Training with the Electronic Collar - "Electronic Check Cording"

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

Welcome to the world of electronic dog training. In this series of articles, we will show you proven training techniques we've developed at the Tri-Tronics Training Center. Our articles will take the pointer trainer step-by-step through the process of applying proper techniques of electronic collar usage.

Some people fear that the electronic collar inhibits a dog's style. In fact, just the opposite is true. Our techniques enable you to enhance style by eliminating corrections that worry the dog. In the field you can maintain the dog's immediate response to commands without upsetting him.

Collar Training Theory

The purpose of this method is to produce a dog with "collar understanding." This dog knows that his response to a known command or situation turns off electrical stimulation, and a prompt response avoids the stimulation altogether. Having control when the check-cord comes off is the pay-off for the time you invest in the foundation of collar understanding.

Teach the command first

Teach the command before you start training with the collar. Do not overlook this sequence. If the dog does not know what to do in a situation, you cannot expect him to know it any better because you use an electric collar.

As a trainer, you must be able to determine whether the dog failed to respond because he did not know what he should have done, or because he thought he had the choice of not responding. The role of the collar is to address the second problem, not the first.

Collar conditioning

After the dog has a basic understanding of what a command means, you can teach him that he can turn off low-level electrical stimulation--by performing the command you have given. Dogs don't automatically know this when presented with stimulation, no matter how well they know their basic commands.

Teaching the dog to turn off the collar is called "escape training." It is the first step in collar training. During this stage, the dog is learning to have a strategy for success. He learns whenever he feels the collar turn on; there is something he can do to make it turn off.

After the dog understands how to turn the collar off, he is ready to make the transition to understanding how to prevent the collar from turning on at all. The dog learns that prompt compliance avoids stimulation. This step is called "avoidance training."

The Three-Action Introduction

We start dogs' escape and avoidance training with a program known as the "Three-Action Introduction." This program introduces your bird dog to the collar by using commands that represent three distinct actions:

  1. Bending (turning in the direction you are going), and the "Here" and "Heel" commands all require the dog to move toward the handler.
     
  2. "Kennel" requires the dog to go away from the handler.
     
  3. "Whoa" requires the dog to become stationary.

You should teach your dog to turn off the collar by performing each of these actions even though he is already obedient to the commands. This strategy will keep the dog in behavioral balance when you use your collar to reinforce commands later.

If you don't train for behavioral balance early, you can encounter problems later. For example, if you only drill the dog on "Whoa" with the collar, the dog will think that every time he feels the collar turn on he should stop. Later, if you try to use the collar to get the dog to bend or come to you in the field, he will become confused and stop. He believes that stopping is the only way to turn off the collar no matter what command is given.

Equipment

So much for training philosophy, now let's talk about equipment. To use the program outlined in these articles, you should have a collar with the following features:

  • Continuous stimulation--The stimulation stays on as long as you hold the transmitter button down.
     
  • Variable intensity--The trainer matches intensity level to the dog's temperament by changing the plug in the collar.
     
  • Selectable intensity at the control unit--The trainer selects a stimulation level within the range set by each intensity plug by pressing different buttons on the transmitter.

The Tri-Tronics Model 100/LRII Series and Model 500/LRII Series have all three of these features. These are the models that we recommend for all basic training procedures. If you plan to own only one training collar, select one of these models.

The Tri-Tronics Model 70/LRII and 80/LRII Series have the first two features, but not the third. Neither model has selectable intensity at the transmitter. To increase or decrease the level of stimulation, you must interrupt your training to catch the dog and change the intensity plug in the collar.

"Continuous" vs. "momentary" stimulation

Continuous stimulation stays on as long as the button is down. Momentary stimulation is different. It is a brief "tap" of stimulation with a preset duration (different duration for low, medium and high). This type of stimulation is much shorter than you can get by tapping and releasing the button on a continuous unit. Momentary stimulation has an attention-getting effect on the dog. It is superior to continuous stimulation for eliciting a quick response in the field without distracting the dog, provided the dog has had basic training with continuous stimulation.

The Model 200/LRII Series, the Model 500/LRII Series the Model 300II produce momentary stimulation. Each has low, medium and high tap buttons. The Model 300II has a 200-yard range. The Model 200/LRII Series has a range of one mile-plus, and has a reserve high to stop unwanted chasing. You should not do basic training with these collars but they are excellent for advanced work.

The Model 500/LRII Series has both continuous and momentary stimulation, and a range of one mile-plus. It is the most versatile and complete unit made. Since it has intensity plugs, you can vary the strength of the momentary as well as the continuous stimulation, something you cannot do with other momentary units.

In these articles, we will describe methods that use continuous stimulation for basic training. We will also tell you how we use momentary stimulation for advanced work.

Getting started

Fitting the collar

To fit the collar on the dog, select contact points that will reach through the dog's coat so that they will be in contact with the dog's skin. Position the collar so that the contact points are on the underside of the dog's neck and the external flexible antenna is on the dog's right side. Placing the antenna on the right will cause it to tighten up as it rubs against the brush, instead of unscrewing as can happen if positioned on the left.

Buckle the collar snugly on the dog. A snug fit ensures consistent contact which is essential for effective training.

Finding the dog's sensitivity level

After the collar is fitted on the dog, you will need to learn what level of intensity to use when you start training. You want a level that is high enough to cause the dog to react, but not high enough to cause him to overreact, for example, vocalize or jump. Use a collar that delivers continuous stimulation for these

To find your dog's sensitivity level, start with the # 1 intensity plug. When the dog is just standing around relaxed, press and hold the bottom button. Observe the dog's expression for a reaction. You want to see him cock his ears or quickly turn his head. If you do not see this reaction, change the plug in the collar to the next higher one, and try again, pressing the low button.

You should find your dog's sensitivity level using the low button so that the medium and high buttons are available if you need a higher level of stimulation to overcome distractions.

Teaching The first action -- Moving toward you

Bending -- "electronic check cording"

Start off by check cording your dog to get him to turn on your verbal attraction. If you are training a field trial dog, remove the check cord only after you have done enough to pattern the dog to make his turn toward the front.

Now begin work with the electric collar, using continuous stimulation. The first step is "electronic check cording." In this first lesson, the dog learns to bend from side to side without a check cord, but at about the same range.

To do this, walk through the field, turn and walk in the direction you want the dog to go and keep walking. Give the dog a moment to turn and go with you without your verbal attraction. If he turns on his own, leave him alone. If he does not, press the bottom button as you give him the command to turn.

Release the button the moment the dog changes direction. Follow the dog for awhile after he runs across in front. Following the dog's direction keeps him "freed-up" and prevents him from sticking close to you.

After a few repetitions of electronic check cording, let the dog extend his range as you walk about the field. Try to change your direction when you see that the dog is pottering or has become distracted and is investigating something other than bird scent. Give the command to turn when you change direction. If the dog doesn't respond immediately, press the bottom button and repeat the command. Keep walking! Release the button as soon as the dog turns.

Practice the lesson on bending in at least five different locations over a period of several sessions, so that the dog can generalize from his experience.

A note about timing

It is important that the stimulation does not start after the dog has heard and is trying to respond correctly to a command. If this happens, the dog may become confused. Therefore, during the initial training phase, concentrate on pressing the button just before you give a command.

At first, it will seem odd to use the collar before you give the command. However, in escape training you are not "correcting" the dog. By using low-level stimulation that the dog does not perceive as painful, you are teaching him how to turn off the unpleasant sensation through his own response. Learning to turn off stimulation is essential to the dog's future understanding of corrections in the field and around birds.

Coming in future articles...

In the next article, we will finish the action of coming toward you by covering the "Here" and "Heel" commands. In the future, we will cover the second action, "Kennel" (turning off stimulation by going away) and the third action, "Whoa" (becoming stationary), which includes stopping to flush and backing. We'll also discuss bird work--standing off the birds in the field, and answer questions in such areas as establishing a pattern and turning toward the front.

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9627 Spring Valley Road
Marysville, CA 95901
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