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As you can see in this photo, Ellie is sporting an e-collar and she doesn’t look too concerned about it. E-collars are usually an accepted part of field training, and as I know they are often misunderstood, I thought I should say a few words about them and why I use them.

I first started using an e-collar around 4 years ago and then with great reluctance. We had moved to the countryside in France where we loved to take long walks especially along the canals and through the fields. Well, there is a lot of wildlife in the country and we have hunting dogs with high prey drive. My dog, who normally had an excellent recall went deaf if she were in pursuit of a rabbit in the fields or a ragondin in the water. (note a ragondin is called a nutria in English and is a very large water rodent that looks a lot like a ground hog with a different tail.) After a few times of having her chase a rabbit over hill and dale until I couldn’t see her anymore and catching Ragondin, I decided I needed to do something to have better control over her. I talked about my problem on a few forums and an e-collar was suggested. I felt nervous about them, so I read as much as I could and then ordered one. When I got it, I did what one writer suggested and tried it out on my palm. I was very surprised to find that it felt exactly like my electronic acupressure machine! It didn’t hurt, it was just a surprising sensation. You can use it at stronger levels if you need to and frankly, I’d rather my dogs got a harmless, but surprising stimulation than to have them get hit by a car because they aren’t listening to me, get lost, or have their face ripped by teeth or claws of an animal.

As I can anticipate an argument from some of you, let me take a quick side-trip here to explain something. I’m well aware of the positive-only, clicker training where you train a dog from young to constantly be checking back with you and to come right away when called to get a treat. There are a few problems with this method when it comes to a field dog. One is that you don’t want a field dog that is constantly looking at you, staying by your side and coming back to you. You want a dog that while working with you, is out ranging far and working and thinking. The other thing is that if you have a bird dog worth anything, there is no way that dog is going to value a cookie over a bird!

The eCollar did the trick on critter chasing, but I still felt very uncertain about using it as a training tool. I kept reading, but it wasn’t until I had a chance to work with pro gun dog trainers that I learned how to use an eCollar and became comfortable with them. In particular, I owe my understanding to Brad Higgins of Higgin Gun Dogs who also goes by “the gun dog whisperer”. Brad uses a method of training dogs called the “West/Gibbons” (Bill West and Bill Gibbons) method and is based on dog psychology. It’s not based on harsh obedience methods but rather understanding what motivates a dog.

West / Gibbons method

In the West/Gibbons method, the dog is first taught using a collar and check cord, then they are taught that a stimulation from a collar means the same thing as the gentle tug from the check cord. The stimulation level used is only enough to get attention, but not upset the dog. Brad would explain that it isn’t a correction, but a re-cue. The dog might be so focused in on its desire (the bird) that if forgets, so a light stimulation is to get its attention and re-cue its behavior.

Now, as we know, a dog’s behavior is reinforced when they randomly win the jackpot. So if the dog learns that it can sometimes get away with a behavior — like when it’s not wearing it’s e-collar — they will try to get away with it. That’s why Brad says that the e-collar should be considered as part of its “gear”. Something they always wear when in the field. You probably won’t have to use it very often, but even an extremely well-trained dog will now and again just forget its training and it’s important you are able to re-cue it when it does.

This is why my dogs always have their e-collars on when we are training or when we are out cavorting in nature.

A few final notes.

Bill West said an e-collar can be the greatest tool if used properly and the worst tool when used improperly. A dog must understand what the stimulation is and what it means and the stimulation must not be higher than needed. When receiving a re-cue at the proper level, your dog should show very little concern.

I do not use what is called “escape” training, which is what if usually advocated in the instructions that come with your equipment. I recommend that you find a trainer to help you learn to use an e-collar correctly.

Finally, get a good e-collar. A cheap e-collar does not have enough variations in stimulation. It may be that its lowest setting is too low and the next setting is too high. I’ve also heard the cheap ones may not be reliable in their levels of stimulation. (sometimes higher, sometimes lower.) After trying another model, I’m very happy with my Tri-Tronics G3 Combo.

Comments

  1. Excellent description of the Ecollar Leslie . It is an invaluable tool . I also am a student of Brad Higgins. The ecollar makes training very clear for the dog as the correction/stimulation is used at the exact moment of misbehavior. I also use the Tri Tronics Combo 3.

  2. Thank you, Leslie. I use an e-collar on Lucy. It’s like having power steering . . .

  3. I tell people it’s their “Freedom” collar. It allows them to run free, but I still have control over them. 🙂

  4. Good article. Thanks for posting this. The more people who “tell it like it is,” the faster we can show the general public what real training is all about.

    – Adam
    http://www.dogproblems.com
    http://www.dogtrainingtips.com

  5. Fred Hassen says:

    You can find daily ecollar training videos at http://www.YouTube.com/fredhassen

  6. , I also believe that the pup slhoud wear the collar without it being turned on well before you plan on starting the stimulation. This will acclimate the pup to the weight and bulkiness of the receiver. In my personal opinion, I would say proper low level stimulation can begin between 4-5 months of age as long as the time and patience is put into the first command. Remember an e-collar is simply an extension of the checkcord.To those who might be looking to buy an e-collar, I would recommend the Tritronics Pro 100 G3 (for single dog) or the Pro 100 G3 EXP (for up to 3 dogs). It has 6 intensity levels. You can choose between low, medium, and high continuous stimulations which allows you to really dial in the intensity from dog to dog. Also has a tone/accessory button to A.) control a low tone through the receiver to use as an alternative to stimulation or B.) control the Tritronics Accessory Beeper or the new Tritronics Tracer.Overall, the e-collar is an extremely useful training tool as long as it is used properly and wisely!!!

Trackbacks

  1. […] in books, magazines, and watching many shows and videos. To introduce her to the electronic collar, (see post on ecollars) we went back to the trainer. He recommended leaving her for 30 days. I did, but Separation Anxiety […]

  2. […] I retouched out her e-collar here as it was a little bit distracting in the photo, but they do hunt with e-collars on. E-collars get a bad rap, but used properly they are an excellent tool. See my article about e-collars. […]

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