Collar Conditioning Your Gun Dog [Back to Monthly Pro Staff Articles]
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An Introduction to Collar Conditioning
To collar condition your gun dog or not is a tough decision for many new trainers. If you choose to collar condition your dog, this article will give you some helpful advice during the process.
Matt Tuttle, of Copperwood Kennels, effectively trains all his dogs with an e-collar. Matt explains, “The e-collar is by far one of the most useful tools any trainer can have in their bag. Although an e-collar is very effective, it is also widely misused.”
“As with every step in your gundog training, you must keep one thing in mind, take it slow! Whether you’re introducing your dog to gun fire, teaching casting, or introducing them to the e-collar, the important thing to remember is to take your time. You want to truly instill each concept into your retriever’s head before “TESTING” these concepts.”
At Copperwood Kennels, Matt begins collar conditioning just before the force fetch process. (Around 5-6 months of age) Matt emphasized “Collar conditioning reinforces known commands, and is best learned after obedience training has started. With a good foundation in obedience, your retriever will have a smooth transition into the collar. As your retriever gets further along in training, the e-collar will replace the corrections of your choke collar or heeling stick.” It’s important that you teach the command before applying e-collar pressure.
Here’s an example from Matt: teach your dog the “kennel” command by showing them into his/her crate. Use the kennel command as he/she walks toward and enters the crate. Starting this before the use of an e-collar will set your dog up for success when collar pressure is applied. After your dog is comfortable and responding reliably to the kennel command, begin applying light collar pressure while guiding your dog to his/her crate. When your dog, enters his/her crate, release the collar pressure. You should notice an increased sense of urgency by your dog to “kennel” in the crate. The dog is learning to turn off the e-collar pressure by complying quickly with your command. By entering the kennel, the collar pressure is shut off. If your dog is struggling with the concept, help them out. It’s important to continue applying pressure, but help them succeed so they learn how to turn the pressure off. If you stop applying pressure when they are struggling, they will learn to “act up” in order to shut off the pressure instead of complying with your command. If a dog is truly struggling, Matt and I would take a step backwards and simplify. Remember Matt’s motto “take it slow!”
Matt explains that “Utilizing the e-collar for teaching “Here” may be the most important step in collar conditioning. The e-collar will eventually take the place of your lead. Collar pressure should be applied simultaneously with the lead, each time the “Here” command is given. When your pup is demonstrating a good understating, remove the lead and continue with just the collar.”
One mistake that many trainers make in the process is applying a collar correction for multiple commands in the same training session. This is very confusing for a young dog and will lead to future issues. Take your time and stick to one command until your retriever is performing it flawlessly. Matt’s suggestions to take it slow, teach the command before you use the e-collar pressure, and stick to one command per session.
If you have more questions on using an e-collar, you can email Matt or Bob at:
Matt’s website & Facebook Page: