By Rhett Kermicle
Today’s electronic collars are excellent tools for training dogs in the off-season and keeping them in control during hunting season. Of course, a tool can only be as good as the trainer who is using it. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that an e-collar is most beneficial when it’s used to reinforce commands your dog already knows. It is NOT meant to teach a dog a command it has never heard before.
There is a natural, common-sense progression we follow while introducing pointing dogs to training experiences at our kennel. This progression is one I suggest you follow, regardless of the dog breed you are training.
Most dog owners understand the importance of good obedience training and are anxious to jump into it while the dog is young, but before you get into that, you should lay the groundwork that will make your dog a superior bird-finder. At our kennel, this period consists of our “puppy program.” This simple but important program centers on bird contacts (quail and pigeons) and introducing young dogs to the gun.
We want young dogs to find lots of birds and be free to chase them. During this time they are getting lots of positive results from using their natural abilities. For roughly 60 days, these “bump and run” outings are teaching dogs that, most importantly, birds are fun. Eventually we time gunshots to coincide with bird finds. We start gradually, using a blank pistol or small-gauge shotgun from a distance that won’t startle the dog. Soon the dog associates the noise with the best part of his outings: finding birds.
Now that we know our young dogs are full of enthusiasm for birds and won’t be shy of gunshots, we move into the obedience phase of training. I don’t have the space here to cover everything about obedience. Regardless of the techniques you use to teach commands such as stopping (whoa-training), holding point (steadiness) or patterning (also known as bending), be sure to reinforce the commands by traditional means such as the whoa barrel and check cord. Remember, you’re still in the teaching phase, and the e-collar will later be used to reinforce the commands.
After you’ve been at these drills for a few weeks, only then should you introduce the e-collar. And then, don’t even think about turning it on. The dog should simply be learning that anytime it is out of its kennel, it will be wearing the collar. Soon, your dog will associate the collar with the excitement of enjoyable training sessions.
All of this preparation is leading up to eventually being able to correct the dog with stimulation from the collar and not have the dog lose its enthusiasm because of it. Even then, the e-collar isn’t a punishment tool, it’s a reminder. This comfortable process works best for both you and your dog when you use an easy-to-operate collar that lets you start with very low stimulation levels. Radio Systems’ new SportDOG® Model SD-1825 is one excellent example of an e-collar that is simple to operate and provides stimulation levels so low, the chance of accidental over-correction is no longer a concern. This is the perfect finishing tool to complete your systematic introduction to birds, guns and basic obedience.