"The e-collar," Jason said, "is a very powerful tool. Used correctly, it can be a great aid in training and controlling a spaniel. Used incorrectly, it can do unimaginable harm. Two important rules: First, don't 'wing it'; have a plan for collar use and follow that plan carefully. Second, never push the transmitter button in anger. Never!"
Those who collar-condition their dogs can use the e-collar to reinforce any known command. But Jason recommends that those who don't collar-condition should limit their use of the e-collar to certain pre-determined situations, like controlling the spaniel's range while hunting. When the dog punches out too far, the owner should call or whistle him back, and only if the dog refuses should he feel the e-collar's "bumble bees," starting with the lowest level stimulation to which the dog responds to, and increasing the level as necessary until the dog obeys.
"After the dog obeys," Jason said, "make a big fuss over him. Let him know you're pleased. Control shouldn't be all negative. In fact, when your dog returns to you after being stimulated, it's a good idea to toss a dead bird for him to retrieve, as a reward."
Jason recommends that the hunter get an e-collar that is simple and reliable. He feels that the more bells and whistles a collar has, the more ways an inexperienced owner can mess his dog up with it. He said the tone and vibration settings encourage a person to nag his dog, in effect saying, "Okay, Buster, the next time I give this command, I'm gonna mean it!"
He has found the nick setting great for collar-conditioned dogs, but of little value otherwise. About the only feature Jason feels is absolutely necessary for the hunter is variable intensity (with continuous stimulation). "When a non-collar-conditioned spaniel misbehaves in one of your pre-determined ways," he said, "you should start stimulating him at the lowest level he recognizes, only upping the juice if he continues the misbehavior. For this reason, you need a collar that allows you to change the stimulation level easily from the transmitter."
Jason personally prefers an e-collar that allows him to control two or three receivers (collars) from one transmitter. This is handy for anyone with multiple dogs, as long as switching from one receiver to another from the transmitter is easy.
He said that if you plan to use an e-collar on your dog, he should always wear it during training sessions and while hunting. That way, he won't get "collar-wise," that is, learn to behave when he's wearing the collar and misbehave when he isn't.
Jason cautioned strongly against using the e-collar when your dog is out of sight. If you don't know where he is or what he's doing, you shouldn't punish him. After all, he might be working a bird. If so, stimulating him might make him bird-shy.
"About the only time I use the e-collar when my dog is out of sight," he said, "is when I'm sure he's chasing a deer or other undesirable game. And only if I'm absolutely sure." Jason concluded with this thought: "If you can't control your temper, don't use an e-collar on your dog."
This tip is from Jason Givens of Lighthouse Kennels, W3020 Ross Road, Cambria, WI 53923; (920) 348-367; website www.lighthousekennels.com; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Jason has been training professionally for 10 years, specializing in training spaniels for hunting, hunting tests, and field trials. He participates in spaniel field trials in both the U.S.A. and Canada, and won the 2003 U.S.A. English Springer Spaniel National Open Championship. He judges spaniel trials in both U.S.A. and Canada. He breeds field-bred English springer spaniels.