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Gundogs & E-Collars

by Rob Barlow

Ten years ago, if someone had told me that the only way to train a gundog was with the aid of an electronic training device, I would have laughed and bet the farm against it. Good thing I didn’t bet! Not that one needs an e-collar to do this, it just speeds things up a bit. What used to take three to four months now takes six to eight weeks depending on the dog. Technology has advanced tremendously in the last few years. The once barbaric shock collar is now a finesse-training tool. There are several collar manufacturers, as well as many dealers. One of the most frequently asked questions is “What collar should I buy?” The old line you get what you pay for still holds true. Although most novice trainers don’t require the advanced collars that most pros use, a good quality collar is going to run around $200.00 to $250.00. A collar in this price range should have multiple stimulation levels as well as continuous and momentary stimulation modes. After you have made a choice and purchased the collar of your choice please read the manual that comes with it. Read it twice and familiarize yourself with the operation of the collar.

At first I was going to go into a detailed article covering most aspects and phases of e-collar training. But after some thought, I decided to go through a program that works for most dogs regardless of the breed type. The age that I would start the dog will vary according to the dog’s temperament, but generally between six to eight months old.

For the first couple of weeks, I work on retrieving as well as taking the dog for short walks in order to develop hunting desire. During this time I put an e-collar on the dog just to get the dog used to wearing it. Also during this time I introduce live birds, including fliers, and give a positive introduction to the gun. Once the dog has shown a desire to hunt, likes birds and is not afraid of the gun, the decision is made to start yard work (basic obedience).

The first command we will teach your dog is to “heel”. For this command you will need a short lead and a choke chain type collar, and have your
electronic trainer activated and on the dog according to your particular collar’s instructions. The level of stimulation will vary between dogs but I always start at the low end and gradually work up to a level that shows results but does not overwhelm the dog. The collar that I use has six stimulation levels, one being low and six being high. I generally use a level two.

Here is a helpful tip that will keep your dog’s attitude up and keep him eager to train. Before every training session take a training dummy and throw your dog three or four happy retrieves. This will help get your dog’s enthusiasm up, which will carry over into your training session. By doing this after each training session your dog will end each session with a positive attitude, thus making him eager to train the next time out. You can also do this in the middle of a training session if your dog’s attitude is down and things are not going well. You will be surprised at how this little tip will keep your training sessions fun and easy.

Teaching your dog to heel is a pretty easy task but an important part of conditioning your dog to the collar. So let’s go through this first step.

Ten years ago, if someone had told me that the only way to train a gundog was with the aid of an electronic training device, I would have laughed and bet the farm against it.
Photo by: Dana M. English
Start by having your dog standing or sitting beside you. Now give the command to heel and pull on the lead and start walking. You noticed that nothing was said about the collar. The reason is the first couple of times you want the dog to be familiar with his command. So do this a couple of times, “heel, pull, and walk”. Once you have done this you can introduce stimulation to this command. To do this, give the command heel, pull on the lead and stimulate using continuous stimulation. You will want to pull on the lead and stimulate at the same time. As soon as the dog moves forward, immediately stop stimulation. The timing is very important. You want the choke chain to tighten up and the stimulation to happen at the same time and as soon as the dog obeys your command, you want stimulation to stop. This way the dog will not be alarmed with the stimulation as he is already used to having the choke chain tighten up. The most important part of all this is that as soon as he obeyed the command all discomfort stops; thus, conditioning him to an avoidance type training program. This is a step-by-step program.

Once you can start your dog easily in the manner we just described, you can decrease the amount of pressure you are applying with the lead and just use the electronic trainer. To start decreasing the use of the lead and choke chain, just lighten up on the actual pulling on the lead and use stimulation only. Here is what you want to achieve. Give the heel command, stimulate and start to walk. The dog should be anticipating the stimulation just like he was anticipating the tightening of the choke chain. He should be jumping forward with the command heel. This is why we call this avoidance training. Your dog is learning that if he moves quickly enough he can stop the stimulation. Once your dog learns that he can stop the stimulation, he will start to respond faster.
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