What are E-Collars?
E Collars, or remote training collars, are extremely valuable and versatile tools when used as a part of your dog’s training. They are also perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood tool out there. As with any tool, whether a treat, a collar, a leash, or a clicker, e collars are used to facilitate training, not as a substitute for training. K9 Heights uses food as a lure and reinforcer to teach dogs commands and positions.
We only introduce the e collar once the dog has already learned the behaviors. If there is a serious and immediate issue, such as aggression, jumping, pulling on the leash, etc, we use a different training collar, such as a pinch, to communicate, to teach “pressure and release”, and correct for bad behaviors until the dog has a solid foundation and we can introduce the e collar.
Why use the e collar if a dog has learned sit, down, and other commands? There are several reasons:
- A dog understanding that, if they sit, they get a treat is far different from that behavior being reliable, especially off leash or amidst distractions. One of the most common things I hear is that a client’s dog knows stay, come, or down. But from a trainer’s standpoint, this is usually not the case. Frequently the dog may hold a stay if the client is watching them and in proximity with no distractions. A solid stay means that you can stay your dog and confidently walk away with your back to them, knowing they’ll stay. Down is usually more of a pushup, the dog will lure down for a treat but pop right back up. We gauge knowledge of these behaviors by proficiency and reliability.
- More importantly, it doesn’t matter what a dog does for me. I can get any dog to listen to me, to stop pushing boundaries, to come when called, to maintain “place” command, and to not pull on a leash. But everything I do must be replicable by the owner, or the training has been for naught. I have trained a lot of trainers who do this 8 hours or more a day. It takes them months to develop an appropriate and efficacious leash correction, as well to get the hang of timing a correction.
Most owners don’t have near that much time to learn. On top of which, many are unwilling or unable to give an appropriate collar correction. The dog then just learns to pull on the training collar, or ignore other commands, which is a huge issue. The e collar takes away the learning curve. An e collar allows clients to be in a position to reward or correct at all times, so we can paint a clear delineation between what we want more of from the dog and what we need less of.
- E collars accelerate the training process. It is, at it’s core, a communication device. Most frequently it is used at a low level to provide information to the dog, help them understand the expectation, where we need them to be, and what we want them to avoid doing. Dogs don’t speak our language. Any tool is really just a method of bridging that language gap and establishing a conversation in a way they can understand. Doesn’t matter if it’s a treat, a leash, a collar, or praise. The more information and feedback we provide the dog with, the quicker they learn.
- The e collar is an extremely versatile tool. It can be used to help catch an aggressive dog’s attention before they reach critical mass and explode. A crucial part of breaking the cycle of aggression and helping them learn a better way. I successfully use its gentle pressure with fearful dogs frequently. Yes, I said that. Fearful dogs. Dogs who are so shut down that they don’t care about food, about people, about praise, or anything. They just try and crawl into a corner when anyone, including their owner is in the room. Dogs who have come from bad situations and been adopted by owners who have struggled to get these dogs out of that hole.
Using low level stimulation, that is basically an itch, they can learn that moving with leash pressure towards the human they were afraid of is actually a comfortable thing. They begin to be able to walk on leash, to be exposed to the world and see it isn’t all bad. The dog can learn to stay on “place” instead of hiding in a corner, and they start realizing it’s not that bad out here by the humans. They can go out in the backyard to explore, and their owner doesn’t have to worry that they won’t come back inside again. The positive impact this tool has on the quality of these dog’s lives is astounding.
E collars can be used with small dogs who can’t physically handle a leash correction but are feisty enough to need something. They can be used with service dogs to communicate in crowded places. They can be used to address and permanently extinguish behaviors such as counter surfing and digging. The list goes on.
- The e collar provides an unparalleled opportunity to teach a dog reliable off leash behavior. For dogs who already have off leash reliability, it provides a safety net when they are off leash. No matter how well trained a dog may be, they are still thinking beings with their own sets of inclinations, interests, and desires. Top level competition dogs, whose owners work them religiously day in and day out, who do an exercise hundreds of times successfully, still decide to blow it off at some point. I trust my dog explicitly, whether to stay on place for several hours while I’m teaching class or come from some tempting distraction. But if there is an opportunity for a one in a million breakdown to occur when off leash, especially outside, why wouldn’t I want the means to ensure she doesn’t end up in a bad situation? We wear seat belts. We buy insurance that we often never use. This isn’t any different. A well-trained dog equipped with a tool that provides us the means to communicate with them at a distance has immense value and offers your dog a well-earned freedom.
Roxy The Rescue:
Case in point: I’ve had my dog, Roxy, for a little over three years. Roxy’s training with me included solid off leash and distance commands, proofed against distractions, and aggression rehabilitation. I had her for a year and a half, well after she was proficient at the above commands, before I reintroduced her to the e collar. I say reintroduced because the trainer who “worked” with Roxy before I adopted her did a horrible job using an e collar. Not abusive. Just poor, completely unreliable training. He’s a short cut artist, in it for the money. Little time spent training, no foundation work, all smoke and mirrors. She had no reliability on basic commands, pulled like a tank on leash, and was still extremely dog aggressive when I started working with her. My experience with this gentleman, his “training” of Roxy, and every other dog, actually soured me on e collars for some time. I’d previously used them for years in many cases. But seeing how he uses them as a substitute for training instead of as an aid in training, really made me angry. So, I trained Roxy without one and she excelled.
Okay, why introduce an e collar after all that?
This time frame overlapped with the beginning of K9 Heights. As the business grew, I began working with dogs and clients who were clear candidates for e collar use. I began to remember what a great tool e collars are, when used appropriately. Not only that, but my view on them evolved even farther. I’m a firm believer that if we ever stop learning, stop growing, we’re dead in the water. So, I study everything I can on dog training, dog behavior, you name it. I always strive to learn more, to improve. I test my knowledge and my tactics against what I learn. Is there a way to improve? Is there another tool I can add to my tool box? Are there more ways to utilize what I’ve already learned? Always.
Effective and Consistent Results
One trainer I follow, Sean O’Shea, has a business called The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation. He is a prolific provider of quality content. His philosophy and methods are probably 90 plus percent similar to mine, which is rare in the dog training world. When I read his book “The Good Dog Way,” (which I recommend you get as soon as possible) every page I read, I was like, “This is what I’ve been saying to clients for years!” He has a no BS style of writing and isn’t one for holding back. So, I was beginning to, almost begrudgingly, use e collars again. Simply because I couldn’t avoid the fact that, in many cases and situations, their efficacy is unmatched. That is when I came across one of Sean’s Facebook posts. It was like a slap in the face. A needed slap.
I’m paraphrasing here, it’s been a while. But he basically said, for everyone who is bagging on e collars, put up or shut up. If you have another tool, another method, that can achieve the same results for owners that you can get from the dog, in the same amount of time, show me. Because that’s what it’s about. The client. No one cares what their dog will do for me. You care, and you should, about what your dog will do for you.
The deciding factor in whether a trained dog will respond to their owner like they do for the trainer is whether the dog thinks they can go back to business as usual. If the dog is pushing the boundaries and testing the limits, which they will, and they realize that the owner isn’t being consistent in the new expectations, they will happily go right back to old patterns. Your dog has unbelievably strong memories of the old dynamic. The dog remembers they used to get away with a lot of stuff. Our job is to educate you and give you the right tools. Structure, expectations, appropriate rewards, and the ability to provide meaningful consequences for inappropriate behaviors. This is even more important than training the dog.
Correction should always be at the lowest level possible, but at a level that gets the point across, that stops the bad behavior. It has to be a meaningful consequence. I have trained a lot of trainers. It takes us months, some trainers it takes lots of months, to learn how to give an appropriate collar correction. This is the time frame for trainers who do this 8 hours a day or more. How do we help you gain the ability to effectively communicate with your dog, without your needing to spend 40 extra hours a week working on your proficiency? We use a translator. The e collar.
So, what is an e collar?
It is an amazingly versatile way to communicate with your dog. To provide them with vital information.
Why do we use them?
Because the success we have achieved combining appropriate structure, training, owner education, and the e collar as a communication device, has been astounding.