It's Not the Collar

We are very proud of Kathy and John Ryan's accomplishments with their Labrador Retreiver puppy named Rocky. Rocky is now 8 months and has his Canine Good Citizen certificate. He is a recent full graduate of our program and is in training as a therapy dog.

We are very proud of Kathy and John Ryan's accomplishments with their Labrador Retreiver puppy named Rocky. Rocky is now 8 months and has his Canine Good Citizen certificate. He is a recent full graduate of our program and is in training as a therapy dog.

by Fred Hassen

I’d like to address a subject that is often brought up by trainers and handlers: “How does the dog perform without the collar on? Many people are under the mistaken belief that it’s the collar that makes the dog perform (or fail to perform). Another misunderstanding that we often hear is, “My dog knows when the collar is on, and when it’s not. Let’s explore some of these thoughts.

I prefer to make a leash analogy, so that the many people who are familiar with a leash can better understand. First and foremost, I’d like to say that there are many types of e-collar trainers that use many different approaches to dog training. This fact alone makes it virtually impossible for people to say things like, “The collar causes this or that.

There are many different leash trainers as well, and we all know that we can’t group “PetSmart” training with a lot of other training methods, just because they all use a leash. So much of dog training involves the approach of the trainer. I have always been influenced by the understanding that “reinforcement never ends.” You should always be in a position to reinforce your rules. This is consistent with the adage that a lot of you are familiar with: “Never give a command that you can’t enforce.”

Now the problem arises when you press the button. The dog can do a lot of different things when that button is pressed. He can run, lay down, try to get away, jump up and down, or any other number of things other than the behavior you commanded. I’ll even go so far as to say that you will probably see the dog attempt one, some, or all of these maneuvers at some point in time. That doesn’t sound very encouraging does it?

Let’s assume that the dog has a leash on for the first time, and we will take the electric collar out of the picture. Let’s say that you have a long line on the dog, and you call the dog to you and get the dog moving toward you with the long line should he choose not to come. This particular dog hasn’t had a line on before, and doesn’t know what a leash tug means. Let’s take it even one step further, and assume that the dog does know what the leash means. That knowledge alone is not going to guarantee that the dog will come every time you apply a leash tug. If there is enough distraction, it may take a few tugs, or even one hard tug.

I think we can all relate to that, and if you can’t…and you need to show me your 100% obedience score in all of your trials, because your dog knows and complies with all of the commands that are asked of it.

Stetson heeling at the PSA Trial (Protection Sports Association).

Stetson heeling at the PSA Trial (Protection Sports Association).

Back to my original point with the leash. You tug on the leash once. There are a few dogs around, your dog is distracted, and the dog decides not to come. You have to work the dog through this. I doubt that you’d just blame the dog’s disobedience on the leash. We’ve all tried to place a dog in a sit, and had that dog try to scoot away. Trainers certainly don’t look at that and think, “ Well, I’m never going to put his butt down again.” These same misbehaviors can and certainly do happen with an e-collar. People educated with the collar just know how to fix the misbehavior immediately, and teach the dog how to eliminate that option and come one step closer to performing the requested action. I don’t think any leash trainer in his/her right mind will try to tell you that when you are training a dog to “sit” that the dog will never attempt anything else. I’d even go so far to say that a good trainer would tell you that the dog might still try it next week, next month, net year. You must still see to it that the dog “sits” and constantly show the dog that sitting is the only response to your “sit” command. There are simply no guarantees that the dog isn’t going to try something like that at some point, whether he “knows” the command or not. Many handlers will put some type of choke chain or “fur saver” on the dog to signify to the dog that the dog is now “working” despite what people may say, or try to convince you – that alone does not put the dog on “automatic” pilot. If you think it does, I’d like to see the 100% obedience scores at all of trials with the fur saver on. Ask a working handler of a guide dog for the blind if just putting the harness on their dog is enough to take care of anything that may come up. Ask if their dog has ever missed a command, or been distracted. Well, dogs sometimes still don’t comply with the working chain on, and it’s being enforced! Having trouble with your “call off? Why don’t you just put your fur saver on the dog, so he “knows” he’s “ working,” and he’ll stop on a dime from now on…

You get my point. The electric collar is no different. In fact, if it was the collar that was making the dog work, nobody would ever have to apply stimulation. They’d just condition the dog, put the collar on, and life would be one big 100% at obedience trials. There would also be no need for adjustable levels on the remote for stronger distractions.

Why would you ever have to raise the level of stimulation? I thought the dog “knew” that the collar was on; he’d certainly never ignore it.

I’d like to relate a funny story from one of my clients. The client requested a “dummy collar” from me. Those of you not familiar with “dummy collars” (and incidentally they are appropriately named; you may want to try putting a “dummy fur saver” on a dog to see it that works any better), they look, feel, and weigh the same as a real e-collar. After explaining all of this to him, he replied, “I know, I know, but I still want to use one.” You know how that goes. He was using it in the backyard so the dog wouldn’t dig while he was gone. He figured that he’d go to work and when the dog started to dig, the dog would think, “whoops, I better not do that because my collar is on” even though there was no reinforcement. I got a “dummy collar” for him, and a few weeks later asked him about it. I found his answer humorous, and very appropriate. He replied, “It’s not going very well. The dog knows it’s a dummy collar”

Doesn’t the dog ever get trained, and not need the collar?” To this I respond: Next time you run into someone who has worked at their business for 10 years or longer, or who owns their own business ask them, “Why do you still have managers and enforce rules and watch the situation? Why do you still suspend people and get on them about being late?” Don’t they know their jobs yet?

In summary, I advise that the collar be worn whenever the dog leaves the house. You can’t control the outside environment, but you can control your dog. Not being in a position to enforce is not going to change the fact that reinforcement never ends. I would suggest that you call Tri-tronics and ask if there are any seminars with their “prostaff” scheduled in your area. You wouldn’t advise a new client to just “go buy a leash” and expect them to figure out how to train their dog. Would you be willing to accept the responsibility of whatever they applied when they just went out and bought a leash? I know I wouldn’t. The e-collar is no different. That is common sense with any training tool.

Please consider attending a seminar from someone who knows what they are doing and can answer your questions. Get educated, and have a happy training session!

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