Dr. Ps Dog Training

Review of Dogtra
Ecollar Pager Feature

by Mark Plonsky, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2003
(originally for Dogtra)

I began using electronic collars for various dog training issues (especially intractable behavior problems) about a dozen years ago. It wasn’t until Dogtra came out with the novel idea of variable intensity stimulation (a rheostat on the transmitter), though, that I began to use the collar more often in training. I especially like using lower levels of stimulation because it appears to be more of an attention getter than a painful stimulus. In fact, I had an older deaf dog where I used the lowest level of stimulation as a signal for the dog to look for me so I could then use hand signals to guide it. You need the dog’s attention to communicate with it.

Recently, Mark So (at Dogtra) encouraged me to try the pager feature available on some of the new Dogtra collars. I have been very pleased with the opportunity to try this new and exciting technology that increases the amount of communication I can have with the dog. I can touch the dog from a distance. The pager is a tactile (touch) and auditory (sound) cue. The sound is barely audible, but at the distance the dog’s ears are from the collar, they hear it, even if the vibration is the more prominent feature of the cue.

When I first got the collar, I thought about how I would use this new feature. The vibration is essentially a neutral stimulus, although some dogs may initially react to it as if it was mildly irritating. Neutral stimuli take on value as a result of what they predict. Dogs like cues that predict good things (conditioned reinforcers) and dislike cues that predict bad things (conditioned punishers). A typical conditioned reinforcer is the word “good” and a typical conditioned punisher is the word “eheh” (or “no”). If you simply page the dog at random, the dog will come to habituate to it and ignore it, because it predicts nothing of relevance.

While the paging cue could be used as a conditioned reinforcer or punisher, I think it is best used as an attention getter (or a cue that tells the dog to look at you). Once the dog looks at me, I can train it or guide it toward the good things and help it to avoid the bad things with additional cues such as words and/or hand/body signals. Other attention getters include the dogs name, clapping your hands, or, for the more serious trainers, the words, “look” or “watch me” (which tell the dog to make eye contact with you and maintain it). Another very effective attention getter is touch, but we are not always close enough to the dog for that option. The paging cue removes distance from the dog as a limitation from touching it. So now I can communicate with the dog using the ecollar in two ways. The rheostat controlled stimulation serves as a variable intensity aversive stimulus (although one can argue that low levels are not aversive) and now with the paging feature, I can tap the dog on the shoulder from a distance in a totally pleasant way (vibration) as well.

Training the dog to look at you when paged and view the vibration as pleasant is a lot like training a puppy to respond to a name. Initially, the vibration should predict a treat. At first, vibrate the dog (be close to it and just give the button a quick press), then say the dog’s name, and then give it a treat. The order of events is important here. After repeating this about a dozen times a day for a week or so, the dog will begin to look at and orient toward you before the name is said. It is starting to anticipate the treat. Note that the treat can be food, play, or anything else the dog desires. At this point, you can begin to gradually fade using the name as well as begin to vary distance and level of distraction. I am compelled to emphasize the word “gradually”. Eventually, the cue tells the dog to give you its attention if you are present and to find you if your not.

Thus, ecollar technology is continuing to evolve and improve. The pager feature makes the ecollar more versatile. Like the rheostat feature Dogtra introduced a few years ago, the addition of the pager feature to the collar is another major innovation.

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