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If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby coloradokevin » Tue Oct 25, 2011 12:22 am

First let me say that I didn't start this thread with the intention of creating another dog-related flame war among the 14'ers.com community! Rather, I wanted to share some training experiences I've recently had with my dog, which has resulted in me finally feeling that I've achieved effective off-leash control of my rather wild-spirited dog. I hope this information might help some other dog owners in this site, since I know I'm not the only one who wanted to gain control of my dog off of the leash!

A little background:

As many of you know, I often hike and climb with my dog. She's a 5-year-old German Shepherd / Akita mix, and she loves going for hikes (as most dogs do).

While my dog has always been very social and friendly, she's never been particularly great off-leash. She shows an interest in deer and rodents, and she likes to "greet" other people and dogs on the trail. As such, I've spent most of my trail time with her leashed to me. The leash-to-dog connection has caused a few problems in the past. First, it is harder (both for me and the dog) to negotiate more difficult terrain when we are tethered to each other. More importantly, I've sprained my ankle at least twice as a direct result of an 85lb dog pulling on the leash while I'm hiking with her on a rough trail.

My dog has known her basic obedience commands ever since I taught her as a puppy (Come, Sit, Wait, Down, Leave it, Drop it, etc). But, my dog is quite stubborn, and she was always prone to selective listening whenever she came across something that she found to be more interesting than my commands. As such, off-leash control suffered.


New Technique:


Anyway, I recently discovered that electronic collar training works VERY well with my dog. I knew of a few people who trained with electronic collars in the past, and I was impressed with their results. I was always hesitant to proceed with this type of training due to my concern that it could have negative results if done incorrectly. After doing some research on the technology and the techniques, I finally bought an electronic collar for my dog, and I now wish I had done so four years ago!

The basics of the technique I've used with this collar is surprisingly simple:

1) I started by determining where my dog's "recognition level" was with the collar. To do this I started with the collar on the dog, and let her get used to wearing it, to the point that she seemed to forget (or stop caring) that it was on. This took about 3 minutes. A while later I started providing stimulation to the collar without giving any commands to my pup, while she was distracted with things other than me. Her recognition level was then determined simply by observing the lowest level of stimulation at which she showed some awareness of the collar. In my dog's case I found that a stimulation level of "1.5" on my system caused her to cock her head to the side. It is important to note that the training information I found stressed the fact that you don't want to stimulate at a level that causes your dog to vocalize... it is an attention getter more than anything, not a kick in the gut.

2) After determining my dog's recognition level, I began to work with her using routine commands that she already knows, in an attempt to get her to associate the collar stimulation with my commands. For example, I'd give a command of "Come", and simultaneously provide a momentary stimulation to the electronic collar. When my dog complied with the command she'd receive praise and/or a treat, as I've done with her while training in the past. If she failed to comply with the command I'd repeat the command and the stimulation. During this phase of the training I primarily worked in my backyard, or in an area free of outside distractions. In doing so I put my dog in situations where she'd be likely to respond to my commands without question. After a short time my dog seemed to become more aware of the connection between the collar and the command, and her response to the commands became faster and more deliberate.

3) After deciding that my dog had started to make the psychological connection between the stimulation and command, I started to give her "freebies", whereby she wouldn't get stimulated on every command. Of course, if she failed to comply with a command, that command would then be repeated with the addition of stimulation. In doing this my dog started to pay more attention to me, and would respond quickly to a command, almost as if she was trying to respond ahead of the stimulation.

4) At this point I began to introduce distractions. I started using the collar at the off-leash dog park, where my dog would historically ignore me completely. I provided a few commands when my dog wasn't distracted, and she soon started showing a responsiveness that she would not have given me in the past. A short time later I let her become involved in playing with some other dogs, and I wandered some distance away from her. With this greater degree of distraction I found that I needed to increase the stimulation level to get a response from my dog. But, with a level of 2-2.5 she quickly began responding despite the distraction of other dogs and owners at the dog park.

After repeating this process during the course of a couple of different park visits, I eventually took my dog to the large dog park by Standley Lake, where a person could easily lose sight of a dog that wasn't under control. My dog demonstrated great control at this park, and repeatedly responded to commands even with the distractions of dogs, ponds (she's a swimmer), and people.

The entire training regimen took me all of maybe two weeks, and 10 hours worth of my time before I decided I was comfortable with giving my dog the chance to demonstrate her off-leash abilities on a trail. During my first off-leash hike with her she spotted a deer very close to the trail, and quickly began to bolt for it. I gave a command and a normal level of stimulation without achieving a reaction. I then turned the stimulation level up one notch, and my dog quickly broke from the deer and ran back to sit by my side. This NEVER would have happened in the past! Throughout the rest of this hike, and every subsequent hike, my dog has responded to my command instead of pursuing her interest in people, dogs, rodents, deer, and any other imaginable distraction.

Simply put, this type of training has worked better than I ever could have hoped for. Additionally, my dog seems no worse for wear. In fact, I think my dog is happier now than she was before I used the collar, simply because it allows her a measured degree of freedom that she never before experienced. A few people have questioned me as to whether or not these collars are inhumane. I don't believe they are. For starters, I've tested it on my own neck using the same stimulation levels I use on my dog. I wouldn't go as far as to call it a pleasurable sensation, but it wasn't something I'd be afraid to repeat on myself again (and my dog is a whole lot more pain tolerant than I am).

So, if you are struggling with trying to figure out a way to control your dog off-leash, you might want to look into e-collar training!

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Re: If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby DaveSwink » Tue Oct 25, 2011 12:38 am

Kudos for trying to respect the wildlife and other hikers while hiking with your dog. Try testing the collar on yourself with the setting adjusted to your weight. If you weigh twice as much as your dog, try out the 5 - 5.5 level on your wrist and tell us if it feels like a humane approach to training your dog.

A friend gave her dog's electric collar this test and did not like the result much.

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Re: If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby coloradokevin » Tue Oct 25, 2011 1:51 am

dswink wrote:Kudos for trying to respect the wildlife and other hikers while hiking with your dog. Try testing the collar on yourself with the setting adjusted to your weight. If you weigh twice as much as your dog, try out the 5 - 5.5 level on your wrist and tell us if it feels like a humane approach to training your dog.

A friend gave her dog's electric collar this test and did not like the result much.



Respectfully, I don't believe that's a valid test for a number of reasons. First, at least with my collar level 5 isn't simply two times as powerful as level 2.5. It goes up exponentially between levels, and I guarantee my dog will never feel level five. And, in case it really matters, I've gone as high as 3 on my neck, and 3.5 on my wrist (which is higher than my dog has felt).

Furthermore, dogs and humans are built differently, and have different tolerances for pain among individuals (this is quite often regardless of weight - just because I weigh twice as much doesn't mean that I can handle a higher stimulation setting). Some of the things my dog does in play would probably leave me screaming and crying in pain. She has more robust skin, and thick fur over that skin. In play I've watched our other dog drag my pup around by her cheek with her teeth... that would certainly bother me, but doesn't bother my dog in the least. Moreover, I can easily perceive every stimulation level with the collar, and my dog doesn't even begin to notice it at all until I get to level 1.5 (I can feel level 0.5, and 1.0). Heck, I brush my dog with a tool that looks like a saw blade... she loves it, but I sure wouldn't brush my skin with that thing!

Again, as I said in my original post, the collar is used mostly as an attention getter. Dogs will let you know when they are in pain, and my dog has never been shy about that, either. In fact, I accidentally stepped on her tail last night, and nearly peed myself with the yelp she let out. Trust me, my dog isn't deeply concerned about this collar, even if she doesn't necessarily enjoy the sensation.

Going a step further with this, I don't believe that everything in life needs to be built around positive-only reinforcement. We all have expectations of appropriate conduct we must abide by in life, and we all face consequences for not doing what is expected of us. If I misbehaved as a kid I got spanked; I turned out fine. If I misbehave at work I can be suspended or fired. Wild dogs are disciplined by their own pack members. Even some of the most gentle owners I know will discipline their dogs by providing a jerk on a leash if their dog isn't behaving properly. Is a jerk on a collar around the neck really any less stimulating than a low-level static shock?

Besides, with training my dog has learned that she can avoid stimulation by complying with the command when it is given. Win win on that one: she can avoid stimulation, and I can get her to obey a command that needs to be followed when I give it.


For me, it really came down to the following choices:

1) Continue to have a dog that will not obey commands unless she wants to. Keep that dog on a leash at all times, and constantly strain against each other as we try to hike through sometimes difficult terrain while tethered to each other. I'd be pulled off rocks, she'd be accidentally jerked by the collar repeatedly, etc. In this way my dog was also unable to stop and sniff the things that interested her, because she'd be forced to hike at my pace, rather than doing the typical dog thing: sniff, run, sniff, run.

Or

2) Have a dog that could be controlled (reliably) without the aid of a leash. Both of us can hike more easily, and both of us can have more enjoyment on the trail. And, if my dog isn't listening, I'm confident that I'm able to get her attention in a way that I believe is no more harsh than yanking on a leash to pull her back. (Remember, I start with the lowest level of stimulation that she'll respond to, and I'll gradually increase the level of stimulation if she fails to respond to a command).

There is little doubt that this tool needs to be carefully used by an owner who is willing to learn how to use it properly. But, in the right hands it can work very well, and it worked extremely well in my case. My dog is able to live a better and fuller life because of this collar, and I'm more inclined to take her hiking with me because I don't feel like I'll be constantly fighting her on a leash.

Some dogs probably don't need to use an e-collar to behave (my last one didn't), and some other dogs won't even react to an e-collar on the highest setting (a few of the very high-drive police dogs in my department will fight right through a collar on full power if they want something - admittedly, that isn't typical behavior).

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Re: If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby The_Godfather » Tue Oct 25, 2011 6:55 am

dswink wrote:Kudos for trying to respect the wildlife and other hikers while hiking with your dog. Try testing the collar on yourself with the setting adjusted to your weight. If you weigh twice as much as your dog, try out the 5 - 5.5 level on your wrist and tell us if it feels like a humane approach to training your dog.

A friend gave her dog's electric collar this test and did not like the result much.


+1

But Kevin to each their own I guess. Personally I'd stick with the leash if it wasn't responding correctly. In the meantime, I'll get my popcorn ready as even though its not your intention, if you mention dog in any thread on here it explodes worse than tnt. Good luck with your dog.

:cartman:

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Re: If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby Dave B » Tue Oct 25, 2011 7:25 am

Thanks for this post. This is something we've been considering with our black lab puppy. She's a fantastic dog, but is easily distracted.
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Re: If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby tmathews » Tue Oct 25, 2011 7:32 am

The_Godfather wrote:In the meantime, I'll get my popcorn ready as even though its not your intention, if you mention dog in any thread on here it explodes worse than tnt.


Image

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Re: If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby Uffda » Tue Oct 25, 2011 8:51 am

Might be a mistake to get involved in this one, but +1 on the e-collar. My pup does her happy dance whenever I put her collar on because she knows we're about to do something fun.

Kevin's right, the device is meant to simulate a leash tug (but obviously with much more fine control and far less threat of physical harm). If you think trying the collar on yourself at a high setting is unpleasant, try the equivalent test with a leash/collar and someone else yanking on the leash. Actually, don't - it's kinda weird and would probably cause some pretty serious injury.

As a training tool the collar is much more effective than a leash since you can more easily tie the command to the stimulation. With a leash, either your tug is delayed or ambiguous (i.e. the dog tugs the leash itself) which just leads to confusion/frustration for both the dog and yourself.

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Re: If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby jameseroni » Tue Oct 25, 2011 9:00 am

dswink wrote:Kudos for trying to respect the wildlife and other hikers while hiking with your dog. Try testing the collar on yourself with the setting adjusted to your weight. If you weigh twice as much as your dog, try out the 5 - 5.5 level on your wrist and tell us if it feels like a humane approach to training your dog.

A friend gave her dog's electric collar this test and did not like the result much.



So Kevin goes to the length to share this information, obviously going ABOVE and BEYOND what most dog owners would do. I have to say, GOOD ON YOU KEVIN. I am not a dog owner, but THANK YOU FOR THE INFORMATION.

Kevin let comments like dswink's take care of itself. Hopefully most people will read it as foolhardy and ignorance about the issue. By his reasoning we should stop using all effective means of control over animals.

But if your dog could talk, wouldn't he cry out against this inhumane torture!? Well I got news. Your dog can't talk, he's not a human, he's a DOG. By the way, animals like structure and are loyal to their owners. By their very nature they are driven beasts of burden, finding solace among life's harsh conditions.

Thanks for the post Kevin. As for the nay sayers, unless they express a valid point based on something other than an emotional response, ignore them.

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Re: If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby prestone818 » Tue Oct 25, 2011 9:14 am

Image





seriously though. i dont have an issue with the collar. you spank kids, the dog gets a mild zap, its life- learn from your mistakes.

Re: If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby gonzalj » Tue Oct 25, 2011 9:16 am

Well, I have heard from some friends of mine good things about the electric dog collars in teaching their dogs to obedience and they are all very well trained and happy dogs. While I don't have an electric dog collar on my dog and for those who know me, know that I love dog taking my dog hiking off leash, I am a huge proponent of having well behaved dogs on the mountain and my dog pretty much stikes by my side the entire time we're hiking a mountain. Of course, as we approach people or other dogs he does like to say hi, but he does it in a controlled/non-frantic manner and the second I call him and tell him to come back with me, he does immediately. When I first got my puppy at 4 months old he definitely wasn't super obedient, but over the course of a couple of months with some of my friends older and extremely well trained dogs & a couple of petsmart obedience classes and my dog learned relatively quickly and now both of us really enjoy our mountain adventures (my little boy is like a little kid in a candy store when we're in the mountains - he just absolutely loves them). Of course, while he hasn't hiked all the 14ers I've done (I'm really strict on keeping him to class 1 and easier class 2). Anyway, whatever your trick is to have a well-trained dog on the mountain is great and I'm sure there are numerous people here that have achieved that in numerous different ways.

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Re: If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby Oman » Tue Oct 25, 2011 9:21 am

Years ago I hiked with a guy who had used an electronic collar to train his lab for pheasant hunting. By the time I hiked with him, the dog was well trained and wearing a dummy (non-charged) collar, but still had a quirk: Every time the dog spotted a rabbit, he yelped and looked back at his master.

The guy said his dog had become convinced that rabbits shocked him.

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Re: If you want to have an off leash dog...

Postby DeucesWild » Tue Oct 25, 2011 9:29 am

jameseroni wrote: By their very nature they are driven beasts of burden, finding solace among life's harsh conditions.


Quite poetic.
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