As concerned and conflicted as I was about bringing up the subject of electric collars, I am surprised by the number of notes that I have received thanking me for starting a difficult conversation.
In the previous messages, I hinted that the e-collar, used correctly, becomes part of your training program. This means that it should never be used as a “quick fix.” The surest way to be unsuccessful with an e-collar is to put it on the dog, correct him in a particular circumstance, and then take it off and not use it regularly. This is guaranteed to teach your dog to be “collar wise,” that is, to only perform when wearing the collar.
Several years ago an exhibitor came to me for help with her obedience dog. In the ring, this dog would go out on the flat retrieve, grab the dumbbell, play bow, and then run around while the crowd laughed and exasperated handler tried to catch him. After a few training sessions, I had a reason to go over to her training bag to get something for her. When I opened her bag I saw an electric collar. Bewildered, I asked her when she used it. She said she enforced “Come” when her dog ran away on the agility field but thought I would not approve.
Sadly, her technique had taught her dog to become situational (See How Dogs Learn). This dog now believed he had to come on the agility field, but not in any other situation.
Instead, this dog needed to be wearing her electric collar while doing agility, obedience, in the yard, and on walks, so that every time she failed to come her owner could use it to enforce a “Come” command. In this way, the dog would believe she had to respond to “Come” in every situation, and coming when called would become her habit!
In the retriever field trial venue, puppies start wearing their e-collars before they are a year of age and are never trained unless wearing the e-collar. From the dog’s point of view, putting on the collar is simply part of a routine that leads to what he loves, retrieving birds. Why do these dogs perform at the field trials (and at national events that last 8 days) without any collar on at all? Because performing correctly has become their habit, separate from and unassociated with the equipment the dog is wearing.
In order for the collar to be effective as part of your training, you need to be comfortable with your dog wearing the e-collar everywhere and any time that you think there is a chance that disobedience might occur. Eventually, just like a good retriever trainer, you will not have reason to use your e-collar in the majority of your training sessions. However, if disobedience occurs, your dog will be wearing his collar and it will be available to you. It is only by consistently using the tool that you will create the habit of performing correctly.
Please, if you are considering using an e-collar, but you are not committed to using it consistently, don’t use it at all. Your results will be mixed, at best, and your temptation will be to blame the tool instead of your inconsistent use.
In the Digital Obedience Guide: Electric Collars- An Instructional Guide, Pat and I have produced written and video instruction to show you exactly how we teach dogs to respond to Come, Sit, Kennel and Stay.
Why do we teach the dogs to respond to more than one command?
Teaching a dog to respond to only one command can cause unnecessary difficulties. I will send one more email next week to discuss that topic.
Meanwhile, if you are considering purchasing the Digital Guide and participating in the webinar on April 24 @ 7:00 pm EST, please do so as soon as possible. I want you to have ample time to read the instructions and watch all 16 videos so that we can answer your questions during the webinar.