Remote Collars & Search Work

by Fred Hassen and Behesha H. Grist

Someone once said, “Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.” How true!

Remote Collars are a good idea and are here to stay. And for those who are serious about their working dogs, this is good news! Today, more and more informed dog handler/trainers are recognizing the excellent place of the e-collar in the world of modern dog training.

Yet there still remain certain disciplines that handlers and trainers alike believe are verboten when it comes to e-collar usage. The field of search work seems to be one of the last bastions of e-collar phobia.

The basis for this fear is the erroneous beliefs that if an e-collar was ever used on a search dog, it would become so reluctant about leaving his handler’s side that it would never search again. With that kind of propaganda floating around, it is no wonder handlers were so afraid of using an e-collar. But of all the passions, fear weakens judgment the most. Fortunately, knowledge is power and through the assistance of knowledgeable trainers that understand both remote collars and search work, handlers can go from fearful to successful.

Those who understand the e-collar to be a positive means of training are troubled by the popular attitude that it is merely a corrective device. What a supreme disservice to a valuable tool. Even though using the e-collar for curbing unwanted behaviors may do the job, limiting its use this way could be likened to utilizing a finely honed Swiss Army knife for nothing more than prying open paint cans. When it comes to productive search training with the e-collar, there are many more appropriate and productive uses for this exquisite tool.

The key to mastering the successful use of the e-collar for training your dog in ANY discipline is to obtain your training from trainers who are skilled in its use. Remember, regardless of your training methods, training problems do arise in every area of dog training and search work is no different. Seek guidance from trainers that are capable of helping you work your dog through any problem that may arise. Trainers who lack experience in problem solving with the e-collar may resort to issuing dire warnings about falling skies and dogs that will never search again. For some people a good scare is worth more than good advice.

Look for trainers that have consistently and reliably produced dogs that are enthusiastic, focused, and rock-solid in their understanding of their work. Beyond that, make sure those trainers can effectively assist you in getting the same results with your own dog.

Let’s take the problem of crittering, for example. Crittering is a common complaint from search dog handlers. Over time, the e-collar’s use has been grudgingly accepted by some for use in eradicating, or at least inhibiting this frustrating behavior. But if you learn from a trainer how to stop your dog form chasing a rabbit, (or have had the trainer demonstrate their corrective method for crittering), make sure they can take the next crucial step.

Have that trainer follow up the corrective action with a send-away exercise or some other type of search work and see how the dog goes out. Can that trainer work the dog through it and have the dog rapidly returning to active, enthusiastic obedience to the commanded task? It is essential that the trainer be capable of bringing the dog through the correction and back out of the other side because you will need to be able to put your dog back to work once you’ve addressed this wayward crittering behavior.

One very good measurement of a reputable e-collar trainer is to see the work of his/her dogs. These dogs should be tremendously confident, fearless about send-away type of exercises, be social, and have a diligent work ethic that can carry them through lengthy tasks without distraction. We would not consider holding a seminar or other demonstration without having one of our own dogs, (or at least a dog that we have worked closely with) as an example of our work. There is much to be learned when a trainer is ready, willing, and able to show the work of their own dog(s) under a variety of distractions and conditions and for a considerable amount of time.

We emphasize working the dog for a length of time because in reality, a handler will never know how long a search might last. If the dog has only been conditioned to search for short bursts of time, he will not suddenly become capable of maintaining attention and possessing the stamina to search for extended periods just because the demands of the search require it. A good trainer must be able to show that their dogs are capable of maintaining attention to command.

Note here that we said “attention to command,” NOT, “attention to handler.” There is a huge difference between the two! If you ever hear a trainer issue warning about a search dog becoming too attentive to his handler as a result of e-collar use, let this serve as a red flag. Attentiveness to command is the operative concept and is very, very trainable in dogs of any discipline or working capacity, including search work. The difference between over-attentiveness to handler and attentiveness to command is the skill of the trainer.

It would be very understandable that a dog fearful; of being shocked at high levels, low levels, medium levels or because the sky is blue certainly will be afraid to leave his handler, for any reason, whether it is a search dog or not. However, it would be unreasonable to believe that any dog that has learned to enthusiastically perform any range of commands such as going to a place board, retrieving an object, obeying a bit command, downing from a distance, (or any other command taught with the e-collar), would then, upon hearing his search command, suddenly think, “I can’t obey this command – I’m too afraid of leaving my handler!” The simple fact is that when the dog becomes collar literate, obedience, focus, and attentiveness to command take on a whole new meaning in the mind of the dog.

In the search world, we know that producing a reliable, capable and confident working dog is of paramount importance. By learning effective training techniques from competent trainers, your dog can learn that his drives to hunt and search will be satisfied every time as a result of remaining focused and attentive to command. How gratifying to see a dog with an abundance of confidence and style, intently carrying out a focused search. The only thing better is knowing that this happy dog is accomplishing his tasks eagerly and virtually confusion free.

All good search dog handlers hope that they will produce a reliable working dog. All good search dog handlers fear anything that might inhibit their dog’s abilities. But when it comes to learning the facts about e-collars and their role in training the search dog, what we fear comes to pass far more quickly than what we hope.

By Fred Hassen and Behesha H. Grist

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