Generalizing a dog’s understanding of good behavior takes practice. (even when using the electronic collar)
There are many benefits to using an electronic collar; ease, convenience, distance control, quick results…there is a long list to the pros of e-collar training.
But I would be remiss if I did not point out that all these advantages do not alleviate the necessity to remember good training principles. Using an electronic collar to assist in teaching basic obedience or solve behavior problems does not mean it is a short cut to doing actual work and putting in practice time.
Unfortunately, this is one of the myths that surrounds the electronic collar and its use. Some may even go as far as to say that using an electronic collar means you are a “lazy dog trainer or owner”.
However, just because something makes life a bit simpler does not mean there is no work involved. Using a computer is a perfect example of how modern convenience aids us without alleviating responsibility. A person can use the computer to compose an e-mail and send it to someone instantly thus shortening the time to deliver information. BUT it still takes thought for the composition and typing or speaking into the computer before something is produced. The e-mail advantage just allows us to exchange our information and thoughts more quickly.
Training with the remote or electronic collar still takes practice time just like other methods of training do. It also takes knowledge of good training principles. There is no “magic” about it.
It is necessary to incorporate a balance in the training, have decent timing, understand the difference between confusion and disobedience, have multiple ways to motivate and know how to generalize the dog’s concepts of duration, distraction and distance when learning.
It is crucially important to create new situations and scenarios to help the dogs generalize the concepts they are learning. Just because a dog understands “Sit” when you offer a cookie, in the kitchen when their are no distractions around, does not mean they understand “Sit” when the kid from down the street runs up to pet them. Creativity in helping the dog generalize concepts can be accomplished by simply going to new locations where new discoveries (ie. distractions) will always be vying for your dog’s attention. Of course you can also manufacture new situations by adding props to the practice sessions. When doing this I think it is most valuable to come up with things that might actually come into play at some point in your dog’s life.
The other night our group class had to participate in some exercises that helped demonstrate this concept. All of the participants had to train while carrying open umbrellas. I figured it was something that might be a typical sight on these rainy April days, but not something many of us prepare for ahead of time. Having an umbrella popped open and then waiving overhead with an occasional wind gust catching it is something new, distracting and potentially un-nerving for a dog. Our goal in class was to “practice” this new scenario to help generalize the concept that Heel still meant Heel despite the new distracting item floating above.
No one made excuses when their dog made a mistake; hesitated, tried to jump and grab… they just used their e-collar to regain attention, reminded the dog of what they were to do and helped the dog be successful getting back into into “Heel” position. It took about two minutes for all 12 dog’s in class to recognize that we were consistent with our expectations and thus walk calmly alongside their owner carrying the strange item overhead. The dog’s generalized very quickly… of course that is part of the beauty of training with the remote electronic collar. The communication is always the same for the dog, no variances for handler strength or vocal inflection, so it makes the learning process faster (assuming the handler understands the principles of how to actually train with the e-collar)
This is just one quick example of generalizing behavior. The ideas are limitless if you begin to think about what it is you want your dog to do when…you are eating dinner, you have guests come to the door, you sit on the floor to play a game….think about what you want your dog to do (rather than focusing on what your dog is doing wrong) Then take the time to practice and set your dog up for success by helping them learn to get it just right.
Remember that the electronic collar is not magic, take the time to learn how to actually use it and put in as much practice as necessary to develop your dog into the happy, well mannered companion you desire.