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Dr. Ps Dog Training

The Electronic Collar
Copyright 2002 - Sgt. Lou Castle
Past President of the Los Angeles County Police Canine Assoc.

Unless you see the results of using the collar on a dog, it's hard to accept just how fast they learn. None of us has as much time as we'd like to work our dogs so this really makes the most of the time we spend.

Electronic collars are NOT just for solving problems.

They are NOT just for "hard dogs." With the proper mentality on the handler's part, the softest dog can be trained with them.

This is the topic of a multi day class. Let me give you a quick version here.

Before I begin, let me say that if you decide to use one I recommend that you not refer to it as a "shock collar." The very name sends some people into paroxysms of fear. "How can you be soooooo cruel to shock your dog!!!"

Call it instead a remote training collar or even an electronic collar. Yes, I know its a euphemism but it may also help you think about it another way. There's an old H. L. Mencken story about language influencing the way we think and act that's too long for here.

Most trainers use the Ecollar as a positive punishment. The dog chases deer so they put the collar on the dog and the next time he starts chasing deer, they blast him with a high level jolt of electricity. He learns that chasing deer leads to an unpleasant experience, no matter how far he is from his handler, and the behavior becomes extinct. (Actually this has two parts, the first part, when the button is pressed to give the dog a stimulation, is positive punishment. The second part, when the dog breaks off the chase and the stimulation is stopped, is negative reinforcement.)

In another situation a dog knocks over the trash cans and eats the garbage. The handler puts a collar on him and next time he approaches the trashcan the handler gives the dog a high-energy jolt of electricity. In this case the dog is conditioned that the trashcan is hot and shocks him when he approaches it. He learns that approaching trashcans is an unpleasant experience.

These behaviors cease with or without the presence of the handler because the dog believes that the correction came from his behavior, not from the handler. He believes that his action of chasing the deer or approaching the trash can caused the electronic stimulation.

These are examples of simple avoidance behavior training. This is the extent of most trainers' uses of these collars. One problem that occurs with this use of the collar is that most trainers stimulate the dog a few times and then put the collar away. The dog quickly learns that the stimulation is linked to the collar and that he can chase deer or eat garbage when the collar is not on.

BTW, before we get too deeply into this topic and everyone starts calling the Humane Society on me, let me explain what the stimulation is like. If you have ever dragged your shoes across a carpet and then reached for a doorknob and gotten a shock you have received the same sort of stimulation as comes from the Ecollars. It is unpleasant, but does no physical damage. I have given myself thousands of shocks from the collars in demonstrating them and insist that my clients receive stimulations from the collars as well, before using them on their dogs.

Also, BTW, I rarely knock the trashcans over or chase deer any more.

When I start training a dog I find his level of stimulation by turning the Ecollar up very slowly until I see some reaction from him that he feels the stimulation. This can show itself several ways. One is an ear flick; another is scratching, as if bitten by a flea; another is a furrowing of the dog's brow; another is the dog moving his head away from the collar as if a grasshopper had landed on him. This is far below the level used by most Ecollar trainers. Some of them train at the highest level of stimulation that a dog can tolerate. I train at the lowest level of stimulation that the dog can feel.

Most problems that owners have with their dogs are quite simple. They want Fido to not drag them down the street, no matter what the distraction; they want him not to fight with other dogs; they want him not to jump up on them; and they want some manners around the house.

Overwhelmingly the outdoor issues are solved by teaching the recall. This recall is not a formal "sit in front" or anything like that, it just means that the dog has to come towards the handler and stay with in a body length of him. I have the dog recall to me and then transfer it to the owner.

This is done quite simply by putting the dog on a Flexi leash and when he gets to the end of it, pressing the button (after having first found his level of stimulation). Dog are liable to do many things when they first feel the stimulation and I ignore all of them. While still holding the button of the Ecollar unit down I gently guide the dog to come towards me and as soon as he takes a few steps in that direction, I release the button. This is continued until the dog figures out that if he comes towards me, the discomfort stops.

I then walk away from the dog and press the button. If he moves to go with me I release the button. If he doesn't I gently guide him to come with me. As soon as he does, I release the button. The dog quickly learns that being with me relieves the discomfort of staying put or wandering around. At this time I start to put a command together with the button press. I usually use the word "here" for this but there's no magic in the word. I avoid using a command that the dog already knows to avoid causing confusion.

I then put the TX unit into the owner's hand and have him use it as I've been showing him. If he's not very coordinated I have a slightly easier method for him to use. If he is fairly well coordinated I have him use the same method that I've been using.

I then proof the dog by throwing toys. If the dog leaves the owner's side, I have him say "here" and stim the dog. This proofing continues until the dog doesn't leave the owner's side no matter what the distraction that I supply.

We then go for a walk in the owner's neighborhood where the problems occur and proof the dog there. If the dog leaves the owner's side it's the same as when we proofed earlier.

At some point the dog will start to "Velcro" to the owner. This means that the dog will begin to "stick" to the owner's leg because he's learned that there's a safe spot there. Stimulation only occurs when the dog is away from the owner and so the dog realizes that if he sticks real close, no discomfort will occur. As soon as this happens I teach the owner to teach the sit and then the sit at a distance. This cures that problem. The dog quickly learns that it's obedience to a command that makes the discomfort stop, not the place that he's standing.

Once the dog figures this out, that it's his performance that makes the stimulation stop, he's considered to be "collar literate." When that occurs all sorts of other training can be done and it happens very fast.

At this point avoidance training can occur. This occurs by itself when the dog learns that that the electronic stimulation stops the faster he sits. With the dogs I've trained with this method, butts becomes a blur as the dog sits faster and faster until suddenly (to his mind) he sits so fast that he BEAT THE CORRECTION. From that day on, with only infrequent reminders, he will try to beat the correction. He has been conditioned that if sits really quickly the correction doesn't come.

It's amazing to watch the dog's change of attitude when this hits them. It's like a light bulb goes on.

For the sake of brevity I've only touched on the highlights of this here, leaving out most of the details.

But one more example before I leave you. I train police dogs and when the dog receives the command to stop biting I want him to return to the handler as quickly as possible. This is so that he can fulfill his primary duty, protecting the handler. Having the dog return to the handler also allows an arrest team can take the suspect into custody without the dog present so none of them gets bitten. The collar I use has a dial that allows me to turn the stimulation level up and down continuously. (Think of a dimmer switch on a light.)

When the dog is biting the command to return to the handler is given and at the same time the dog is given a slightly higher level of stimulation that he usually works at. This is because a dog that is biting is highly distracted and he won't even feel the lower level stimulation because of that distraction. But as soon as the dog drops off the bite his distraction level will drop and so will his resistance to discomfort. I immediately turn down the stimulation level so that it's just a touch above his normal working level. As soon as the dog turns toward the handler the stimulation is turned down to his normal working level and as soon as the dog returns to a heel position and sits, the stimulation is switched "off."

This is a powerful message that can't be transmitted to the dog in any other way.

The dog learns (is conditioned) that the stimulation level drops as he proceeds through the exercise and stops completely when he completes it. My dogs practically jump off a bite in midfight and RACE back to the handler because they have learned that the quicker they do, the quicker the stimulation stops.

There is an excellent video called the "Three Action introduction" in which you are led step-by-step through a lesson as you teach a dog to Come, Go out, and Stop. The speed with which the dogs learn these basic maneuvers is simply amazing. Before you spend the money on a collar I strongly suggest that you get this video and watch it several times. You will see "hard headed" dogs and "soft" dogs trained with the Ecollar.

Another video that's worthwhile is one by Donn Yarnall called the "Guidance System." There are some technical difficulties with this video but the description of how to teach a dog to walk down the center of a street is worth the price of admission.

If I can be of any further assistance or if anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me.

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