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E-Collars and Tough Dogs

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Training Tip #38
E-Collars and Tough Dogs
From: Volume I Training with Mike Lardy

In an interview held by Retriever Journal with Mike, it was asked: 
"The question was raised by some that perhaps field trials and the electronic collar are coming together to create a new breed of retriever- specifically, hard headed Labradors. Are we creating dogs that are so aggressive and "hard" that they are predisposed to collar training even before they leave the whelping box?"

Mike's answer was:

First of all I'd like to address this issue of "hard" and "soft" dogs. There's a big misconception that field trailers and uses of the electronic collars are selecting for tough, hard-headed dogs. Maybe for a brief period of time this was true, such as during the 70's when e-collar technology was pretty primitive and you only had one button with one really big charge. Back then, you had to be really careful, because if you had a really "soft" dog, a big charge like that used in conjunction with a correction might be too much.

When I started running field trials back in 1978, I swore I would never run my dog with a collar. I saw dogs at that time that had undoubtedly been ruined because of some trainer's heavy hand on the button. But then I trained with a man who knew how to use the collar. I kept an open mind and learned how to use the collar effectively.

Today, e-collar technology has advanced so that you can vary the intensity of the charge to suit the temperament of each individual dog.

This all relates to a very important issue "“ that being desire. Desire and reaction to pressure "“ or what is called "softness" are related, and it is quite difficult to separate the two. For example, if a dog appears to loose interest during a retrieve after having received a collar correction does that mean that the collar ruined the dog? ----or does that that simply mean that the dog did not have the desire to finish the retrieve? Nobody can really answer that question.

As a trainer, you need to read the lack of desire long before an e-collar is put on a dog. You see the lack of desire when the retrieve gets too difficult, when the water gets too cold, when the cover gets too thick, or when the dog simply loses interest in the task at hand. The best dogs have great desire, yet are extremely sensitive.

So, do field trials select for desire? -- absolutely. Do they select for toughness? --not necessarily. Again, the best dogs are sensitive dogs with a high degree of desire ---those are the most successful field trial dogs. Yet, this does not mean that you have to use an e-collar if you want to train this type of dog.

In the right hands, a collar can be the most effective and humane tool when it comes to correction. You see that illustrated in today's field trials where the proportion of female dogs that are competing has gone up dramatically since the advent of the collar. I think this speaks for the electronic collar's effectiveness, because on average, the females of any breed of retriever are more sensitive than the males. Females have responded to modern electronic collar programs because they are the more sensitive dogs. Twenty years ago, females were few and far between in competition simply because they couldn't stand the rigors of heavy handed, aggressive training programs. See Tip #33 for more on training sensitive dogs.

There is a big misconception out there that dogs trained with the e-collar and dogs being trained for field trials are out there getting burned constantly. I keep notes on ever dog I train, and one of the things I record is the number of times I have to administer a collar correction.

Not very long ago, I had three top field trial champion dogs in my kennel: NFC AFC Storm's Riptide Star, FC AFC Ace High Straight Flush, and NAFC CNAFC FC Ebonstar Lean Mac. These were some of the most competitive field trial dogs in the country- considered "hot" hard-charging dogs- yet, over an eight week period of daily training my notes indicate that I only had to administer three low burns* for each dog.

*Note: Mike's definition of a burn is less than a second.