Using the New E-Collars
By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs
Manufacturers of e-collars have recently made many equipment advances to help the dog trainer. One modification, which we find extremely valuable, is the ability to change all of the intensity levels from a dial on the transmitter. This feature allows trainers to use much more finesse by enabling them to easily change the intensity level as the need arises.
During a training session dogs can vary from being calm, to being excited; from being willing, to having "selective hearing." These differences in attitude can call for anything from a mild nick, which just gets the dog's attention, to using the "reserve high" to stop a dog from chasing.
Being able to quickly change intensity levels at the transmitter gives the trainer the ability to use lower levels during training. The trainer no longer needs to worry about the dog becoming excited and pushing through a collar that is on a fixed low setting.
The "Nick" Button
Another development, which most manufacturers have incorporated into their collars, is the "Nick" feature. "Nick" is the jargon often used when referring to what is sometimes called "momentary stimulation."
The nick button on the transmitter delivers one very brief pulse of stimulation each time it is pushed. The length of the pulse is predetermined in the collar. The collar automatically shuts off no matter how long you hold down the button.
E-Collar Strap Tightness
All e-collars should be fitted tight. If left loose, two things may happen. One, you will not have consistent contact when you push the button. Sometimes the dog will feel the stimulation and at other times he won't. Secondly, if the collar moves around on the dog's neck, the contact points rubbing against the skin can cause skin irritation. So do your dog a favor and make sure the collar strap is tight.
Before you start training, select the proper intensity level for the dog. We like to determine the level by using the nick button.
When setting the intensity level adjust the dial on the transmitter by starting at the lowest setting and then gradually moving up. Watch the dog's reaction. You want the nick to be strong enough to cause the dog to move. It shouldn't be set so high that it causes him to jump but it shouldn't be set so low that he can disregard it.
The Reserve High Button
Once you have selected the intensity level for the nick feature, the continuous level at that setting will seem stronger to the dog. This is because continuous stimulation stays on longer, even if you push the button as fast as you can.
Now what you have is a continuous button that functions as a reserve high. Having an instant reserve high is perfect for those times when the dog is so distracted that he disregards the nick and you need an instant correction.
Before using an e-collar to reinforce any command be certain that the dog has previously been taught the meaning of that command. Once you are sure that the dog knows what a command means (even though he may not obey it all the time) he is ready for training with an e-collar.
We like to use the nick button just as if we were giving a yank on the check cord. In other words, when we want to correct the dog we push the "nick" button as a substitute for yanking on the rope.
The sequence goes like this. Give the dog a command, if he obeys, great! However, when the dog makes the wrong decision and chooses to disregard your command, push the "nick" button as you repeat the command.
Be consistent about enforcing commands that you have to repeat. Doing so is what helps make a command meaningful for the dog. If you are consistent the dog will understand that there is a reason to obey your command the first time that you give it.
Training Begins In the Yard with "Here"
After fitting the e-collar on the dog, let him run around awhile before beginning to work. The first command that we recommend enforcing with an e-collar is the "Here" (or "Come") command. At first, you will be using your check cord along with the e-collar.
It is important that you give the dog a comparison. If he comes to you on your first command let him know how pleased you are with him for making the right decision. However, if he heard your command to come but chose not to obey, push the nick button as you repeat the command.
You are using the nick button at the same time that you would usually be giving him a yank on the check cord. If the dog won't move, or tries to move away from you, when he feels the nick from the e-collar, continue using the nick button as you guide him with the check cord. Once he starts moving towards you, stop pushing the button.
You're trying to teach him that when called, getting into the "comfort zone" around you is a desirable thing to do. Therefore, during this stage of training, don't use the e-collar once he is within 10 feet of you.
If he stops before getting all the way to you, move away from him and call him again. Once the dog knows how to respond to the collar by coming toward you, it is no longer necessary to use a check cord.
Field Work Begins With "Bending"
After using the e-collar in the yard to enforce your "Here" command, you can use it in the field to control the pattern of the dog. This is done by turning the dog from side to side ("Bending").
To teach the dog to bend, walk in the direction you want him to go just before giving him the command to turn. Then, when you give your command, the dog will look toward you and see the direction that you want him to go. If you do this each time you want your dog to turn, he will soon get the picture and learn to accept your change of direction.
To make the dog even more willing to handle for you, have birds planted so that when you bend the dog he will move across the field into the planted area. Now he has a comparison. Obeying your command to turn leads to finding a bird. Not obeying your command to turn results in a repeated command accompanied with a nick from the e-collar.
Controlling Forward Range
When controlling the dog that runs too far to the front, a common error is to call the dog back to you. Instead, have him make a turn before he ranges farther forward than you want. This will keep him moving and reduce his range without causing him to stick too close to you.
Calling the dog back to you too often in the field or using an e-collar on a dog that hasn't had adequate yard work can result in the dog walking at your side ("sticking") instead of hunting independently. Avoid making either of those training errors. Teach him how to respond to the e-collar in the yard before going to the field and control your dog's independence by bending him within the range you desire.
In our next PDJ column we will continue with Part II or our collar conditioning program, "The 'Whoa' Command."
First Appeared in Pointing Dog Journal, November/December, 1998.
Dobbs Training Center