Owner Inadvertently Misusing His Electronic Collar

(Adam’s response are denoted below.)

[DAVID WRITES: ] Dear Adam:

I have read your book a couple of times, and have recommended it to several of the folks who attended the obedience class with me  (Which after reading your book I realized what a waste the class was).

Ok Ok, so I’m done sucking up for now.  😉

I have a 10 month-old Australian Shepherd named Belle.

I ordered the Free Spirit e-collar from Innotek and I’ve gotten her used to wearing it. I intend to use the e-collar to quicken Belle’s response to my commands only when she begins to test me, which she does when she decides that she’s tired playing, or just basically uninterested in anything I may have to offer her in trade for her obedience.

[ADAM REPLIES:]  Already my “Alert:  Danger Ahead” lights are flashing.  It sounds like you’re unclear as to what you’re using the e-collar for.  If you want to speed up your dog’s response to commands… this is primarily done with POSITIVE motivation.  If she’s already tired, then you should put her away and take her out later.

[DAVID CONTINUES:]  That said, I forged off the other day and began to test it while playing Frisbee with her.  I got the collar hooked up, and set on level 5 (And now you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Hmmmmmmm level 5 for a female Australian shepherd, hmmmmmmmmm.’  Yep.  Level 5, got the ‘ole  head twitch when I tested it and everything seemed fine.

[ADAM WRITES:]  You were playing Frisbee with your dog… why do you need the electronic collar for this?  Secondly… there are 7 levels of stimulation.  If you’re only getting a head-twitch at level 5… then something is wrong.  (See below).

[DAVID:]  Well, seems the connection was not all there on the test, and after a run out to catch the Frisbee and about half way back Dave says, “Belle sit” and she proceeds on her usual “I can go 10 feet before I actually sit (which is actually a down, but I’ll get to that in a second)” and Dave hits the button on the remote, and Belle screams out in pain (seems the connection is much better now), does almost a complete back flip, drops the Frisbee and runs for the door” I let her inside and she heads for the darkest most remote place she can find.

[ADAM REPLIES:]  Damn, straight!  I would, too.  This is not the proper way to introduce the collar.

First, you should have been circumspect to be working with the collar on level 5 from the first session.  I can almost guarantee what happened was that the collar was not making contact with the dog’s skin, but rather with the dog’s fur… at least until she started running around.  After the collar had a chance to settle, it then was right against the skin of the dog’s neck… and thus OVER-CORRECTING HER.  (Either this, or the collar was malfunctioning.)

Second, what you’re doing with the dog is not right.  Not at this stage.  You should not be playing Frisbee while first stimulating the dog.  And second, the collar should not be looked at as a device to TEACH your dog but rather to PROOF your dog.   (It’s a  common mistake… don’t feel bad.  I’d bet a dollar that your dog doesn’t fully understand the command yet… or his understanding is only situational.)

[DAVID:]  I coax her out with a ball and take the collar off and replace it with her normal collar and leave her be.

[ADAM:]  Big mistake.  1.)  You just taught her to be collar-smart and showed her that this e-collar is somehow related to the traumatic event.    And 2.)  You coddled her and rewarded her for this behavior.  Instead, you should have taken her out and continued playing… showed her that it was just a fluke.  And immediately worked her past it.  By letting her go into the house, you’ve allowed the experience with the park to brew in her mind.  You should have played it off in the same manner as if she’d stepped on a rock.  “Ooops… did that get you?  Okay… shake it off… let’s continue playing.”

[DAVID:]   She is pretty smart, it becomes apparent to me that she has made a connection  to this terrible pain to the following things:

“The pain is associated with her master, he should be avoided at all costs.” She figures out this is not the case after a period of time.

[ADAM:]  WRONG… she went into shock because she had no idea what the correction was for.

[DAVID:]  “The pain is associated with her master, and any toy we are currently playing with” I admit it took me several hours to overcome this one.

[ADAM:]  It wouldn’t have, if you’d just continued playing with her.

“The pain is associated with her master, a toy and any command he gives, I.E if I have the ball in my mouth, and he tells me to sit, I should run for the hills”

Pretty much worked through that one also.

She doesn’t know what to associate it with.  That’s why it’s your job to: 1.  Admit that you screwed up.  2.  Take her back immediately and let her realize that it was just a fluke.  Show her this through experience.

[DAVID:]  “The pain is associated with any command” She’s still not sure of this.

[ADAM:]  She didn’t really understand the command in the first place.

[DAVID:]  “The pain is associated with being outside in the front yard” Got past that one also “The pain is associated with being outside in the front yard and her Frisbee”

[ADAM:]  Again… this is all WHAT YOU THINK IS IN HER HEAD.  She simply doesn’t know what in heck happened.  She’s just generally wary of everything now, and it’s you’re job to show her it was a fluke.

[DAVID:]  Her Frisbee drive is so strong that she got past this quickly. “The pain is associated with being outside, the Frisbee, and any command”

Hmmmmmm, still working on this one, the good news is that she will sit/down immediately now without any hesitation whatsoever whether she’s in fetch mode or retrieve mode. The bad news is once I introduce commands, she is still wary of what in particular caused the pain and will begin to take things into her own hands such as stopping half way on the fetch and go down, begin the retrieval and go down, etc, etc, all without me issuing any commands whatsoever. I’m probably pushing it somewhat, and will just play with her without any commands for a couple of sessions so she’ll get relaxed again.

[ADAM:]  Work her through it… without the collar.  If she goes down… then tell her again to go get the Frisbee.  Do lots of repetition and give her lots of praise.

[DAVID:]  Going back to that sit/down when she’s on the leash– in the house– I say, “Sit” and she sits.  When I say, “Sit” in a distance setting, she’ll go down every time.  She also goes down when I say down. I can do the “no no no no no no no no” thing while running up to her, and as soon as I arrive she’ll sit up in a nice little sitting position. I realize that this is not really a “dog problem” likened to what most would consider a problem, as I suspect most of your customers would be pleased as punch if their dog would do what Belle does. And to tell you the truth, I really could live with it, but it’s a matter of curiosity as to how to go about training her to only sit.

[ADAM:]   She’s not understanding.  Here’s what you need to do:

Put a 30 foot long line on her.  Stand back and stay, “Sit.”  If she lays down, then reissue the command, “Sit” and then lift the line straight up.  You can do this first with a 6 foot line if she needs to be pulled up into the sit position.  But basically, if you say, “Sit” and she lays down, then there should be tension on the collar until she sits back up.  Sometimes a quick flick upwards of the long line will feel to the dog like a correction upwards and get her to sit up by herself without having to walk in and make her do it.  (This is a very common problem, by the way.)

[DAVID:]  I suspect that I could do it with the e-collar, after I re-introduce it to her (she is wearing it again, although I have not started using it as of yet) by giving her a correction when she goes down, but it’d be real easy to over do it in this case, as she may stand up instead. How would you go about it???

[ADAM:]  No.  You don’t need the e-collar for this.  Teach it with the long line.  Later, once she’s doing it… you can start to synchronize the leash correction with the e-collar (on a very low setting… like Level 2).

And once you see that she completely understands the command with both the long line and the e-collar, you’ll be able to later start working her at farther distances with  only the e-collar.  Let me reiterate:  The e-collar should be viewed by the dog as an exciting opportunity to go out and work.  My dog loves it because it represents a romp in the park.  If instead, your dog is fearful or has a bad attitude about it.. .you can be sure that you’re doing something wrong… and you should find out what it is, quick!

[DAVID:]  I enjoy the dog, and as I work out of the house I have plenty of available time to spend with her.   Thanks for listening, and thanks for the book and the site.

[ADAM:]  Take it slow.  Keep it fun for the dog.  Use the e-collar for reliability and to increase YOUR TIMING and consistency as if you were able to run as fast as the dog.  It should be used in exactly the same way that a normal leash correction is used… but with the added benefit of not having to run yourself.  Good luck.