Saturday, September 1, 2012

Verbal Command or E-collar: Use One or the Other

Besides a pinch-collar and check-cord, you also use verbal commands and an e-collar to train your pointing dog. It’s important to use one or the other—a verbal command or the e-collar—but not at the same time. A good example is the whoa command. If your dog is creeping or under a bird, it takes a lot of self-discipline not to yell “Whoa!” at the same time you correct your dog with the e-collar. Unfortunately, if you use them together very often, your dog may learn to associate the e-collar with the word whoa, and he can begin to blink birds.
About ten years ago, I interviewed seven pro trainers for The Brittany: Amateurs Training with Professionals. I asked Ben Lorenson to talk about the problem of blinking. At the time, his response surprised me. He said, “Nine times out of ten, it’s the misuse of the whoa command.” He gave an example of a dog on point that had started to creep: “The dog starts to creep and the trainer says, ‘Whoa,’ and corrects the dog with the e-collar at the same time. It doesn’t take long before the dog starts leaving the bird, because he thinks every time he hears whoa he’s going to get hit with the e-collar. He’s not blinking the bird; he’s blinking the word whoa. The best way to avoid this situation is by not getting into the habit of using whoa around birds in the first place.”
Recently, I watched a training buddy do something similar. His dog had knocked a bird and was under it, chasing hard. He started yelling “Whoa” at the same time he was correcting the dog with the e-collar. Using whoa and the e-collar simultaneously is a natural reaction, especially when you’re upset with your dog and don’t have time to think about what you are doing. Again, this combination can get you into trouble. Your dog may start to associate whoa with stimulation and think he’s going to be corrected any time you say the word whoa.
Another combination is using the e-collar and the here command. If you call “Here” and your dog does not respond, a natural reaction is to correct him at the same time you’re calling him to you. While you can avoid using whoa around birds, you cannot avoid using here, but you can develop good timing for the verbal command and e-collar correction. Good timing includes giving your dog a chance to respond to the verbal command before you correct him with the e-collar. If you practice doing one or the other, your timing will improve, and you’ll build good habits.
Last summer, I was reminded of a similar combination that uses the e-collar and the fetch command. It’s easy to have a dog on a force-fetch table and ask him to fetch. When he refuses, you repeat the command at the same time you nick him with the e-collar. If you use them together, your dog may begin to blink the bumper. While you cannot avoid using fetch, you can learn to give your dog time to respond to the command before correcting him with the e-collar.
There are so many pitfalls in dog training, and most are predictable. Good trainers learn to avoid these situations by developing good habits. Just like a responsible bird hunter learns never to point a shotgun at anyone, whether it’s loaded or unloaded, a good trainer learns to avoid those situations that are likely to go south, and quickly.
With the Bill West method, you learn to stay quiet around birds. This good habit helps you avoid using whoa and the e-collar at the same time. Giving your dog time to respond to a verbal command before using the e-collar helps keep you focused on your timing and builds good habits for the here and fetch commands. Sometimes just knowing what may happen can help you avoid it. By learning to use one or the other—the verbal command or the e-collar—you will end up with a happy dog that loves his work.