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Collar Training Part 2

By Ron Roman


Welcome back to collar training. In part 2 we are going to start with the here command in building our generalized avoidance response. However, there are a few areas that need discussion before we start working our training dog. The training dog in this article will be Spot. Spot will be a six-month-old male that is behaviorally balanced and enters the training program without any problem behaviors.


Spot will start with the here command. We will need an enclosed area with very low distractions. I use my indoor training area, which has very little distraction. A fenced yard will work very well. First we will put the collar on Spot. We will be using a Tri-Tronics Pro 100. The collar needs to be snug to the point of not slipping around Spot’s neck, but not to tight. If the collar is loose it will not make good contact and Spot may not feel it every time we use it. If this happens our training will not work. Before we turn Spot loose in the yard we need to discuss the avoidance method of collar training in more detail.


In avoidance training we will be teaching Spot how to turn the collar off by performing the behavior that we command. This is a conditioning process where Spot receives many opportunities to turn the collar off by performing the correct behavior. By using a low level we can do can do multiple reptitions without Spot getting stressed or affecting his style. This conditioning process is where we will develop Spot’s generalized avoidance response. We will want Spot to be successful in complying with our here command and turning the collar off. If we need to help Spot be successful there are two ways this can be accomplished.


One is to guide Spot to compliance with our physical help. Physical help is defined as guiding Spot to compliance by the use of a rope, lead, or our hands. We will call this physical guide to compliance. By using physical help we are restricting Spot’s option to perform an incorrect behavior and making Spot be successful. An example would be using a 12 foot lead on Spot, giving the here command along with the collar turned on, pulling Spot to us, and then turning the collar off. We will pull Spot with just enough force to help him comply. In this example Spot had no choice other than to comply with our command. With enough repetitions Spot will learn that coming to us will turn off the collar and will start building a generalized avoidance response.


The second way to accomplish avoidance training is to guide Spot to compliance without using any physical help. We will call this non-physical guide to compliance. We will help Spot by using body language and encouragement. The difference is that we will allow Spot to make the choice to turn off the collar on his own by choosing to perform the behavior we command. An example would be to give Spot the here command from 25 feet away and encouraging Spot to come to us while continuing to call him and stooping down. We could also move closer if needed. Nearly all dogs make the correct choice. In this example Spot had the choice to either comply or not to comply. It has been my experience that dogs that are better at choosing to comply without physical help do better throughout their training. Throughout a dog’s advanced training and life it will be constantly faced with choices while off lead and its willingness to choose compliance over an incorrect behavior will be an important part of your success.


Physical guide to compliance vs. non-physical guide to compliance. Understanding the differences, advantages, disadvantages and when to use each is paramount to successful collar training. The advantages of physical guide to compliance are that we can control Spot’s behaviors from start to finish. Once Spot has developed a generalized avoidance response we can create very precise behaviors. A few years ago I trained a dog (Suzie) for a fellow that had a difficult time bending over. Suzie liked to keep her head down looking for more birds or bumpers when she returned to the heel position to deliver. Having to bend over was something that the owner complained about. To correct the situation, I created the behavior in Suzie of raising her head and looking up at the handler to deliver the bird. I created the behavior by using low level continuous with the collar while giving the look command and then raising Suzie’s head with my hand under her chin without anything in her mouth. I turned the collar off when the head was raised and she was looking at me. Through a number of repetitions the behavior of raising her head with the look command was created. I then added the retrieved bird with no additional training and the bird was delivered with no bending over required. The disadvantage of absolute physical guide to compliance is that Suzie does not perform the behavior on her own. We do it for her. This raises the stress level in Suzie and learning is not at an optimum level. Style and confidence can be temporarily affected. Non-physical guide to compliance has the advantage of allowing the dog to learn to make the correct choice on its own. Learning and confidence are at an optimum level when the dog is successful in making the correct choice on its own. A generalized avoidance response will be developed sooner. It is very important that the dog learns to make the correct choice on its own. We should continuously challenge the dog to make the correct choice before we help it to be successful.


The reality of physical vs. non-physical guide to compliance is that we will use both in Spot’s training sessions. We will constantly attempt to transition from physical guide to compliance to non-physical guide to compliance. Understanding when to help Spot be successful in performing a behavior and when not to is a real key to understanding how to train a dog with a collar. Also, understanding when and how to transition from physical to non-physical guide to compliance is another important key. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task due to training being dynamic in the sense that if we are making progress our training will change every day. The rule of thumb is to always allow Spot to attempt to make the correct choice on his own before helping him. Keeping our help to a minimum by constantly decreasing or stopping our help as Spot learns the behavior will help him learn to make correct choices on his own. Stopping our help while Spot is performing the behavior and does not need our help is also very important. We should only help Spot when he needs help. By stopping our help we are shifting the responsibility for success from us to Spot. This is critical to the success of Spot’s training. We constantly need to shift more of the responsibility for the behavior from us to Spot, however, not to the point of allowing Spot to fail.


Collar conditioning is the basis for developing a generalized avoidance response. When collar conditioning Spot we will be using low levels. During the conditioning process we do not want to pressure or make Spot perform a behavior by raising the level on the collar. In the beginning we will place more of the responsibility for Spot’s success on ourselves by using guide to compliance rather than Spot’s reaction to the collar. As we progress and Spot understands the command and develops a generalized avoidance response we will raise the level on the collar to gain an avoidance reaction to the collar. An avoidance reaction during the conditioning process is Spot immediately responding to the collar and attempting to perform the commanded behavior without any panic. If Spot does not make an avoidance response to the command we will help him be successful and use the next higher level to prompt an avoidance response. We will not use a high level to pressure him to comply without our help. We need to remember that we are building a generalized avoidance response during this time and Spot will need our help.


An equally important part of the conditioning process is when we turn the collar on and when we turn the collar off. We always turn the collar on simultaneously with the command. We want Spot to learn to avoid the collar by being motivated at the time of the command. We should never be late or Spot would be receiving a stimulus from the collar for performing the command. If consistently repeated Spot would try to avoid the behavior we are teaching. By being late with the collar we will cause Spot to be hesitant and loose confidence at low levels. At higher levels being late will also cause stress and may cause freezing which is refusing to move and not perform any behavior. It is better to be early than to be late. We can use our test light to practice giving the command and pressing the button on the collar. When we turn the collar off is also very important. Whatever behavior Spot is performing when we turn the collar off will be the behavior that he is learning. This is absolutely black and white, collar on – collar off. Spot will learn that when the collar turns off whatever behavior he is performing is what we want and what is acceptable. While we are in the conditioning process we should use the collar on every repetition. There is no need to test Spot at this point to see if he will perform the command without the collar. Since we are using a low level and are not pressuring Spot. I consider this a wasted repetition and lost conditioning opportunity. Our primary goal during early training is to build a generalized avoidance response through the conditioning process.


Level of stimulation will be determined by Spot’s response. We always start the here command on low level 1 and look for a reaction. On dogs that have never had a collar used on them before we usually get a reaction from low level or intermediate 1. If we do not get a reaction we will move up to level 2 and use low and intermediate. If we still do not get a reaction we can move up to level 3. If we still do not get a reaction from level 3 we need to check the collar to see if it working and is tight enough. If we find something wrong we will need to start over at level 1. We also need to watch for freezing which is Spot refusing to do anything. Bolting is another reaction that is rare and is usually found in a dog that someone has used a collar on before at a high level. If either freezing or bolting occurs we should immediately use physical guide to compliance to keep the dog from learning that freezing or bolting leads to success. Again, this is not a normal reaction and is very rare. If none of these problems are present we can move up in level until we get a reaction. If we need to go to a level 3 or higher we should keep trying to work our way back to a lower level response. All dogs will work at a lower level once they recognize the collar and learn that they need to make a response to it. The reason we want to go down in level is to keep the stress level lower in Spot and increase his ability to learn. Also, our mistakes in timing are magnified at a higher level. We will never use high (double button) on any level during the conditioning process. It is too intense and will increase the stress in Spot. Using high (double button) on any level will also inhibit Spot from performing the behavior due to the high intensity of the stimulation. Low and intermediate are much better for collar conditioning and building a generalized avoidance response. We will also be using the momentary button on the pro 100. It will follow intermediate before we move to a higher level when we are tapping instead of using continuous. The momentary button delivers a split second of double button high.


Continuous vs. tapping. We have a choice of using either continuous stimulation by depressing the low or intermediate button until we release it or using tapping stimulation by tapping a rhythm of tap and release and tap release with the low, intermediate or momentary buttons. The tapping rhythm would the same as counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6… without hesitating. Whether we use continuous or tapping the conditioning process is the same. Collar on, with the command and, collar off, with compliance.Continuous works best for stationary commands such as sit or whoa and when we are using physical guide to compliance on both stationary and action commands. When we are using physical guide to compliance we want the dog to have a clear understanding of when his compliance shuts off the collar. Continuous is more black and white to the dog and also helps it learn the generalized avoidance response faster. When the dog gains a better understanding of a generalized avoidance response the less we will need to rely on continuous. Tapping works best for action commands such as here or place when we are using non-physical guide to compliance. Tapping will prompt the dog into action better than continuous. We will use tapping after the dog has good understanding that it needs to perform a behavior to shut off the collar and after we use continuous along with physical guide to compliance on action commands. We will also use tapping for teaching the here command when using non-physical guide to compliance. Tapping can also be used to break action such as using the whoa, sit, or halt command while the dog is in motion. Some dogs have a tendency to continue in motion with continuous and tapping may work better to stop the dog.


Finally, we are going to put Spot to work. My preferred way of teaching here is to turn Spot loose in our enclosed area and allow him to get acquainted with the area and then give the command here along with the collar using tapping until Spot gets to us and touches us. In the beginning we do not stop tapping the collar until Spot makes contact with us. This will make the lesson black and white and develop a generalized avoidance response. When Spot learns the here command we will change to only tapping until he starts in motion towards us. If Spot deviates from coming straight to us we will consider this non-compliance and begin tapping until he starts towards us again. We will gradually increase the distance and level of distraction, which will create a need to increase the level of stimulation. In this example we are using non-physical guide to compliance with the use of body language and encouragement to help Spot be successful.


If Spot does not respond to tapping while loose in our enclosed area we will need to use the physical guide to compliance method. We will need to employ the help of a second person and a 12-foot lead. Our helper will hold Spot and let him go when we give the here command. We will start 6 feet away. We will use continuous stimulation along with the command and not turn the collar off until Spot makes contact with us. We will use the lead to pull Spot to us while removing all his other options. We will do a few repetitions with a low level to allow Spot to understand how to turn off the collar. Spot should require less pulling on the lead and maybe none at all. At this point we will increase the distance until we reach the end of the 12-foot lead. We will continue to use the collar until Spot makes contact with us. By now Spot may not want to stay with our helper and need no pulling. We are making the transition from physical guide to compliance to non-physical guide to compliance, which is very important for us to recognize. We will change to a 25-foot lead or longer. We will also change how we use the collar. We will turn the collar on with the command and turn the collar off when Spot starts in our direction. If Spot deviates from coming straight to us we will need to have the slack out of the lead and turn the collar on along with the here command and pull the lead until he starts back in our direction. When Spot starts back in our direction we will turn the collar off and stop pulling on the lead. We will gradually increase the distance. When Spot is coming straight to us with out any help we will start to use tapping instead of continuous for 4 to 6 repetitions. This all can be accomplished in 2 or 3 short lessons. We will then turn Spot loose in our enclosed area and use the tapping method and increase the distance and level of distraction. This may require an increase in the level of stimulation. We may need to use encouragement and body language for a few repetitions.


I know I said that I would try to keep these articles short but there is so much to cover in collar training. We had to cover the essentials before we started to work Spot. In collar training part 3 we will cover the heel and sit command along with more areas of discussion on collar training. If you have questions about this article you can e-mail me at slam4g@coffey.com. If I get more questions than I have time to answer I will answer them in the next article. We will just have to see how it goes. I am a dog trainer trying to write articles not a writer trying to train a dog.

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