Are you willing to suspend your own assumptions in order to learn about what you are looking for?
Positive or negative? hmmmmmm........ BOTH!!!!!!!!!! Makes things black and white. Good dog Bad dog. It's just that simple
Forgive me if I'm telling you something you already know, but I think you are confusing "pet" obedience with competition "obedience."
"Pet obedience", aka good manners or small-o obedience, is what most people mean when they say "obedience." They want a dog that acts civilized in public, plus very reliable at a few crucial commands, notably Come and Stay.
Competition "obedience" (sometimes called capital-O or cap-O obedience) is actually more like doggie dressage or a doggie performance than what most people would call "obedience". An obedience trial consists of highly stylized routines that demand (at the higher levels) the dog learn some fairly complicated tasks and perform them with excruciating attention to detail. It has about as much relation to pet obedience as modern field trials have with hunting. Most (not all!) dogs that make it to the higher levels of competition obedience are well-mannered, if only because they spend a whole lot of time traveling, training with other dogs and people, etc. On the other hand, there are many, many extremely well-mannered dogs that would not be able to get an obedience title.
From your posts, it sounds like a reliable recall under all circumstances is extremely important to you (as it should be for all dogs). Honestly, I think an e-collar is just about the most effective way to get a reliable recall in the face of overwhelming temptation, such as a running deer or a squirrel. If you choose that route, be sure you know how to teach it correctly. You can't just go out in an open field and zap the dog and expect him to know how to respond. He's as likely to run away in panic as he is to come to you if you don't teach him, first. Also, note that, if you're on a hike and the dog is out of sight, you'll have to rely on prior training. It's not a good idea to zap a dog you can't see. He might be headed your way or somehow trapped, etc.
If you want to do trial obedience, you will be using a whole lot of positive reinforcement. Unlike hunt training (where the retrieve itself is a powerful reward), there is virtually nothing intrinsically rewarding to the dog about heeling in a circle whilst paying rapt attention to every nuance of a handler's movement. You will have to make it rewarding. Most high level, successful obedience trainers use a ton of positive reinforcement (usually treats) with very judicious and careful applications of gentle compulsion. In cap-O Obedience, there are a million ways for the dog to do an exercise wrong and only one way to do it right. The dog will get very discouraged, very fast, if you only correct for all the wrong responses.
There are many good books and videos about competition obedience. You could start with Janice Gunn's videos, Adele Yunck's and Judy Byron's "Competitive Obedience: a Balancing Act", and Diane Baumann's "Beyond Basic Obedience." Also, go to obedience trials, watch the UD and CDX classes and ask the handlers whose dogs do great work who they train with in your area.
Kelly Cassidy (person)
HR Maple Cassidy CDX JH RE (golden retriever)
Alder Cassidy CDX RE (standard poodle chipmunk chaser)
plus whacked-out weird Burka (elderly mix-breed rescue girl)
I am not a professional by any means but I really like to use both types of learning. Treats and play when things go right but there are also times when I need to correct my dogs with an e collar. I like the e collar because I took a long time to condition them to the collar before I ever turned it on. I had a few behavioral problems that with one or two corrections with the collar and they do not exist anymore. I also treat the sh-- out of my dogs when I am training and they are doing what I want them to do. As long as you do not abuse your corrections and you feel that what you are doing to the dog is fair for the action, you will probably not have any major issues. Treat your dogs with respect and care and they will trust you with their lives.
Most folks have a fairly incomplete view of what positive gundog training is. I have trained a good number of gundogs with traditional compulsion methods and fair number of gundogs with positive methods. Here is a synopsis of positive gundog training. At the bottom is a table comparing traditional compulsion training and positive training for gundogs.
"When he stood up to speak, battalions of words issued forth from his mouth and scoured the countryside in search of an idea, and when they found one, they swiftly and thoroughly beat it to death." ---- -Anonymous
Like stated before it all depends on your goals and what you feel most comfortable. You can train your dog with with corrections without having to use aversive measures. Most PR trainer go this route (they say PR bc it's easier to explain). You can also have your dog reliable to your commands using PR. My 8 month Curly is very reliable to come and I haven't begun any collar conditioning.
As for NR or the use of aversive corrections it definitely can make the training go faster but it's also easier to mess up if you're a novice. Remember before you can expect your dog to do something on a collar you have to show them what you want.
As for the Prong or choker debate. Prong collars are a lot safer. Chokers are exactly that they choke your dog. The loop can go all the way down to inches. While the prong collar looks like a mid-evil torture device it evenly distributes the pressure around the dogs neck and it can only go as small as the inner prongs.
The choice is yours but if you can't use it in the ring then why train to it. (Retriever training is a lot different since dogs can be hundreds of yards away). It sounds like I'm biased towards PR but I feel as if you know about the NR side of training.
Now I have not read all the posts but I have skimmed over the majority of them so I apologize if I reiterate something someone has already posted, but I have been a firm believer that a regular choke chain was the best - most humane way to teach a dog how to heel and sit on command with additonal treats and fun bumpers to keep their spirits up - that being said I now have a 6 month old pup who taught me differently. I was at wits end and I kept getting told to buy a prong collar and finally did. Now I dont know what it was, It may have been the repeated walks for a couple of months plus the collar but what I do know is yesterday with only the choke chain he was not going to heel today I walked him twice with the prong collar and with in a few short twitches of my wrist he was walking at my side and did it like he had been doing it all along. during the walk he was rewarded with treats when he sat and then afterward we did some sit then here work with treats and then some fun bumpers he is happy as he was yesterday and being more obedient
take it for what it is worth - I was like you and not really sure about the prong collar and like you I like the results it is giving - the collar required much few corrections to get the desired result with much less torque on my back from him pulling - ie more humane
I hope this helps, I am not a competitive obedience trainer by any means but do require an obedient dog, but good luck and I hope all works out for you.
Justin E Schneider
Xtreme's 30 Rounds N' 1 Full Maggie SH
Foundation's One Up the Sleeve
"Money will buy you a pretty good dog, but it won't buy the wag of his tail." -- Josh Billings
Some peoples stiffest competition is themselves.--MooseGooser