By Jason Givens
Article originally appeared in Quail Forever magazine.
The e-collar is a useful and powerful tool that can greatly extend your reach as a trainer. When used correctly, an e-collar can be a great aid in the training and control of your hunting spaniel. Incorrect use, though, can do more harm to your dog than you can imagine. For this reason, it is important to train yourself on proper e-collar usage before you introduce one to your dog.
If you're going to use an e-collar on your dog, you should plan on using it all of the time. Have your dog wear the e-collar during all training sessions and whenever you're hunting. This helps avoid getting your dog “collar-wise”. A collar-wise dog will recognize that certain types of correction only occur when the collar is on and will learn to behave differently when he’s wearing the collar than when he isn’t.
Next, I recommend you follow two very important rules with regard to e-collar usage. Rule number one is, don’t "wing it". You should have a plan for collar use and you should follow that plan carefully to maximize training effectiveness. Rule number two is that you should never, ever push the transmitter button in anger. The e-collar is intended as a control rather than a punishment.
On dogs with advanced collar conditioning, you can use the e-collar to reinforce virtually any known command. For the typical hunter, though, I recommend limiting use of the e-collar to fewer specific situations. Probably the most important situation is to control to spaniel’s range while hunting. When your dog ranges out too far, you should train him to return on your call or whistle. The e-collar should be used to reinforce this command only if the dog refuses to return. Even then, you should start with the lowest level stimulation to which the dog responds and increase the level as necessary until the dog obeys. After he obeys, you should also give him some praise to mix in some positive reinforcement.
Choosing a Collar
We generally recommend an e-collar that is simple and reliable. A collar with more bells and whistles than you need can just increase the risk of confusing your dog. Tone and vibration settings can encourage you to nag your dog into believing you're not serious every time. The nick setting can be useful for collar-conditioned dogs but may have limited value to the typical hunter. One feature I consider absolutely necessary for all users, though, is variable intensity. When your spaniel misbehaves in one of your pre-determined ways, you should start stimulating him at the lowest level he recognizes and increase only if he continues the misbehavior. For this reason, you need a collar that allows you to change stimulation levels quickly and easily from the transmitter.
One final thing we recommend is to never use the e-collar when your dog is out of sight. If you don't know what he’s doing he might be working a bird. You certainly don't want to punish your dog for doing what you want and stimulating him might make him bird shy. I'll also say one last time, because it is so important, that you should not use an e-collar in anger. If you can’t control your temper you probably should not use an e-collar on your dog.
To learn more about Jason’s training methods, visit www.lighthousekennels.com.