Using an Ecollar for Correction Isn’t Its Most Valuable Function For The Sport Dog. Here’s Why.
There are many levels of ecollar users at Schutzhund clubs around the world. Those who began with it only due to control issues in protection or often because their helper enjoyed the ease of using it for outs. Those who sought better reliability and commitment in their obedience, seeking the ability to demand attention, the Platz or anything else the dog wasn’t readily offering. Even some brave souls ready to try it out on the tracking fields.
In most of these scenarios, there’s an emphasis on communicating what the dog can’t do. You can’t bite now. You can’t look away. You can’t forge. You can’t sniff off the track. So on and so forth. Without a doubt, I can say traditional positive punishment remains the primary function for ecollar users everywhere. Positive punishment meaning, adding something undesirable to decrease a behavior.
However, they may be missing the most powerful way the ecollar can be used. Something more effective, particularly when keeping all the power in our strong dogs and building even more in our not so strong ones.
By definition, PP reduces the likelihood of a behavior occurring. However, the emphasis on discontinuing behavior, or showing a passive response, goes against what we need in a sport dog: actively doing something at every moment. Even the long down requires an alert, focused and poised animal, read at a moment’s notice.
Could traditional ideas about the best way to use an ecollar with a sport dog be missing the bite here?
What if using it to increase the strength of one behavior, by default, eliminated the behavior you didn’t want? And could that result in a powerhouse dog who maintained technical perfection not through complete avoidance, but a solid commitment and drive towards the desired behavior?
This is being done already by expert handlers across the world, and despite what you might be tempted to tell yourself, no, its success is not contingent on having a subpar or weak dog.
Strong dogs benefit the most from this ideology and can be workable for a larger variety of handlers, no longer completely leaning on traditional corrections to convince the dog to behave.
This is not a “works for some dogs, maybe” situation.
Every type of dog improves from a trainer’s goal and proper execution of strengthening desired behavior. Every dog benefits from putting more focus and commitment into the behavior we ask.
From Sweden to Mexico and everything in between, dogs of every temperament improve by using “corrections” to build the behavior, not turn off other behavior. In a slightly messy, not so clear cut way, traditional PP overlaps with drive building techniques, particularly as the dog becomes more experienced and shows powerful and clear behavior in response the stem. Additionally, if one was to use the ecollar in the more traditional way, but on a dog who had been through this system, it still elicits a response more about showing behavior than avoiding behavior. In other words, once the dog has been through this system, they have a better reaction to corrections, even when used as clear cut PP.
Let’s use Marko's favorite, the guarding, as an example. I asked him at one point, “why, in all of your regular groups, do I not see dogs with out or dirty guarding issues?” And I don't. Over a hundred dogs in his regular groups, no out or dirty guarding issues. WTH?
“Because,” he replied, “they like to guard. Why would they do anything else?”
Why indeed would they be touching and bumping the sleeve, avoiding eye contact, if committed and enjoying the domination of the man? Because those dogs have likely never been shown that the guarding is a way for him to push the helper around and feel stronger. Had the dog been systematically taught the guarding in a way that offered him intrinsic value, nothing else would be on his mind. Once let loose, challenging his enemy is the only thing desired and being allowed to do so is rewarding. Think of the dreaded neighbor hellion, sleeping with one ear open so as not to miss the opportunity of scaring the hell out of an unsuspecting passerby, barking with more confidence and fire than most IPO 3 dogs. He loves it and it shows. So why on earth are so many dogs guarding with half the heart as the neighborhood mutt? Because many believe the only way they can retain control is to keep the dog at that medium level, functioning only at a percentage of his full potential.
There is a solid way to build and demand incredible behavior that changes the goal from “keeping the dog clean” to “getting incredible guarding” and the latter also achieves the former. That shift in thought process completely changes the way one sees almost every training issue.
While this overlapping of concepts can get quite muddled, particularly when the only word we’ve had is “correction”, clarifying the use of correction to instigate and motivate behavior to occur rather than diminish is essential.
The goal after feeling the collar should be a higher output of behavior, not a lower one. While some dogs do this naturally, it’s a process that has to be shown to most. This must be taught carefully, systematically layering the collar only during highly active behavior. Beginning with simple exercises, the dog is manipulated though classical conditioning to show active behavior as a response where otherwise he may have desensitized to it, or in cases of higher level usage, passivated and shown avoidance.
This careful process then allows you later, if desired, to use it more as tradition PP with a consistently powerful reaction and a far lower stem.
I could go on, but figured maybe you'd want to hear from him :) Here's the interview I did with him, the introduction to the last chapter of our ecollar course, going over the process of adding it in to heeling.
Enjoy, and if you want to see more, you can check out the course preview here: https://www.canemodog.com/the-right-way-teaching-the-ecollar