When I got back from vacation last week, I saw an unfamiliar sight – the lake had completely unfrozen. I knew then that it was time to begin the spring/summer/fall joy that is water work with my dogs. It will be a great way to get Dulse some non-weight bearing exercise, and Rudder needs something to use up the massive amount of adolescent energy he has.
Rudder is almost 3 years of age, and I have been working with an obedience trainer since I got him when he was 18 months old. I had never gotten a dog older than 8 weeks but I knew that a big, adolescent Newfoundland would be a challenge, so I decided to train with an electronic collar. Since Newfs are so soft, I was skeptical that the collar would be too hard on him. But I know the importance of using it correctly and see now what a valuable tool it is. My trainer told me that used properly, the static from the collar (at the 1/250/second “nick” feature) was just like giving Rudder a reminder that he was expected to do something he knew how to do already – like a tap on the shoulder.
I learned that the trick was to catch him when he was thinking about being disobedient. It was difficult to see at first. However, I remembered housetraining young puppies and the importance of recognizing actions right before they were going to eliminate, like holding the tail a certain way, or circling. Just like this, a dog will give subtle clues to what he is thinking. These might include a cock of the head and tensing up before running into a neighbor’s yard, a flick of the eye when thinking of getting up from a “stay” or “down”, or slightly turning his head away when thinking of not coming for a recall.
Although in recent months I have been remiss with obedience practice, I have been better lately and realize that he remembers a lot when the collar is on him. The importance of keeping the collar on really became clear at the end of this winter when snow was still on the ground and I took Rudder out to get the mail with me – without putting the collar on. After walking nicely down the driveway with me, on the way back he meandered in the direction of the neighbor’s yard. When I called him, he didn’t even look in my direction. Instead, he “gave me the dewclaw” as he pranced around the corner of the neighbor’s house. The snow was too deep for me to run after him, and he knew it. Luckily, the neighbor wasn’t home and I live on a quiet street, so he came back when he wanted to. If my neighbor’s dogs had been out or if someone had been walking by, this could have turned into an uncomfortable situation, as even neighbors who know how nice Rudder is are not fond of a big black thing rushing up to them, even if it is only to give them a lick on the face! Since that time, I always put the collar on, even if I don’t use it. He seems to know and pay extra attention.
Since then, too, I practice when I can, making him “wait”, “sit”, “stay”, “heel”, and “come” at irregular intervals. I find, like with anything, the more we practice, the more obedient he is. I know that if I stick to it, and keep the collar on, this summer it will truly be a joy to walk with him off lead on hiking trails, or train him in the lake without worrying that he will run off.
More on the use of electronic collars: