Introduction of the E-collar    by Alice Woodyard

The introduction is on the behavior of coming to the handler.  It’s easy.

Dog is introduced to “e” in a “distraction-free” and “neutral” environment using the procedure described below.

Distraction free has the obvious meaning.  Seminars are not typically distraction free, BTW.

By neutral I mean if he’s a working dog of some kind, you do not introduce “e” in his working venue. If he is your duck dog, you do not introduce “e” in your duck blind. Etc.

Dog is introduced at a low level “barely tingle” type of intensity which, in the popular description, is just what he twitches an ear at.  If he feels it enough to move an ear, it is enough for him to register and enough for him to change behavior as a result of (his ear just proved it) if the intro area is distraction free and the IE procedure is followed (below).

IE means immediate elicitation. You are going to help right away, with onset of stim, using a pre-determined effective method (effective for that dog/handler) of eliciting the behavior. Immediate so that you don’t leave Fido puzzling, where you “only help if you have to give the command twice” or some criterion like that.  You are prepared to elicit when you start the stim, and if there’s a long line involved, you’re holding it, not chasing down a dragging line which would cause delay.

You have prepped on some dry runs on your chosen eliciting method just prior to starting the “e” work, so you know that (a) it will work and (b) you have established a faint pattern in Fido to help him follow the first time you stim.

What do I mean, “elicit”?  Because you have previously checked out the dog and owner you have identified one or more effective methods that will get the dog to turn toward the handler when you want it to happen.  If the dog has “obedience training” the choice can be obvious—it is called a Known Command.  But for elicitation purposes note that it is not the same as a “command” per se with its connotation of “if he doesn’t obey it...then...”.  Rather, it is you taking advantage of a trained dog’s conditioned response when he hears the word Come. In a pet without a lot of training, it could be what I call social elicitation: how they used to call the dog when he was a puppy. Dog’s Name a couple of times, clap hands, happy chat, etc.  If he is a food-trained dog, maybe it is the showing and offering of treats.  For the Training Enthusiast’s dog, it is probably a known command followed by happy praise, which continues the elicitation so that the dog does not pause in his “performance.” I discourage the Enthusiast from starting with the dog’s name for this exercise, BTW. Definitely it could include 2nd, 3rd, 4th ... “commands” as needed, which is something you generally need to explain to the Enthusiast because he/she will have ingrained inhibitions against ”repeating commands.”  If the check out indicates this owner cannot get his dog to at least turn towards him pretty consistently when dog is undistracted, then the dog is on a line. Pulling on the line elicits the turn. Person is holding the end of the line. It is not dragging because getting to it would be too slow for these first lessons and Fido could be in a confused state while you chase down the line. Also, you pull, you don’t jerk. The line is not correcting the dog; it is showing him. I prefer to avoid use of lines if I can see that good elicitation will be possible. You are more likely to need lines with a pet than an Enthusiast’s dog but often pets do not need them either.

Do a few dry runs (no stim) in which handler causes Fido to come towards him by the chosen method(s).  Then...
When the wandering dog is pointed away from the handler, press the button (pressure on) and elicit in the same moment. In other words, pressure goes on and you help immediately and Non Contingently. Non-contingently means that you do not wait to see what the dog will do. You StimAndElicit.

The moment the dog has oriented to and made a slight motion toward the handler (I call it a U turn but it may be barely that), release button (pressure off).  Stim will be on only briefly.  This is not a complete Come, it is teaching the dog to control stim by doing something, in this case orienting to the handler. It is only the first lesson but in many ways it is the dog’s most important “e” lesson.

If this looks a little like “shaping” to a clicker trainer, I suppose you could say it might share some of those properties. You aren’t after the whole behavior. You are after the dog’s mind. You want him to notice the ”pressure on/his own motion/pressure off” chain of events. The elicited U turn is a very dog-friendly way to start.

I encourage the handler to praise the dog briefly as he turns away from the dog and to then walk off in the away direction after turning the dog.  The praise keeps the dog coming his way, and the walk-away encourages the dog to follow and then overtake the handler. This keeps the dog freed-up and wandering around so you can have more repetitions.

Walk around and repeat.

Shortly (typically within the 1st lesson) you see the dog change some behavior that tells you he’s making a connection (aka “first light bulb sign”). Often this is an extra quick motion that he makes as he turns. He is trying to beat the stim. Or he may start to do something that constitutes anticipation of a chain of events. E.g., if handler has been typically calling and stimming when Fido is about 45 feet away you will see Fido start to turn on his own at 41 feet. That kind of thing. It will be so subtle that I have to point it out to the handler, but it is there.

Now you have a platform to gradually weaken the elicitation stuff because the dog’s knowledge of “turning off the collar” can start replacing its role. Using pressure on/pressure off, you can shape the rest of your “come” to include coming all the way to you and staying with you until released.  You can add a command in the traditional sense of command (or keep using what you’ve been using to elicit, and it is your command). You can wean away from auto stim (stim with the first command) in favor of contingent stim (stim only if first command is ignored). Pressure on/pressure off timing of stim can be changed to burst-type “correction” stim analogous to popping a leash. You can gradually introduce distractions until your dog’s reliability astounds you. You take things to your working venues if any. You and your dog have a new world to explore.

Intensity issues: Using a very low “ear twitch” intensity is important for this first lesson. However, some dogs (the Leaping Larry Lab type) are so happy-go-lucky that as soon as they are put into “wandering around” mode their sensitivity threshold rises, and to still have what is “ear twitch” level stim you have to increase the nominal level above what you first selected when they were standing still. Note this is not to be confused with raising the level “to make him do it.”  The stim is NOT making the naive dog do anything at first. Eliciting the behavior is up to the trainer.  Also note that the trainer who raises the stim level can easily confuse himself as to what is happening, because if Fido is “getting hurt” he will likely seek the owner for safety but that is not the mind-lesson I am seeking in the intro process.  It is possible you need to adjust the stim level to achieve the first lesson; I don’t counsel having a preconceived “do” or “don’t” about raising stim in the first lesson.  Just don’t be too quick to go up.  If he can feel it, believe me he is learning.

Confusion is avoided by doing the “e” intro in a distraction-free environment and staying in that environment until the initial light bulb goes on so that nothing competes with the dog’s attention on the experience.  Confusion and protest behaviors are avoided by establishing an effective method of eliciting the behavior you want ahead of time, and applying your elicitation method immediately and non contingently when first introducing the “e” and until you see that first light bulb sign.  You stack everything you can in favor of the dog learning to “win” right away.

Alice Woodyard
Sacramento, CA