Good Vibrations – Whole Dog Journal

Vibration collars are often instructed as software for speaking with hearing-impaired canines. I hadn’t had a lot expertise with them, so once I was requested to put in writing an article on them a number of months in the past, I noticed it was an excellent alternative to broaden my very own schooling, and I jumped on the likelihood. 

Actually, that is removed from the reality. For starters, I’m not a lot of a tech or gadget particular person. (There’s a purpose I work with animals for a residing and never electronics!) Plus, my solely prior expertise utilizing a vibration collar had been a failure. We had a deaf pit bull-mix in our Behavior Modification Academy a couple of years in the past. We labored along with her for 5 straight days, however we couldn’t get her to acknowledge the vibrations even as soon as, not even on the best setting! 

Also, a vibration collar appears to be like similar to a shock collar, and my adverse affiliation with shock collars is so sturdy it offers me the heebie jeebies (technical scientific behavioral time period) to even take a look at the one which WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns had shipped purchased on and had shipped to me. I dragged my heels on truly opening the field till I had to do it! 


There are various remote-controlled canine collars available on the market that provide a vibration mode along with the flexibility to shock the canine, and we’d by no means advocate shopping for or utilizing these collars. Products which are designed to shock are clearly meant for use in an aversive method, to startle and/or harm the canine in an effort to cease him from doing one thing. This is just not how we advocate coaching canines.

Then there are collars that don’t produce shock, solely vibration, however which are marketed with claims that the vibration can be utilized as a extra humane or gentler various to a collar that delivers shock. In our view, that is fully lacking the purpose. A less-unpleasant punisher remains to be a punisher. We advocate coaching with out ache or worry.

This isn’t only a matter of semantics; it’s a completely totally different coaching philosophy. We had been in search of a product that produced a vibration that will be used solely as a cue for the canine. As such, we wouldn’t desire a collar that might produce a vibration so sturdy that it resulted in a canine’s worry or discomfort or avoidance.

Unfortunately, the advertising and marketing of those merchandise simply isn’t in any respect congruent with what we see as their finest use. Even the collar we had the perfect outcomes with, the one which got here with the best advice from a coach who makes use of it for deaf canines (the Wolfwill Dog Training Collar) is marketed to be used as an aversive. The field itself says that with simply the push of a button, your canine will “quickly learn the association between his behavior and your correction; in no time, you’ll have a better-behaved pet.” Argh! 

That’s not at all how we advocate utilizing these collars. 

Since I don’t have a hearing-impaired canine of my very own, I put out a name to my coach community in search of volunteers with deaf canines who is perhaps involved in attempting a vibration collar. While I used to be ready to schedule appointments, I took the Wolfwill collar out of its field and took a better look. 

Now, I’m conscious that when you have already got a adverse affiliation with one thing, it’s straightforward to search out stuff you don’t like about it (affirmation bias) – however I discovered a variety of issues to dislike in regards to the collar. (See “Wolfwill Vibration Collar: The Negatives,” on web page 10.) However, my project was to discover the worth of utilizing this sort of collar for coaching, so I put the negatives apart and made preparations to work with three totally different canines.

SIDEBAR: Wolfwill Vibration Collar: The Negatives


As it turned out, I used to be additionally capable of examine the Wolfwill with one other vibration collar. One of my interns, Peggy Bowers, occurred to have the identical collar that I had tried a couple of years in the past: the Gentle Trainer GT-1 by Unleashed Technology. Peggy had used the collar efficiently on one other canine, so we determined to attempt it once more, in addition to the Wolfwill product. For these experiments, we had been joined by one other one in every of my coaching interns, Layne Tubby. 

The three of us examined the collars on ourselves to see what we might really feel. The Gentle Trainer has prongs which are much like these on a shock collar. But we discovered that its vibration wasn’t actually noticeable on the prongs themselves; solely the receiver field itself appeared to vibrate. In distinction, the vibration on the Wolfwill is delivered by way of a curved plate somewhat than prongs, and the vibration was clearly noticeable on the plate. 

The Gentle Trainer had a big distinction in depth of vibration between the low setting (1 – barely noticeable) and the excessive (15). The Wolfwill was significantly stronger when set on its lowest setting (1) than the opposite collar’s lowest setting, however Layne and I might barely really feel a distinction between 1 and its highest setting (16) – only a longer pulse. Peggy, nevertheless, mentioned that the best setting on this collar despatched an disagreeable sensation down her hand and arm that she discovered fairly aversive. 

The Gentle Trainer supposedly can be utilized with a half mile between the distant management and the collar. The Wolfwill is meant to be able to working at a most distance of about one third of a mile. 


I see the first good thing about a vibration collar as an attention-getter for a hearing-impaired canine – though one other useful use could possibly be to show a “find me” recall. Unfortunately, I don’t assume it’s potential to fluctuate the vibrations sufficient for a canine to simply distinguish quite a lot of totally different cues utilizing the collar alone. The house owners agreed – their major purpose can be to have an “attention” sign.

With every of the canines, we did a short introduction to the collar, feeding hen treats with out vibration, feeding treats whereas it vibrated close to the canine, after which feeding treats whereas we held it in opposition to the canine’s neck. Some canines can discover a vibration aversive and I wished to maximise our potential for having our check canines settle for it. 

None of the canines appeared involved, so we proceeded by placing the collar on the canine. Our objectives had been to see if:

  • The canine acknowledged the vibration when the collar was on his neck.
  • The canine would start to supply a “conditioned emotional response” (CER) to the vibration – that’s, to point out an consciousness that the vibration meant “Chicken!” by turning towards his proprietor when the sign was despatched.
  • We might start to ascertain a recall cue by having the canine transfer towards the proprietor in response to the sign at growing distances.

We realized this was fairly an formidable agenda for only one session with the collar, however we had been to see how a lot we might accomplish.

SIDEBAR: Haptic Cues


Our first check canine was Spud, a two-year-old congenitally deaf French Bulldog, belonging to Jordan Cruz and referred by veterinary behaviorist Dr. Leslie Sinn. His deafness was the results of a breeding between two merle mother and father – canines with a coat coloration sample that consists of a usually bluish- or reddish-gray combined with splotches of black or reddish-brown. Double-merle canines have a really excessive likelihood of being deaf, blind, or each. 

In addition to being deaf, Spud has different behavioral points, together with nervousness and potential obsessive-compulsive behaviors. It is just not uncommon for different neurodevelopmental issues, together with blindness and problem processing data, to be half and parcel of the world of a double-merle canine.

Spud confirmed completely no consciousness of vibrations from the Gentle Trainer collar. He did cock his head in acknowledgment on the primary check of the Wolfwill, and whereas he continued to point out indicators of consciousness that one thing was occurring when it vibrated, after 15 minutes or so of exams, he confirmed no indication of giving a optimistic CER. Rather, at that time his indicators of stress gave the impression to be growing, so we ended the session. 

My conclusion: A vibration collar will likely be useful for Spud provided that future coaching classes are profitable in establishing a CER – a optimistic affiliation between the vibration and his chicken-dispensing human.


Livvy is a deaf three-year-old double-merle Australian Shepherd who has very restricted (and declining) imaginative and prescient. On the advice of veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall, Livvy’s proprietor had come to me for a habits session in November 2018; she wished to learn to scale back Livvy’s extreme reactivity to shifting automobiles, canines, and different objects. Dr. Overall had recognized Livvy with extreme visible and listening to impairment, potential panic dysfunction, and hyper-reactivity, particularly to shifting triggers and a few noises. 

Irene Schmalz, Livvy’s proprietor, had finished a little bit work up to now with my intern Peggy Bowers with the Gentle Trainer collar. In these classes, Livvy had acknowledged the vibration sign after about 5 to 10 repetitions, however had not provided any CERs. 

That’s why, for these classes, we opted to make use of the Wolfwill collar and skip the Gentle Trainer, as we knew we had been more likely to see higher outcomes with the product that vibrated extra noticeably. Livvy instantly acknowledged the sign with a flip of her head and started providing constant CERs after 20 sign repetitions. 

We started growing the space between Livvy and her proprietor – finally to about three ft. About half the time, upon feeling the sign Livvy would go to Irene, however generally, she would go to Peggy as a substitute. That’s once we realized our error of initially having Peggy feed the hen – duh! 

We took a break and began over once more, triggering the vibration after which having Irene feed Livvy a chunk of hen, till Livvy was constantly exhibiting CERs when she felt the vibration. Once it was clear she had the vibration/chicken-from-Irene affiliation down pat, we redid the space work with considerably higher outcomes.

Conclusion: A vibration collar could possibly be very helpful for Livvy and Irene. Livvy responded effectively, and along with her imaginative and prescient impairment in addition to her deafness, the collar could possibly be very instrumental in sustaining high quality of life for her. Despite her impairments, Livvy is unbiased, and being blind in addition to deaf places her at a fair higher danger of getting disoriented and misplaced. 

Irene is already doing Nosework with one other glorious coach; I instructed that Irene work with the coach on having Livvy discover her by scent. Then they may pair the “find Irene by scent” job with a vibration cue, for max profit. 

We additionally mentioned the worth of including contact cues to Livvy’s repertoire – a lightweight contact above the tail for a sit, on the shoulders for a down, and so forth. – because the hand alerts Irene has been utilizing to speak to her canine will grow to be more and more much less helpful as Livvy’s sight continues to fail.


Our third check canine was a 13-year-old terrier-mix who’s shedding her listening to as a consequence of her age. Maggie has the benefit of 13 years of listening to, so she already is aware of behaviors that her proprietor, Elizabeth White, has taught her through the years. 

Maggie does, nevertheless, have a number of age- and health-related challenges, together with arthritis (lameness regardless of pain-relief medicine) and two giant lipomas (fatty tumors). Elizabeth was very within the collar as a result of she routinely walks her canine off-leash (so the leash doesn’t intervene with Maggie’s effort to ambulate with out ache), and he or she would really like to have the ability to get Maggie’s consideration when the canine will get distracted, stops to smell, and falls behind. 

Maggie instantly acknowledged the vibration with a flip of her head and was providing constant, pleased CERs after simply 5 repetitions. 

We started including distance and located that as a result of Maggie is so linked to her human it was laborious to inform if she was responding to the collar and returning to Elizabeth, or simply selecting to return as a result of she wished to be near her. With Spud and Livvy, we had labored indoors solely, however we determined to go outdoors with Maggie to see how the collar labored the place she was extra more likely to be distracted. 

Outdoors, off leash, and with extra distractions, it was simpler to see when Maggie was really responding to the collar – which was more often than not (Yay!). We had about an 80 p.c success fee, with just some events when Elizabeth needed to push the button longer to get Maggie to acknowledge and are available to her, which did finally occur in underneath 20 seconds. (Note: The vibration pulse shuts off after 10 seconds – it’s important to launch, and after a number of seconds push the button once more.) I instructed she additionally pair the vibration along with her verbal cue whereas Maggie can nonetheless hear her to strengthen the affiliation.

Conclusion: A vibration collar could possibly be helpful for Maggie, and Elizabeth has the additional advantage of with the ability to practice Maggie to make the recall affiliation whereas she will nonetheless hear. Elizabeth has already ordered a Wolfwill collar for Maggie.


I’ve to say, I’m feeling fairly optimistic about the advantages of utilizing a vibration collar for canines with listening to loss. Despite my preliminary reservations, and the numerous flaws of each manufacturers of collar that we labored with, it would definitely be one thing I like to recommend to house owners of deaf canines as a helpful communication software. 

I wish to applaud Jordan, Irene, and Elizabeth. It was heartwarming to see how linked and dedicated these house owners are to their canines and rewarding to have the ability to assist discover new methods to open strains of communication between the house owners and their deaf (or practically deaf) canines. 

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