The Electronic Collar

Fri May 14th, 2010 @ 12:31 pm

I have found the e-collar to be a valuable and useful tool in the training of police service dogs. While I am an advocate of e-collars, they cannot be used on all dogs. I see the use of food, play, verbal cues and praise, as well as more traditional collars and leashes, as a more primary tool. Since e-collars can be easily misused and can quickly create serious problems, I recommend to anyone when seeking a trainer to get one who is knowledgeable about using the e-collar properly.

The key is to use the e-collar correctly. As in most things, there is a right way and a wrong way to use this valuable tool. Too many times a handler or even a trainer buys an e-collar because he feels his dog is out of control, and responds to commands when he feels like it. So the handler slaps an e-collar on his dog and turns him loose. Then as an example he give the recall command and when the dog does not respond, he improperly uses the e-collar, with the collar set with stimulation too high, and then tries to recall the dog.

This process will only teach the dog one thing on how to beat the pain.  The dog will respond in one of three ways. One, he bolts from the spot and runs quickly and as far away as he can. If the collar has an automatic shut-off, 10 seconds for example, the dog learns that if he runs for 10.1 seconds, the stimulation turns off. A second response may be to freeze on the spot until the stimulation turns off. In both cases, the dog learns that if he grits his teeth for 10 seconds, the stimulation goes away.

The third probable response is the dog comes running back to his owner. Terrific, huh? Not necessarily. When the dog gets back to his owner, the stimulation turns off. Dogs are extremely place-oriented.  The dog may associate the spot by his handler with safety, and we have just create a ranging problem.

So, it is very important that we know how to properly use the "electronic collar".

First we make sure the dog understands the command we want him to respond to. You must make sure the dog completely understands the command before correcting him for disobedience. You must remember that most of the dogs we receive for police service work we know very little about. So if the previous handler took some shortcuts in the initial training or foundation training, the dog may not be sure what we are asking him to do.

If the dog is not sure of the command, the training method may become punishment training. If punishment training is your sole training program, this will create a dog that performs inconsistently at best.

Therefore we must first familiarize the dog with the e-collar. After you are sure the dog understands the command completely, you are ready to use stimulation. You must first find the proper level of stimulation. You look for a twitch of the eye, a momentary stop of tail wagging or some such telltale sign the dog felt the stimulation. If the dog vocalizes or show obvious pain, the level is too high.

Is is important that you use a training collar that has variable levels of stimulation and operates in the continuous stimulation mode.

After determining the correct stimulation level you are ready to teach your dog how to turn the stimulation off. You first put a line on your dog and stand within a couple of feet of the dog. You then apply the stimulation and immediately follow with the "down" command. You keep the stimulation on until the dog is in the down position.

In the next stage the dog learns to turn the stimulation off himself.  After some repetition the dog will down upon feeling the low level of stimulation. He won't even wait for the command. Now you know the dog understands how to turn off the stimulation. It is very important the dog understands this, as it makes it much easier for the dog to learn how to avoid the stimulation altogether.

The next stage, you give the command down with no stimulation at first, followed by stimulation only if the dog does not respond to the command. At this stage you give the command only once. The dog will gain confidence once he understands he can avoid the stimulation by responding to the command the first time it is given.

Once you have taught the down command, you can use the same process to teach any other disciplines you need.

It takes genetics, training and proper nutrition to create a high quality police service dog. You must choose your vendors, dogs and trainers carefully so you can be sure that you are getting quality dogs and training.

Written by Marv Gangloff of Mar_Ken International 1999