Electronic collars or e-collars are great training tools. When used correctly, they can help your dog learn and progress quickly in training. But when used incorrectly, they can just as quickly confuse and damage your dog. This series of posts will walk you through the steps necessary to properly condition and start training your retriever with an electronic collar.
The conditioning process is a necessary step to help your retriever understand stimulation from an e-collar. Failure to properly condition your retriever can lead to confusion and training problems down the line.
By following these steps, you will:
- condition your dog to wearing an e-collar,
- teach your dog how to understand e-collar corrections, and
- teach your dog how to react appropriately to an e-collar correction.
It is important to understand that when using an e-collar, conditioning is critical. Do not cut corners or skip steps or you may cause problems for your retriever that are difficult or impossible to fix.
Evaluating your electronic collar
If you are reading this post, it is likely you have already purchased an electronic collar. If you have not purchased a collar and are looking for some guidance and direction in that purchase, refer to Using an electronic collar to train retriever. There is a section about considerations when buying an electronic collar.
Before you start with the process of conditioning your retriever, take a moment to evaluate the collar you are planning to use.
Not all electronic collars are created equal. An inexpensive electronic collar may not be reliable enough to do the work needed. It may shock or stimulate your dog when you have not intended, or it may fail to stimulate when you need it to. We have even seen some inexpensive collars operate inconsistently.
E-collars are not an item where you want to purchase the cheapest product on the shelf. It is super important that you purchase a proven, reliable electronic collar.
Here at Otter Tail Kennels, we use the Dogtra Edge RT. This is a great collar for professional trainers with multiple dogs. For our clients with only one dog, we often recommend the Dogtra 1900s. We have found this to be a very reliable collar. Other proven e-collar companies include TriTronics, Garmin or SportDog.
Let’s get started with the conditioning process.
Step 1: Make a plan
Many people purchase an e-collar because they are having behavior issues with their retriever. While an electronic collar can be helpful for curbing many behavioral issues, there is a correct process.
If you buy an e-collar, immediately strap the collar on your dog and start shocking the dog, you will most likely create more problems and maybe even some that cannot be fixed.
Instead, slow down and make a plan.
Remember: Electronic collars are not designed to be worn 24 hours a day. If the collar is left on your dog for too long, sores can form where the probes touch the dog’s neck. So, the first thing you need to do is decide on a routine.
A common routine we suggest is putting the e-collar on your dog each time you let him or her outside, or each time you take the dog for a walk.
It doesn’t matter what your routine is if you are consistent. That means every day, every time you let your dog out you put the collar on your dog. For the first step of the conditioning process the collar will not even be turned on, but it is vital that your dog begin wearing it on a regular and consistent basis.
Step 2: Learn and understand your collar
Every collar is different. The buttons and dials are unique to the collar you decide to purchase. So, if you have not already, now is the time to take your e-collar out of the box and learn about it.
Do not put the collar on the dog at this time! Read through the instructions. Learn how your collar works and what all the buttons do.
Step 3: Get your dog used to the collar
Once you feel comfortable with your collar and understand how it works, you can start putting the e-collar on the dog. Do not turn your collar on and set your transmitter aside. You will not need a transmitter for this step.
At this time, start putting the collar on the dog according to the routine you have decided to follow in Step 1.
Remember, during this phase, the collar does not need to be turned on and you should leave the transmitter at home.
This step is called collar conditioning. You are just letting the dog get used to wearing the e-collar. You are not giving any corrections at this point. Your goal is to teach your retriever that the e-collar is a good thing.
Think about it this way: Does your dog get excited when you pull out a leash to go for a walk? We want the e-collar to have this same effect. You want your retriever to get conditioned that when he or she gets the e-collar on, good things happen! I get to go outside! Or I get to go for a walk! Or I get to go train!
This conditioning is the most important part of using an electronic collar. If you fail to condition your dog to the collar you will create a collar-wise dog. A dog that only listens to you when the collar is on.
The correct way to put an e-collar on your dog
There is a correct way to put the e-collar on your dog. It should be put on directly below his ears with the receiver on the left side of your dog’s neck.
A dog’s neck is smallest close to the head and gets larger towards the body. Therefore, it is important that you place the e-collar close to the head so that it cannot move down the neck. If you put it lower on the neck, it will naturally move up the neck and get loose. A loose e-collar cannot give a good correction since it will not have good contact with the neck.
The e-collar should also be put on very snugly. If you put the collar on too loose, it will ride down the neck and will not give a good correction. Make sure that your dog’s breathing is not hindered. If your dog’s breathing sounds rough, the collar is on too tight. If it can move easily, it is too loose.
How long do I need to collar condition my dog?
We recommend collar conditioning your retriever a minimum of two weeks. If you can do it even longer, that is great. The longer the dog wears the e-collar without correction, the less he or she will associate the collar with the corrections that will be coming.
Situations to avoid
One of the worst things you can do to a dog who has never worn an e-collar is to put an e-collar on him and shock him. The dog will quickly learn that the e-collar gave him the shock. In a dog’s mind, when the collar was not on him, he was able to do XYZ behavior. Now, this collar is on, and he is getting a correction for XYZ behavior. The result is a dog that is collar wise.
This is not what we want to accomplish because a collar wise dog will only be obedient when the collar is on and will be disobedient as soon as you remove the collar. Following the steps in this guide and conditioning your dog to the collar will help you avoid a collar-wise dog.
Step 4: Obedience training with manual pressure
While you are working on collar conditioning (Step 3) you can also work on obedience training but enforce each command refusal with manual pressure. Manual pressure for the SIT command is pushing down on your pup’s bottom or pulling up with a lead to make them SIT. Have your dog wear the e-collar during this training but again, do not carry the transmitter and do not give your dog any corrections using the e-collar.
Work on the SIT, HERE and HEEL commands with manual pressure – a jerk of the lead and chain collar, the tap of a heeling stick or the pressure of your hand.
Teaching your retriever obedience is the best way to condition your dog to corrections from the e-collar. If your dog is familiar with manual pressure, he will learn about electronic pressure quickly. The e-collar will simply become another form of pressure much like a tap on his or her back end when enforcing a SIT command or a jerk of a chain collar and lead.
How do I know what level to use on the e-collar?
There are two schools of thought on this.
- The first and older philosophy is that you start with the e-collar on a very low setting and slowly move the level of stimulation higher until you start seeing a reaction from the dog. A reaction may be as simple as a turn or tilt of his/her head or more severe such as a yelp.
As soon as you see a reaction, use that level for obedience work.
- The other philosophy is based on the desire to not nag your dog. For this school of thought you would start with the transmitter turned to a mid-range level. While doing the obedience work you randomly use the e-collar for a correction instead of a manual correction. If your dog has a strong reaction to the e-collar stimulation (such as yelping or jumping), do not make a big deal about it, but move the dial lower for the next correction.
The goal is to get a reaction where the dog is stimulated but doesn’t overly react. Your dog’s reaction does not need to be verbal or severe, but you do want to know that the dog feels the stimulation and that the stimulation is enough to encourage him or her to listen and perform the command.
Moving to obedience with enforcement from the collar
After you have collar conditioned the dog by having your dog wear the collar without any corrections for a few weeks, and after you have worked on obedience with manual pressure, you will be ready to start conditioning your dog on obedience commands with electronic collar pressure.
Never TEACH commands with an e-collar. All commands must be taught to your dog using manual correction as discussed in Step 4. Your dog must understand each command and what is expected of him or her before you ever start using the e-collar to enforce a command.
In the next post I will go through the process of using the e-collar to enforce the obedience commands your dog already knows. I will also cover how to use the e-collar to deal with other behavior issues both inside and outside the home, so stay tuned.
Final thoughts on how to start training with an e-collar
You must properly condition your dog to the e-collar prior to using the collar for a correction. Failure to do this will result in poor results and a dog that will only listen when the collar is on his neck. Ultimately, I think everyone wants their dog to listen all the time, not just when the e-collar is on. And you can achieve this result if you follow the steps in this post and the upcoming post.
If you are still struggling, I’m here to help! You can email me (email@example.com) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time, happy retrieving.