It’s The Training, Not The Tool!

Article originally appeared in “On the Wing”, a monthly e-mail newsletter by Pheasants Forever

While on a radio show, I was told of young pointing dog that was taken out to hunt his first birds, the owner relying on an e-collar (electronic collar) to help keep the dog close.  The dog hit the open field and was gone.  The owner called the dog and pressed the transmitter button to no avail. Their day of “hunting” came to a close with only one find…the dog 4 hours later. Many unsuccessful e-collar stories take on a similar theme and often the collar or dog is blamed for the failure.  As owners and trainers we must understand that our equipment is only as effective as the operator and the training.   

Understanding The Tool

It is important to understand that an e-collar itself is not the answer. Knowing how to use it properly is what creates success.  Simply pressing a button does not install “Microsoft dog”.  That would be like suggesting that buying the best shotgun on the market would make a person a skilled hunter and crack shot.  The tool can be VERY effective, but the METHOD, KNOWLEDGE and SKILL of the user are what create success or failure. 

Making Your Dog Collar Literate

We start all of our dogs’ e-collar training away from the field.  With dogs as young as 6 months, we build a foundation; teaching the dog to understand the language of the “stimulation”.  Stimulation is used to get the dog’s attention and also to teach the command with which it is applied.  The dog must learn that performance of the command stops the stim, which “marks” the correct behavior or response.  

Introduction to the e-collar begins with finding the right level of intensity to get the dog’s attention. With the dog on a long line, we allow them to move away from us and tap, tap, tap on the nick button until the dog turns and begins to move toward us.  We may say nothing initially to allow the dog to focus without the interference of verbal associations, but we eventually add the command “here” or “come” to give the behavioral response a name.  As the dog learns, the number of taps should decrease while confidence and consistency increase. 

Understanding The Dog’s Response

It is important that you understand that the stim is an unknown when introduced and dogs can respond many different ways to the new sensation. Some turn and come immediately, some lie down and others may even freeze. This occurs due to confusion and to get through this you must assist the dog in performing the expected behavior while still applying the stim until the dog is correct. Remember, this can also happen with a dog that knows a command but is not e-collar “literate”. Many people make the mistake of assuming their dog should know the way to respond to the stim and instead of assisting and teaching the dog the correct response they either stop the stim (marking the incorrect behavior) or adjust the stim thinking this will motivate the dog to respond. It is important that you recognize that the e-collar is a communication tool and using it incorrectly or inconsistently is no different than speaking on a cell phone with bad reception….its confusing, annoying and the message is usually not conveyed effectively.  

Taking It To The Next Level

Understanding and applying this method to all commands with consistency will produce a top performing dog in the field and in the home. These are just a few of the basics and by no means all that goes into introducing the e-collar to your dog. The next time you pull an e-collar from your training bag, consider whether you are using it to train your dog or just control and correct him.  Making the most of that e-collar will help make your dog successful provided you use it to its potential and employ sound training methods. It is the knowledge, skill and ability in using an e-collar skillfully that creates great hunters, champions and even the best companions.

To learn more about Native Pro Staffer Sue Barnes, visit www.mytdog.org.