By Steve Snell
A beeper collar is designed to help you keep up with a big running pointing dog. Beeper collars have a motion sensor inside them that can tell if your dog is running or on point, and then it beeps in different ways so that you can hear it and tell what your dog is doing (running or on point) at a distance when you may not be able to see him in the woods or cover.
The down side of using a beeper is that they are really, really loud
. If you don't introduce your dog to them correctly, you can end up with a condition like Gun Shyness where you have a dog that does not make the correct association: "Beepers mean birds and hunting, so they're a GOOD THING."
I have seen dogs that would run and hide at the sound of a beeper. Basically what happened was the owner strapped one on the dog and cranked it up (these go to 11) without giving the dog a chance to get used to the sound at a lower volume and with the correct association.
Creating this proper association is key.
Most of my dogs will "back" the sound of a beeper. I have a 10 year old brittany named Jet that fully understands what beepers mean. She will "back" the sound of a beeper going off in "point" mode just like she would honor a dog on point that she can see. My dogs know what it means when a beeper kicks in to "point mode" and many will stop on it before they ever see the dog on point. Several times in the field she has backed a dog's beeper at distances that I could not hear -- it's really cool to watch.
How I start beeper introduction...
You never, ever want to start out a dog wearing the beeper.
Many dogs will do fine, but there is no reason to take the chance of it scaring your dog. Go slow and you can get him used to and comfortable with the sound. I introduce beepers a little like the introduction to gun fire. Click here to read our Intro to Gunfire article
I get a few training birds (quail or pigeons) and put them out in the field. I carry the beeper in my hand and turn it on. I place my palm over the speaker horn to control the volume.
As the dog gets some distance away from me, I allow the beeper to run at full volume in "run mode" - It will beep once every 4 to 8 seconds depending on the model. As he comes up on the birds and points, I set the beeper down on the ground a distance away from him so that it goes into point mode. As long as he has heard it a few times before it goes into point mode, it should not cause any issues.
Start at a young age
I normally introduce beepers at a young age so the dog is not steady. I move in to flush the birds, and once we flush the birds I let the dog chase and I go pick the beeper up. The trick here is to closely watch the dog for any reaction. If he pays any attention to the beeper, you need to back up and slow down. Give your dog multiple exposures to beepers and birds and he'll get the idea.
If things are going well, we will move to putting the beeper on him. If needed, we will lower the volume of the beeper when we put it on the dog. You can control the volume of the beeper by covering the speaker horn with Duct tape. Depending on the dog's sensitivity level, I may cover 75% of the speaker horn. This will drastically lower the sound. You can also fill the speaker horn with cotton before you tape it if you need to make it really quiet. Some dogs need this, some do not.
As long as the dog has the proper association with the sound of a beeper, it will go pretty fast.
Some folks will introduce the beeper around the house or kennel during feeding time.
You can do this and it should not cause any issues, but it will not give the correct association. If you go this route, be sure to start with the beeper in your hand so you can control the volume and the mode (run or point) and maintain control over the situation.
Folks that want to run their dog in "Point Mode Only" need to be especially careful.
"Point Mode Only" means that the beeper only goes off when the dog is stopped. It goes from silent to full blown loud after your dog has been stopped for a few seconds. Be sure to follow the bird introduction method with the beeper so that your dog understands that the beeper is a GOOD thing. If the first time your dog hears the beeper is when he is on point, it can scare him to the point of causing him to "blink" birds. This is a major problem that you want to avoid.
Running a remote training collar with beeper
Folks that are running a remote training collar with remote control over the beeper collar need to make sure the dog is comfortable with ALL of the sounds that the beeper will make while it is on the dog. Most remote beepers have a "locate" feature and many allow you to change sounds or modes from the handheld transmitter.
My dad had a brittany named Star that never got used to the "locate" sound that the Tri-Tronics beeper makes. We screwed up and did not introduce her to it correctly and she never liked the sound. The regular beeping and the point mode beeping didn't bother her, but the locate sound would make her stop what she was doing and quickly run back to his side.
Work with your dog on all of these sounds in multiple areas and situations so that he is prepared for the sounds that your beeper collar will make. Just like proper Gun Fire conditioning
, getting your dog comfortable with the sounds and situations that a beeper collar will create will save you a good bit of training heartbreak down the road.