Thursday, March 12, 2009

About e-collars

This is perhaps the second most popular dog training tool, second only to the check cord. A recent thread on a popular BBS was a discussion of experiences people had with e-collars. I thought I might repeat myself here...

I have become circumspect in the use of e-collars over the past several years, based on close observation of my own setters in trials and hunting.

I never put a collar on a dog under one year old, except for trash breaking.

I never nick a dog on birds anymore. I have seen dogs that anticipate the nick, and tense up and lower their front quarters when they expect that they MIGHT get nicked. This is not good for style around birds. I will correct the dog verbally and by hands on methods. I may go back to a check cord at these times.

If I can teach with a checkcord, I prefer it. I do use the collar to re-enforce training. I use the lightest setting I can still get compliance with.

By the time my dogs are three years old, they do not need the collar... I am moving towards running my dogs without e-collars once they are well trained. I think I get better performances in the bird field without a collar.

If I was a professional trainer, I might use the collar a lot more and earlier, in order to train more dogs, faster. But I am not in a hurry, and REALLY dislike the idea of moving a dog to breaking STWS before they are totally ready for it.

Patience is the best training tool.


Live to Hunt.... said...

Mike, I agree. I have used them successfully on my retrievers for training but prefer to have them obey commands. Just simply because I think it requires more dedication, which builds better trust with the dog, and they are more disciplined to mind you. I'd rather have them snap to with the simple whisper of my voice than scream or zap them all day. I'm not opposed, but prefer not to.

Chris Preston said...

Mike - I agree with your comments but I do find that collars with a tone function, just loud enough for the dog to hear is very useful. I have trained my dogs to find me when they hear that beep or tone. I think human voices really spook birds and I don't like it when guys are yelling at they mutts.
Chris Preston
Boise, Id

Peter Houser said...

Mike, I like your philosophy, but my setter Rosie may be the exception. Even after training by Sheldon she would break on moving wild birds; it took a perfectly-timed reminder on the e-collar to cure that habit. And she still tries to stretch the limits if I run her on birds without the e-collar.

On the other hand, we were out walking in the hills this morning and she handled perfectly just to a whistle. When there is a chance at birds I seem to need a bit of help to keep her under control. FWIW, at least one of her siblings washed out of training as "uncontrollable".

Mike Spies said...

Pete - It must be the run-off-field-trial blood in Rosie that makes her so challenging. High desire, independence, and a strong will combined. But she is a pleasure to hunt behind!

Andrew Campbell said...


I'd agree with virtually all you wrote. In addition to the person using the collar, I think the personality of the dog has a lot to do with when you introduce it -- and what you use it for. I was much more confident with our second dog and he was a much more self-confident dog -- and I think he started wearing his e-collar around 5mos old. As an indicator of his self-confidence, this is the same dog that pointed and retrieved his first quail shot for him at 5mos old. (I wouldn't recommend either one of those things, e-collars or gunfire, for a dog that young to anyone I didn't know.)

And while I wholeheartedly agree that there is no substitute for the check-cord, if like Pete + Rosie, I have given a command that we practice doing yardwork (even if there are birds in front of the dog), if the dog disobeys, I will use the e-collar gently.

I would echo Chris -- that the tone function is really useful for some things. I am using it to teach the honor so the dog gets a little acoustic surprise as it comes in on another dog. The surprise seems to make them break stride and realise that there is a dog standing in front of them -- and as soon as they have come to a virtual halt, I will give them positive reinforcement and a prompt command. It's gentle enough for the older dog and seems to be working for Mr. Enthusiasm so far.

all best