Dog owners and trainers fall into two camps regarding the use of electronic shock collars for hunting dog training. The first group largely uses electronic collars to complete a dog’s training and send a reminder when obedience begins to fail. Many other trainers and hunters view electronic collars as unnecessary and even cruel, a canine equivalent of waterboarding.
E-collars can be overkill for everyday domestic dogs, where obedience standards are low and safety concerns few. Hunting dogs have it different. Good obedience is mandatory in potentially dangerous situations, such as hunting waterfowl around ice or washing pheasants under shotgun fire.
The crux of the debate is really how e-collars are used on an individual level, and in that case, many amateur trainers could be wrong. Brian Lasley, director of marketing for e-collar manufacturer DT Systems, reminds opponents of e-collars that electronics do more than just send shocks.
“E-collars are valuable training tools,” Lasley said. “But they are No a magic wand where you can wave it and the dog will know exactly what you want it to do. All dogs must be properly trained and introduced to electronic collars before they can be used properly. And you need to understand that often the electronic collar is used simply to get the dog’s attention so that he can give a command.
“There are times, like while hunting pheasants in the cattail on a windy day, where the dog can’t hear you very well. With the vibration function of a collar, I can get his attention and let him know to check back, or I can stop him if he is getting too close to danger.”
While past generations may have used shock collars to force a dog to act out of fear of punishment, today’s offerings come with features designed to simply get the dog’s attention and help keep them safe. Trainers focus on two uses: conditioning, which teaches the dog to turn off low-level electricity when performing the desired task, and corrective shock.
When it comes to busy highways, barbed-wire fences, porcupine encounters, and a host of other potential dangers, it can be helpful to be able to immediately get your dog’s attention at any distance and be reminded. This also applies to duck dogs. A retriever who wants to follow an injured diver into big water and big waves could find himself in a scary situation trying to do what he is supposed to do. If he can’t hear you because of the wind, a slight shake might help him turn around.
Mike Botts, professional dog trainer and owner of Ringneck Kennels, echoed Lasley’s thoughts: “The ability to communicate with a bird dog effectively, efficiently and immediately when off-leash at 40 or 400 yards is very important.” . But amateur trainers should remember that an electronic collar is a tool, just like treats, whistles or leashes. He needs to learn how to use it responsibly, and if he is new to this tool, consider working with a professional first so he understands how to use it effectively.”
Both Lasley and Botts make strong arguments for responsible e-collar use, but not all trainers rely on them. Jeremy Moore, owner of Dog Bone and one of the best shedding and recovery dog trainers in the country, prefers to develop his dogs a different way. He thinks electronic collars have become an unnecessary norm.
“The huge impact that e-collar companies have had on our American training culture is due to the equally huge marketing budgets that we’ve been exposed to,” Moore said. “This has had a huge influence on generations of trainers to the point where some don’t know there are other ways to train a dog. In fact, I’ve asked coaches why they use one and a common response is, ‘because we’ve always done it that way.’ I never thought that was good enough.
“In my opinion, a lack of patience in developing a puppy is the biggest struggle we face today when it comes to raising a good dog. E-collars are marketed as ‘problem solvers’, but what they don’t take into account is the ‘problem creation’ that comes from confusing dogs during training sessions through pressure and unfair timing.”
Moore says that having an electronic collar will not make you a good trainer or erase bad habits that you and your dog have already formed. Troubleshooting is often the genesis of e-collar purchases, which is a mistake, he said.
Many professional trainers will tell you that electronic collars should only be reserved for dogs that know all of your commands. Once the dog is aware of what he did wrong to cause a shock, then you can properly communicate with him. However, according to Moore, this argument rests on shaky ground.
“I’ve heard many describe e-collars as a tool to reinforce previously trained skills, but I’ve always thought if that were true, is there really a need for an e-collar?” Moore said. “Personally, I think the number of coaches who use them inappropriately is much higher than those who use them correctly. That scares me, because it’s unfair to the dogs and to amateur handlers who don’t know any better.
“GRAMBig bird dogs were developed long before electronic collars became popular, and while I’m not against technology in our lives, I think it’s important to remember that dogs haven’t changed much, although technology has. We may be striving for immediate results more than ever, but developing a bird dog is something that still takes time and patience.”
There is a gulf between the pro and anti-neck crowds, and it’s not likely to be bridged anytime soon. If you’re new to training and sorting through your thoughts about e-collars, it’s important to consider your motivations. Is safety high on your list or are you looking to force a dog into a certain type of behavior? Are you buying an e-collar out of frustration, or do you see it as a small asset in a dog’s education?
Be honest and choose wisely. You owe it to your best friend.
Featured image via John Hafner.