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The Electronic Collar in Retriever Training


Gundog Magaine - September 2006

Debra Folsom

I really can’t imagine hunting with a dog that has not been e-collar conditioned. I have never hunted with a non collar broke dog and really don’t want to try it out. I think it is like buying a standard shift truck instead of an automatic. They will both get you where you want to go but why hassle with manually shifting gears or manually controlling the dog. We do not teach commands with the collar. We simply use the collar toreinforce what we have already trained the dog to do. The

biggest single use of the collar in our gun dog program is to teach dogs to come “here” on command. Most dogs learn at an early age that they are faster than you and don’t have to come ”here” right away when you call.


I don’t like a collar program where you collar a young pup and try to teach every single command by stimulating the dog electrically. I think these dogs get too mechanical before they have developed their confidence. I don’t introduce my pups to the e-collar until I have too. That is usually when they decide they are going to run off with the bird or dummy rather than coming back in with it. At this point I will work a couple of sessions teaching the pup “here” using the collar. I do this using a long line so the dog eventually has to come to me as I remove all other directions of escape. Once I collar condition the pup to “here”, I put the e-collar on him for all training sessions. Now he knows he must come here, I don’t want to regress back to him not coming in by taking the collar off. I don’t want to test his intentions. I know he’d rather have the bird for himself. That’s natural. What we do in training is take the dogs natural abilities and instincts and make them work for us.


My dogs don’t get collar wise because they wear their collars for every training session and every hunt. There is no double standard, only one. The only time our dogs work without the collar is in competition. The collar is used for correction and reinforcing commands. When we force break a dog using the ear pinch, once the dog understands the process, we go back and reinforce the fetch command using the e-collar. It is easier for the customer to correct the dog in the field with the collar than trying to physically pinch the dogs ear when he drops a bird. To teach sit to the whistle we use a rope to physically sit the dog until he understands the concept of stopping and sitting on the whistle. Then we go back and reinforce it with the collar. Out in the field you are not going to have a rope to reinforce the command. The collar is a convenient tool that you can carry in your hunting coat pocket. I don’t like to use the 

collar to create hot spots ie: when a dog is running the bank instead of swimming. I don’t want the dog to think that an electrical shock could come at any time from anywhere. I want him to associate it with a command. So if he is running the bank. I will blow 


Teaching hunting retrievers to "handle" or do blind retrieves requires precise control of the dog at long distances, on land or in water.

the whistle first to stop him, then sting him with the collar and cast him back into the water. I want every burn with the collar to be associated with me and the command I am giving. I think that when you just burn a dog without the whistle first you create “popping” on retrieves. That is stopping and looking for direction when no whistle has been blown and is a fault that is difficult to correct.


We personally use and sell Tri Tronics collars. They do a lot of research and are continually making them better. I personally like the Pro 100 G2 with all continuous stimulation. I don’t use momentary stimulation at all because I want to be able to continue the stimulation until the dog initiates a positive response. With momentary stimulation you may burn the dog and nothing positive has happened. He may just jump. So instead of learning a positive response to the command he learns to jump sideways. Say the command is “sit”. I release the stimulation when the dog’s butt hits the ground. You can’t do this with momentary stimulation. You may actually teach him not to sit but to jump. With the new Tri Tronics collars if you are working more than one dog, you can just buy an additional receiver and program it to work with your transmitter rather than having to buy a whole new multi dog unit. We sell the Sport Basic G3 model to our gun dog customers. This is a good entry level collar at a reasonable price. The most important feature to me is a waterproof transmitter as well as receiver. Retriever training and waterfowl hunting mostly takes place near water and sooner or later the transmitter ends up in the water. I also like the variable intensity buttons on the transmitter rather than just a dial. The pro 100 has high, medium and low right at your fingertips. There are many times when you just want to tap the dog with a very low level of stimulation. If you blast him on high when only a touch is needed you set up a negative reaction that you have to go back and correct. In the old days with the hot single button collars, we spent as much time fixing the negative reactions we created when we blasted the dogs on high as we did teaching new concepts.


We advise most of our gun dog and obedience customers to buy an e-collar when they take their dogs home. We feel they will get a lot more out of the training if they have the tool at home to reinforce the commands the dog has learned in training.


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