Dogs walking tools like the e-collar can help, but they don't replace appropriate training by a dog's owner
Photo courtesy of petsuppliesontheweb.com
Last August (Aug. 4, 2011) I wrote a blog on training tools to assist us when we are looking for a solution in walking our dogs. I would like to revisit that topic, adding a few tools that I learned about in a recent seminar I attended. These tools can be valuable, but in some cases they are used incorrectly.
The first tool is the halti. The purpose of the halti, as explained by the manufacturer, is to prevent the dog from pulling on the lead.
Unfortunately, the halti does not replace good training skills learned by the handler. When the halti is misused, it allows the dog to continue to drag the person down the street toward whatever the dog has in mind: a squirrel, another dog or a human.
At our seminar, I observed another use for the halti. It was used to calm very anxious dogs. These dogs can be sitting and crying at the person’s side. Do not mistake crying as the dog telling it is loves you. When you reward the dog by petting it or holding it, it increases the anxiety to a high pitched decibel level.
Many dogs come into my classes fearful — nervous or anxious. What I suggest to owners is counter intuitive to them. Have the dog sit calmly at your side on a loose lead. The effect is instantaneous. The dog calms down.
In the training seminar I attended this spring, the persistence of the crying/whining of overly anxious dogs was getting us participants anxious too. It is nerve wracking to be in the presence of a whining/crying dog and not be able to do anything about it. Once a halti was put on a dog and the whining/crying began, a quick upward correction stopped it. Temporarily. The correction needed to be made repeatedly.
The tool worked. It was very effective in calming down these dogs. Remember, this is an extreme example and should only be used by a trainer who knows how and when to administer this correction.
I am frequently asked if I use the “e-collar”. “The e-collar was designed many years ago to administer a electronic shock to the dog,” says dog trainer and expert on the e-collar Martin Deeley. Deeley has been using the e-collar for 20 years. Today the e-collar is used for many different reasons.
Again the e-collar can be used to enforce training methods, e.g., teaching a dog to come in an environment where you want to “proof” your dog. When I mention the term “proofing,” I mean checking your training in an environment where distractions abound. The e-collar is a great tool for this.
Here’s how it works — the part of the collar that touches the dog’s neck administers a tingling feeling to the dog. When the dog feels this tingling, he can very subtlety demonstrate a response. The response can be as subtle as turning its head slightly to a larger response of scratching near its neck where the device touches the neck. It is up to the handler to watch for these responses and quickly stop asking the dog to come. When the dog turns, the command “come” is given and then rewarded.
As you can see this is a tool that should not be used unless instruction is given. The degree of the sensation given to the dog should be very closely monitored. Always begin the sensation on the lowest ”vibration,” and the vibration can be dialed up or down depending on the degree of the dog’s response. If you believe I am advocating irresponsible use of these training tools — I am not. I have seen the prong or pinch collar improperly used and even the old reliable metal choke chain misused.
A tool that is consistently misused but we don’t think of it as a tool is our voice! How many times do we yell at our dogs from frustration? “That dog won’t come! That dog peed on the rug again! That dog chewed up my favorite shoes! Where are the kids socks? I bet the dog ate them!” You get the idea.
To a dog, the voice is a sound. Dogs do not communicate by voice. Yes, dogs can learn commands. But when we yell at a our dogs, what the dog feels is highly-charged negative energy. They recognize we are upset; they just don’t know why. What dog wants to come when it is called in an angry voice and then punished when it does come?
Yes, the voice is a very important and misused tool. The old cliché is true with dogs — “You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”
The most benign retractable leash is always misused. The retractable leash was originally designed for dogs used in tracking. These dogs wear a harness so that its collar does not correct the dog. Both tools allowed the handler to let the dog find the object it was looking for, without tugging a on a collar.
This leash can extend up to 20 feet. Also the retractable allows the dog to do its work of tracking and not get tied up in a long leash. Today people use retractables to let their dog go ahead of them at the walk. The dog sees and can go after anything, and it is impossible to reel in a dog once they have the momentum of dragging the handler down the street. It also promotes the concept of the dog leading the pack.
If you don’t believe this, remember the dog has a pack mentality. It is “hardwired” to be a follower. The dog is calmer — more relaxed and at ease — when the human is leading.
With training tools, I find it is most productive to assess what is best for your dog. It is also helpful to have an objective person see what is happening with you and your dog and make suggestions on the type of training tool to use. As I have said many times — both you and your dog will be happier.
Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training (www.inharmonydogtraining.com) in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 734-645-4707. Julia provides individual training for dogs and their owners, and also conducts dog training classes at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital.