Using The E-Collar While Hunting: Retrievers

Using The E-Collar While Hunting: Retrievers

The latest training techniques for retrievers.

This tip is from John Amico of Deep Fork Retrievers, 12601 Southeast 15th Street, Choctaw, OK 73020; (405) 769-4108; Web site; e-mail He has trained retrievers professionally for 30 years. He handles retrievers in field trials and hunt tests, and judged retriever hunt tests during the 1980s and 1990s. He breeds Labrador retrievers.

"The e-collar is not some magic do-all training tool," John said. "It's definitely not a teaching tool. No, it's just a tool for reinforcing known commands."

He added that even before using it to reinforce known commands, you must first collar-condition your retriever so that he understands the messages you send him via the e-collar and knows how to respond correctly. If you don't know how to collar-condition your dog, you should have a pro teach you or have him do the job for you.

John prefers the following features on an e-collar: variable intensity, momentary and continuous stimulation, waterproof transmitter and receiver. Variable intensity allows him to adjust the stimulation level to the needs of each dog and each situation. He uses momentary stimulation as a quick reminder for misdemeanors, such as creeping while sitting. He uses continuous stimulation to reinforce absolute commands, such as "sit" and "here." Waterfowling necessitates a waterproof transmitter and receiver.

For hunting, John recommends a collar with a small and lightweight transmitter that you can carry on a lanyard around your neck. He also recommends a collar with a range of between one-half and one mile.

"This range allows for signal disruptions in rough hunting areas," he said, "like in flooded timber, where a 200-yard collar might not work at even 50 yards."

For your dog's safety while hunting, John said you should keep your e-collar fastened tightly around his neck so it won't hang up on anything. You should do that even with an ordinary strap collar. But a snugged-up e-collar also gives maximum contact with the dog's skin for reliable stimulation.

John recommends that the hunter use the e-collar primarily to reinforce the two absolute commands, "here" and "sit." He stressed that using it for refusals--no-gos, cast refusals when the dog doesn't move at all and so forth--requires judgment and accurate reading of the particular dog. If the dog refuses because he's confused, using the e-collar will only confuse him more and intimidate him.

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He said that you shouldn't use the e-collar when your dog is out of sight. However, if you've watched him chase a cripple out of sight, and therefore know what he's doing, you might reinforce a "here" command with the e-collar if you think he could be running into danger. That, of course, is a judgment call.

John feels that hunters sometimes expect too much of their dogs. When the dog doesn't live up to the boss' exaggerated expectation, he gets angry and tries to enforce his will on the dog via the e-collar.

"Abuse like that," he said, "creates bad associations in the dog's mind, bad associations with a place, and for the dog, hunting is definitely a place. That can create a real attitude problem in hunting."

As a final thought, John added this: "You should train in places that resemble where you hunt, and your training should resemble hunting as closely as possible. Sometimes work from remote locations. Sometimes kneel down in cattails with your dog beside you. Sometimes practice jump-shooting.

"Frequently train with multiple shooters and lots of calling. Occasionally give your retriever 'sound marks' in which he hears a splash but sees nothing fall, and so on. Whatever you expect of him in hunting, expose him to in training."

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