Sunday, August 16, 2009

Using an Electric Dog Training Collar to Train the Recall

One of the biggest problems my clients complain about is the fact that their dogs don’t come when called. This is not only annoying but can be costly and dangerous. A dog that won’t come when called can potentially run into traffic, run away from you and get in a dog fight, or ruin someone’s picnic in the park as he runs up happily all the while ignoring your calls to return. The best way to teach the ultimate recall is by using a dog training device called the electric dog training collar.

Before I explain how to train this exercise I need to first give a little bit of background on the tool that you will be using. An electric dog training collar is perhaps the least understood dog training product on the market. Many consider this dog training product to mean, cruel, and violent. The truth is the opposite. Used properly, an electric dog training collar is actually one of the most humane ways to train your dog. It allows you the greatest freedom while delivering the least violent correction (Try one on yourself. They really aren’t painful unless you use the highest levels. For the recall exercise you will be using low levels, though.) Think about it, when giving a dog a correction which is more humane? A jerk on a leash or a small ‘bee sting’ on the neck administered from an electric dog training collar?

An electric dog training collar allows you to give an off-leash correction at great distances. You will harness this ability to show your dog that he must return when called no matter how far away. The first step is to teach your dog to come to you on leash. It is important that your dog first has a knowledge of what ‘come here’ means before you start using the electric collar. Once he knows what ‘come here’ means you can start using the electric collar.

Start out by conditioning your dog to the collar. Have him wear it at odd times for several days before you even start using it. You want the dog to have a neutral association toward the collar. Too many times dog owners will put the collar on, train the dog, and take the collar off. They repeat this over and over and soon the dog learns that he only has to obey when the collar is on. For that reason you must make him believe that training has nothing to do with the collar. If you do this properly you will be able to phase out the use of the collar and soon he will obey the same regardless of whether or not he is wearing the electric dog training collar.

Once your dog is properly conditioned to the collar you can begin. I am going to teach you the mechanics of the exercise first and then teach you the canine psychology of why this exercise works.

1. Find your dogs tolerance for the electric dog training collar. This is the unpleasant part of training with electricity but it must be done. Tie your dog out in a neutral area wearing the electric collar. Wait until he is in a neutral state of mind, not thinking of anything or distracted by anything. Go to the lowest level of stimulation and hit the button. Check his face to see if there is a reaction. If not, go up a level. Continue in this way until you see a small reaction. Once you find this level that is your benchmark. To train this exercise you will use your benchmark level minus one.

2. Have your dog wearing the dog training electric collar, a regular collar beneath that, and a long line attached to the regular collar.

3. Allow your dog to separate himself from you at a distance of 10 feet or more.

4. Set the remote to your pre-determined level. The next part is going to require a lot of coordination and practice so pay attention. There are several things that must be done simultaneously and in sequence.

5. Hold down the button on the remote for 2 seconds without saying a word.

6. As you continue to hold the button down tell your dog ‘come-here’, as you pull the long line toward you, and as you jog backwards. Read it twice. There are several things that need to be done at once.

7. The very instant your dog starts moving in your direction release the button and praise your dog like crazy. When he gets to you, praise him physically and verbally.

8. Continue this course of action. Repetition is very important. With this exercise there is a 2 second window where you are giving a small correction before you even give the command. After plenty of repetition you will notice that as you start to hold down the button he will start coming to you before you have had a chance to say ‘come-here’. When you reach this point you can move to the next step.

9. In the next step you will remove the long line. Repeat the training exactly as before except you will cut out the step where you pull on the long line. Repeat this step often and for several days. When your dog is perfect at this you can move on to the next step.

10. In the next step you are now going to remove the first part. Have your dog off leash and separated from you. Call to your dog ‘come-here’. If he comes, great! Give him tons of praise. If he doesn’t come, hold down the correction button until he begins to come, at which point you will instantly release the button and praise him. Repeat this step often. Repeat it at close distances and far distances. At this point your dog understands that coming when called is fun because of the praise involved, but also that he must come every time.

Sounds easy enough, right? Ok, let’s examine the canine psychology that goes into making this exercise successful. At its root, this training exercise is successful because you are slowly teaching your dog how to turn off the stimulation from the collar. In the very beginning stages you turn the stimulation on for 2 seconds with no hint as to why. Your dog feels it, it isn’t painful because it is a low level, but it does cause confusion because he doesn’t know why he is feeling it. As you continue with the exercise he begins running in your direction and the stimulation immediately turns off. With enough repetition your dog forms the association and realizes that it is the act of returning to you that turns off the stimulation. Following that, you proof the exercise. You allow him the chance to make a mistake by giving the command without the stimulation. If he does mess up the stimulation turns on and only turns off when he begins to return to your side.

Be very careful with this exercise. Study it out in your mind first and visualize yourself completing all the steps perfectly. Then try it out using a friend at the end of the leash instead of your dog. You must be very precise with the steps. Miscalculation of even a little bit could spell disaster for the whole exercise. For example, if your dog begins running toward you and you wait a second or two before turning off the stimulation, instead of turning it off immediately, your dog will not be able to make the association of returning to you equals stimulation turns off.

Practice makes perfect. Using the electric dog training collar can not only be fun but can be an excellent way to train your dog.

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