Since training people to use electronic collars is something that I do as a profession, I am constantly asked questions such as, "Does the collar have to always be on the dog?"; "Doesn't the dog become collar wise?"; or "Shouldn't I just use it when a problem arises that cannot be fixed by other methods?". Since collar conditioning is a completely different subject, let's assume for argument's sake that the dog is either "collar conditioned" already, or going through the process presently. The first fact that is important to accept is REINFORCEMENT NEVER ENDS! The quicker we accept this, whether we are using an ecollar or not, the better off you will be.
My dogs never leave the house without an ecollar on. Is it because they will not perform without it? Certainly not. Dogs are trained to be off-leash, correct? I would assume that the dog is smart enough to recognize that the leash is no longer connected, yet habit is established. If you have ever watched a trained dog walking down the street with its owner and it has on a choke chain, you certainly do not see the owner tugging at the leash every second. With an ecollar, it does not mean that you are pushing buttons every second either.
Let's stop for a second so I can make an analogy. In the work force, people who have been at their jobs for any length of time, obviously know their job pretty well. Whether it is cooking french fries at McDonalds or working for an accounting firm, you would know your job pretty well after a while. Even in those instances, they do not just fire all of the managers, and let you pick up your check under the door every Friday. Someone is still there to constantly oversee the operation to ensure that it's functioning properly. Without that, the organization would fall apart quickly. Dog training is no different. I'm sure your dog was "trained" how to "sit" a long time ago. Now, whether he always does it when asked -- well, that's another matter.
O.K.--now that we have accepted that reinforcement never ends, we can move on. The reason that the ecollar is kept on when moving outdoors, is because as you step outside the house a lot of factors enter into the picture that you have no control of. Loose dogs, cats, kids on bikes, trucks driving by with dogs in the back, and people playing frisbee are just a few. When your dog is 50 yards away from you and he is creeping on a "down" command, a few variables enter into the picture. To correct the dog, the time that it takes you to get back there slows learning tremendously.
Also, it is very hard to not get emotional about it because you want it to cease immediately, thus further creating another bad habit of yelling at the dog. Another thing that happens is when you are finally able to correct the dog, it has moved, and gotten away with a fair distance before the correction can be applied. Obviously, a drop on recall or while moving can be brought about much quicker, and with much less correction and stress on the dog.
While using an ecollar, these problems can be dealt with immediately, and unemotionally. If the level needs to be moved up or down to suit the correction, it can be without any elevation in the voice. It's as if you are right there correcting him, without the yelling. He is, in effect, causing the correction on himself. HE caused the collar to turn on.
People would say, "Well this may create a shy, timid, inhibited dog". Quite the opposite. Electronic collars are used on hunting dogs on a daily basis. They may want their dog to lie down at 200 yards away because a deer is running by, or to come back to them in that instance. It is no different than you or I wanting our dogs to lie down at a distance because a cat, or a dog, or a mailman is passing. The only difference being that if he doesn't, we can reinforce immediately. If he does -- great! The dog at least gets another repetition in that he must comply immediately, or it could cost him his life.
If electronic collars made a hunting dog too scared to do its task, or diminish it in any way, hunters and field trial people certainly would not be using them on a daily basis, and having them as an integral part of their training program. Field trials are definitely among the most difficult of all dog sports. It demands desire and precision at great distances, and in 'non-patterned' formats that make it all the more difficult.
Our Las Vegas K-9 unit recently went to electronic collars about two years ago. They just took "top dog" and "top agency" at the Western States Canine Trials, and obviously the dogs are not allowed to perform with ecollars on. Recalls become quicker, smoother, and very happily performed because the dog knows exactly what is expected. "Out" commands have meaning everywhere and anywhere, and on anything. I would definitely recommend that you attend an electronic collar seminar and make up your mind for yourself. All you need to bring with you is your pair of eyes -- the rest will take care of itself.
Fred Hassen is the owner and Master Trainer of "Sit Means Sit" Dog Training in Las Vegas, NV. Fred has numerous titles and awards to his credit which are viewable at http://fredhassen.com/about_us.htm. Fred has many years experience in the K-9 training field. He is also available for seminars. You can reach Fred at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org