Training a dog isn't something to venture into lightly. There are numerous methods of dog training, and every canine responds differently to each one. Finding the training method that your dog will respond to best may not be something that you can figure out on your own, and some training methods, like electronic dog collar training, should only be performed under the supervision of an experienced dog trainer.
Today, I talked with James Hamm, a very well known professional canine trainer, about the importance of proper dog training and the benefits and dangers of using electronic collars to train dogs. He's also the owner and operator of Lonestar Dog Trainer, located in the Killeen, Texas.
James is a retired Army Command Sergeant Major who served on active duty for 30 years. Over the years, he worked in many locations around the world including Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Colombia, Bosnia, Panama, Germany and Italy.
James directed K-9 and kennel operations in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2007 to 2011. He also trained, worked with and supported military working dogs for the US, Sweden, Croatia, Germany and Norway.
But how did James get started training pet dogs? It wasn't as premeditated as you would think. James and his wife adopted a chocolate Labrador many years ago that would not stop eating sheet rock. I know what you're thinking: a sheet rock eating dog led to a career in dog training? That certainly seems to be the case as James tells me the full story.
MUST READ: 10 Science-based Dog Training Tricks
After the dog ate a 4 foot hole in the wall, James' wife couldn't take it any longer. She told him that he would either need to get the dog under control or find the pup a new home. He decided to contact a well known gun dog trainer named Martin Deeley, who told James to bring the dog in for some training.
“Everything I learned for protection, obviously I learned in the Army, and everything I learned about pet dogs I learned from Martin Deeley, Pat Trichter and Renée Lamoureux,” says James.
To his surprise, Deeley liked the way that James worked with the dog so much that he told him he had what takes to become a professional dog trainer. Deeley began working with him, but James wasn't sure he wanted to stick with it. He was a young sergeant in the Army at the time, but the more canine training he did the more he enjoyed it.
He learned a lot working with military dogs, and he continued to work under Mr. Deeley and another well known trainer by the name of Pat Trichter. He also worked under a professional gun dog trainer named Greg Oyer, and a pet dog trainer named Renée Lamoureux.
James enrolled in workshops and professional gatherings, but eventually he enrolled in the International School for Dog Trainers, which was founded by Deeley. It was here that he learned to train pet dogs.
READ ALSO: 16 Tips for Crate Training a Dog
Training Dogs with Electronic Collars
Depending on which dog training method that you're interested in working with, you can find a professional dog training school that will give you the basic skills that you need. James has taken a basic and advanced pet dog training course, a basic and advanced gun dog training course, and then he went back for E-Tech training. That course focuses on the correct application for training dogs with electronic collars.
Like most professionals that I've spoken to in the pet industry, James told me that dog trainers learn more by working under a skilled professional than they do in school. Although he mentioned some top notch schools around the country, he told me that these schools give their students an opportunity to train 1-5 dogs, whereas working under a professional trainer will allow you to work with a lot more dogs and gain a lot more experience.
After all of his training and learning about the many different methods that can be used to train a dog, James decided to specialize in training dogs with electronic collars. He chose this method because it gives him more versatility and the most precise timing. He told me that using an electronic collar allows him to interrupt the dog's behavior without using physical force and to help people with their dogs when other training methods have failed.
James typically works with dogs that have severe behavior problems. Their owners have usually tried and failed with other methods, and they come to James looking for results. He told me that aggression and fear are the two most common issues that he sees in the dogs that he trains. Electronic dog collars work well to help with both problems.
However, electronic training collars should only be used by experienced dog trainers that know what they are doing.
If you think that electronic dog collar training may be right for your pet, be sure to seek the help of a professional before beginning. They will teach you the proper way to use the collar effectively and safely.
When used by a trained professional, James told me that electric dog collars can help communicate to certain types of dogs when everything else fails.
He says that dogs with severe aggression or fear will become locked in a state of mind, and that's why other training methods do not work well with them.
Electronic dog collars can be used to increase and decrease the stimulation to match the dog's state of mind unlike any other training aid available. For example, many pet parents and professional trainers will use food while training a dog. The food only has so much value. If the dog doesn't believe that completing the task is worth the edible reward, he's not going to do it.
When working with dogs that have this mindset, the stimulation of the electronic collar can be changed frequently to match their state of mind. You can only motivate a dog so much with dog food, toys or praise. Similarly, other training tools, like chain collars or prong collars, provide a level of physical correction that, at some point, will become too great to risk.
“Punishment is never involved.”
James doesn't deny that there have been many canines harmed by training dogs with electronic dog training collars. However, he says that these shock collars were not used properly. A quick internet search will bring you hundreds of examples of pain and physical harm caused by the improper use of these electronic devices.
But James is certain: true professional dog trainers never allow things like this to happen; they teach people how to avoid these issues.
“A good dog trainer never needs to punish dogs, because they have taught the dog what to do, taught the dog how to do it, held the dog accountable, and, if necessary, corrected it when it made the wrong decision. Punishment is never involved.” – James Hamm
The most important thing that pet parents need to keep in mind when thinking about using an electronic pet collar is quality. You can purchase collars on the internet that cost $50 and have 5 different stimulation levels. Compare those collars to a professional model that has over 100 different levels and you'll see a HUGE difference.
Think about the gradual change in stimulation that a collar with 100 levels will have compared to a collar with only 5 levels. The change will be much more intense in a collar with just 5 levels. You can't control the levels or the increase in stimulation nearly as well with a cheaper collar.
When it comes to electronic dog collars, you get what you pay for.
James' best advice for pet parents? Don't buy an electronic dog collar over the counter and expect to teach yourself to use it correctly. The level of results and the level of speed that you're looking for will be much better if you have an experienced dog trainer guiding you through it.
If you wanted to learn to shoot a gun, you wouldn't just go buy one and teach yourself to shoot, would you? Of course not! You would find a trained professional to teach you what to do. With instruction, everything will get better faster.
The other issue is the quality difference between manufacturers of training dog collars. A qualified trainer will help you select an appropriate electronic collar for your dog. As I mentioned, less expensive collars do not feel the same to the dog as an expensive professional collar. You're going to spend more, but your dog will be safer and more comfortable. Not to mention, you'll get much better results.
James only recommends a couple of brands of electronic dog collars. Garmin is his top choice, which has also been listed on many lists of best dog training collars.
He raves about the reliability and quality control of Garmin electronic collars. The two brands that he uses himself are Garmin and Dogtra. He also mentioned that Garmin has phenomenal customer service and a great warranty – two things pet parents are always looking for.
James trains most of the pet dogs that come to him with Garmin collars and pet parents will purchase the collars to continue training at home. He says that he has sold more than 500 units in the last two years, and he has never had one fail. That's an unbelievable statistic!
James doesn't strictly use electronic collars. He mixes multiple strategies and methodologies to train his client's dogs. Electronic collars can be paired with other training methods to enhance the results.
James will use any mixture of training methods to help a dog. Like people, canines all learn differently and James makes it a point to find the best way to teach each individual dog.
The International Association of Canine Professionals
While talking with James he told me that he is the President of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP). It is an organization that is composed of canine professionals, not just dog trainers. The bulk of their membership is trainers, but they also have members that represent boarding facilities, dog daycare professionals, professional groomers and small pet retailers.
IACP sets standards for the dog industry. They set standards for dog trainer certification so that the public is aware of the credentials that these people have. Because the pet industry has very loose regulations, the IACP believes that they need to help pet parents gain the knowledge to find quality professionals to work with their dogs.
The organization also deals with communities and governments to help make decisions about the safety of dogs and the safety of people when it concerns canines. The IACP is heavily engaged in the service dog community as well. They have a strong focus on fraud in the service dog community, which is becoming a growing problem.
The IACP has about 2,000 members, and the organization was established 16 years ago. James told me that they encourage the public to join, because they can receive a lot of great information just by being part of the group. You will also get access to trainings, group meetings and exclusive discounts just by being a member.
I would like to thank James for sharing his knowledge and advice on dog training with our readers. Remember to check out James' website at Lonestar Dog Trainer, and let us know what you thought of this interview on dog training in the comments below!