"The e-collar is not a teaching tool," Steve said. "It's a reinforcing tool. So you have to do your homework in training before you can use it while hunting." Steve pre-conditions young puppies to the e-collar by having them wear dummy collars as soon as they are big enough. Later, after he has taught the "moving" commands (Come, Fetch, and so forth), he uses a combination of his checkcord and his e-collar to reinforce these commands. First he corrects with the checkcord, and then he gradually adds stimulation from the e-collar.
After the dog understands that the e-collar is just a long checkcord, he discontinues the checkcord and relies totally on the e-collar. He doesn't use the e-collar to reinforce "stationary" commands (Whoa, Sit, Stay). He prefers a collar with variable intensity, both momentary and continuous stimulation, and a warning tone buzzer. Variable intensity allows the trainer/handler to adjust the amount of juice to the needs of the individual dog. Momentary and continuous stimulation allow him to deal appropriately with different situations.
After the dog is well trained, the warning tone is often all that's needed to make an effective correction. He also likes to have the hawk-scream feature on his e-collar, because it makes birds sit tight while being pointed.
"Most of the time," he said, "a well-trained bird dog doesn't need an e-collar while hunting. However, there are times when it makes sense to use one, just in case. Here I speak of when hunting near a highway."
He stressed that the e-collar is not a miracle remote control device, as some owners seem to think. It can be used effectively only when reinforcing known commands.
"The key word," he said, "is 'known.' Your dog isn't a mind-reader!"
Steve recommends using the e-collar while hunting to stop the dog from chasing unwanted game, to correct serious disobedience to known commands, to stop aggressiveness, and to control the dog in potentially dangerous situations, like near busy highways. He recommends not using it to reinforce stationary commands.
"Don't use the e-collar," he said, "when your dog is out of sight. It's not a locating device. And I personally never put any kind of collar on a dog when he will go into water, lest the collar hang up on a snag and perhaps drown the dog."
Steve told of a man who carried his transmitter in his hip pocket. Once, when he sat down to eat lunch, he sat on the transmitter and about fried his dog.
"I think that dog is still twitching," he said.
He feels that owner impatience creates most problems that are attributed to the e-collar. Owner impatience, not the e-collar, turns a good bird dog into a boot-polisher, or makes a dog collar-shy.
As a final thought, he added this: "Frankly, I prefer to train without an e-collar. Doing my homework usually takes me further than the e-collar can. However, sometimes, with some dogs, the e-collar can make the difference between success and failure, in training and in hunting."
This tip is from Steve Arnoczy of Pinetree Kennels, 213 Pinetree Road, New Berlin, NY 13411; ((607) 263-2028; website www.pinetreekennels.net; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Steve has been training professionally for 38 years. He now specializes in pointing breeds, but has had experience with retrievers and spaniels. He trains mostly hunting dogs for walking hunters, but also does some NAVHDA and AKC field trial work. He breeds vizslas and wirehaired vizslas from original imported Hungarian bloodlines.