It is More than Just Pushing a Button: Part One
by Robin MacFarlane
Having a preference for certain tools should not limit our ability to train when those preferences are not available.
It is fair to say that I love training dogs, and that being able to use an e-collar as one of the training tools makes me love it even more. There are many reasons the remote training collar is my preferred tool. It is certainly easier on me when handling large or unruly dogs. E-collar training creates far less physical stress on the human body than trying to maintain leash control of a 100-pound dog that is determined to give chase to the neighbor's cat.
E-training is also quite a bit faster in terms of creating immediate improvement. For most people, results happen in a fraction of the time than other methods allow. The most important factor however is that e-collar training, when done right, is easier on the dog. There is less stress, clearer communication and virtually no conflict created between dog and handler.
But, I do have a gripe about e-collars and the excitement they create about training.
I find it really disconcerting when I observe other professional trainers labeling themselves as "E-collar trainers" and at times they even lump me into that category. It makes me cringe, actually.
What I am is a Dog Trainer. I do not define myself according to the tools I use.
That is what I encourage others to remain focused on, including all the pet owners that I coach. Having a preference for certain tools should not limit our ability to train when those preferences are not available. Becoming dependent on any particular piece of equipment limits us in developing a thorough understanding of how to effectively communicate with our companions.
To some folks that might seem "old school" but I think it makes us much more skilled and therefore less prone to being caught unprepared when things don't go as expected.
I utilize technology in many areas of my life, and I love the conveniences they provide. I always travel with a GPS unit. It makes driving in unfamiliar locations so much less stressful, but I also keep an atlas in my vehicle and I'm pretty sharp at reading those maps.
On the other hand, my math skills are mediocre, so I prefer using a calculator to feel certain that calculations are accurate, but I can still add, subtract, multiple and divide with a pencil and piece of paper if I need to.
I believe that if we are learning to train a dog we should have a varied skill set. For one thing, it is important to always have a "back up plan." But there is more to it than that.
It is about the ability to have various forms of communication, and understanding that building a solid and healthy relationship requires attaining different levels of intimacy. Yes, intimacy is part of building a relationship with your dog.
That might sound odd if you haven't thought much about it before, but consider it for a moment. When you first acquire a dog, be it a brand new puppy or an older dog, that being does not know you. Your goal may be to create the next field trial dog, a K9 partner that will have your back in dangerous situations, or the world's most beloved pet that will be by your side through years of adventures. You have to start building a relationship and work through many phases to get to the point where your dog really trusts you and you in return, trust him.
That type of relationship is not created by E-collar training alone. It may be greatly enhanced by it, but it does not rest solely on the use of any one tool.
Consider human communication in the form of verbal language. How different is it to get a text message versus a phone call versus a hand written letter? Even if the words are identical, they take a different feel and level of intimacy depending on the way they are communicated.
The same holds true when we train our dogs. We are building rapport, a closeness and level of trust that allows the dog to begin to yield to our desires. I also believe by working with our dogs in a variety of ways we learn about them in return. We become more adept at reading their language and understanding what they are communicating back.
Just like sending a hand written letter carries a different feel and message, training with a leash and body language and touch is part of the repertoire that we should also focus on while we are learning the how and when of pushing the e-collar button.
So keep an eye focused here for 3 more parts to this discussion. We're going to take a look at the role leash handling, body language and touch all play in building greater finesse in how you "talk" to your dog.
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.