E-Collar Use: Training vs. Enforcing
by Robin MacFarlane
There is a difference between training with a remote collar and enforcing with a remote collar.
In the training phase we are teaching the dog a particular skill.
When we are enforcing we are compelling the dog to comply with a skill that has been taught.
So the difference between the two is significant. One situation assumes that the dog knows what he is supposed to be doing and we are forcing compliance. The other accepts that the dog does not understand what is expected and we are imparting information so that learning can occur.
Some folks only use a remote collar to enforce. They first teach commands with other tools and techniques and bring the e-collar into the protocols later in the process to improve reliability.
Others, myself included, utilize the e-collar earlier in the process as an additional training aid while teaching some of the skills.
One of the pet peeves I have about remote collar use is directed toward individuals who assume their dog "knows" what to do but is being disobedient. They then resort to the e-collar as a means of enforcement through high-pressure stimulation. Essentially strapping the collar on and only pushing the button when the dog doesn't behave correctly.
It is just not fair to the dog. Often people in this situation really haven't done enough training to be assured that the dog actually does understand what they want. Secondly, without an introductory phase that teaches the dog what e-collar pressure is and how to respond to it, the dog has no idea what do to when he suddenly feels this new, strange, and perhaps too high or overwhelming sensation.
So it is critical to understand that if you have taught your dog via other tools or methods and now want to introduce an e-collar to enforce greater reliability, you still need to take time to TEACH the dog how to respond to this new sensation.
This teaching happens by going through a process called "collar conditioning."
Collar conditioning involves using the e-collar combined with any assistance needed (leash, lures, body cues) to teach the dog how to control the sensation of stimulation by performing a desired task.
My goal when utilizing a remote collar is to always use a level that is just right for the dog, but if I am going to make an err in level selection during the teaching phase, that err would be in selecting a level that is perhaps a bit lower than ideal. I'd much rather be a bit too low than a bit too high in any introductory phase of e-collar use.
Once a dog is clear on understanding how to respond to stimulation, err in level selection is less problematic. A dog who is clear on objective and well collar conditioned will respond appropriately to collar stimulation even if it is set higher than what is needed. They will tolerate an increase in pressure without negative fallout. In fact, a well collar conditioned dog will move into the desired behavior stronger, harder and faster.
If you are getting hesitation, a slower response, or any other signs of confusion, the dog is NOT clear on what is expected. Turning the collar level up will not help! Back up in the training plan, do more assisting and resetting the situation so you can help your dog understand how to respond.
Creating clarity in your dog's mind is the single most important way to speed up training.
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.