Electronic Dog Training

Once people become familiar with electronic training products and use them properly, they find the methodology is proven, efficient, economical and ethical.

The type of training in which an electronic aid is used is critically important for it will influence the type of product and methods used. Is the equipment being used to teach a new obedience command, correct some common misbehavior or is it being used to reinforce another electronic training methodology?

Factors affecting success

Before an electronic training tool is used, it is strongly suggested that the entire training situation be re-examined. There are three major considerations in this re-evaluation:

1. Does the owner know what he is doing, does he understand the training process and can he apply proper methodology to a specific situation?

2. Is the owner training the dog properly, does he have a plan for this specific misbehavior and is he executing that plan appropriately and correctly?

3. Is the dog trainable? Is the dog in question stubborn, set in his ways or unintelligent?

(We believe that all dogs are trainable. Dogs that seem stubborn, or unintelligent, have simply not been trained properly, consistently or effectively.)

Of these factors, the first two are most important. If training is not successful, in most cases it is because owner education, preparedness, consistency or commitment is lacking. This may be difficult for some owners to accept but remember that we have invited dogs into our environment. It is our responsibility to teach them in ways they can understand. This is incredibly important because, if an owner has not taken the time or applied the appropriate techniques properly and consistently, training with an electronic product will not make a difference. It will only confuse even the smartest dog.

There are certain signals that suggest a dog has not been properly trained. In these instances a dog may:

- Resist when his owner attempts to place a collar around his neck.

- Withstand correction, of any type, in the presence of certain distractions.

- Control his owner by acting timid or by ignoring his owner.

- Panic when he senses a warning.

- Attempt to escape when receiving a correction.

- Do anything except the behavior necessary to avoid the correction.

Education is the key. If an owner takes the time to understand electronic training - why it works, how it works, how to apply the appropriate techniques - it can be a beneficial tool.

Electronic training requires knowledge and skill

Why the concern for proper education? Because of the largest variable in the equation - the owner. Let us face it, humans are very unpredictable, as far as dogs are concerned. The response of most owners to the need for correction varies widely, depending on the dog, the training, the situation at hand and even the mood the dog happens to be in at the time. This is not conducive to effective training - of any kind.

In most cases, a dog exhibits a behavior in response to some stimulus or distraction. Owners must be careful not to create yet another, different misbehavior by misapplying the correction or applying it at the wrong time. And, for the safety of the dog, it is unnecessary to correct for every little thing. Owners must be selective to avoid canine confusion. When applied properly, electronic training can be done successfully. To help understand this, let us examine how people respond to their dogs without electronics.

Dog owners respond to their dogs in any number of different ways. They may reward their dogs by petting, talking, providing food or treats, playing or letting them sleep on the bed. The list is as long as there are owners on it. These same owners also correct in various ways, including yelling, hitting, throwing things, the use of a chain link training collar, ignoring the dog, not providing food or treats, or isolation in a room, crate, or kennel. This does not imply that all of these forms of reward and correction are acceptable. Only that they are multiple, and that training can be successful under some of these circumstances. So it is with electronic training.

One of the greatest acknowledged advantages of electronic training is that sophisticated electronics do make us humans more predictable by enhancing human consistency, especially as it relates to correction and allowing humans to easily and conveniently apply appropriate corrections, even when a dog is not within range of traditional (leash and choker collar) correction techniques.


Rules of electronic training

As was mentioned earlier, electronic training operates on the same basic principles used in all canine behavior modification: correction, redirection and reward. Therefore, it is imperative that the dog understand the basics before more sophisticated training begins.

'Dummy Equipment Effect': Before electronic training begins, the owner/trainer needs to be comfortable in the use of the device and the dog needs to be comfortable as well. Thus it is very important to create the 'Dummy Equipment Effect' before beginning.

Dogs are highly intelligent and certainly smart enough to know the difference between the different types of collars being used. They look different. They smell different. They exert different pressures on the neck once they are applied. Even the owner/trainer acts differently with the different collars. In some cases, the owner/trainer is there; in other cases, he is not.

Because all of this is true, it is important to eliminate the equipment itself from the learning process. Here is how:

Before beginning to train with an active electronic collar, the dog should first become accustomed to a deactivated collar (i.e., take the battery out). Even if the dog trainer or dog owner is under pressure to train the dog quickly (e.g., the neighbors are complaining), he still needs to teach the dog that the collar is not something to be feared.

The last thing someone wants to see is the dog cowering when being approached with a training collar, electronic or otherwise. By spending just a few days introducing the dog to the collar, other problems can be prevented.
Perhaps the one most essential general rule is to work on only one behavior at a time.

General Rules: All of the general rules of obedience training apply to electronic training as well. In fact, they are probably even more important in electronic training. These guidelines include:

- Do not train the dog for extended periods of time.

- Limit the number of corrections the dog receives in one training session and in one training day.

- Be sure that corrections are properly balanced with reward.

- Always give the correction at the same time. That is, do so only when the dog is actually misbehaving, not before the misbehavior occurs or after the misbehavior has stopped. This is important because it gives the dog a chance to learn, (i.e., to understand what causes the correction in the first place).

Finally, the beginning point of most electronic training includes the use of a leash, which serves to help redirect the dog away from escape and other inappropriate responses. This, in turn, makes it increasingly important not to correct arbitrarily or out of frustration. As a dog trainer or owner, it is necessary to be as disciplined as you want the dog to be.

The importance of redirection and reward

Electronic training combines several different techniques. Applying a correction is only a small part of a training program. Redirection and praise are far more important.

Why is this methodology important? Suppose there is a dog in a containment system, but every day he charges away and barks at a jogger who is running along outside the established bounds. What should be the desired correction? He should come when he is called, stay in the yard and stop barking at the jogger. But chasing and barking are perfectly normal in a dog's natural environment. Only in the human environment are they inappropriate.

Therefore, if the owner/trainer really wants to train the dog under these circumstances, he must first correct at the appropriate time, and consistently. He would do so using an obedience command. So, before beginning more complicated electronic training, it is important that the dog understand basic obedience commands. The trainer/owner must build from a solid foundation provided by these training basics.

In this specific instance, as soon as the dog takes off running, he would be given the 'Come' command. That way, when applying correction, it is because the dog did not come on command, not because he is chasing a jogger. Conversely, when the dog does obey immediately, he is praised for responding to the command, not for breaking off his pursuit. This is called redirection.

The risks in electronic training are the many variables. This same situation, handled improperly, can have the opposite effect. It could train the dog to attack joggers. A correction at the wrong time may cause the dog to identify the correction stimulus with the jogger. Dogs are known to have fight or flight responses to such threats. If the dog's response is to 'fight', joggers beware!

Reward: Unfortunately, some dog trainers/owners put the emphasis on correction. Even in this article, the information is weighted in this area. This is because correction is the area where most training problems occur. Reward is a much easier concept to understand and apply. During training, the dog should constantly and consistently be given a deserved reward - preferably praise and petting - for behavior that meets his training objectives. Again, timing is critical. The dog must be able to make the connection between the reward and the appropriate behavior.

Gratuitous reward is also a no-no. The dog trainer must reward the dog only when he is behaving properly. Do not worry; there will be plenty of opportunities to do so. Unless, of course, the dog trainer/owner slacks off and chooses to reward inconsistently or he breaks down further and treats the dog to praise, petting and food, even if a behavior is inappropriate.

Emotional and energy outlet: Appropriate emotional outlets also bear some discussion in this context. Obviously, electronic training is designed to stop a dog from exhibiting misbehaviors and help reward him for what the dog trainer/owner considers appropriate behavior. But if a dog cannot leave the yard, no reward can replace the freedom he has lost. In such cases, a dog must be given other appropriate outlets. This is why activities like running with the dog or playing with him are extremely important.

Redirection: Redirection is equally important, if not more so. In many electronic training situations, the dog trainer/owner needs to provide an alternate behavior for the dog. This redirection provides a known behavior pattern that the dog can fall back on, enabling the dog trainer/owner to reward him. A good example of such a behavior pattern is the 'Sit', 'Get your ball' or other command the dog already understands.

Have a plan: Overall, what one tries to do with redirection and reward is build better behavior in the dog. But when building anything, it is useful to have a blueprint - a plan that outlines specifically what to do under an array of circumstances.

Because of all the variables involved with electronic training, the dog trainer/owner needs to have such a plan. He needs to know exactly what he is going to do before a situation arises. Because, when it comes to training dogs, he needs to expect the unexpected. But if there is a plan in place, he will know exactly what to do.

The best plans are the simplest - the ones that ask the dog to do something basic. Pick something the dog has done many times before; perhaps a 'Sit' and 'Stay' command. Reliance on an old habit can bring a misbehaving dog - even a frightened or frazzled dog - back into the comfort zone. This will enable the dog trainer/owner to reward the dog, or regroup, should this become necessary.

Electronic Training - It Isn't About Pain

First, let us state that we have the utmost respect for those pet professionals that believe that a dog can be trained with reward-based methods only. However, we must disagree with some of them on the use of electronic training equipment.

What many of them do, essentially, is to reject -- out-of-hand and with no clinical research or unbiased field experience -- a proven, effective and humane training methodology.

Still, we know how they feel. We used to feel the same way. But once we tried these products, we found that they do much more good than harm.

Today's electronic training aids are designed so that they do not have the power to inflict pain under any circumstances. Also, most have an "over-correction protection" or time-out feature that doesn't allow misguided owners, or trainers, to provide continuous correction for an extended period of time.

While it is true that there is some misuse of electronic training equipment, we have found these examples to be few and very, very far between. Further, the people who do misuse the equipment fall into two categories:

1) Those who have absolutely no knowledge on how to use the equipment, and

2) Those who would be inclined to hurt their dogs whether it is with traditional training methodologies, like the chain link training collar or a gentle leader.

In fact, for every bad example that is described, we can list hundreds of documented positive results. In reality, most of the minority which condemn these devices have never tried the devices.

Reward-based trainers advocate an admirable ideal. While we do agree that their preferred methodology can be effective, we must state clearly that -- in our experience -- this is rare when it is the only methodology used.

All you have to do is look at the social structure of the dog in its natural environment to understand why. Pack behavior is hierarchical. It is based around a leader; usually the strongest and smartest of the group. But this position is ever-changing as the group evolves because there are physical challenges to this leader all the time.

Now, take the dog out of its natural environment and put it into an alien human social structure. It can only be expected to understand the pack mentality so there will be frequent challenges to that leadership: the dog's owner or trainer.

Millions of loving, caring pet owners and trainers are realists. Yes, we believe in the concept of reward, but as a part of a larger behavior management plan that accounts for the challenges to the limitations we must set. This means that "correction" is a necessity of training.

We recommend traditional techniques -- like a gentle leader -- as a proper starting point. (Keep in mind that the ending point -- or degree of training -- will vary widely from owner to owner, and from sporting dog to house pet.) But we have found that basic obedience training will aid in the adjustment of any dog, gun dog or domestic pet, to the 'unnaturalness' of the human environment.

Nonetheless, there are some dogs for which these traditional training techniques may not work. Others may not have been trained properly. For still others, unusual circumstances may have caused inconsistent, or (to a human) inappropriate behaviors that traditional techniques have not corrected -- or cannot correct.

Under these circumstances, electronic training equipment can be an excellent alternative. But as with many other relatively new concepts or technologies, electronic trainers are misunderstood. This confusion is centered on the correction methodology, which most people assume is painful.

But pain is not the active ingredient in electronic training. Again, you only have to look back to the pack to find out what makes remote trainers so effective. When the leader of a pack is challenged, he maintains his leadership the old-fashioned way - by winning a dogfight. The confrontation is over when one dog puts himself in a position to mouth, or grab, the other's throat or trachea.

But in the vast majority of cases, this is not a fight to the death. These dogs recognize that they need each other in order to survive. The tracheal grab or "collapse" is only temporary, just enough for one dog to send the other a simple message of domination.

So what does this have to do with electronic training? Everything. The correction is applied in the same area. The one that dogs use on each other from the time they're pups - the throat. This same correction -- applied to any other area -- would not have the same effect, at any intensity of correction.

These corrections are not harmful. They do result in a feeling similar to the static "shock" you receive after rubbing your feet on a carpet, and then touching the wall. This may be uncomfortable, but it is not harmful.

The true purpose of the correction is to startle - to get the animals' attention so training can commence or continue. These products enable you to gain, or regain, control of a situation. And to establish, or re-establish, your position as the "leader". In fact, not all electronic trainers use electronic correction. Some startle using an ultrasonic tone, which canines exclusively hear, while others use a "spray" technology, that emits a quick startling mist -- usually citronella -- to dissuade the dog. All can be very effective.

They are all relatively affordable -- most are in the price range of $100.00 to $350.00 - but they do differ in quality and some features can add cost. Just make sure you choose products that have safety built right in. Look for those that are UL approved. This kind of acceptance should offer trainers and owners alike additional peace of mind.

Also, make sure the product you select includes very good training materials such as manuals and customer service representatives, which instruct owners about the proper use of their equipment. It's unfortunate that all this confusion has kept the discourse focused on correction. That's only part of the story. An electronic trainer is nothing more than a tool. It needs to be used with common sense, and as a part of a broader plan that uses generous amounts of praise and petting.

Actually, the training programs suggested by most of the reputable manufacturers place a heavy emphasis on redirection and reward. And, in almost all cases, these products also feature a warning tone that enables owners or trainers to send the right signals to a dog before getting into trouble. The ultimate goal of using a remote training collar is to eliminate the improper behavior and then, through reward and redirection, create or expand on proper behavior.

These devices are not right for every dog, every owner or every trainer. But they can be helpful when used properly and in the right context.

In 1998 alone, over 300,000 remote control electronic trainers were purchased in the United States and another 200,000 internationally many of which were probably purchased by professional trainers. Most, though, are owners -- who love and truly care for their dogs. But the dog himself receives the biggest benefits of all. First, he'll learn his parameters in a language he can understand, because of his pack mentality. That means the lesson will be better retained. This leads to a healthier lifestyle. At the same time, he will gain more "freedom" because his owner will trust him more.

Finally, it gives those few dogs with misbehaving owners (frustrated as they may be) a chance at all.

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