The "Invisible Check Cord"

by Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

We can't say it better than Talbot Radcliffe in his book, Spaniels for Sport. In 1969, Mr. Radcliffe wrote as follows:

"The cord will be a continuous vexation to you.

If you hold the end, the dog will wrap around a clump or get the cord caught in an obstruction.

If you let it go, the free end will never be anywhere near you when you want to catch hold of it to turn your dog.

Sometimes you will step on it yourself, and bring the dog to a full stop, just as he was beginning to go nicely, and thus creating confusion in his mind.

I am sure no words of mine will be needed to induce you to dispense with it as soon as possible."

At the Tri-Tronics Research & Training Center, we've been "dispensing with it" for several years now. In fact, we never use it for turning a spaniel. Done right, "invisible check-cording" with the remote trainer is far more effective, and a gentler method for teaching the spaniel to turn than the traditional check cord.

Finding the Dog's Sensitivity Level

Our method is based on teaching the dog that turning "shuts off" low level stimulation. Needless to say, the stimulation used for this purpose must be perceived by the dog as very low, so as not to make him worried. Since every dog is different, we always start out by determining which intensity plug or contact point is the right level for the dog.

Start with the lowest intensity in your collar. Let the dog walk around on leash until he's ignoring you. Then press the button that produces the lowest level of continuous stimulation. Say nothing to the dog. Look for a reaction in which the dog quickly moves his head as though an insect just flew by his ear. If you don't see this physical reaction from the dog, replace the intensity plug or contact point with the next higher level, and test again. Continue increasing the level until you see the described reaction.

Turning the Spaniel in the Field

Start off by teaching the dog to turn on your two-pip whistle attraction. Your dog needs to know that he should change directions when he hears the two-pip whistle, even though he may not be reliable at doing it. Then you can begin work with the remote trainer, using low-level continuous stimulation for "electronic check-cording."

To do this, begin with a walk through the field with the dog. When he is about 20 yards away from you, turn away from him and keep walking in a new direction. Give the dog a moment to turn and go with you without your whistle attraction. If he turns on his own, great! If he does not, press the bottom button as you give him the whistle signal to turn. Let him see that you are now walking in a new direction.

Release the button the moment the dog changes direction. Follow the dog for awhile after he runs across in front of you. Following the dogís direction keeps him ìfreed­upî and prevents him from sticking too close to you.

Repeat, changing your direction from time to timeñbut of course not when the dog is investigating bird scent! Give the whistle to turn when you change direction. If the dog doesnít respond immediately, press the button as you give the whistle a second time. Keep walking, and release the button as soon as the dog turns.

Practice the lesson on turning in at least five different locations over a period of several sessions, so that the dog can generalize from his experience.

A Note About Timing

It is important that the stimulation does not start after the dog has heard and is trying to respond correctly to a command. If this happens, the dog may become confused. Therefore, during the initial training phase, concentrate on pressing the button just before you give a command.

At first, it will seem odd to use the collar before you give the command. However, when teaching a dog to turn off low-level stimulation, you are not "correcting" the dog. By using low-level stimulation that the dog does not perceive as painful, you are teaching him how to turn off the unpleasant sensation through his own response. Learning to turn off stimulation is essential to the dog's future understanding of corrections in the field.

First Appeared in:
The Retriever Journal, Vol.1 no.4 Apr./May'96

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