E-Collars - An Effective Tool, Not a Magic Wand
Are electronic training collars humane? Are they safe? Can they help stop problem behaviors?
I’m asked these questions about e-collars all the time, and my answer is always the same: “Yes, but with a catch.”
When used properly, the e-collar is a very effective tool to aid your dog in reaching its full potential. However e-collars are not a magic wand or a training shortcut. You cannot teach your dog anything with an electronic collar. E-collars are, however, a great tool when used properly as part of an overall training program.
The key to effective collar usage is to lay the proper groundwork through sound obedience training and collar conditioning. In this article we will take a step-by-step look at the fundamental elements of a sound e-collar program.
Training should begin by teaching the dog a few basic commands (sit/stay, heel and here) using a leash and a wide leather training collar or slip chain. Once the dog responds consistently to the command on lead you can start to condition the dog to the e-collar.
The first command that you will teach the dog is the heel command. To begin training this command, use a leash and leather training collar or slip-chain. The training should begin in an area with minimal distractions. With the dog at your side command heel and begin walking forward while at the same time pulling gently on the leash. If the dog gets in front of you, before the leash becomes tight, make a turn away from the dog and repeat the command heel.
Should the dog start to lag behind you, pull on the leash to bring him back to your side. With plenty of repetition, consistency, patience and a lot of praise, the dog should begin to walk beside you with some amount of stability in just a few short training sessions.
After the dog has begun to grasp the concept of walking at heel on lead it is time to introduce the sit/stay command. The actual command is sit, and the stay is implied. In other words, when you tell the dog to sit he should stay until you indicate otherwise.
Begin training this command with the dog walking on lead in the heel position. Then simply stop, pull up on the leash and tell the dog to sit while maintaining steady pressure on the lead until the dog complies. Initially, the dog will almost certainly be confused, and you may need to gently push down on the dog’s back just above his flank to make him sit. Be sure to reward compliance with plenty of praise. As with all training, repetition, consistency and patience are the keys to achieving success.
The last basic obedience command is “here”. With the dog in a sitting position, move away to the end of the leash and command the dog to come here while giving a gentle tug to the leash. Do not be surprised if you meet some resistance at first. After all, up until this point you have been teaching the dog to sit and stay in one place.
Once the dog demonstrates that he has a grasp of the concepts of these three basic commands the e-collar can be introduced.
The first step in proper collar usage is to condition the dog to e-collar stimulation, what we call “collar conditioning”. Collar conditioning consists of teaching the dog to associate a known command with collar stimulation.
This phase of training sets the tone for how the dog will respond to collar corrections, so it is important to make sure that corrections are made sensibly. Also, since the initial introduction to the e-collar can be intimidating to the dog, all work during this step of the training process should be done on lead to maintain control and a safe working environment.
Begin by walking the dog on leash with the e-collar on and in place. With the leash held short, command sit while pulling up on the leash just as you did earlier. At the same time press a stimulation button briefly at the level you have selected for this dog.
At first the dog may be alarmed by the electronic stimulation. Once again, the key here is to be patient and consistent. With repetition and a lot of praise, the dog will soon begin to demonstrate consistent, stable response to the sit command.
With repetition, the dog should begin to respond faster. As the dog becomes more responsive, you should begin to stimulate intermittently – at times giving the dog a “freebie”. This will help keep the dog’s attitude upbeat, and the let you know that the dog is responding to the command rather than just the collar.
Remember that if the dog doesn’t respond to the stimulation level you have selected, turn it up one level at a time until you achieve the appropriate response. Once the desired response is achieved, the stimulation level can be lowered as long as the dog maintains consistency.
You should continue the collar conditioning process by moving from stimulating to “sit” to stimulating to “heel”. This progression should be made after the dog begins to demonstrate that it has properly associated the collar stimulation with the command to “sit”. Many dogs will indicate that it is time to make this transition by trying to sit before being commanded to do so in an effort to avoid the stimulation associated with the command.
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Once again, you will begin by walking the dog on lead at heel. Should the dog try to sit or lag behind you should stimulate the dog while tugging on the lead and commanding “heel”. If the dog tries to move ahead of you tap a stimulation button briefly, repeat the command, and move in another direction or pull back on the lead. As the dog begins to show a consistent response to the command “heel”, the e-collar can be used less often.
Be sure to give your dog a freebie now and then once he becomes more responsive, and always praise a job well done.
Perhaps the most important command that your dog will ever learn is the here command. The here command helps you maintain control of the dog, and it allows you to pull him away from potentially dangerous situations.
Due to its importance it is imperative that this command be taught correctly. Therefore, you should only begin to teach the dog the here command with the collar after the dog has been taught the sit/stay command and demonstrates that he is becoming conditioned to the collar.
As with the other phases of collar conditioning, you will begin stimulating the dog to “here” on lead. You may even want to use a long line or 20-foot leash. Begin by putting the dog on a sit/stay position and then moving away from him. Turn around to face the dog and command here. At the same time tug on the line and press a stimulation button briefly to help the dog move toward you.
Be sure to reward the dog with lots of praise whenever he comes after being called. As with the other commands, you can start to introduce distractions as the dog’s proficiency increases.
Cautionary note: Teaching this command may be a little confusing to the dog at first. After all, in earlier training he got corrected if he moved from sit position on his own. Now if he remains sitting when called, he is getting corrected to make him come to you. Therefore, consistency and patience are perhaps more important here than ever.
After the dog begins to respond consistently to the command during collar conditioning, typically after about five or six training sessions, you can remove the leash and train with just the e-collar. As he becomes more proficient with these commands, you can begin to introduce distractions, such as rolling a ball in front of the dog or walking him in the presence of others.
As the dog becomes better trained, the use of an e-collar will gradually decrease. However, you should continue to have the dog wear the collar until you feel certain that it is no longer needed to reinforce known commands. Abandoning the collar too early can lead to problems in the future. Remembering to be fair and consistent in using the collar as a training tool will help you avoid most problems, and it will allow you to help your dog reach his full potential.