Less is More when Introducing Your Dog to an E-Collar
By Rhett Kermicle
Without a doubt, the electronic collar has done wonders in helping hunters achieve top performance from their dogs. Unfortunately, an improper introduction to an e-collar may take many months to undo. It’s better to start things out on the right foot.
When we introduce pointing dogs to the e-collar at our kennel, one rule never changes, and it’s a good one for you to remember as well, regardless of the breed you’re training: Introduce your dog to the stimulation at the lowest level available.
“Fine, but how do I know what that level is?” you might ask. Simply put, the lowest level is one that the dog responds to without vocalizing. If a dog cries out when you use electronic stimulation, you’re using a level that’s too high.
To find your dog’s level, start with the lowest one available. We use SportDOG collars from Radio Systems because their stimulation starts out so low that it’s virtually impossible to overcorrect a dog. With the dog wearing a properly fitted e-collar and sitting or standing at heel, and the transmitter set at Level 1, simply press the continuous button while closely observing your dog. Watch for an involuntary muscle twitch in the neck area. If you see this, you know your dog is feeling the stimulation.
Dogs vary greatly in their responses. Many dogs won’t feel Level 1. In this case, move up to Level 2 and repeat the process. When you reach the level that your dog acknowledges the stimulation with the telltale muscle twitch, your research is completed. You now know which level to use in your training.
If you think this method of finding your dog’s training level doesn’t provide for enough “punishment,” you’re missing the reason for using an e-collar. Whether you call it “getting his attention,” “distracting him” or “correcting him,” the important thing is that you’re communicating with a dog that is happily performing the job for which it has been bred. If your dog is cowering or hesitant to hunt or retrieve because it’s wearing the collar, something’s not right. Most of the time when we see such a situation at our kennel, it’s the result of someone not taking the time to properly introduce his or her dog to the e-collar.
Once you’ve established the dog’s training level, you can use the e-collar to reinforce commands. In future articles we’ll talk about exercises that will form a conditioned response in your dog, and this will carry over into field training.
If you can accomplish so much with low-level stimulation, you might wonder whether there’s a need for the higher correction levels. For example, the SportDOG SportHunter 1200 we use has eight levels. The time to use higher levels is when you truly want your dog to associate punishment with a place or object you definitely don’t want it near. For example, if your dog was running toward a busy highway and ignoring your command to stop or come back, using a high level could avert a disaster. The same goes for encounters with snakes or porcupines.
In case you missed the previous article on steps to take before introducing your dog to e-collar stimulation, check out the article archive at www.sportdog.net.
Rhett Kermicle has 20 years’ experience training hunting dogs. He is a co-owner, guide and dog handler at Wild Wing Kennel in Sturgis, Kentucky. For more information, go to www.wildwingkennel.com.