The term “collar wise” is used to describe a dog who only listens and performs when they are wearing equipment. When collars are taken off, the collar wise dog will ignore commands, perform at less than their normal level, and will not take direction from the handler. This is an issue that has a couple of different factors to consider.
This is one of the most critical, and one of the most misunderstood aspects of why dogs become collar wise. Sometimes people will use an ecollar as a shortcut when there is a deficit in their relationship with their dog. This is especially true with recalls. If I have a young dog, and teach them recalls in a motivational way, with lots of rewards from me and strong positive emotions for the recall, it is very easy for me to then layer over the remote collar for proofing against things like wildlife. When I then go to remove the collar later on in my dog’s life, they love recalls, they love interacting with me, and I have not allowed bad habits to develop around distractions such as deer. It is highly unlikely for me to run into issues with my dog blowing me off.
Now let’s look at a different scenario. I have a dog who I really want to have off leash on the hiking trail, and he’s hard to motivate and doesn’t really like coming back to me. I could spend a month on foundation work, but that’s so much time, so I am just going to rush into the collar work. For this type of dog, the collar has become the reason that the dog comes back, rather than a backup form of correction for rare mistakes. This dog has a very strong likelihood of ignoring me completely when the collar is gone. It is the difference between a dog coming to you because he likes you and enjoys his job, and a dog who is only coming to avoid a correction.
2. Different Sets of Rules
You have put in a ton of work on your recalls, and your dog knows the communication of the ecollar very well. When you have your remote and the collar is on, you have a high standard for your dog. You expect him to come to you quickly and directly, and to do this in any setting. You and your dog have clear expectations for what this looks like. Until one day, you leave the remote in the car, or you forget to charge the collar so you just go without. Your dog does well, so you stop using the collar at all.
A week in, you are letting him play with his friends, and you call him to go home. He ignores you. You say “Oh well, I can give him 10 more minutes.” And you change the rules. Come no longer means the same thing when the collar isn’t in the picture. After this happens a few times, you will put the collar back on and correct him, and he will have an even clearer picture that the collar is the piece that’s different when the rules change.
3. Bad Procedures
Fluffy gets easily distracted around dogs, but he’s fine on the rest of the walks you take. He heels nicely, works well with you, and never ignores direction as long as a dog isn’t around. So you say to yourself that Fluffy doesn’t need his collar on unless we are in high dog traffic areas. You keep the collar in your bag, and put it on him when you are going through a busy park. You take it off the second you walk in the door back home.
Buddy needs his e-collar on for protection work because he gets really amped up around the helper. When it is protection time, you put his collar on, you go and work, and when he is done and coming off the field, you take the collar off because you no longer need it.
What both of these handlers have done is turned the collar into a cue that something is about to happen. Fluffy starts to see the collar as a cue that dogs are going to start showing up. Buddy starts to see the cue of the collar as a sign that protection is happening. Buddy’s handler is going to be in for a rude awakening on trial day when Buddy does not receive this cue.
The remote collar is a fantastic communication tool when taught right, and can give you and your dog levels of training that are beyond what you ever dreamed. With just a small low level reminder, you can heel your dog through a crowd, recall him away from deer, and stop him from counter surfing. You get him home from his board and train, and he is a total rock star, doing all the things you always dreamed of. It is natural at this point to decide that the collar is no longer needed, and you can put it in the drawer. The problem comes two days later. You haven’t needed to correct him for two weeks, but on this day there is a particularly interesting squirrel, and he chooses the squirrel over you. Your collar is at home, you do not correct him.
Great responses to instructions and low rates of correction are a great and fantastic thing, and they do not mean that you are ready to remove your training equipment. Life is unpredictable, and you can never control what happens in the environment around your dog. You can easily create a collar wise dog by rushing to remove equipment before your dog is ready for it to be faded out.
Training tools are not a replacement for training.
Your e-collar is a fantastic tool to help in the training process, but it is not a magic button that will solve all of your problems. Teaching things correctly, building a great relationship with your dog, and being thoughtful about how you structure your training sessions are all key for building a dog who works beautifully regardless of what kind of necklace they have on.
If you need help with a collar wise dog, feel free to reach out to us .