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E-collar Obedience -getting started
“Good training needs a kind heart as well as a cool and well-informed head” — Conrad Most
While it is possible to train dogs to obey commands under distraction at a distance without the e-collar, why would you try? The electronic training collar is a wonderful tool. Modern e-collars are safe, reliable, and effective. With them, you can make corrections that are suited to your dog’s temperament and the distraction level of the moment, at the proper time, for maximum training efficiency. However, correcting to stop unwanted behavior is only a small part of what you can do with the e-collar. More importantly, the e-collar is a powerful tool for encouraging desired behavior.
Some trainers talk about training as a two-step process: teaching and proofing. In the teaching step you show your dog what you want him to do and pair this with a command so that he knows when you want him to do it. In the proofing step you consistently control the result of your dog’s actions, supplying positive outcomes for desired behavior and negative consequences for undesired behavior.
… means use of the momentary button on your e-collar. See the discussion below on e-collar settings.. Originally, the e-collar was only used in the proofing step to correct or force on known responses. However, the e-collar is a perfect tool for teaching almost any action. Rather than tugging on the leash or pushing the dog into position, we will use low-level e-collar taps to apply very slight but noticeable pressure that encourages him to act. When using the e-collar in this way, even training tasks traditionally taught only positively, for example, tricks and agility sport, are quickly and easily taught. This system of using the e-collar is even gentler than traditional leash training methods, offers increased reliability and, because the e-collar provides instant feedback to your dog, it accelerates his learning. As the demands of obedience and the distraction levels increase in the proofing stage, you can match the intensity level perfectly for your dog and the situation, rewarding or discouraging his actions and his decisions without being subject to limitations of distance. Again, this accelerates your dog’s learning and requires less pressure than some traditional methods of training. Before we turn to the mechanics of e-collar training, let’s look at what learning theorists call Discovery Learning.
Have you noticed how excited a child gets at discovering he can make a room go light or dark by flipping the light switch? He will throw the switch again and again. This excitement in the moment of discovery, often called the “aha” experience, is one of the keys to understanding this new approach to e-collar training. We will design learning situations for your dog so that he can discover for himself how to stop the tap in each situation. Just like the child excited with his new found power at the light switch, your dog will be excited to discover that he has great control over his situation. Bill Koehler used to say that a dog loved a good mystery and Connie Cleveland has said that dogs are problem solvers. The satisfaction that comes from solving the riddle and the power that comes from understanding how to turn off the tap on each new command draws your dog in. As a result he will become more excited with and fully engaged in the training process.
Mechanics: Designing the Initial Training Setup
Every dog perceives the sensation from the e-collar differently. Before you can use the e-collar for teaching you must identify the proper intensity setting for your dog. You want the e-collar taps to be noticed but not disruptive.
What Is the Correct Setting on the E-Collar for My Dog?
Bring your dog from confinement to your training area. He should be wearing his e-collar and another collar, either a flat buckle or slip-type collar. Attach a 15-foot line to this collar and not the e-collar. Allow your dog to relax and explore his surroundings. With the e-collar variable intensity setting at zero, push the “nick” or momentary button to “tap” your dog. You will see no reaction. Now continue to “tap” at random, increasing the e-collar setting each time. Watch carefully, as the first signs that your dog notices the e-collar are subtle. When they first feel the e-collar some dogs stop sniffing the ground and look up; others may turn to look over their shoulder or shake their head as if a fly landed on their ear. When you see the first sign that your dog noticed the tap, stop increasing the e-collar intensity. After a short pause repeat a few taps at this setting to make sure that your dog did, in fact, notice the e-collar. If he did, this will be the introductory or teaching setting for your dog. The most effective intensity setting for teaching with the e-collar is one that is just significant enough that your dog notices the e-collar taps, but not so significant as to produce any panic or distress. If panicked by the e-collar stimulation, reduce the setting; if he shows no reaction, increase the setting. Caution: In an effort to integrate e-collars into the teaching phase of training, some trainers experimented with using the e-collar at low levels on a continuous stimulation. However, because the normal anatomical response to electrical stimulation is muscle contraction, using low-level continuous usually results in slow or resistant responses to e-collar pressure and command. Do not try to substitute low-level continuous for the momentary taps. Having identified the proper intensity setting for your dog, the first command you will teach is the “here” or recall command.
Teaching the Recall or “Here” Command
With your dog at liberty, the 15-foot line attached to his choke collar, and the e-collar on your introductory level, wait until he is again engaged in exploring his environment. Command “here” in a normal tone of voice and begin tap, tap, tapping with the e-collar as you gently pull or turn your dog toward you with the line. Stop tapping and praise as soon as your dog turns toward you. If he stops before reaching you, start tapping and repeat the “here” command. Praise him for coming and then wait for him to return to exploring. Repeat. You want your dog to discover that when he hears the command “here” and feels the tap, he can stop the tapping by moving to you. Work several of these recalls. Remember to praise your dog each time he comes before releasing him on “OK” and allowing him to return to his exploring. Don’t wait to see what he does when you call; begin e-collar tap, tap, tapping immediately after your command and add a gentle pressure or pull on the line. The correct sequence is: command “here,” then begin the e-collar taps and gentle line pressure at the same time. Both the e-collar taps and the line pressure end as soon as your dog starts to move toward you. Your dog discovers that he can stop the tap by coming to you when called. You are ready to move on to shaping the “heel” response when: a) your dog responds immediately to your command and tap on “here,” b) when he begins to linger longer near you after each recall, and c) you notice that even while exploring he is mindful of where you are.
Shaping the “Heel”
Now that your dog knows to move toward you in response to the tap, let’s use that response to teach him to heel. We want him to discover that moving into heel position on command will stop the tap. After praising for a good recall, command “heel”, tap, and step off on your left foot as you start walking. If your dog lags behind, command “heel” and tap until he moves toward you. Continue walking. If your dog forges past you, turn right about, command “heel,” and tap, tap, tap with the e-collar until he moves toward the heel position. Praise him when he finds the correct spot and keep moving. When your dog lags or moves wide to the left, turn right, command “heel,” and tap, tap, tap until he moves toward you and the proper heeling position. Praise him when he is in position and keep moving. If your dog passes behind you to heel on your right side, use your line to pull him back to your left side as you tap, tap, tap with the e-collar. Stop tapping when he is again on your left. Each time your dog moves out of heel position you will move away from him, command “heel,” and begin tapping. From your work on the recall he knows to move toward you to stop the tap. Each time he moves back toward you after the heel command, stop tapping. He will very quickly understand where he needs to stay to be in the heel position. When your dog understands the heel position and you have his attention, whether you are moving or standing, you are ready to teach the sit command.
Teaching “Sit” on Command
Now that your dog is heeling attentively, take a short grip on the line as you prepare to stop and when you do stop, command “sit”. At the same time, place him to sit and begin to tap, tap, tap with the e-collar. When you feel him relax his muscles and begin to sit, stop tapping. To place your dog, pull up and a bit forward on the line with your right hand. At the same time, place your left hand on the dog’s back at the loin, thumb toward you, and gently squeeze, pushing down. The tension on the line is to control his front end; use only enough tension to prevent him swinging away. Squeezing the loin muscles helps to relax them and gives you a better grip, ensuring that you can place the dog into position. You may only need to physically place him a few times before you can switch to the e-collar tap only. Every time you stop at heel, command “sit” and begin tapping as you stop. You want him to discover that when he hears the command “sit” he can stop the tapping by quickly sitting. In your training sessions, keep a balance of time spent and pressure applied on “here,” “heel,” and “sit.” Use as many e-collar taps on one command as on the other. If you spend a lot more time on one than another you will find your dog is out of balance; either he cannot wait for the command to come or he will not come when called.
Action: With each new command we cue and begin e-collar tapping (at the lowest perceived level during the instruction phase) and gently guide the dog into the desired response.
Result: As soon as the dog begins to perform the desired behavior, the tap, tap, tap stops. By rewarding the beginning of the action you are rewarding both the action and the dog’s decision to act.
Memory: He connects the cue, his action, and the fact that the tap stopped and the praise began with his decision and action. He is more likely to repeat that action in the future in response to the command.
Progressing Through E-collar Obedience Training
If all has gone well in this, your first session, your dog has discovered how to stop the slight e-collar pressure of the taps for “here,” “heel,” and “sit.” While he probably understands each command, do not be tempted to try him off leash or without the e-collar. He can learn new responses very quickly, but many repetitions are required to make them reliable. For now, do not give any commands when your dog is not wearing the e-collar and a leash or line. Remember that dogs are individuals. No prescription for intensity setting or number of e-collar uses in a session could possibly be correct for every dog. Pay attention to and maintain your dog’s positive training attitude. Again, it is best to work with a knowledgeable individual to start. Before we move on to address the individual exercises, let’s look at some questions of how many taps, how often to tap for each command, and when and how to stop tapping for a command.
The Tap Dance
Our goal is that our dogs respond reliably to command (not to the tap) off leash around distractions. How do we know when it’s time to stop tapping on a command? Do we simply stop or is there a weaning process we use as a transition? When you first teach each new command you will tap, tap, tap with the e-collar every time you give the command. This way you are reinforcing every response for the best speed of learning. However, if you continue to reinforce every command and then abruptly stop using the e-collar for this command, the trained response fades quickly. The dog is e-collar dependent. So, once the dog knows the proper response to a command and has many repetitions (several weeks of daily training using the new command), we will begin alternating, tapping every other command, then two in a row, then every third, and so on. By tapping on this variable schedule, reinforcement is given frequently enough to be effective but your dog never knows which repetition of a given response will be rewarded; as a result he learns to work harder and faster even in the absence of the tap on a command. He is command responsive, not tap responsive. If at any time during the transition from tapping on every command to tapping every so often on command your dog takes the absence of the e-collar tap as an excuse to refuse to obey a known command, repeat the command and begin tapping.
Initially, tap, tap, tap on every command.
Even if your dog knows the commands “here,” “heel,” and “sit,” you must tap on every command. You are concerned not only with teaching the individual command responses, but that your dog learns to act in response to the e-collar taps and that he learns he can, by his actions, control the taps.
Do not repeat any commands without adding e-collar taps.
If disobedience to a known command only results in another command, your dog is no more likely to obey that command in the future.
Do not give any commands when your dog is not wearing the e-collar.
If you give commands when you are unable to control the results of your dog’s actions you are teaching your dog that obedience to command is optional. Dogs aren’t naturally “collar wise”; they are taught that.