The Correct Timing of Stimulation

Getting Started on Come to the Handler (the 1st Action)

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

When starting a dog with the remote trainer, we want the dog to learn that it can turn off stimulation by performing specific commands that the dog already knows. We start with three different motions, coming to the trainer, going away from the trainer, and remaining stationary. This strategy keeps the dog in balance and gives the dog a foundation you can build on later as you utilize the remote trainer in specific exercises.

We call this teaching program the "three-action introduction." This article will talk about the first action, coming to the trainer.

The correct timing of stimulation

When beginning the three-action introduction, the dog should feel stimulation the moment before it hears the command or receives the cue for a behavior. In other words, the dog feels very mild discomfort from the collar, and your command tells it how to turn off the discomfort. When it complies, you stop the discomfort by releasing the transmitter button.

With repetition of this sequence, the dog identifies the relationship between its performance of the command and the end of the mild discomfort. This is called "escape training," because the dog thinks it is escaping from stimulation by performing an action.

During this early stage of training, you should not follow the "normal" training approach of giving a command, seeing whether the dog obeys, and then reinforcing a second command if the first is not obeyed. If you reinforce only second commands with a naive dog (a dog that is unfamiliar with the collar), it usually won't associate its failure to obey with the stimulation. Instead, it typically thinks, "The ground got me" and does not want to get near that area again.

Repeating this timing several times can make a dog insecure. The best way to teach a dog to associate performance of a command with avoiding stimulation is to start with the escape training sequence.

It is also important to avoid late timing. By "late timing" we mean that you first give a command, and then apply stimulation. When this happens, the dog may have already begun the correct response before it feels the stimulation. This makes it hard for the dog to learn, because it may think that trying to obey causes the collar to turn on, instead of off.

Another timing issue is when to release the button. You want the dog to feel successful, so you want to plan your procedure (and/or adjust your expectations!) so that stimulation can be turned off quickly. For example, if the dog can complete a command quickly (such as "Sit" or "Down"), stop the stimulation when the dog completes the command. However, if distance is involved, so that time elapses before the dog can complete a command (such as "Come"), turn off stimulation the moment the dog starts to comply.

A dog can't easily identify how to be successful if stimulation continues for an extended period of time while it is in the act of complying. Dogs that are introduced to remote training this way are most likely to think that the discomfort of stimulation is just something they have to put up with while they work--some new form of "proofing" perhaps! They don't develop the desired attitude of feeling in control of stimulation.

At first, you should use stimulation every time you give the command, so that the dog will have enough repetitions to learn how to turn it off. When you see your dog obeying quickly, this is your cue that it has learned that it can turn off the collar by its own action.

Now it is time to progress to the second stage, "avoidance training." In this stage, give the first command without applying stimulation. This gives the dog a chance to find out that it can "beat the system" and avoid stimulation entirely by a quick response. When the dog has reached this level of understanding for a particular command, apply stimulation only when you have to repeat the command.

If your remote trainer has momentary stimulation, now is a good time to phase in its use. Try using low-level momentary instead of continuous when you need to reinforce the second command. (Momentary stimulation is designed to have a startling effect, so when you first introduce it, it's a good idea to lower the intensity plug or contact point one level.)

Sometimes you may find that even though the dog has learned to turn off low-level stimulation, it may regress and not respond because it has decided to resist--not because it is confused. If this should happen, instead of increasing the intensity of your voice ("Come. Come! Come!!!"), just increase the level of stimulation at the transmitter each time you repeat the command.

If you find that you are using the medium and high levels very often, you should change the intensity plug in the collar to the next higher level. When the dog has gotten over its resistant phase, you should lower the intensity level again for normal training. Remember to give a dog several sessions of "escape training" on the command before you assume that it is resisting, because it may just be confused.

The First Action--Coming to the Handler

Training the Dog to Turn Toward You

At this stage, we want the dog to learn that turning toward the trainer turns off stimulation. Later we will expand this understanding to become a recall and finally walking with the trainer.

Go for a walk with the dog in a large field, away from traffic. If you don't have access to such an area, at first keep the dog on a long rope of 40 feet or so. Let the dog move off freely on its own as you walk. After a little while, when the dog is looking away from you, quietly change your direction. Say nothing to the dog. Watch to see if the dog changes direction to follow you. If not, press the low button and call the dog. Release the button the moment the dog changes direction and starts toward you.

By releasing the button the moment the dog changes direction to move toward you, you are making it easy for the dog to identify a successful action.

Let the dog overtake you as you continue to walk along in the new direction. Do not stop walking. It's also best not to praise the dog as it runs past you. Praising the dog will attract it to you and you want it to feel free to continue past you. You also want the dog to learn that it is controlling the collar, not that it is pleasing you by turning. Follow the dog for a little while to keep it feeling free and moving independently.

Change your direction again when you see that the dog has become distracted and isn't paying attention to you. After you change direction, again watch to see if the dog will adjust to your direction without use of stimulation. If not, follow the same procedure as before--any time the dog does not turn on its own, press the low button as you call it. Keep walking, and release the button as soon as the dog turns toward you.

After a while you will see the dog begin to pay attention to your location as you walk. Now the dog is ready for the next step.

Training the Dog to Come and Stay with You

Let the dog wander away from you. When the dog is headed away from you, press the low button and command it to come. Release the button the moment the dog starts toward you, and remain stationary. The first few times you do this, bend over and praise the dog to entice it to come all the way to you.

If the dog should veer off or fail to come all the way, or if it should immediately wander off again after coming to you, press the button and repeat the command. Release the button the moment the dog heads toward you.

Be sure to remain standing in one place until the dog has come to you. A stationary position cues the dog that it should come all the way to you, instead of just turning and running past you.

Training the Dog to Walk with You

The goal at this stage is to have the dog walk quietly on one side of the handler. This is not heeling as done for competition, because you will not be seeking either attention or precision. Later we will talk about using the remote trainer for competition heeling. You may wish to use a different command for this "rough heeling," or use your normal heel command but not ask for attention first. The dog will understand the difference.

To introduce rough heeling, call the dog to you with low-level stimulation. Repeat this in quick succession until you see that the dog tends to stay with you after coming. Then command it to heel and begin walking in one direction.

As you walk, visualize a circle around you, four feet in diameter. Any time the dog leaves this circle after you've given it the "Heel" command press the low button as you repeat the command. Turn 180 degrees away from the dog and continue walking.

Opening up distance between you and the dog makes it easier for the dog to identify where it must be in order to turn off the stimulation. Initially, all your walking should be in a straight line except for the turns you make when correcting the dog.

If the dog has moved farther than ten feet away from you, use the command to come rather than heel, and release the button the moment the dog starts to come.

During the first few sessions, do not correct the dog if it sometimes gets on the wrong side of you, or it can become confused. After several sessions, you can begin to refine the dog's understanding of the "heel position." Now give the dog lots of praise when it is on the correct side, but if it tries to heel on the wrong side, make that side less pleasant by shaking the transmitter antenna on that side when it tries to go there.

Coming in our next article

In our next article, we will finish the first action.

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