Electronic Collar Training For The Schutzhund Dog: Part II
By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard
In the last article, Part I, we covered selection of equipment and fitting the collar to the dog; we introduced the "Here" exercise with the collar, and we listed some important principles to guide the trainer whenever using electronic training collars. If you didn't have a chance to read Part I, go ahead and review that now, before starting your dog with the collar.
Now we are ready to add the commands "Heel," "Kennel," and "Sit," and finish teaching the "Here" command. Remember that the dog must already know what a command means before you begin teaching it to understand the collar reinforcement of that command.
Reinforcing The Heel Command
The Training Sequence
The "Heel" command is next in the logical sequence. By teaching your dog to have "collar understanding" of the "Here" command with low-level stimulation as described in Part I of this series, the dog now knows that by turning toward you when you command "Here" it can "turn off" the collar. It also knows that by responding quickly and coming straight to you, no matter what the distraction, it can prevent the collar from turning on.
This process has built self-confidence in the dog because it feels it can control the collar through its own action. It has also strengthened the dog's respect for your commands without harsh corrections or intimidation.
Since the dog has learned not to run past you when you call "Here," it will tend to stay close as you walk around. Take advantage of this temporary desire to stay close to you. Now is the ideal time to teach it that obeying the "Heel" command also works to turn off the collar.
Training the Dog to Identify the Heel Position
Give your "Heel" command and start walking. Whenever the dog is more than two feet out of the heel position, press the button, repeat the command and, as the dog enters the heel position, release the button. Be sure to praise the dog when it is in the correct position. This gives the dog a comparison of pleasure when it is in the heel position and displeasure when it leaves the heel position.
Let the dog concentrate on one thing at a time. Don't enforce any automatic sit at this stage. You want the dog to feel that the heel position is a safe spot.
If the dog forges ahead, turn in the opposite direction so that the dog is put in a lagging position and command "Heel." Then, as you continue walking, let the dog take the responsibility for positioning itself as you proceed to walk along a straight line.
If after several sessions on collar training "Heel", the dog moves up on your right side, press the button as you make an about turn to your right (into the dog, which automatically relocates the dog into heel position). Release the button as soon as the dog is on your right side again. This procedure gives a smooth way to put the dog on the correct side and gives the beginning dog a chance to be successful quickly in locating the heel (safe) position.
After a few repetitions, you can stop using your "Heel" command each time you press the button, and simply use the collar alone. This reinforces the dog's understanding that once it has heard the command "Heel," success in maintaining the heel position is its responsibility, not yours.
Increasing the Challenge
Now add changes of pace, then turns, and then gradually add greater and greater distractions. Instantly turn 180 degrees away from the distraction the moment the dog moves out of place. Be prepared to go up in intensity level if necessary to counteract the distraction. Give the dog a consistent set of rules--"Heel" always means "Heel".
Enhancing the Meaning of Praise
As you work the dog on the "Heel" command, watch for times when you see the dog start to leave the heel position and then catch itself and move back into position on its own without collar reinforcement. Praise it for its correct decision. You can enhance the significance of praise to the dog by taking advantage of these moments. Whenever a dog knows that it has avoided stimulation from the collar by its own act, it has a strong feeling of success, and it will associate these natural pleasurable feelings with your verbal praise if you time things correctly.
Do Not Use the Collar to Fine-tune Heel
Until the dog is quite experienced with collar training and has a high understanding of the correct heel position, you should not try to use the collar to correct it for minor errors in maintaining the heel position. It will have too much difficulty distinguishing what it did that was successful in turning off the collar. The dog views the heel position as a "safe place next to your leg." If you make this "safe place" too small too soon, the dog will become confused, not being able to clearly identify the heel position as a safe place.
Training The Kennel Command
The purpose of reinforcing this command with the collar is to teach the dog that it can also turn off the collar by leaving you on command. Remember that up until now, the dog's collar lessons have taught it that coming to you or staying with you is the key to success. The dog will be out of behavioral balance if you do not give it some work on the opposite motion.
The Set-Up for Training "Kennel"
Attach your dog to a long line and run the line through the back of an open dog crate or airline-type kennel (a wire crate is best). An assistant should hold the line. If no assistant is available, you will need to run the line around something sturdy behind the crate and back to you so that you can pull the line.
Have the dog enter the crate on command a few times without using the collar. Once it is used to going in, use the line to restrain the dog so that it remains in the crate for a few moments.
Introducing the Concept: Give the Dog A Comparison
Now leave just enough slack in the line to allow the dog to step outside the crate. When the dog steps out, press the button and command "Kennel." As soon as it gets back in, release the button. Let it settle and then praise. If the dog leaves the open crate when you are praising it, press the button and command "Kennel." The dog must learn that praise isn't a release from the "Kennel" command.
"Kennel" From Your Side
As soon as the dog has the idea of staying inside, you know that it views the crate as a safe place. Now, with the dog about six feet in front of the crate, stand beside the dog. Press the low button on the transmitter as you take a step toward the crate and command "Kennel." Use the line to guide the dog into the crate. As soon as it enters, release the button and praise it. Have it stay there a few moments before calling it out.
Now call it out and throw something it likes to retrieve directly behind you as soon as it leaves the crate. (Do not use the collar to reinforce "Here" to get the dog out of the crate. Train one thing at a time. Use a second line if necessary).
If the dog leaves the crate before you call it out, use the collar again as you command it back into the crate. Even if it only steps out with its front feet (very common), immediately move towards the dog and use the collar as you command "Kennel."
When the dog is willingly entering the crate to turn the collar off without guidance from the line, begin increasing the distance between the dog and the crate. From now on, release the button after the dog starts away from your side toward the crate. You want the dog to be successful in turning off the stimulus quickly. As distance increases, it would take too long for the dog to turn off the collar if it had to go all the way back to the crate.
Completing the Teaching of "Kennel"
Do a few repetitions of the "Kennel" command for several training sessions in various locations. Use low level stimulation that the dog turns off by leaving your side to go toward the crate. Now that the dog is responding quickly give it a chance to avoid electrical stimulation. Give the command "Kennel" without electrical stimulation. You should not need to use the collar unless the dog responds slowly or requires a second command.
Teaching The Sit Command
The Teaching Sequence
Using the collar to reinforce the "Sit" command should be done after the "Here", "Heel" and "Kennel" commands. (Remember that your dog should already know how to sit on command before you start this teaching procedure).
Your first goal with the "Sit" exercise is to teach the dog that staying put on command prevents the collar from turning on. We use "Sit" for this rather than "Down" or "Stand" because "Sit" is the easiest of the stationary commands for the dog to learn. Remember that the purpose of this stage of our collar teaching is to teach the dog to have a strategy: obedience to known commands turns off the collar. We are not trying to prove to the dog that we can force it to do things it doesn't enjoy doing.
Fitting the Collar for "Sit"- Start With the Point Of Contact Method
Usually, it is easiest for the dog to succeed if you first put the collar around the dog's waist with the receiver on top of its rump. Lower the intensity plug by one level, since many dogs will be physically more sensitive on the rump than the neck. (Lower it further or raise it up as warranted by the dog's responses). For large dogs, you can add another collar strap so that the collar will fit around the dog's waist.
Occasionally a dog will overreact to the sensation of the strap around its waist. (This reaction has nothing to do with the electrical stimulation-it happens before you press the transmitter button). If your dog overreacts, firmly command "Sit" and guide with your leash until the dog stops moving around.
Start With the Stationary "Sit"
With the dog on a 6-foot leash, command "Sit" without stimulation and move to the end of your leash. Watch the dog's rump. The moment it rises from the ground, press the low button on the transmitter and repeat "Sit." The dog will naturally tend to move away from the stimulation on its rump and sit back down. However if it doesn't sit, help guide it by pulling up with your leash. As soon as its butt hits the ground, release the button. Watch the dog's rump carefully. Consistent timing will help the dog learn quickly.
Now gently tug on the leash from in front of the dog to tempt it to move out of the sit position. You want to give the dog the opportunity to learn that sitting turns off the collar, and remaining on a sit keeps it turned off.
"Sit" From Motion
Once the dog is resisting your leash tugs and other distractions, you should add the sit out of motion. With the collar on the dog's rump, begin walking with the dog at heel. Press the button as you command "Sit" and quickly step in front, turning to face the dog. This blocks its forward motion. Release the button as its butt hits the ground and you continue to move away. Push the button and repeat the command if the dog tries to follow you.
When you get to the end of the leash, wait a moment, then give the sitting dog a few light tugs on the leash. You should see your dog resist the tugs with some obvious determination. These gentle leash tugs help the dog to be successful by reminding it of its previous stationary "Sit" lessons.
Refine the sit out of motion exercise until the dog sits on command to turn off the collar as you keep walking at the same pace. When the dog has a reliable, confident understanding of this motion without needing your body language or leash assistance, it is ready to have the collar moved back to its neck. Repeat the previous lessons with the collar on the neck.
Sometimes it takes a while for the dog to make the transition from point of contact stimulation to the neck. It may take a while for the dog to sit as fast with the collar on its neck as it did with it on its rump.
Continue escape training "Sit" with the collar for a week in different locations before giving the command without using the collar.
Adding Speed To The Recall
Your goal is to teach the dog that speeding up on its way to you after you command "Here" will cause the collar to turn off. This will be one of the most useful lessons your Schutzhund competition dog can learn, because you can use it to add speed to the send-out, the return on a retrieve, and a host of other things. Teaching the dog to speed up to turn the collar off is most easily accomplished in a recall setting.
Leave the dog on a sit and go at least 80 feet from the dog. Call "Here" without using the collar. If the dog slows down after it has started toward you, immediately press the button the moment the dog starts to slow down and command "Here" again. Help the dog to speed up by backing up rapidly and encouraging it with your voice. The instant the dog speeds up, release the button. The dog will soon understand that speeding up turns off the collar and maintaining a fast pace prevents stimulation.
Once you have reached this stage in training, use the collar every time the dog slows down when coming to you. If you never accept a slow recall, the dog will never question how the exercise is to be performed.
Resist the temptation to throw something to speed up the dog during this procedure, because the dog will be so intent upon the "prey object" it will have difficulty identifying what it did that caused the collar to turn off.
The Progression Of Your Collar Teaching Program
One question people ask is " How long do I work on the three-action introduction to the e-collar?" Ideally, work one week on "Here" and "Heel". The second week introduces "Kennel." And in the third week start "Sit." Train at least two or three short sessions a day in five different locations.
In each session, continue reviewing the commands the dog has already learned with the collar. The dog will get quicker and quicker at turning off the low-level electrical stimulation until you are just tapping the button. At that time you can give the dog the comparison that quick obedience avoids stimulation altogether. Give a command without electrical stimulation and praise its quick obedience.
If your dog disregards a command at this point, repeat the command with electrical stimulation. If it still refuses your command, go to the next higher level. The general rule is: go up in intensity each time you have to repeat any command that the dog has already learned with the collar as described in these articles. Your dog will soon learn not to wait for a second command.
You now have a dog that has a strategy for success in all its future collar work: obeying a known command turns off electrical stimulation; quick obedience avoids it. You also have a consistent, reliable and humane method of reinforcing certain commands off leash: a fast recall, a spirited off leash heel, and a quick sit from motion. In future articles we will discuss the remaining obedience commands, and how and when to use the e-collar effectively during protection work and tracking.
Appeared in Bloodlines Jan/Feb '92
Dobbs Training Center