Those of you who are old enough to remember training dogs without electronic devices also probably remember the bad old days — when e-collars were new and largely untested, and most had two settings: fry and weld.
But the free market economy can be a wonderful thing. Trainers let companies know that they didn't want to hurt their dogs, and the units gradually got better. Today's e-collars are an improvement by an order of magnitude over the versions of even 10 years ago, and some collars now allow an almost unlimited amount of finesse, delivering stimulation at levels so low they're virtually undetectable, but easily capable of delivering a stout wake-up call when needed. As for the long running debate about the efficacy of these devices? It's over, and Team E-Collar won. It would be tough to find a pro trainer of almost any breed who doesn't use them. Used correctly, e-collars are safe, effective and humane.
On par with the improvement in e-collars are tracking systems, which have done more for the peace of mind of bird dog owners (especially owners of big-running pointers) than probably any other single thing in the long history of dog training. No longer do you have to wonder where your dog is; your GPS or tracking system will tell you.
Most of these units — e-collars and tracking systems alike — aren't exactly cheap. But they'll last for years, and the cost is money well spent if you plan on owning more than one dog in your lifetime. The following is a brief roundup of what's out there.
A new addition to this reputable e-collar maker is the Dogtra Edge
, which promises to make a very good product even better. Like most high-end collars, the Edge has a one-mile range, and can expand to four dogs with the addition of extra collars — all easily readable on a lighted LCD screen. It has nick and continuous modes, as well as a non-stimulating pager vibration mode, handy for those who want to call in their dogs without telegraphing their position. (Pheasant hunters, this is for you!) Naturally, the units are waterproof. Batteries are easily rechargeable, returning the unit to full power in two hours.
Both the receiver and transmitter are small, compact and tough, and there are more than enough levels of stimulation to handle even the hardest-headed retriever. Finally, the package comes with a hard-shell case and additional extendable contact points for dogs with thick, dense fur.
DT Systems SPT 2400 Series
The SPT 2400 series is DT's flagship model
, and it has a list of features as long as your arm. Let's talk about the basics first: The SPT 2400 boasts a 1.3-mile range, has an LCD screen, includes a Maxx-Range internal collar antenna system, a Gentle Touch extra-mild stimulation feature, has a built-in shut off feature for safety, and is completely waterproof. A beeper-locator mode is also available.
But it's the Jump Stimulation mode that really sets this collar apart. Ever had an excited dog run through your collar? Join the club. With the SPT 2400 collar, you can pre-program a level of stimulation higher than your training level on a separate jump button, allowing you to instantly switch to increased stimulation at the push of a button, no fussing with an adjustment knob.
Likewise, the SPT 2400 also has a Rise Stimulation feature: with the button depressed, the stimulation automatically rises until you release the button. When the dog responds to your command, you release the button, and presto! You've determined the proper stimulation level.
Garmin Astro 320 and DC 40 Tracking Collar
A few years ago, Garmin
developed a product that is still shaking up the dog-training world: a GPS tracking system for dogs. The inaugural unit was good, but suffered some design flaws. Later versions, the Astro 220 and the latest incarnation, the Astro 320, have solved those problems and gone them one (or two or three) better.
The 320 is easy to use. Turn it on, turn on the DC 40 collar, wait a few seconds while it grabs a satellite, and you're good to go. The Astro 320 also has enhanced map drawing capabilities, BirdsEye Satellite Imagery compatibility (a subscription is required), a vibration base alert (a great idea for those of you suffering from hearing loss), and a three-axis electronic compass. The maximum range has also increased, to nine miles.
There are so many features on the 320 that it's impossible to list them all here. One very handy feature is the unit's ability to download topo maps of several different types, and it also allows you to mark coveys with its Covey Counter feature. You can also mark the location of your truck so you can find your way home at the end of the day.
Lion Country Supply Bird Dog Trainer II
With an effective range of 400 yards, the LCS Bird Dog Trainer II
has a shorter range than some of the other models, but its versatility compensates. First, though, let's talk about the unit's standard features. The Bird Dog Trainer II can be expanded to train two dogs simultaneously (with the purchase of an additional collar), and selecting between the two is done with a single slide switch. Also included on the unit are a beeper/locator (you grouse hunters will love that feature). And — why haven't more manufacturers thought of this — it comes in bright orange, handy when you lose your unit in the field. If you haven't yet lost a transmitter in the grass€¦you will. There's also no programming necessary; push one of four stimulation buttons for the level of stimulation you desire.
Now, for the collar's really unique feature: the Trainer II will remotely control several additional devices: the LCS Universal Bird Launcher (indispensable for training pointing dogs); the LCS Remote Backing Dog II (which makes training a dog to back much easier and convenient) and the LCS Retired Gunner for Backing Dog.
The Remington Sidekick
is by far the smallest and lightest of the e-collars (the transmitter is about the size of a cell phone, but lighter), and is also one of the least expensive. But it's hardly lacking in features.
Most noteworthy, perhaps, is the collar's CRS feature (Consistent Reliable Stimulation). CRS will prevent a dog from receiving a stronger stimulation than you programmed (and your dog is used to), when the dog is wet or damp, eliminating a common technical glitch. Also unnecessary are extra-long probes for the collar — CRS technology eliminates the need for them, and will work on any dog regardless of the length or thickness of their fur.
Other features: a 400-yard range, a tone option as well as nine progressive levels of impulse/stimulation, and four programmable modes.
Finally, both the collar and hand-held unit have a two-year battery life, eliminating the need for weekly recharging sessions.
SportDOG TEK 1.0 GPS and E-Collar
It was bound to happen. Roughly a year ago, SportDOG
delivered a product that made big waves in the dog-training world: a hand-held GPS/collar unit that incorporated an e-collar in the same receiver/transmitter.
GPS units, of course, have been a huge boon to bird hunters who happen to have dogs that may, from time to time, get out there a bit further than we'd like. But strapping both an e-collar and a GPS to a dog's neck can be cumbersome, although it's commonly done. Guys with small-necked dogs are left wishing for a dog with a longer neck.
But it appears SportDOG has solved that problem. The TEK 1.0 incorporates both a GPS and e-collar in one neat package. It also has a backlit LCD screen, a tilt-compensated compass (handy if you can't quite get the hang of holding your hand-held unit perfectly level), reports the dog's status (stopped or direction of movement), and finally, has a seven-mile tracking range. Realistically, that range may shorten in the rough, rugged canyonlands of chukar country, but then, if you've got a dog that's seven miles away in chukar country, you need a helicopter, not a GPS unit.
On the e-collar side, the TEK 1.0 has all the features you'd expect on most top-of-the-line collars: up to 100 levels of electrical stimulation; vibration, stimulation or tone settings; and at least 20 hours of usage on a single charge. You can purchase the GPS separately. According to SportDOG, the collar gives you an instant fix for the location of up to 12 dogs. The collars (receivers) and hand-held units on both models are waterproof and submersible.
Tri-Tronics Pro 100 G3 EXP
has a long and well-deserved reputation for making reliable, solidly designed e-collars, and the Pro 100 G3 EXP is no exception. It's loaded with features: A fixed antenna (no more lost antennas!); a no-stim setting to avoid accidental stimulation; a solid, one-mile range; three stimulation buttons that allow you to easily switch between low, medium and high levels; 18 levels of continuous and six levels of momentary stimulation; a proprietary charging system that will fully charge a battery in two hours; and a transmitter that will remotely operate an accessory beeper and a Tracer TM Light. Finally, with the purchase of additional collars, you can handle up to three dogs — more than enough, as any experienced trainer will tell you. The whole package is waterproof, making this a commonly used e-collar among dog trainers who specialize in waterfowl retrievers.
Perhaps the biggest news about Tri-Tronics is it was recently purchased by Garmin, another manufacturer of innovative dog-training products. It will be interesting to see what the collaboration produces in coming years.