by JOSH MILLER/SportDOG® Brand
I have been heavily involved in the retriever world since the ripe old age of 15. In those years, I have seen a lot of things come and go – trends, techniques, philosophies and tools. One tool that has stuck around and “changed dog training,” as many of my mentors put it, is the electronic collar.
I believe all my dogs, when I am finished with training, should work just as well with the collar off as with the collar on. A dog isn’t truly finished if you need any kind of tool to get them to do the job. I see the e-collar as my “invisible leash,” no more, no less. I teach with the leash, transfer that communication to the e-collar and then I have that communication at any distance. I see it as a very clear way of communicating with my dogs. It’s fair to them, as they always know what I am asking of them.
But being a student of the game and a professional in this sport, I believe it is my duty to study and understand all styles of training, because even if it doesn’t fit how I personally train, there is always something that can be learned. I recently spent time around some good friends of mine who do not use the e-collar, and our time together was both fun and interesting.
As we started our training session together, I started picking my friends’ brains on the subject. I received a wide array of responses, ranging from they just preferred to be “all natural” in their training, to some believing that the e-collar was “cruel.” The latter was, of course, eye-opening to me, but I was respectful of their points of view. There was one thing that stood out to me right away with this group. They loved training and they LOVED their dogs.
As us dog folk often do when we are together, we had a lot of fun and enjoyed our time that day. For me, the most interesting part of the day was when we were running some big blind retrieves. I have a very high standard for my dogs: I want straight lines, sharp on the whistle and very precise casts.
As I finished with one of my dogs, the individual who had originally told me that he thought the e-collar was “cruel” asked, “Why do you even have the collar on if you never use it?” I smiled and told him that I used it three times during that retrieve. He couldn’t believe it, as he did not see the dog respond in any way he was expecting.
But, you see, these collars aren’t what they once were. The technology has come so far that when I communicate with my dogs, you may not even feel the level I use on your own hand and you certainly won’t see the dogs reacting to the stimulation. I took the collar off to show him the level that I was using, and he couldn’t feel it on his own hand.
He wanted to see another dog run so I went to the trailer, got my next dog and ran the same blind. After the run he asked how many times I used it. “None” I said, “I didn’t need to. But I had it in case I did.” It is just like a leash. No one wants to take the dog for a walk down the sidewalk with a leash having to tug on it and fight with the dog the whole time. You would prefer not to have to use it at all. But you have it on the dog in case you do.
After we packed up, we sat around the trailers telling dog stories and having a couple drinks to finish out the day. One guy piped up and said, “Josh, you gave me a much different perspective on collars today.” That meant a lot to me. I didn’t set out to change anyone’s mind, but the reality is that seeing a product used in a proper way, no matter what it is, can open your eyes to the value of that product.
“Let me ask you a question,” he went on. “What is the most valuable application for the collar?” He was expecting a training response, such as blinds or table work. My response: safety. At the end of the day, when you are in the live hunting situation, there are so many uncontrolled things that can come up. My “invisible leash” helps me ensure I go home with my dog, safe and sound, each time I am in the field.
Here is my challenge to you this year: Step outside your comfort zone, with an open mind, and learn someone else’s training style and techniques. You may not use or even agree with what they do, but you just may pick up a couple nuggets that you can take with you to elevate your training to the next level. Remember, it’s your job to communicate as best you can with your dog. Learn as much as you can so you can do that as efficiently as possible.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Josh Miller is the field specialist for SportDOG® Brand and owner of River Stone Kennels and Britishlabradors.com. Josh has more than 13 years of training experience and has been successful running in AKC/HRC hunt tests and field trials, and is a five-time NASHDA Championship winner.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of California Waterfowl.