing schedule. It would cost $300.00 for the electric dog collar and $600.00 for her to train us how to use it. Alternatively, we could purchase the collar and send Louie away with her for 14 days so she could work with him, and return to us a completely obedient dog at the end of two weeks.   The cost for that package was $1,600.00. Plus the price of the collar.  

When she went out to her car to get us a sample of some dog food that she uses, I pulled out my iPad and did a quick search for electric collars.  Within five seconds, I found an almost identical collar for $150.00 and it came with a book.  I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I know how to read. So for a savings of $750.00, I could buy a collar and learn how to use it on my own. 


Of course during that two-minute internet search, I saw all kinds of stories about how electric collars are animal cruelty and the lazy way out of training your dog.  But then I saw that my friend, Cesar Milan, has endorsed using them in certain circumstances, and then I thought about the Invisible Fence that we were thinking of getting and how it works on the same premise, and then I decided that fitting Louie with an electric dog collar was probably LESS animal cruelty than shipping him back to the shelter - so we told the dog trainer "We'll think about it..." 

Then we bought our own "e-collar" and had it shipped to Michigan so we could bring Louie with us on our trip. Granted, we were a little hesitant to use the dog collar in front of Eileen's friends, especially her friend who is a veterinarian for fear of what they might think. But as soon as her friend, Tom the Vet, saw the dog collar he said, "Hey! We have that one, too! Isn't it the best?!" 

The dog collar really was impressive and we could see a dramatic improvement in his behavior with just the stimulation, not even the "shock" component.  Last year on our trip to Michigan, Louie ran away from us several times and was a pulling nightmare on leash.  This year, he never left our sides. All in all, things were going great. 

Until.   Elizabeth approached him when he had just stolen a rawhide from his dog-cousin, Star.  I was sitting right there and was watching when Elizabeth went up to Louie and with her hand outstretched, tried to pat his head. He eyed her for a second and then he growled and yapped, yapped, yapped at her.  So I flew out of my chair and I grabbed him by the collar and I brought him downstairs, and a very teary Elizabeth followed me, as I had him lay down. Then I had him roll over.  As he lay on the ground, on his back in a passive position, I had Elizabeth give him the rawhide and then take it away.  We repeated this several times and all the while I had my hand on that zapper because if he so much as showed one tooth to my child, I'd turn him in to a POODLE. 

Two days later, Charlie was on the ground stretching and Louie came in for a pat. As Charlie was patting Louie, Star - who is completely harmless - entered the scene and growled at Louie. Star grows at everything, though, including her own shadow.  Maybe it was because Charlie was in the middle of it, Louie growled at Star and then nearly lunged at her, and Charlie had to grab him by the collar and flip him over on his back. My mind was instantly made up.  

Louie has to go. NOW.  This instant. 

It's not worth the risk. It's not worth the anxiety. It's not worth the stress. 

That night, Emily came home from college. Remember Emily? Our sweet Emily Rose who we nearly lost two years ago when she had a terrible bicycling accident?  Well, she just finished her junior year of college and is interning at a hospital and planning to pursue a career in medicine. 

Anyway, Emily loved Louie. And Louie loved Emily. She swung him up in to her arms and he nuzzled her face and I couldn't believe it.  As she sat with him in her lap for the rest of the evening, Emily's good friend told us that her beloved 13-year old black lab had just died the week prior. So I asked her if she'd like another dog, another dog that looks just like a black lab puppy except he is already housebroken and will never get any bigger, and she said YES.


Then she called her father and her father said, YES.  And her sisters said YES.  So Charlie and I mentally prepared ourselves that Louie would be staying, forever, in Michigan with a family that loves him and can focus all of their attention on him and our children will be sad, sure, but they'll quickly get over it when we bring home a dopy yellow labrador retriever named Daisy. Or Duke.  Or maybe Daisy Duke and we'll get a kitten named Luke and have flashbacks to corny shows from the early 80's.  

The next morning, the family called to tell us that their mother, who had been sleeping the night before when all this scheming had been going on, was now awake and she didn't want another dog. So they wouldn't be coming for Louie after all. 

Ugh. Rationale women.  They always throw a wrench in things. 

So Louie is still with us.  He is doing well and hasn't shown any other signs of aggression and is walking beautifully - both with and without a leash - and will come and sit and stay and heel and lay down and roll over and children are putting things in and taking things out of his mouth and I don't know if I really believe he's a changed dog or if he could flip at any moment?

My co-worker told me that I was an IDIOT for getting a puppy and it took almost two years for him to not want to abandon his dog somewhere.  Maybe what we've been going through with Louie is just puppy stuff? He's had a track record of being snippy, but maybe he's outgrowing it?  Or maybe I'm a dope and I'll kick myself when he bites someone and say, "Just as I'd suspected!" Or maybe Louie really has grown past this stage of defiance and at some point in his life he'll pull a total Lassie stunt and do something amazing to save our lives. 


While I think about these things and wait for a potential new owner to find us, we're keeping him and contemplating how his behavior really has seemed to change over the past few weeks and the only word that can be used to describe that transformation is shocking. 

No pun intended. 


  1. Hi Jen, he is one lucky pup that you care enough to make sure he's in a safe home. Hope you guys find a solution that works for all of you soon. I'm a bit late in chasing this up but did you ever happen to see the gift voucher I sent a year or so ago through Amazon? It was for the book 'The Other End of the Leash' by Patricia McConnell which might help with Louie.

    I worry about you alpha rolling him onto his back... please be careful. Physically forcing a dog to its back can be counter-productive. The dominance theory that Cesar Millan espouses is controversial to say the least. It was developed in the 1970s on the back of studies on captive wolves. They now know wolf packs in the wild have a very different pack structure than previously thought (more like a family, with less concern for dominance than the original studies suggested). In any cases, dogs have around 30,000 years evolution on wolves, and dominance theory isn't easily generalized between species. When dog packs have been studied, physical dominance is never used. It's all psychological. You already control the resources, so you're already alpha by default.

    I love your blog and this is a topic near to my heart, so I hope it comes across in the friendly spirit it was intended. Love to you all x

  2. Jen, I am begging you- do NOT allow this dog near your children. I really admire your dedication to his well-being, and the fact that you are not just dumping him off somewhere, but he is a threat to your children. I know you don't think so, because I know you would never, EVER intentionally put your children in harm's way, but this dog is a tragedy waiting to happen. He is aggressive and unpredictable and cannot function as a member of a family with kids. Perhaps there is a lab rescue organization nearby that will take him, when you explain the situation?

    This is NOT just puppy stuff. This is an aggressive dog with significant behavior problems. Although it is not super common, I have, in my career in pediatric neurosurgery, cared for more than a handful of children who have required surgery as a result of dog bites- some of them with devastating consequences. Dogs DO attack their owners, and Louie is showing you that he is all too willing to be one of those dogs.

  3. keep up the hard daughter got bit by my sister-in-laws stupid dog on our trip. Talk about a dog with a history.....and somehow they still do nothing :(

  4. Jen, do what is best for your kids. You know that and no matter what anyone says you have to live with the results of your decisions. You'll make the right choice; I have faith in you.

  5. Shock collar training (which I'm not opposed to) is not something I would learn how to do from a book. You can really screw up your dog by mistiming something the tiniest bit. Our experience with shock collar training my daughter's dog with aggression issues did not go well. When she started fighting with my brother's dog and we shocked her, she fought harder. If you are only using the vibration part, then I maybe you'll be okay.

    We have invisible fence and it worked great for our dogs, but we spent hours and hours and hours of training them with it. We had teenage kids who were old enough to help do the training. So believe me I'm not opposed to a dog getting a small shock. I held the collar in my hand and walked across the boundary. It felt like someone hit my funny bone. I'd much rather have them get that than be hit by a car. But the invisible fence never changes. It always shocks in the same place (in the yard) and always gives the same amount of correction for the same duration. You will need to keep him on a long leash when training so he can't get past the boundaries once shocked because once he knows it is just a small shock and then freedom, you will never be able to keep him in. We now have a husky, and we do not use the invisible fence with her because huskies are notorious for beating the shock. The warning beep sounds and then waits 2-3 seconds for the shock to be delivered if they don't back off, which worked great for our other dogs, but with Grace, she keeps going forward, so she'd actually be through the "shock zone" before the shock signal would go through.

    I wish you luck with the shock training, but I really think it might be better to invest the $ in the pro trainer. It is not an area I'd consider saving money the better option. Even if she just comes to your place to teach you how to use it a couple times, her knowledge and past experience will be invaluable.

    I would not be sending my dog to anyone for 14 days. I have heard bad stories. Obviously not all trainers have bad stories, but I've heard too many to ever consider that an option.

    Lesa in WI

  6. I am a certified (CPDT-KA) dog trainer in Seattle. Being certified means that the trainer has had a certain number of hours training, and passes an exam that shows that they have knowledge of how dogs learn. It also means that the trainer continues his or her education (gaining regular Continuing Education Units).

    Anyone can call themselves a "professional" if they get paid. Anyone can call themselves a dog "trainer" if they have ever trained a dog. But that does not mean that they have the education that they need to train dogs in a way that will help them behave better, and be happier and better adjusted dogs.

    To find a trainer that is qualified to help dogs, you can look at these locations.

    Punitive methods that use the infliction of pain, fear, and intimidation may stop a certain behavior, but they do not help the dog be happy and better adjusted. Using training helps dogs behave better AND helps them be happy and well-adjusted members of the family.

    A person might test a shock collar on himself and say it doesn't hurt much. But that is when they are waiting for the shock. Instead, imagine wearing the shock collar around your neck and being shocked unexpectedly time after time. This is what it is like for dogs. At first they may not know why they are being shocked -- it just happens. Later they may realize that the shock is associated with certain behaviors, and they may avoid that behavior, but that takes a while. They may also associate the shock with what they see at the time of the shock - for example, with dogs or people. They will develop fear and hatred of people or dogs because they associate them with pain. I have seen this unintended consequence of training techniques that use fear and pain to "train". Using positive methods will never have this (often fatal for the dog) consequence.

    Here are some links that will help people learn how to train their dogs in the way that their best friends should be treated.

  7. Dessea Eriksson7/23/13, 2:36 PM

    Please, don't buy that collar, the dog will get hurt... that's so unnecessarily, you will get an uncertain and frightened dog. There are so many (much better) ways to train your dog that will make (not only you) but also your beautiful dog happier and more laborious. Have you heard about "clicker", I use it on my dogs and that works.
    It takes a long time to get an obedient dog, and you have to take that time for Louie sake.
    Think about it a second, would you put that collar on one of your kids? No, of course not! If you can't commutate with a kid, I'm sure you would take your time with GENTLE methods... not with punishments. A collar like that IS a punishment!
    These collars are forbidden in Scandinavia and in Sweden, where I live and that is for a reason.
    Give your dog time, learn how he works... and please, don't buy that collar. I know you're better than that.

    And I'm sorry for my bad English, I'm not an "English-speaker", but I really hope that you understand and trust me on this. You don't want a dog that do as you say by punishments and threats. I'm sure you want a happy dog who obeys you for yummy treats and for your happy encouragement.
    I really hope it works for you and Louie♥

  8. I'm not sure you got my email so I'll give you this information hoping that it will help you and Louie. You can go to her website and cruise around for information. She may be able to help you. We've used her several times and are currently using her with our dog Colin who can be insecure around other dogs.

    Hope this helps.