A package arrives in the mail and I am excited as I fumble with the packaging, trying to tear the envelope free from its glue. I want this to work. I want this to work as well as it did in the training video and in the advertisement. I want it to work as well as it did for strangers in a forum and for yet more strangers with blogs. I want it to work because I want Jake to be a happy part of our family, not a problem to be managed while I wait to see if his instinct to kill grows strong enough to drive him to tear into the chicken house after them.
Because that is when we gave up on Pepper and had her rehomed.
But as I screw on the little metal knobs that actually deliver the shock, I hesitate. Jake is napping peacefully in the corner. He lives to please me. I was already harsh with him and even now, a few days later, he approaches me submissively with his shoulders low, his wagging tail sweeping the ground, and those great big eyes that just say, “Do you still love me, Mommy?”
The first thing I ever read about remote shock collars, or e-collars as their proponents prefer to call them, was about training dogs to leave chickens alone.
“Set the shock high and walk away. You don’t want the dog to know you are delivering the shock. You want her to think it is the chicken. When she goes for the chicken, the shock should knock her off her feet.”
That recommendation from a total stranger soured me on the use of a collar and actually was the first thing that made me seriously consider giving up Pepper. Because a new home away from chickens was surely better than treating her that way just so she could stay here.
But Jake isn’t Pepper. At least not yet.
So I call him over and fit him for his new collar. I read a little more about just exactly how I am supposed to do this and finally take him outside. With the remote in my pocket, I watch him sniff around the front yard and deliver the first shock.
I increase it. Still nothing. I’m looking for that point when he takes notice, but nothing more. I increase it more. And more. And I start to think maybe the shock cannot penetrate his thick coat but then finally he stops sniffing to scratch his neck. He resumes sniffing, as if it were only a bothersome fly. I try once again, in case it was just a fly. Same response.
And now it is time to introduce chickens.
We walk down to the henhouse to release the chickens and start our morning chores. Because right then, when the door is first opened and the chickens come racing out, right then it is the hardest for any dog to remember that they aren’t allowed to chase chickens.
He’s immediately alert as the tension gathers in his shoulders for a possible strike. I tap the remote in my pocket with no effect. I increase it by one and see the reaction in his eyebrows and ears as they make a slight jump. His gaze never leaves the chickens, but I decide to work with him at this level. I tap the remote again, his ears lift and he runs to my side.
I rub under his ear and continue chores as if I didn’t notice what just happened. On the way to get water, he notices the pullets, small females still only half the size of the hens. Before ordering the collar, he killed one, lunged at one and caught yet another I rescued from his jaws. These are the ones that get him excited.
And yet it takes only one little tap on the remote in my pocket and he is back at my side, enjoying scritches behind the ear and the sound of my voice as I tell him about my plans for the day. He trots back down to the henhouse with me and lays down when I start to walk toward the garden. I leave him surrounded by chickens.
As I fill the five gallon waterer for the goslings, he gets up and walks around the barn. He’s out of sight, but through the open door, I can see the chickens coming around the opposite side. They aren’t running, but they are nervous, so I walk slowly to where I can get a view of Jake. He’s just standing there, staring at a chicken perched on the water dish. I’m not sure what to make of his stance. I’m not actually sure whether he wants to go after the chicken or if he just wants a drink of water.
I give him one more tap and that is it. For the rest of the day, I can’t get him to pay any attention to the chickens no matter how hard I try. Whether I sit on the porch or watch through a window inside, he goes about his business as if the chickens aren’t even there.
And I couldn’t be happier with his new little e-collar. Not just because he is learning (and quickly!) but because I was able to relax while doing chores with him. He went after the chickens three times and yet I didn’t have to scold him once. All he heard from me was praise.
And I really think this is going to work.