Monday, July 20, 2015

The Down-side of Training a Large Dog (Updated)

Don't let those puppy-dog eyes fool you. 
I had a rough day of training our dog Kane last week. He's come a very long way from those early days when he spun me in circles and dragged me to the ground, but just in case I thought he was 'so over that', he gave me a little refresher course in An Excited Dog is a Powerful, Wild Beast 101.

As I said, he's become quite a gentleman when he's on leash and heeling (our trainer is very impressed with his heel), but if I give him a long line or even let him off-leash he's less predictable. And if he gets excited, then he's like a squirrel on speed.

After weeks of working on his recall with a long line and watching him figuratively thumb his nose at me as soon as the leash came off, Steve and I decided that we needed to try a different tool: an e-collar.

E-collars use the same technology as TENS machines -- a mild electronic pulse that feels annoying. Yes, I tried it on myself. It was not painful, but it was just . . . I wanted it to stop. Which is exactly the concept when using it with training: the objective is to apply just enough stimulus that the dog notices it and pays attention.

If you're interested, here's a long-ish video. I will warn you: as with most training videos, this one makes it look easier than it is.

Rather than relying on websites and how-to videos, we hired a trainer to show me the ropes. Since we're still early days with this, Kane was still on long line as well as the e-collar.

He was doing sooooooo well responding to commands (even 'come', without any leash pressure) until he saw a rabbit and took off like a bat out of hell. Zero to 100 in 5 seconds. He was already at the full extent of our 10-foot line, so there was no time for for me to do anything other than call him and mash that damn button (with a boost).

By the time he stopped (and he did stop well before reaching the rabbit, so I guess it worked?), the leash had been ripped out of my hand (yay, rope burn), and I was face-down on the grass feeling bruised and grumpy.

Flashback to January 2014.

Moments like that make me wish I either had a smaller, gentler dog or more strength. They make me feel like all the effort we've poured into training Kane has been in vain. (I know that's not true, but it sure felt that way in the moment.)

But they also demonstrate exactly why I'm working on this training: Kane *needs* to learn to behave all the time. Otherwise, it's not safe and it erodes our relationship.

UPDATE: This article, I Put My Dog Down Yesterday, could not be more timely or more tragic.


  1. I will forever more describe my energetic children as "squirrels on speed" LOL
    but I swear I won't use the collar on them. :)
    I can see what you mean though that it can affect the relationship of pet to owner in a negative way if the pet is out of control. Hope Kane continues to improve.

    1. I have a feeling I could have been described as a "squirrel on speed" when I was a child.


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