Understanding the E-Collar
The electronic collar can be the best aid in keeping a dog honest in its work and also for aversion training. The reason I call them "e-collars" as opposed to "shock collars." In today's age with the newer technology they have a different type of stimulation and lower levels of stimulation. The E-collar of today is no longer about shocking a dog and making it yelp and punishing him from doing something you don’t want. At least it shouldn’t be for normal day to day training unless it is being used for aversion training like snake avoidance or chasing unwanted quarry such as deer or rabbits.
The e-collar of today can now be used like a cue to get a dog to do something desired without the dog taking it like a punishment provided you take the steps to teach cues. Again The lower levels of today's e-collars can have less stimulation value than that of tugging on a leash, lead or check cord.
When understood and used properly, the e-collar should have the same exact value as a leash, a check cord or even your hands, and correction or firmer insistence on a cue should never be about causing pain or fear but at the same time it can help a dog learn what is being commanded of it.
When the e-collar was first designed it was basically an aversion tool that was also known as a "trash collar" built for running hound dogs. This is where they got the wicked name of "shock collar," because most hounds do require quite a bit of stimulation to divert them off a track of unwanted quarry. And yes, it was a fairly good jolt thus was a harsh tool in the field.
The input of many trainers, the e-collar companies have greatly reduced the levels of stimulation to where they can have less sensation than that of you tugging on the collar via a leash. Trainers of yesteryear who have written books will even say that if they could edit those books, they would. Delmar Smith, for instance, has edited his training video with a new version of the whoa post. My point is that even the best trainers leave the door open to learning and evolving their training programs for the easier understanding of the dog. Thus again the Shock collar of yesterday can now be used to help maintain training dogs today to be a more reliable dog in the field.
This is a basic primer for someone just starting out with e-collars.
The e-collar should NOT be about pain in maintaining training and I cannot stress that enough. When properly used it is like having an invisible check cord to help maintain what a dog has already learned.
From the first time I put a leash on a little puppy, I start teaching with fun little sessions that a tapping (light tugging) sensation equals a movement command. It means to move with me, to me, or in front of me. Then I provide a constant sensation until movement stops to provide the basis for a "stand still" or "whoa" command for the pointing breed and for the retriever breeds it will mean “sit still.” An easy way to remember this is a tap-tap for go and a constant for whoa. Then as the pup matures, I'll work these same cues into the command lead and with the check cord, and then to the e-collar. A note on the tapping: it's not about physically making a dog to move, it's about getting a dog to mentally free up and go with you. When they begin to move with you or to you, the tapping/tugging needs to stop as the cue is being complied with. After the leash becomes a routine I will continue the same routines with the check cord and the command lead, and then repeat with the e-collar using the check cord as a back up, then it is off to the field for some go-with-me exercises.
When the dog is complying, this is a great time stop and end the session on that good note. Let him sit on the chain gang and absorb the picture of events that just transpired in the commands that were taught through basic yard work.
Basically, when you're ready to overlay the e-collar into your routine and the dog is pretty much doing what it's supposed to. When you begin to use stimulation you start with the lowest level. Look for signs of your dog responding to the collar like a slight muscle twitch/contraction.
The key thing here is for the dog to respond to – not react to – the stimulation. If a dog is reacting with a jerk or yelping, it's an indication that the stimulation level is too high. keep in mind It could be a first reaction to a new sensation but after the dog learns the stimulation isn’t hurting them then it should only be a tightening of the muscles and the dog not fearing the sensation. Whatever you do, no matter the response or reaction, do not do anything with the dog should the dog act confused or have a no so great reaction to the first time with the e collar. You are best to just keep on moving like you have done in previous sessions with the check cord. Do not pet the dog. Keep moving and act like everything is just fine. The reason I say this is that you do not want the dog to shut down and come to you every time they feel the e-collar which is what can happen if you console your pet and reward or save them at that moment especially if it is the first time they reacted to the stimulation as that will only reward the dog for the undesired response and confirm to the dog to come to your side anytime you use the collar.
Now work with walking around with the check cord and do a quartering pattern by changing direction once the dog is doing this with the check cord then add the e collar to the regime. If your dog doesn't follow the direction or go with you, then give a "tap" with stimulation from the e-collar, and back it up with a tap from the check cord. Here you are introducing a new stimulation value in a familiar pattern and backing it up with a known stimulation. This is my preferred method of starting to expose the dog to an e-collar. Then I will work in to where I am standing still and the dog should come to me which is the same thing after they know what to do with the check cord and tap with e- collar and tap/tug with check cord only if the dog is not coming to you. Once I have the dog working off what I am doing then I will add the word to the command.
Again, Once the dog is freely moving with me and understanding the cues then I'll begin adding a word to the command, such as "here." For example, I'll walk around with a check cord when the dog is move about freely then I'll stop moving. If the dog does not turn and come to me, this is where I can then give the command “here”, count to 1, then tap the check cord so the dog feels a couple of tugs from the collar until the dog is coming my direction. Then I'll have him stand still and give him a stroke down the back. After that, I'll cue for a release and start to walk in a quartering pattern again, and repeat the above process. If the dog starts to head toward me, there is no need to tap on the check cord. If the dog doesn't move toward me, I'll repeat the tap-tug on the neck until he is headed my way.
When your training becomes routine, the e-collar should be the least-used tool you have. If your dog is following the desired behavior or command, the trainer should not be commanding or stimulating the dog.
Even if you have to increase the stimulation level on the e-collar to get compliance, remember to turn the intensity back down to the base level where you started which is the level the dog responds to in normal situations. This is very important and helps the dog to learn to respond and comply with the lower levels.
The e-collar can help you take advantage of every training opportunity and help prevent a dog from learning undesired habits. You may go months without ever having to stimulate your dog as you and the dog become a hunting team. But as long as you have the e-collar on when a breech of manners occurs, you will be in a position to prevent it from becoming an issue or undesired habit out in the field.
The stimulation level that serves as the base level for an individual dog will vary depending on the collar and the dog. Some dogs are more sensitive and some just have a higher tolerance. Some dogs are more determined to do their own thing, whereas others are eager and willing to please. Then the other factor, especially for hunting dogs, is many times the base level in the field will be a little higher than it is for routine yard work.
Some dogs always react to any new sensation. A very key part here is if you know you’re at a very low level, then just carry on as if nothing happened, allowing the dog to learn that what it just felt is nothing to freak out over. Too many people stop and feel sorry for the dog, and your great actor of a dog has just learned how to get out of something it finds unpleasant.
Properly fitting an e-collar on a dog is also very important. The collar must be placed high up on the neck and very snug so that the contact points are making solid contact at all times. A loose-fitting collar in which the contact points are not properly connecting to the dog's skin will lead to a couple of problems. One is no stimulation value, which might cause the trainer to turn the dial up thinking the dog is not responding and then the dog will move the head or the collar shifts and then all of a sudden contact is made, and the dog feels major shock which will cause a negative reaction and can feel more like a stab than a stimulation to the dog. This then can become a major setback in training.
When putting the collar on, take the strap and be sure to hold the loop part of the buckle pressed up next to the dog's neck, and then pull the strap through so that it is as snug as you can get it. Do not wrench it over with excessive pressure. You should not be able to get your fingers under the strap without forcing them there when properly snugged down.
There is only one instance in which using an e-collar is about high stimulation levels to cause a dog to yelp and yes should be painful, and that is for avoidance training such as chasing unwanted quarry or snake-avoidance. Here again when you have to turn it up, only stimulate the dog when the undesired chase or danger is in occurrence. Once it stops stimulation must stop and you the handler must pretend like nothing happened. Just keep moving on and do not acknowledge the dog if he hovers by for a bit.
One of my favorite tools to prepare a dog for the e-collar is the Delmar Smith Command Lead. I prefer it over the choke chain as it allows for a timelier cue since you don’t have to gather the slack you would get with the choke chain. The pinch collar also can be an effective tool when used right.
You can use the tap-tap for a movement cue and the constant pressure for a stand-still cue. You can go from the command lead to the check cord, and you're always pre-cueing the dog with stimulation on the neck.
When I start to use the e-collar, a light little tug-tug on the command lead or check cord or leash is equivalent to level 1. If the dog doesn’t comply, then you tug or tap a bit harder, bringing the stimulation level up to a 2. If the dog still isn’t complying, go up to the next level.
Once the dog is cooperating, when you go to start giving the command again, start back at the lower level of stimulation. This way the dog will learn that if it doesn't comply, it'll feel stimulation and will learn to "beat it" or turn it by obeying the command. Even if you have to give a bit of a jerk, it's not about physically moving the dog – it's about getting the dog to the point where it will mentally move with you.
Again, the tugs/jerks from the leash check cord or command lead should never be strong enough to physically move the dog, but they should be kept up in repetitive annoyance until the dog starts to look for ways to get the tapping to stop. When the dog mentally figures out it is a movement command that will turn off tap/tug stimulation, they will willingly begin to move more freely toward you if you’re standing still and move with you when you are moving.
If you take these small steps as your pup grows up, the e-collar then will have no more stigma to it then the leash, command lead, pinch collar or the check cord.
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And Special Thank you to Claudia Hodges of Tri Tronics for her editing assistance
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