Training with the Electronic Collar - Completing the First Action

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

If you followed the procedure in Part I, by now you've properly introduced your dog to turning off mild electrical stimulation. You have become comfortable yourself using the equipment, and your dog has mastered bending in the field. The next lesson is teaching the "Here" command (coming all the way to you) and the "Heel" command (staying with you).

Teaching the dog to come

This exercise should be taught in the yard. If you teach it in the field, some dogs may believe you want them to stay with you and won't feel free to hunt.

Begin by letting the dog wander around the yard. When the dog is looking away from you, press the bottom button and command "Here." Release the button the moment the dog starts toward you. Praise the dog when he gets to you.

At first, lean over after you call "Here" to invite the dog to come all the way to you. Be sure to remain in one place as the dog comes to you. By standing still, you make it easy for the dog to tell the difference between when he should come all the way in and when he should bend to continue hunting. Remember when you want him to bend and not come in, you keep walking.

After you call the dog, watch him as he comes to you. If he should veer off or fail to come all the way, or if he should immediately wander off after coming to you, press the button again and repeat the command, "Here." Release the button the moment the dog heads toward you and always be sure to remain stationary when calling the dog to you.

Remember, right now you should press the low button with each "Here" command. The dog already knows the command, but what you want him to learn now is how to turn off stimulation by obeying it. Repetition is required for the dog to learn this concept.

Soon your dog will be responding quickly to turn off stimulation. Now begin working him around more distractions.

Teaching the dog to heel

To begin teaching "Heel," call the dog to you several times in quick succession, using low-level electrical stimulation each time. Doing these repetitions close together will temporarily cause the dog to want to stay right with you, which will make it easy for him to learn the "Heel" command.

With the dog off-leash, start walking. Tell the dog "Heel" once, without using stimulation. As you walk, visualize a circle around you, four feet in diameter. Any time the dog leaves this circle after you've given the first "Heel" command, press the bottom button as you repeat "Heel." Just as you do this, turn 180 degrees away from the dog and continue walking.

Turning away from the dog puts distance between you and the dog. Adding a little distance magnifies the dog's error and this makes it easier for him to identify where he must be in order to turn off the stimulation.

Hold the button down until the dog is back in the four-foot circle unless he has moved farther than ten feet away from you. In that case, use the "Here" command instead of the "Heel" command, and release the button the moment the dog starts toward you. If the dog is farther than ten feet and you hold the button down until he gets to you, it will take too long for him to turn off the collar. You want the dog to be successful fast.

During the first few sessions on "Heel," do not correct the dog if he sometimes gets on the wrong side of you, so long as he's within the four-foot circle. In these early sessions, you are just teaching the dog that beside you is the place to be.

After a few sessions, you can begin to refine the dog's understanding of the "heel position." Now if the dog tries to heel on the wrong side, make that side less pleasant. The dog will choose to move back to the correct side if you shake a rattle stick on the incorrect side whenever it tries to go there. However, to avoid confusing the dog, do not use the rattle stick before the dog has had at least three sessions on "Heel."

You can make a rattle stick from a two-foot long piece of bamboo. Wrap six inches of one end with strong tape so that the handle won't split, then split the remaining length of the stick at least six ways.

Remember to give the dog lots of praise when he is in the heel position. It won't take long before he discovers that right beside you is exactly where he wants to be when hearing the command "Heel."

Teaching a release command

Using a release command is very important in training. By using a release command, you remain in charge. Then, when you give the dog a command, he will remain under the control of that command until you either give another command or release him.

If you don't formally release the dog, he has no way of knowing when a command is no longer in effect. He's likely to interpret things his way and decide that a command is over whenever it suits him. Soon, you'll have to repeat commands over and over again. So be consistent and tell the dog when he's "off duty;" don't let him decide.

The word, "Okay," is popular as a release command. We prefer the word "Break" because "Okay" occurs so often in conversation that the dog is likely to hear it and release himself when you least want it.

An ideal time to teach the dog a release command is at the end of a lesson on heeling. Give the release command in an excited tone of voice, take a step sideways and play with the dog for a few minutes. Remember, when introducing the idea of a release command, you must make it real to the dog by giving him some free time before you start training again.

Teaching the dog to avoid stimulation

After a few sessions on the "Here" and "Heel" commands, your dog should be responding quickly and the length of time you press the button will have become shorter and shorter. It is now time to stop using stimulation with each command. You're going to give the dog the opportunity to avoid stimulation so he can make a comparison and discover that if he responds promptly, the electrical stimulation doesn't turn on at all. He will think he "beat the stimulation." This process is called the "avoidance transition."

Your dog is ready for the transition to avoiding stimulation when you see him moving more and more quickly to turn off the stimulation when you command "Here" or "Heel." You should see this response after three sessions. If not, the intensity plug in your collar is probably too low. You should increase it and give the dog more repetition on the "Here" and "Heel" commands until you see the dog moving quickly to try to turn off stimulation.

When you see the dog moving quickly to turn off the collar, allow him to avoid stimulation by giving the "Here" and "Heel" commands without electrical stimulation. However, any time that the dog fails to respond on the first command, quickly press the button and repeat the command. The dog will learn not to wait for a second command.

When to use higher buttons

After your dog has made the avoidance transition, so that you are no longer pressing the button with the first command, you should usually increase intensity any time you must repeat the command. Follow this sequence: give the first "Here" or "Heel" command without stimulation. If the dog fails to respond, press the low button and repeat the command. If he still does not respond, press the medium button as you repeat the command again. If he still does not respond, repeat the command and press both buttons. Using both buttons causes the collar to deliver high level stimulation. If you find you are using the medium or high buttons very often, you need to put the next higher intensity plug in the collar.

There is another time that you may need to use a higher level of stimulation while training the first action. Some dogs tend to "freeze up" when they first feel electrical stimulation, making it more difficult for them to learn. Use a quick burst of higher-level stimulation to teach this type of dog that it can turn off stimulation through action, not inaction. When this dog understands that "action works," you should drop back to the lower-level stimulation for normal training.

The best time to teach the "freezing" dog to speed up is when working on "Heel." Use body motion (jogging quickly while still moving at a walking pace) to simulate speeding-up while you press both buttons. As the dog bursts forward, release the buttons and give the dog excited, animating praise. When the dog will speed up to turn off the collar whenever you speed up, you will know that he has learned not to "freeze."

Teaching the whistle for "Here"

After your dog knows how to avoid stimulation by responding to the "Here" and "Heel" commands, you have an ideal opportunity to teach the whistle command for "come to me." You can teach the whistle command by "chaining together" the new (unknown) whistle signal with the original (known) verbal "Here" command.

As the dog is headed away from you, give the whistle signal, hesitate a moment, then press the bottom button and command "Here." Release the button as the dog turns toward you. After a few repetitions, the dog will try to avoid stimulation by turning quickly toward you when he hears the whistle. From now on, you should use either the verbal "Here" or the whistle without stimulation, and only use stimulation if the dog doesn't respond correctly the first time.

In the next issue

In the next issue, we'll discuss the second and third actions: the action of going away from you, "Kennel," and of becoming stationary, "Whoa."

First Appeared in:
Pointing Dog Journal
, March/April 1993

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