Dog trainer Petr Zoubek Gives Advice on How to Use Electronic Collars When Training Dogs

An electronic collar can be very helpful for training and keeping your dog safe. However, we need to know how to set it up and use it correctly. Thanks to that, no shocks might be even needed. I asked Petr Zoubek, a hunting dog trainer, about the principles for its safe use. 

We can't expect electronic training collars to train our dog instead of us and to change its unwanted behaviour with a shock itself. However, they give us the advantage of reacting to unwanted behaviour immediately, even at a distance, which is absolutely crucial for its elimination. E-collars are commonly used to train hunting dogs.

 

Moreover, it is also suitable for dogs that often run away and hunters. They allow us to let even these problematic dogs that would otherwise immediately start to chase game or another dog to move freely without a leash. They might easily get lost, get hit by a car or be shot during hunting. However, we have to use them wisely and correctly in order not to cause harm. We should certainly learn at least about some basic principles of this training technique in advance. I asked Petr Zouška, who focuses on hunting dog training, how to set up and use the collar correctly.

 

Petr, how long have you been using electronic collars and what purpose do you use them for?

I started using electronic collars 18 years ago, when I started training hunting dogs (not just my own but also my friends’ dogs). Using an electronic collar is a great thing to make training easier for me and to prepare the dog for hunting tests. It also has a protective purpose – it keeps the dog from running in front of a vehicle.

In what ways can you use the collar to keep your dog safe?
I would like to mention several things here: it’s good for protecting the dog from running in front of a car or train, getting lost, running away, attacking another dog (or a person) and, last but not least, hunting other animals.

When is the use of electronic collars appropriate? Is it only suitable for hunting dog training or can it also be used for regular training?

The collar is suitable for both, but it has to be used in a good way.

It is certainly not enough to read the instructions to properly use this electronic device. Would you recommend using it to inexperienced people, or should they first learn something about the training technique or even have a training with a cynologist?

Using an electric collar is very individual, it is definitely not enough to follow the instructions. A person has to observe the dog, learn to recognize its reactions and use the individual features of the collar accordingly. I do not think it is necessary to have a training with a cynologist, but you can’t use the collar without consideration.

Some people who don’t know how to train a dog get an electronic collar as a form of punishment or use it instead of regular training. They expect it to help them teach the dog obedience. Isn’t that counterproductive?

An electronic collar is not meant to be used for teaching basic commands such as sit, down or come/here. I have seen bad usage of the collar, which caused the dog to immediately become extremely aggressive when anyone grabbed the collar in the presence of the dog.

What mistakes do people most often make when using them? I can imagine a dog trainer saying multiple commands to the dog which it does not properly understand and pressing the collar device control would be counterproductive like that.

From my experience, I know that inexperienced people can ruin the training with their handling and use of an electronic collar, sometimes even forever. I had a dog to train whose master put the collar on it, overloaded it with a number of commands and warned it with a command from the collar several times. The dog was confused, did not know what it was expected to do and it was very difficult to make these mistakes right.

How do I correctly put the collar on my dog?

I am very careful when using a collar. After turning the collar on and successful pairing, I check if the electrodes touch the dog's skin. The collar can’t be loose, but it shouldn’t also be too tight so it allows the dog to breathe freely.

Electronic collars can’t only apply shocks to dogs, they also have sound effects and vibrations. How can we work with them? Can you briefly describe the training technique with an electronic collar?

I say a command and if the dog does not respond, I will use vibrations or a sound signal. If the dog doesn’t obey, it’s time for an electrical shock. It worked well for me that with first shock, the dog gets scared and I call it at that point and most importantly, I praise it. Some dogs understand the principle of the collar very easily, and no shock is needed at all.

Do you need to use the shock all the time, or other signals are enough after some training? I guess it depends on the purpose of its use, right? (A hunting dog vs. a dog that often runs away)

It depends on the nature and the resilience of the dog. Some dogs are obedient just because they have a collar on. Some are defiant and sound signals are not enough, so the shock has to be used.

For the electronic collars to serve their purpose, we need to know when to use them and we need to set them up correctly. An electric shock is not dangerous for a dog if the appropriate intensity is set according to its size and sensitivity. How do we know that the intensity is set well – so the dog responds to the shock but it is not too strong?
Each electronic collar has a certain intensity scale. It is therefore important to correctly estimate the degree. It's good to start with the lowest intensity of the shock and check the dog's behaviour and you can gradually add intensity. It’s important for the dog not to be scared of the collar.

Thank you for your time, Petr. I will ask you one last question – what would you recommend to all those people considering getting an electronic collar?

An electronic collar is a great tool, but it needs to be used correctly. If the shock is too intense, the dog may learn to be too afraid to go away from its master which is a big problem for a hunting dog and it is not easy to get rid of it.

PHOTO CREDIT: Petr Zoubek

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