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Electronic Collar Training

by George Hickox

A few years ago I attended the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s annual conference on behalf of Nova Scotia Tourism. I had flown two of my dogs to the gathering, as I was scheduled to do some training exhibitions. The dogs performed admirably with tail wagging style, and after the event two members of the audience approached me. They complimented me on the dogs, then commented on how nice it was to see dogs trained without an electronic collar.

Well, guess what? I do use an electronic collar. In fact when used correctly, the collar can be a marvelous tool for any dog trainer. "Correctly" is the key word here, as a collar used incorrectly can produce disastrous results as can any training method not properly employed.

There was a time when I opposed the use of electronics in training. I had the same misconceptions that some other trainers have that the collar was cruel and that I’d be ruining dogs or creating robots that simply reacted to the touch of a button But I’ve acquired much knowledge through working with many dogs over many years and sharing information with other trainers. Over time I’ve learned about the proper use of electronics and about the benefits to be gained from them. In this column I will attempt to pass on some of this knowledge and eliminate the perceived voodoo surrounding this effective training tool.

If you are to use the collar, it is paramount that you understand that punishment training giving a command and punishing for noncompliance without offering the dog incentives to perform before being punished as the sole approach will result in a dog that responds only when it’s afraid of being punished. As soon as the dog is off the check cord and not wearing the collar it will say, To hell with you! At best you will have a dog that performs inconsistently.

This is why many trainers go wrong from the start. "My dog is running too big and won’t come. I’m going to get one of those collars and give him an education." So the frustrated owner buys a collar, puts it on the dog, casts the dog out and then commands it to come. Fido is enjoying himself and would rather run. So the owner shocks the dog or, as we now say, stimulates it. The dog usually does one of three things: It runs as far as it can as quickly as it can, and after 10 seconds the collar automatically shuts off (a built in safety feature). Thus the dog learns that if it bolts like a runaway train, the stimulation will eventually shut off. A second option is that the dog freezes on the spot, and after 10 seconds the stimulation goes away. Thus the dog learns to grit its teeth until the stimulation disappears. In both cases the dog is starting to become case hardened and the owner will have to use increasing amounts of punishment down the road.

The third likely response is that the dog runs back to its owner. Great, huh? No, not great. When the dog runs back the stimulation turns off. Dogs are extremely place oriented, and the dog may have just learned that being away from its owner is dangerous and that the area near its owner’s boots is a sanctuary. Getting the dog to cast out to hunt from now on could be difficult.

Obviously, this is the wrong way to introduce a dog to the collar. To maximize the benefits of this device, you must teach electronic training to the dog. You want the collar to produce a bold and confident dog one that is happy and performs with enthusiasm.

For about two months before they are introduced to stimulation, my pups wear a dummy collar every time they go out. As you can imagine, at the end of the two months the youngsters start jumping up and down with excitement whenever they spot the collar in my hand. The collar is now associated with running, having fun and finding birds. It is a bad idea to stimulate a dog the first time it wears a collar, as you risk making the dog collar wise and responsive only when it’s wearing the device.

When I am ready to move on to formal training or training that involves correctionI want a collar that has variable intensity levels and continuous stimulation. At this stage I want the stimulation to stay on for as long as I depress the button (up to 10 seconds), providing continuous pressure as opposed to a momentary reminder.
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