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JoAnne’s Workshop: No What? Using E-Collars

JoAnne’s Workshop: No What? Using E-Collars

There is much ground to cover in the use of the e-collar, so while I wanted to address using it for aggression this month, proper use of the e-collar is an issue that is more important to address first.

  • What can you use the e-collar for?
  • Jumping on counters
  • Bull-dozing into the side of your older dog
  • Jumping on people, fences, doors, other dogs
  • Running into the street, and whatever else you can possibly think of.
  • I do NOT use e-collars for heeling, broken stays, or failures in competitive training.

First and foremost, my dog MUST understand what behavior is unacceptable, and what behavior is acceptable. One of my biggest pet peeves is during puppy class when the owner hollers “No, No, NO!” at his dog. The dog is almost always pulling, jumping, trying to get to another puppy, not paying attention, or doing a variety of puppy actions. I will ask them, “No WHAT? What are you saying NO to? What does your puppy have to do? What action do you want your puppy to perform when he stops doing whatever you are telling him NO to?”

I hear the phrases “no bark” “no jump” etc. quite often. What if you said “No sit”? Does that mean to not sit? Does it mean stop another behavior and sit? Or does it mean to stop sitting and stand, or lie down, or roll over?

When using the e-collar, to stim the dog when he is doing something wrong is NOT acceptable. He must know what he is to do, and understand if he is failing to do what you requested. This is absolutely key to using the collar correctly. As an example, if my dog was about to chase a squirrel, and I observed this and called him, but he took off anyhow, the stim would be in order. I am not using the collar to punish him for chasing a squirrel, I am using it to indicate that I called him and he failed to come. In the future, if I were to use the e-collar when he started to chase the squirrel, his response would be to come to me. That is his safety. He has to know the correct response to avoid the correction. Or, if he received the correction, he needs to know what his response should be so he can safely execute it. Because of this, I am able to take him off leash in a field, knowing that when his impulse wants to take off and chase a squirrel, he will look to me, and know that he cannot take chase. This will be the most important issue when working with the aggressive dog.

Let’s work on teaching my puppy not to abuse my older dog. Years ago, a person came in with a Boxer puppy that was jumping all over a 10 year old Bedlington Terrier, and the Bedlington was of course snarking at the puppy. Her question was, “How do I stop the Bedlington from snarking at the puppy?” OUCH. The issue is not the Bedlington, but you not protecting your older dog from your younger dog. I do not allow my older dogs to “Put him in his place” as that is my job. I don’t put that kind of training power on my dogs. I run the show; they don’t. Some people allow their dogs to correct the younger ones and are pleased with the results, but this is something I just don’t do.

In the beginning puppies in my house are on a leash. They are not allowed to jump on the older dogs, and they learn very quickly that they do not get to take toys away from the older dogs, or run into them, or bite their legs or do all the stuff that puppies do with the older dogs. In turn, the older ones are not allowed to tell off the puppy, as I will protect them, so they do not have to protect themselves.

I start most of my puppies on the e-collar at five months or once the puppy has a good idea of what is unacceptable in my house. Going outside and having everyone loose together is a work in progress. Just the other day, a person asked me how I stopped the younger one from bulldozing into the older one, and the older one from going after the younger one. Hmmmm. I don’t let it happen in the first place. I am quite strict on these rules.

Tesa, my 4-year-old was injured last October. I definitely don’t want my 6-month-old puppy running into her when we are outside, so both wear e-collars. Tesa is recuperating and loves to chase squirrels with a bit too much enthusiasm; she wears one so she doesn’t decide to bolt after them. The puppy wears one so she learns the yard manners, meaning we can run politely together, but no tackling or taking toys away from the others.

To do this, the puppy wears an e-collar, and if she gets too close to Tesa, there is a very minimal stim or vibrate which reminds her to stay out of the other’s space. I always combine it with a verbal command to leave her alone. At this point, she must know what the correct action is before they are loose together. This is from conditioning on a leash for the first 5 months of her life. Fosta is now 10 ½ and certainly doesn’t need the puppy running her over. I am outside when they are all loose together, 100% of the time. The puppy is learning to respect their space and they are not out together alone ever, at least until the dogs are so used to the rules that they rarely, if ever, break them.

Just a side note: I also try to avoid the word “No” because it can be so confusing to the dog. I do use it and catch myself using it more often than I would care to admit. It is the word that comes naturally out of our mouths to stop a behavior. If you do agility, and one of your words for a send is “Go”, how on earth is the dog to distinguish one from the other? I tell my dogs for the obedience Utility directed jumping, “GO out.” Hmmmmm…Just something to think about.

Moving on to teaching the dog to not run into the street or to accept boundaries. Many people use the underground fencing system to keep their dogs within the boundaries of their property. I have a fenced in yard, and do not use this system, however I do teach my dogs to stay within the boundaries I set for them. For example, the front yard is not fenced, so they must know when they are out there, the street is off limits.

I begin with a line and simply walk casually to the end of the yard, and as I step into the street, I tell the dog to stay in the yard. Not a firm “stay” as that would mean don’t move a muscle, but a casual sentence that they can understand. The dog at first will follow me, so I just take the line with an “uh-uh” and correct him gently back into the yard. Repeat until he stays in the yard as you walk into the street. At this point, he will probably stop dead as you walk out into the street, so we have to start him moving. I start to walk while in the street, and he will start to walk, then will step into the street, and I will correct him back into the yard. Soon he will understand he can walk IN the yard, not step out of it. Then I just do a variety of testing sequences, where I may run with him, tell him “stay in the yard” as I run into the street. All this time he has a line on.

Now the e-collar comes into play. While on the e-collar, I will never stim the dog when I am out in the street to get back into his yard. Why? Because I have used the e-collar for my dog to come to me, so this is just the opposite of what I want. So, now my e-collar training begins for the yard. I must do this in a safe zone, where I can safely have my dog off leash with no threat of cars coming. If not, I must keep the dog on a line. A good safe place would be at a park, where there is a parking lot, and no traffic, on a day when you can be away from crowds. I play with my dog with a toy, and carelessly toss the toy into the street. I tell the dog to “stay in the yard” and as he heads out into the street to get the toy, he gets the stim from the e-collar. With the training done so far, he should stop immediately in his tracks. If he does not, the line needs to be in play. The line will help him understand he can go no further and must get back into the “yard”.

I do this several times. I will throw the toy a few times for him in the safe zone, then toss into the street. Soon I will not have to even say to stay in the yard, he will understand that he must stop at the end of the grassy area or whatever area I designate as the yard. I will then tell him to stay in the yard as I retrieve the thrown object. This training of the e-collar is so powerful that I can take my dogs off leash anywhere and trust them to not run out in traffic. Of course, safety always comes first, so never risk working too close to traffic.

As far as counter surfing, jumping on people, and all the fun bad habits our dogs can have, the e-collar serves as just a tool when you cannot physically get your 80-pound dog off of your frail Great-Aunt as she steps into your home. You can use the e-collar as he launches himself onto the sleeping older dog or he takes chase after the unsuspecting cat.

The e-collar is only what you make it. If you put the collar on every time you go outside to play with your dog, your dog will start howling with excitement because it is fun playtime. If you put the collar on your dog when you are fed up with how he is acting, it only serves as a punishment, and your dog will cower when he sees it. It is not the e-collar that your dog is resenting, it is your demeanor and your anger that he sees is coming. For example, your dog is outside and doesn’t come when called, so you put the e-collar on him, and correct him, what will he be thinking? It is your temperament that will make the collar good or bad. Don’t make it bad. If you put it on him in the first place when you go outside, then he knows you are going to have fun, but he also has to listen. I cannot pick up my e-collar without my dogs going bonkers, crying and hollering because they are excited. If you pick up your e-collar, and your dog puts his head down, get rid of it, you have no business using one.

It is too important to know how to use the e-collar correctly before using it to curb aggression. If you don’t understand the fundamentals, you could do more damage even making your dog more aggressive. While I am touching on specific issues only there is so much more to using the collar. And the dog must thoroughly understand the collar in order to move onto aggression issues. Next issue, I will venture into this subject.

If anyone has any questions on using an e-collar, please contact me via email.