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Collar is trainer's instrument to create harmony for owners, dogs

By jim Published: November 17, 2009

By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer

Police corralled the stray in a Hudson garage after the homeowner called to complain. The officers asked dispatchers to call Summit County Animal Control.

''The nice ladies at dispatch said, 'No, they'll put her to sleep,' and asked us to keep her for a couple of days,'' recalled Ginger Graber, Fire Safety Inspector for the Hudson Fire Department.

Graber, who already owned three large, rescued dogs, said adding another to the fold wouldn't be a problem — at least for a few days.

But the female shepherd-mix was a handful, and one after another, prospective new owners concluded the dog was uncontrollable.

Graber realized that if the stray ever was to find a permanent home, she needed to do something about its behavior. She called dog training specialist Paul Pollock because he had successfully trained her other dogs.

Pollock, owner of Sit Means Sit Dog Training, frequently is seen at animal events with border collie-mix Roxie, a walking canine billboard for the business he started in 2007.

Roxie — a rescued dog that is well behaved despite having lots of energy — responds to commands although Pollock doesn't raise his voice and never uses a leash. She has been trained with an electronic collar and positive reinforcement that are fundamental to the program.

Graber said people who have never experienced Pollock's training method won't understand how it works.

''The first time I heard about the system, I was skeptical. But the program doesn't use the collar as a shock collar. That's not the way it works,'' she said.

Pollock says ''e-collars'' are controversial because people assume they work by giving a painful jolt when a dog disobeys.

''The [Sit Means Sit] electronic collar does not create pain. It is a muscle stimulator much like a TENS unit used in the medical field to help the body heal itself,'' he said.

And the collar is only part of the program, he said. Teaching an owner the proper way to use it is essential to a dog's success.

Electronic collars, which have become more accepted because of the growing popularity of electric fences, often are purchased by people who don't know the proper way to use them, Pollock said.

''Many times the collar setting is too harsh for the situation,'' he said.

Pollock introduced Graber's stray to the collar quickly and started seeing results almost immediately, she said.

''Within 20 minutes, he had her making eye contact, and by the second day, she looked to Paul to see what he wanted her to do,'' Graber said.

During an initial demonstration of the program, Pollock had each family member feel the collar's vibration levels. Training begins at the lowest level, and even the stray is learning to behave at a minimal vibration, she said.

Pollock said he adopted Roxie after searching rescue Internet sites for a dog who wanted a job to do. Roxie, who was about a year old, had already lived in three homes, he said.

''She has a high drive, high energy and is intelligent and athletic,'' he said.

Roxie's motivation for behaving on command is not fear of reprisal, but for the reward of a game of catch with a Frisbee, Pollock said.

''I reward them with whatever motivates them. For Roxie, that Frisbee is her favorite thing in the world. The collar is just my way letting her know I'm talking to her,'' Pollock said.

Alfredo Rivera, president of Sit Means Sit Inc., said the Las Vegas-based dog training company is the largest in the United States with 73 locations, several in Canada and one in Australia.

The business has grown so quickly in the past three years, company officials started franchising last January, he said.

Rivera said the program allows owners to tell dogs what they want them to do and helps them understand the difference between right and wrong.

''What I love most is that the system provides freedom by controlling dogs from a distance,'' Rivera said.

Pollock's franchise covers Northeast Ohio, an area that draws from a 40,000 dog population, Rivera said.

Local dog trainer Susan Jenkins, owner of Papp's Dog Training in Akron, said her classes train dogs using the commonly accepted method of positive motivation, usually with food. Owners get the dog's attention with a slight jerk on a leash.

Jenkins believes her methods might take longer to achieve results than training with an e-collar but thinks the training stays with the dog longer.

''It takes a person 21 days to establish a habit. It takes 42 days for dogs,'' she said.

Her classes teach owners and their dogs those habits in eight weekly classes in each session.

''My issue is that an e-collar should be used as a tool — not be the primary, default training method,'' Jenkins said.

If people insist, Jenkins said, she will refer them to a specialist who trains with e-collars.

''Every dog is different. What works for one might not work for another. That's why trainers have multiple tools,'' she said.

Grant Holmes, dog behavior specialist and owner of Stark County-based Perfectly Pawsible! obedience training, said the e-collar is a better alternative for a vicious dog than euthanasia. The downside is that people tend to overuse all collars during training sessions, he said.

''I have seen more people misuse or totally misunderstand pinch collars and choke collars [than e-collars],'' he said.

His training uses verbal commands and initially rewards the dog to achieve the desired behavior. The dog is not permitted outside his vocal range.

''I never put the dog in a position to fail,'' Holmes said.

With Sit Means Sit training, the dog can be as far away as the length of a football field and still ''hear'' its owner, Rivera said.

''There are lots of different tools to get a dog's attention. This program is the only tool on the planet to get their attention from a distance,'' he said.

Graber, who still has the stray, named her Roxie in the hopes that eventually she will behave as well as her namesake.

''One of the things that amazed me is that I never realized dogs need a job to do. She likes to please, and the collar helps keep her focused and ready to work,'' she said.

To learn more about Sit Means Sit training, go to http://www.sitmeanssit.com.


Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.
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