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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs


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Before I actually use the collar in training, I must first find the level of stimulation to which the do responds. I cannot assume that because Buster is a hard headed son of a gun that he will be a level seven, whereas Suzie, a more sensitive dog, will be a level one. To find the proper level, I begin with the lowest and keep the stimulation on. I look for some sign of acknowledgment perhaps the dog stops panting for a moment or perks up a quizzical ear. I place my finger on the dog’s neck and feel for an involuntary muscle twitch when stimulation is applied. If I see or feel no response, I move up successive levels until the dog shows some response without yelping or panicking. This will be the level at which to start.

The beauty of this is that the dog tells me how much discipline is needed. Some training manuals call for using "the proper amount" of correction. How do you know what the proper amount is? With the electronic collar, you know. The collar makes prior experience in reading a dog less important.

Once I have found the proper level of stimulation, I am ready to teach the dog how to turn the stimulation off. But before I actually apply stimulation, I must first show the dog what I want. I put a check cord on the dog and stand within a couple of feet of a portable kennel. I give the command "Kennel" over and over as I lead the dog into the box. Once I’ve done this enough times that I am confident the dog knows the meaning of the command, I am ready to apply some pressure.

I turn on the stimulation first, then immediately follow with the command "Kennel" given once. The stimulation remains on until the dog is in the kennel, whereupon it goes off. I am teaching the dog that the kennel is a sanctuary a place where there is never stimulation. This is an important concept for the dog to learn, as I will employ the sanctuary concept in other aspects of the dog’s training.

Once the dog knows how to turn the stimulation off by going into the kennel, I start with the command "Kennel," then follow with stimulation only if the dog does not perform and I keep the stimulation on until the dog is within six feet of the kennel and heading toward it. If the dog is heading for the kennel and then turns away at the last minute, stimulation is again applied until the dog obeys. Remember, at this stage I am only giving the command one time. The dog will gain confidence and style once he discovers that he can beat the stimulation by responding quickly.

Once I can send the pup into the kennel from 20 yards or so, I am ready to teach "Sit," or "Hup," to the flushing breeds and "Whoa!’ to the pointing breeds. The method is the same as with teaching "Kennel." I show the dog what the command means, repeating it all the while. Then I apply stimulation, give the command once and stop the stimulation upon performance.

I teach "Here" the same way. I show the dog "Here" by pulling it to me with a check cord while repeating the command. After the "show me" phase, I apply stimulation first, give the command and stop the stimulation as soon as the dog complies. Once the dog knows how to turn the stimulation off, I give the command first and apply stimulation only if the dog does not obey. Ultimately, the command is given and the dog performs with no stimulation.

Once I have conditioned the dog to the collar, I am able to use this tool in all aspects of my training, including bird work. Mother Nature gave the pup three methods for solving problems: running away, biting and sulking. I gave the dog a problem by turning the stimulation on. It could either run, bite or sulk, but none of these things solved its problem the stimulation stayed on. Complying with the command did. I then taught the pup that if it responded quickly, it avoided the problem altogether. This made the dog happy and confident because it had found the solution.

Which reminds me of the story about the guy who was always snapping his fingers, which drove his wife crazy. Finally the wife insisted that her husband seek professional help. The doctor asked why the husband was always snapping his fingers, to which the husband replied that he was afraid of lions and that the snapping was what kept the lions away.

"Why, there isn’t a lion within 5,000 miles of here!" the doctor exclaimed.

"See?" the husband replied. "It works."

The electronic collar should not be thought of as a training shortcut. You still need to develop habit through repetition. Think of keeping the lions away and establishing sanctuaries. If the collar is not used only as a punishment device, it will help develop a well trained dog that hunts in control and with style.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the September/October 1997 issue of Shooting Sportsman, "The Magazine of Wingshooting and Fine Guns." Be sure to visit www.shootingsportsman.com.

About the Author: Following a successful field trial career, George has focused his energies on the George Hickox School of Dog Training. This widely acclaimed, five-day program is limited to 12 students and their dogs per session at host facilities across the U.S. This program has developed a world-class reputation for bringing out the best in young dogs while providing a wealth of dog training knowledge to novice and seasoned handlers alike. George is also the Hunting Dogs Editor for Shooting Sportsman magazine and the host/producer of several award-winning videos. He recently co-authored a book for training flushing dogs: Hunt’em Up! For more information on training products, books, videos or Grouse Wing services, visit www.georgehickox.com.

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