There are two basic ways to correct your dog during formal training. One way is with stimulation from the e-collar and the other is using physical correction. Physical correction was the primary form of correction to teach the steadying process until the late 1980s when Tri-tronics came out with a variable intensity e-collar. Unlike the “hot” single button e-collars that were the norm, this new e-collar had low, medium, and high buttons and five intensity levels. For the first time, you could adjust the intensity level of the e-collar to fit the situation and use it around birds without causing blinking problems.
As trainers experimented with these new e-collars, articles began appearing in some of the sporting magazines on how to use them in formal training. I really liked the idea of using a variable intensity e-collar and decided to buy one. At first, it was almost too easy to teach a dog to stand birds and not chase. After I’d taught a couple of dogs to be steady with the e-collar, I realized something was missing in their training and that something was respect. My dogs didn’t respect me. By relying solely on the e-collar and foregoing any type of physical correction, my dogs had learned to respect the birds but not me.
If you think about it, physical correction is fundamental to how dogs learn. I was watching a momma dog with her pups recently and one of the pups began pulling on her ear. She gave a warning growl, and when he didn’t quit the behavior, she gave him an immediate bite that sent him howling and running away. She showed no concern or remorse and continued about her business as if nothing had happened. Eventually, the pup returned, but this time he was much more respectful. His approach was low and crouching, and he rolled onto his back and tried to lick her lips. The momma dog corrected the pup swiftly and without emotion to teach him that his behavior was unacceptable. At the same time, she earned his respect, and as a result, the pup would think twice before trying the same thing again.
I decided to incorporate some of the physical corrections used in the Bill West method along with the e-collar corrections I was already using. Over the next several years, I saw a big difference in my dogs. Instead of standing broke from e-collar pressure, my dogs were standing broke for me. They weren’t competing with me to flush the bird and seemed more obedient to my commands. In other words, respected me and wanted to work for me.
In the Bill West method, trainers use the pinch-collar and check-cord and their hands to correct a dog and earn his respect. Pro trainer Maurice Lindley explains, “A dog learns to respect me when I get my hands on him. I begin training with physical pressure and mold the dog with my hands as I teach him to stand still. Once the dog is comfortable with physical pressure, I’m ready to introduce physical correction.” Two examples of physical corrections Maurice uses are setting a dog back and spinning a dog (see Training with Mo: How Maurice Lindley Trains Pointing Dogs by Martha Greenlee). These corrections aren’t meant to hurt a dog and are done swiftly and without anger to let him know his behavior is unacceptable.
If you have been depending on the e-collar for most of your corrections, you might consider adding some physical corrections to your training program. Be sure to use one type of correction or the other, not both together, so as not to overwhelm your dog. As training progresses, be careful and try to match the severity of the correction to the situation. Just as e-collar corrections have different intensity levels, physical corrections have different intensity levels too. Some physical corrections are given gently and resemble nagging while others are given more forcefully in order to get your dog’s attention.
The timing of a physical correction is the same as an e-collar correction and must be delivered quickly before your dog’s brain has time to move on. If you have to wait to correct your dog, it is best to skip the correction so you don’t confuse him. If it’s hard for you to get physical with your dog, realize that you are communicating to him in a language he already understands. And any time you feel yourself becoming angry, remember to stop training. Getting physical with your dog isn’t about hurting him. It’s about getting down on his level and teaching him the same way his momma taught him.
You can gain a dog’s trust by being nice to him, but you won’t earn his respect. If you can find the right balance between physical corrections and e-collar corrections in the training field, your dog will learn to respect both you and the bird, and once you have his respect, you will have a dog that wants to work for you and is a brag dog to train.