An e-collar, or electronic collar, is a remote device used for dog training. Essentially, when you push a button on your remote, a pulse, or "stim" goes to the collar. The brand we use and sell goes from 1-100 in levels. This way we can find a "working level," which is a level that the dog acknowledges and responds to, but is not so high that it would make the dog uncomfortable. What we have found in working with these collars for years, is that dogs are typically at a lower "working level" than what we can perceive on our own hand. There are so many benefits to e-collar training, and so many dogs whose lives have been saved through training. Some of the dogs we have saved from euthanasia were in training for chasing and harassing livestock, running away off leash, aggression, and problem behaviors like fence aggression or digging. Here are answers to some common questions:
Q: How far of a distance do these collars work from? I see a bunch of buttons, what do they do?
A: The "Mini Educator," the collar we typically use for most dogs, has a 1/2 mile range. We also have collars with a 1-mile range and higher, but that is meant more for hunting dogs or hilly terrain. No worries that you will be too far! You will be surprised at the many features, and safe stimulation of modern-day electronic collars. They are not like the collars you may have seen years ago. Features will vary with brand and model. There are four main brands of high-quality collars: E-Collar Technologies, Dogtra, SportDog, and Garmin. The Mini Educator for example (by E-Collar Tech) has many features: 100 levels of stim, both momentary (1/10th of a second) and continuous, vibrate, one-touch level boost button, even a light on the collar receiver for visibility in the dark.
Q: Will the collar hurt my dog?
A: A collar is an inanimate object, it's use subject to the users skill and judgement, just like any tool. Used properly, it will not hurt your dog, and is a safe and humane tool with many benefits to learning. Even a regular old leash and collar can be inhumane if one gets angry and yanks the leash hard. In all honesty, if you were to turn it up to 100, it can be painful for some dogs. I have never personally used a collar that high. However, I did test it out on the palm of my hand at all levels, including 100. It was not a pleasant sensation, but it was only momentary. The vast majority of dogs will be trained to respond to a low level. Remember: Whenever you hear anyone saying a particular training tool is cruel, they are usually just ignorant of the proper use, or have seen bad examples of how a tool is used. If someone is being unfair to a dog, good trainers know: It's the fool, not the tool.
Q: I have heard of "shock collar burns." Can the collar burn my dog?
A: NO! E-collars produce a finely tuned stimulation that feels like pulsing, they produce no heat. There are ignorant people passing around photos online of "burns" that are, in fact, pressure necrosis, from not rotating the collar or taking it off for days at a time. It's similar to ingrown collars you see on abused dogs, where it has grown into their skin and made a sore. Used properly, according to instruction, e-collars are completely safe and useful training devices. Because the 2 points of the collar make contact with the skin, it creates a small area of pressure, like leaving a snug rubber band around your wrist. Simply rotate the collar every 4-6 hours on the neck, to avoid any skin irritation. You take it off, and you move it over a couple inches or so, very simple.
Q: Should I buy one for my dog?
A: You should buy one if you're working with a qualified trainer who can show you how to properly condition and train your dog to respond to the collar effectively. It's not recommended that you try using it yourself without fully familiarizing yourself with the proper methods. This is what dog trainers are for! Why re-invent the wheel? A trainer can show you how to combine body language, reward, voice, and timing with the collar. To find a trainer in your area, visit the International Association of Canine Professionals When seeking a trainer, make sure they have received education in proper e-collar training and can provide references from happy clients.
Q: What about a vibration collar? Wouldn't that be less harsh?
A: Most modern e-collars have a vibration feature built in, with a special button. It may be called "pager," or "tap." Some people think a vibration is somehow less unpleasant than the regular stim, but this isn't always true. Vibration is a stronger feeling, and can be jarring to some dogs, even frightening at first. Stim is much more subtle of a sensation, and most importantly is adjustable, where vibrate is not.
Trainers will often have you feel it on your own hand first. You can try it on your hand, wrist, neck-- anywhere you want. But do not let that mislead you! You do not feel or perceive stimuli the exact same way a dog does! Dogs can be more or less sensitive. When a dog is in a high state of arousal, they will not notice a low-level as much, and you may dial it up a bit. The dial will often be moving, depending on what activities you are doing. Even positioning the different areas on the neck can be slightly different. So we allow the dog to tell us what is the correct level to be on (by their behavior and responses), we do not just use one set number! We start at 1, and work up level by level. And with 100 levels, it's possible to find just right. With some practice, the handlers skill level and confidence raises, and working the collar properly becomes harmonious.
Q: How can an average dog owner be trusted to use an e-collar? Does it require a high skill level?
A: The same way they can be trusted to do anything-- with proper instruction and education. Humans are the most intelligent and technologically advanced species on earth. Even the Average Joe knows how to operate a variety of complex electronic devices. So we can certainly learn how to best communicate with our dogs! Every persons aptitude varies, but with professional instruction they will get a good gauge on how ready they are to use equipment. You should not use any equipment on your own until you are comfortable with it, be it a leash, clicker, collar, longline, or electronic collar.
Most dog owners who seek out training do so because they love their pets. We invest a lot of time and effort into learning how to properly care for our dogs and give them the best lives. For many dogs, e-collar training means freedom and inclusion into daily life and fun activities.
Q: Can't I just train my dog to come when called off-leash without using a shock collar?
A: Absolutely. People have been training dogs for hundreds of years without them. But the reality is, when new technology is developed, it can bring huge benefits. Do not handicap your training because of ideology. Choose what gets you the best results. Every dog is different, and every handler is different. Truth is, there is more than one way to get to any goal. But some of the reasons thousands of trainers (and hundreds of thousands of dog owners) love e-collars is because it gives them the ability to communicate with their dog in a unique way. It's also often faster than traditional methods. No other tool gives you the ability to communicate like this from a distance, to have perfect timing, to teach new off-leash behaviors, and to use "negative reinforcement" in a motivational way. Family pets are one of the biggest users of electronic training. It is also a favorite of police dog trainers, hunters, and competition trainers.
I will give you a real-life example of how an e-collar changed the life of a dog and his owner. A client presents with a big handsome 4-yo Husky named Cody. They are at the end of their rope, and owning a dog is no longer fun for them. There have been debates within the family about keeping Cody or returning him to the shelter. The wife thinks maybe they just cannot provide for his needs, and it wasn't like they haven't tried. Their reasons for seeking training were very typical: he pulls on the leash to the point walking him is a chore they dread, he is destructive in the home (even at 4 years old), and he digs in the yard, to the point they've had to install special mesh guards under the fence to prevent him from escaping. They have been struggling to train him for almost a year, since they adopted him at 3 years old from a shelter, where he was listed as a stray. They have done group obedience classes, but he was so distracted by the other dogs in class that he only learned a few things. They have a high energy breed that is under-exercised and under-stimulated. I ask them "Have you ever been able to exercise your dog off-leash?" They reply: "Absolutely not, if he sees a squirrel or rabbit, he is in 'the zone,' and there is no way we could get through to him. We are afraid he would run away. The other trainer told us Huskies can never be trusted off-leash because they are an independent breed that doesn't always stay close to you." Well, there is one problem. The owners aren't runners, and two on-leash walks a day just is not enough for this dog. But he needs the proper obedience training. Fast-forward 3 weeks: Cody has been through board and train, where he was taught the system of low-level remote collar training. Week one consisted of teaching commands (heel, sit, down, stay, come, place, leave-it), week 2 consisted of proofing in new environments and within fenced areas, and week 3 he was able to go to a field off-leash and really put his training to the test. In week one, when a command was given, like "come" the trainer held down the "continuous stim" button on the collar until he came to the front and sat, aided by body language and treats. Cody learned he could "turn off" the collar by complying with the commands given. The owners attended three private lessons to learn to work with Cody. They were able to correct digging in the backyard. I was happy they were no longer frustrated and yelling at him for digging. Scolding and yelling at a dog can damage the relationship. Instead, they were able to re-direct him each time, from a distance, by using a continuous low-level stim (mildly aversive) until he stopped and walked away. But they also noticed the digging and barking lessened with more exercise. They were able to go off-leash, using the collar as their insurance. Should a rabbit come into sight, the collar is the backup "power" to ensure that he comes when called, every time. Now when Cody sees the e-collar come out, he gets excited. He knows it will be either an enriching training session, or a fun adventure. Cody's owners are planning on getting a second dog, a puppy. They are excited to be able do e-collar training from the start with their new puppy.
Here is a video of dogs trained using e-collars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEvh__Y1zwg