"How long does my dog have to wear the collar?"
by Robin MacFarlane
Training sessions are more than just those 20 minutes you set aside to practice with your dog!
"When will my dog be able to go without the e-collar?"
This is one of the more frequent questions I hear when talking with prospective users about the possibility of adding an e-collar to their dogs training. For me, it is a little frustrating that often people are more concerned with when they can stop using it than they are with learning to properly use it.
But I think the question reflects on the fact that there is still plenty of misinformation out there about using a remote collar. Myths abound about it being a "last resort" and dogs becoming "collar wise" (See article: "Is Your Dog Collar Wise?") thus many folks want to know when they'll have no more need for the tool.
I'm going to address this topic by first elaborating on when the dog should be wearing the e-collar and how much to use it during the training process.
It is obvious to most everyone that the dog would be wearing the e-collar during training sessions. So for field dogs, competition sport dogs and those canines who live in a kennel environment rather than in the house, it is put on as soon as we prepare to leave the kennel and head to the training field. And it should be used not only once you are both on the field, but on the way there and back as needed to enforce any commands that may be given.
It is very possible some training should take place IN the kennel as well. The goal of any reliably performing dog is to follow through when told, regardless of environment and surroundings, so using your tools in other situations besides just the training field is only going to help the final outcome for competition.
For pet dogs the rules are even simpler. The e-collar is on the dog whenever you are hanging out, and there might be opportunity to enforce a desired command or interrupt an undesired behavior.
Basically, this means the dog can wear the collar during training sessions (and I'm going to define those in a minute!) during walks, and while supervised in the house. This means the e-collar is off when there is no opportunity for you to observe your dog for good manners or obedience. For example, when the dog is crated overnight, while you are at work or otherwise gone from the house.
Your dog can safely wear the collar 8 - 10 or so hours a day, just make sure to reposition the receiver box a few times throughout the day to avoid any possibility of pressure sores starting. (See article: "Pressure Necrosis")
You should be using the e-collar as a routine part of your training sessions. Now for the big secret -- training sessions are more than just those 20 minutes you set aside to practice with your dog! Those 20 minutes sessions are more for your benefit than for the dog. They help you get the hang of what your supposed to be doing.
For a companion dog, training is actually preparation for living a long and harmonious life within our respective households. That means that the real training sessions are when you are out on a walk, and you teach your dog he still has to Heel, even though you are not in the 'practice yard'.
A training session might be having your dog Sit/Stay as you go up or down the stairs and then call him to you, rather than allowing him to forge past you, potentially risking you both getting hurt.
A training session is teaching your dog Off or Leave it, as you load the dishwasher (unless you really don't mind him having his lick!), and most certainly a training session is controlling the lunging, barking and chaos that generally follows a knock on the front door.
Pet dog training is about teaching some basic commands, but the ultimate goal is to be able to utilize those words in real life situations when you really need that good behavior from your dog. So the most valuable training you can do is teaching yourself to look at obedience as a way of life rather than just a 20-minute session in the back yard.
As for when you can you stop using the e-collar? If you follow my advice and keep the collar on the dog whenever you are hanging out together for the early months of learning these new habits, you will find your need to push the button for enforcement becomes less and less, especially if you also follow this advice as well. (See article: "Is Your Dog Collar Wise?")
As your dog comes to understand you are consistent in your follow through, you will find little need for it in your daily routine. However, let me point out that you never know for certain what is outside your door. You're going to have to be the judge of how much work you've really put into creating a reliable dog when major distractions present themselves. This is especially true if you are going to unclip the leash and allow your dog freedom outside.
For me, at this point in my dogs' lives (one is 4 and one is now 10), they usually wear their e-collars if I am teaching something new and always when we go outside off leash. I rarely have to push the button to get them to listen, but I'm happy to have the safety assurance it provides on those rare occasions when the desire to chase those squirrels through the woods is just so enticing!
Oh, and the younger of my two -- well, she still gets her e-collar put on if we have company over. She is a pistol when it comes to begging for food from strangers!
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.