Most people, if asked about devices that can train dogs when you’re not right next to them, might mention electric shock collars. The dog runs off, you give a jolting zap by pressing the button on a little gadget you hold in your hand, and presto, your pet comes back to you.
We are firmly against these gadgets, as are Denmark, Finland, Wales, Austria, Germany, and a number of other countries where using shock collars is against the law. As the British Small Animal Veterinary Association puts it, “shocks received during training may not only be acutely stressful, painful and frightening for the animal but also may produce long term adverse effects and behavioural and emotional responses.” Among those responses: 1) a decreased sense of trust in the owner, which frays the human-animal bond (who can live comfortably knowing that his supposed loved one might inflict bodily harm at any time?) and 2) increased aggression. The Humane Society of the United States points out that a dog trained with a shock collar may even come to bite — no surprise since aggression begets aggression.
It’s not good enough that some people say they only have to inflict pain a few times before setting the shock collar to a lower level that emits just vibrations instead of painful shocks. A few times is all it takes to make a dog never truly trust you again.
No, the only way to humanely train your dog to come is to go through a process that takes days, or weeks, starting with a fenced-in yard or even a living room and gradually increasing the distance between you and the dog (with a long line attached to her at first) and teaching her to return with the enticement of treats and warm praise.
But what about other instances in which you want to train your dog while not right by her side — when the doorbell rings and you don’t want her to start barking and intimidating the visitor, or when you want to ease her separation anxiety in your absence, and so on? Fortunately, there are some devices developed specifically to reward dogs for good behavior when you’re not there rather than punish them for things they’re doing wrong. We’re all for these remote reward devices, which essentially consist of dispensers that drop a bit of delicious kibble or a treat when you press a remote, thereby helping to redirect your pet’s behavior.
PetSafe Treat and Train Remote Reward Dog Trainer is the creation of the late veterinarian Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, an internationally renowned leader and advocate for the humane treatment of dogs and other animals. Dr. Yin promoted reinforcement without force in her books (How To Behave So Your Dog Behaves and Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats), as well as in videos and other information provided without cost (to this day) on her website, drsophiayin.com.
Her gadget, initially called the “Treat & Train” and then the “Manners Minder,” is now the PetSafe Treat and Train Remote Reward Dog Trainer. The older models are still available online, and all remain useful tools for carrying out Dr. Yin’s method of counter-conditioning — teaching the dog to do something that is incompatible with the thing you don’t want her to do.
Let’s say someone comes to the door, and your canine pal thinks she is the one who is supposed to “welcome” visitors by barking, jumping up and down, and essentially making it difficult for the person to come inside and feel relaxed. With the Treat and Train, you can teach her that someone coming to the door means it’s time for her to go over to the special food dispenser. Shaped sort of like a football helmet with a shallow bowl where the chin guard should be, it emits a tone letting her know to go over, and then you press the button on the remote when you’re ready for the food to be dispensed (it works up to 100 feet away). Getting ready to eat the food is much more fun than playing security guard.
There’s even a timer function that teaches the dog “down” and “stay” before the treat is dispensed, or in between helpings. That can give you time to get to the door while she lies in wait for the kibble, letting her have the food at and after the moment of entry, when she is most likely to be distracted. By the time the eating is over, the person will have been inside for a bit and will more likely be perceived as a welcome guest rather than a moving toy to be caught.
Treat and Train can also help you keep your dog from begging at the dinner table and away from intimate encounters between you and your significant other, if those are moments she tends to interrupt. You can even use it to help relieve separation anxiety that can lead to a dog’s ripping up furniture and other destructive behavior. How? With patience, you can accustom your dog to focus on the expected treat rather than your movements toward the front door, which would normally cause her to respond with concern. You can then increase your proximity to the front door with training sessions, finally making your way to the other side of the door and eventually waiting outside for longer and longer periods. That will help your pet adjust to your absences from the house.
An added bonus: the dispenser can be set to drop treats at a random pace rather than at regular intervals. That keeps your dog intrigued and also lessens the chances of her figuring out that she has roughly 15 seconds to scarf down a treat, then raise a quick ruckus at the front door and maybe get at least one jump on a visitor before racing back to the dispenser in time for another goodie.
Treat and Train comes with a training manual and DVD (there are also online youtube videos demonstrating a variety of ways to train your dog with the remote dispenser). The apparatus takes four D batteries purchased separately. Available on Chewy.com and Amazon.com for $109.95.
Smart Animal Training’s Pet Tutor takes the remote reward approach to your iPhone or Android via an app that you can use as a remote clicker. The app allows food dispensing through one or multiple units at a time, depending on which model you buy, with timing that works for a single dog or a number of dogs. Another feature, sold separately, is a collar with a remote that registers when your dog has not been barking and rewards her for her quiet behavior with a treat.
Computer software provided with the Pet Tutor can shift the programming to something particularly suited to your needs. For instance, you can use it to interest and reward your dog when you are away on errands or even to feed meals when you will not be home in time to do the feeding yourself. And of course, it can help quell separation anxiety, especially because it can dispense a far greater variety of foods than just dry kibble or treats. That is, by setting it to release your dog’s absolutely favorite goodies, you can do a better job of distracting her and creating a comforting association with your time away from home. And the timer can be set for long after you’ve left the house, keeping your anxious dog engaged (and thereby in training) for long intervals.
The Pet Tutor can be placed on a floor base or higher up on a shelf or table so that the treats shoot out into the air, creating a game of catch for your dog that might prove more fun and challenging than just eating the food as it appears.
Pet Tutor and its components are sold on smartanimaltraining.com. Be prepared for some sticker shock. The Pet Tutor with Bluetooth retails for $299.00, while the Professional Package for multi-pet dwellings or businesses is $1,4950.00. There’s also a private virtual training session at $39.00; a replacement smart remote at $149.00; a smart clicker at $99.00; and an ultra calm collar at $69.95, among other items.
Trixie Memory Activity Dog Trainer’s remote lets you train your dog out of unwanted behaviors by triggering kibble or a treat to drop just as your pal is readying herself to bark, dig, or carry on in other ways over which you would like her to gain some control. The unit can only respond to your pressing a button; it does not come with a timer to dispense treats. It may take some time to figure out how best to adjust the dispenser so that you don’t release too many or too few treats.
By the way, the Trixie Memory device allows your dog to use her own paw (or nose) to press a button that signals the nearby dispenser to drop an edible goodie. That’s because, like other items in the Trixie line, it’s intended to sharpen your dog’s mental skills. You can increase the challenge for your pet in a fun and rewarding way by moving the button to places that she will discover on her own. She’ll then figure out sooner or later that pressing the button from other rooms in the house or the backyard will release a treat in the dispenser that she can then go and retrieve. (Keep in mind that the signal will lessen if blocked by thick or solid walls, so you may want to place the button where there are no physical obstacles between it and the dispenser.) Available on Amazon for $96.64.
PetChatz HD and PawCall bundle may not be a bona fide remote trainer, but it can be used to perform many of the same functions that remote reward trainers do. The two-way gizmo provides audio and video to connect you with your dog while you’re away from home so that you can check in on each other. It can also be used to dispense calming scents and tasty edibles, provide interactive learning games, and stream DogTV. The pet-safe design of the gadget means your dog can access it at eye level for chats with you without the risk of her chewing on cords. A fun perk for you is that you can capture your dog’s home-alone moments on video or in photographs. Available on Amazon.com for $479.98.
Furbo Dog Cameradistinguishes itself by providing live-stream video so you can keep an eye on your dog using a high-definition camera that picks up a wide-angle range of 120 degrees and uses night vision for the wee hours when you’re out late. There is also a two-way chat system that allows you to contact your barking dog and calm her with the sound of your voice and also has a barking sensor that sends notifications of your dog’s vocalizations to your smartphone. You can catch your dog emptying out wastebaskets or chewing on the couch, too, giving you the chance to distract her with as many as 30 goodies that are tossed out from the dispenser for your dog to try to catch. Available on Amazon for $249.00.