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Busting the Top 5 E-Collar Myths

Cruel devices or important dog training tools? The truth will surprise you.

Busting the Top 5 E-Collar Myths

Despite electronic collars being around for some time now, there are still misconceptions regarding their use. (Chris Ingram photo)

It’s the 21st century and we’re ready to take every technological advantage that we can when it comes to training and hunting with our gun dogs. While electronic collars (also known as remote, electric or e-collars) have been around for several years, yet there is still much discussion and debate surrounding how to use them and whether or not they are dangerous to our dogs. To dispel some common myths and misconceptions about e-collars—and to educate on their proper usage—I sat down with Clay Thompson, Category Manager for SportDOG Brand, to better understand what e-collars are, and perhaps more importantly, what they are not.

Myth #1 – E-Collars Shock the Dog

Clay Thompson: No, e-collars do not shock our dogs, nor do they burn them or hurt them. Firstly, let’s define a term that gets tossed around in many collar conversations: stimulation. Stimulation is nothing more than a variety of physical sensations that we introduce to our dogs through the collar, with the most common form being a static stimulation. This static stimulation, or static electricity, contains no amperage or voltage that would harm your dog, and modern collars are nowhere near the brute and barbaric devices original electric collars were. Think of this stimulation like the static shock you get from rubbing your feet across a rug. This sensation is safe for humans, too. It is similar to a TENS device that some folks use to treat chronic pain. Modern e-collars are refined enough to provide the handler with the precise control to offer their dog gradual levels of this static stimulation.

Stimulation can also be given as an auditory tone or a vibration, both of which can be used to enforce any command we use in our training such as sit or recall. All of these forms of stimulation are intended to enforce commands at a distance, correct unwanted behaviors, and can even be used as safety devices in emergency situations. It’s important that handlers understand how to dial in the appropriate stimulation level, a level that will be different depending on your dog’s level of arousal or distraction depending on the different situations they are in.

Myth #2 – All E-Collars Are Built the Same

Clay Thompson: These collars are not created equal. Each manufacturer has their own proprietary technology and systems and there may even be differences between collar models. You cannot simply pick up any remote and expect they will all operate the same. It’s also worth noting that most products are meant for customization. Handlers can either stick with the default settings and configurations or customize button function and find something that works for them, their dogs, and their own style of training. For example, I use the vibrate button on my Labrador for a “sit” command and the tone button for recall. Handlers should pick the best collar system for themselves, their training program, and their expectations for their dogs.

SportDOG Tek 2.0, SportDOG Sporttrainer 875, SportDOG Yard Trainer 425x
Each e-collar system is designed to offer a different set of features and functions, it's up to you to properly choose the right one for you and your dog based on the way you train and hunt. (Chris Ingram photo)

Myth #3 – E-Collars Are Meant for Punishment

Clay Thompson: This could not be further from the truth. E-collars are an important tool in our training kit just like a leash or check cord, and don’t forget, any flat collar or leash can do damage to your dog if used improperly. Remote collars are designed to retain control of our dogs at a distance, but it’s important that your dog first understand what you’re asking him to do before you can expect for him to understand and comply off-leash.

The versatility of these collars also allows each handler to use various levels and types of stimulation to customize their experience. They can also be a used for more advanced training and long-range handling. And don’t forget, these devices can be used in place for safety, say for example if your dog is chasing off-game and you need him to stop before crossing a road. No matter what you do, the first steps are to properly fit the collar on your dog and learn your way around the transmitter. Understand how the buttons and dials function and become familiar enough to use it with your hands and not your eyes so you can maintain eye contact with your dog in the field.

Handler with Labrador and SportDOG e-collar SportDOG Yard Trainer 425x
E-collars have become a very useful tool in maintaining control and compliance with our dogs off-leash and at a distance. (Chris Ingram photo)

It’s also worth mentioning that timing is critical. Dogs understand pressure and stimulation in the exact moment, so be sure to deliver your correction or enforcement immediately upon non-compliance of a command—and always in the proper context. And that is the advantage of electric collars, even at long distances, we can communicate with our dogs in the very moments that matter.

Myth #4 – E-Collars Are for Lazy, Inexperienced Dog Handlers

Clay Thompson: E-collars can be a great tool for a handler of any level, whether they are training their first dog or running multiple dogs, but e-collars in the wrong hands or used improperly can get anyone into trouble. You’ll want to introduce your dog to the collar at around four to five months old. You’ll also want to start using the e-collar once your dog has learned basic commands and you’re working them on a flat collar or check cord.

Get your dog comfortable with wearing the e-collar around his neck before you begin using stimulation. Once you’re ready to introduce the stimulation to your dog and they’re complying with your commands, your goal will become to transition your dog from the tug they understand on the leash to overlaying a static stimulation. Once you remove the tug, your dog will now associate the static alone with your verbal command.

Handler with Labrador and SportDOG e-collar SportDOG Yard Trainer 425x
Using an e-collar won't transform you into an expert trainer or your dog into a master hunter, it's another useful training tool to help you shape your dog's behavior. (Chris Ingram photo)

Another important advantage of modern collars is the GPS integration. We can now track our dogs in thick cover or across the rolling prairies and trust that we’ll be able to follow and locate their movements and potentially recover them in emergency situations.

Myth #5 – You Can Break Your Dog with an E-Collar

Clay Thompson: It’s not likely you will break your dog, but it is important that these devices are used properly and for their intended purposes. Firstly, make sure you consider the type of dog you have and the type of hunting you want to do, which will help you choose the proper e-collar system. Whether you have a flusher, pointer, or retriever and the number of dogs you have are the main considerations for choosing a collar system. Some units are better for one situation or another, your job is to match the right tool for the right application.

There are a few other things to think about when training and using e-collars. Our dogs are an emotional investment, and we should always treat them kindly. Don’t train when you’re frustrated, impatient, or embarrassed. Make sure you and your dog are on the same level. Use the right command at the right time and use a calm tone of voice. Don’t be afraid to take a break and come back to a sticking point—nothing is worth ruining the bond you have with your dog as more e-collar pressure if not going to get you what you want.

Handler with hunting dog and SportDOG e-collar
When used properly, an electric collar should have no ill effect on your relationship with your gun dog. (Kali Parmley photo)

E-collars are not magic wands, they won’t fix all your problems. You need to put down a good foundation on-leash, using hand signals, and properly delivering commands. E-collars can help you once you get there but they do not not take the place of your dog fully understanding your commands. Start with the fundamentals before you move up to the e-collar. Once you are sure your dog knows how to do what you are asking him to do, then you can move into correction and enforcement with the extension of the e-collar.

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