Thursday, August 25, 2011

Training collars

Someone recently wrote me about the collar that appears often on pictures of Jack. I answered then and later thought that I should post that answer here. Here it is...

Thanks. My dogs are happy. A genuinely happy bunch. Jack's tail almost never stops wagging— except when he's after birds or something else he can point.

I'm going to answer your question about collars at some length because I have some very strong opinions about them. I do not "train my dogs with a collar." I use a collar to augment training but it is only a peripheral aid. I estimate that 80% of the people that buy them don't know what they are doing and thus misuse them, even to the extent of abusing the dog. The collar is not punishment; it is a tool to help the dog understand what you want from him. Overuse of collars is common, and dogs can be completely ruined by it. A collar is not a cure-all or a panacea. It's an aid and needs to be used with discretion. Here are some "rules" based on my experience and methods of use.

RULE 1. If you are not willing to try the collar on yourself, at all power levels, you are not entitled to buy or use one. You don't have to use it around your neck. Strap it on your leg and see what it feels like, at ALL levels. Don't use it on the dog until you know what he's going to be experiencing.

RULE 2. The collar should not be activated until the dog has worn it for several hours a day, every day, for at least two weeks. I prefer a month. Make a big deal of putting it on. It's fun! Give him a cookie-biscuit and take him outside and play with him. Don't even bother to turn it on. Strapping a collar on a dog and then immediately "training" him with it is cruel, counterproductive, and, well, stupid. (When Jack sees me pick up the collar he gets excited, comes over to me, sits, and extends his neck so I can put it on. We've dispensed with the cookie long ago. He doesn't need it anymore. He does not see the collar as a threat. I have seen dogs cower and whimper when they see the boss pick up the collar. A sure sign that it's the boss who ought to be wearing it!)

RULE 3. If the collar is to be used to correct objectionable behavior (after the familiarization period) like fence-climbing, digging, or chasing stock, do not let the dog associate the correction with you. Preferably be out of sight when you apply the correction and say nothing to him. He shouldn't even know you are there. YOU didn't do it, the fence (hole, sheep, whatever) did it. If he associates the correction with you, he will behave in your presence and when you go inside he'll go after that ewe with renewed vigor. Also, do not wave the controller around or call attention to it. You don't want him to start associating the controller with the correction he receives.

RULE 4. When you use the collar along with a verbal command or signal be sure the dog knows what he is being corrected for. He should know precisely what you expect of him first and only then can you correct him when he balks at the command. Timing is important. The correction should be brisk and immediate.

RULE 5. Think long and hard before you use the collar more than two or three times in a busy day of working with him. If you feel the need to use it frequently, something is wrong and should be corrected. Again, the collar is not a cure-all.

RULE 6. Never let anyone else use the collar with your dog.

These are some of my thoughts on the use of the training collar. The collar has been an aspect of training six or seven of my dogs. None of them were ever "ruined" or "abused." It's a good tool if used with care, restraint, and knowledge. Otherwise, it's a no-go in my opinion.

I hope these notes have been helpful.


Bob@thenest said...

I sure do like the way you think about all that. No surprise they all seem to be absolutely happy animals.

WV: actic
Looks like a real bad way to lose a spelling bee.

Kansas Scout said...

I can sign on to most of that. Except I am not about to shock myself with it. I do set it as low as I can and still get a response. Mostly, I used it to stop deer chasing, ignoring me at great distance but for little else. I actually used it pretty rarely. Certainly not more that two or three times in a day and that was rare. I wish I had one on my girl the day she picked up a skunk. She dropped it after the screaming and yelling but I was too far away and she picked it up again. That time she paid the price. The collar would have gotten her away fast.