There’s no doubt that the remote electronic training collar (commonly called an “e-collar” or “shock collar”) has been one of the greatest advancements in the dog training world over the past thirty years. If you use an e-collar intelligently, it is a safe, humane and highly effective way to train a dog.
In fact, there are some dogs that you will need to use an e-collar on because nothing else will work reliably. For example, certain types of aggression or whining in the crate, the e-collar provides such a marked advantage that I’m grateful that we’re living in a time when we have such technology. Older methods simply aren’t as effective.
Modern e-collars can be adjusted to perfectly match the temperament of the dog you’re working. There’s something about the texture of the correction that cuts through the dog’s focus on other things and allows you to get and keep attention like no other training tool. I’m not talking about a shock, either– as this can be observed with very low levels of stimulation.
The e-collar allows you to work a dog with precision at distances that simply aren’t achievable with a long line. For example, directional send-aways, or flushing birds from bushes. (Although such distance work may be of dubious value for the average pet owner).
“Another Dog Trainer Asked Me Why I’m Not A 100% E-collar Trainer…”
No doubt, the e-collar is a remarkable tool. In the hands of a competent trainer, one can achieve competition-level obedience in days rather than months or years.
At a recent dog event, another trainer asked me why I’m not a 100% e-collar trainer?
Here are the following reasons why I’m not a 100% e-collar trainer, and under what circumstances I might consider being one:
- I own an electric screwdriver, but I still use my trusty old-fashioned screwdriver, too. Sometimes, being able to grab a screwdriver out of a drawer is much easier and faster than having to go find my electric screwdriver, make sure the battery is charged, replace the bit and then lug it through the house just to tighten one little screw. The e-collar is the same way. When your dog is in the house with you, you’d better make sure you have that e-collar transmitter nearby. Even when you’re eating dinner. Even while you’re watching television. Even when you run out with the dog to get the mail. Set it on the table next to you and when the dog runs out of the room, you’d better remember to not immediately chase after; If you do, you’ll have to… go back and grab the transmitter. It’s a hassle. Just like an old-fashioned screw driver, sometimes having your dog wear a prong collar and tab is just-so-much-easier. You can go straight to the dog and immediately correct the behavior because he’s wearing the tool you use to correct him. Did the dog you’re working with jump up and nip at you? Just grab the tab and give a tug. Done. No fumbling for your e-collar. No flipping it over, making sure it’s on and trying to figure out which button to press. Did you forget to charge it? Tough. Yeah, yeah… I can hear my detractors already: “It’s not that hard, it’s just pressing a button.” I agree. So is using an electric screwdriver. It’s just that sometimes it’s still easier to use a good old-fashioned screwdriver. Call me a Luddite.
- Sometimes your dog needs to know that the correction is coming from you. Training is about establishing a relationship with your dog. Sure, there are many, many times when the inpersonal nature of an e-collar correction is incredibly beneficial to reaching your goal, especially with behavior modification. However, to achieve a balanced relationship with your dog there are times when your dog needs to respect your authority… even if he’s not wearing an e-collar. It’s reasonable to expect that– sometime during your dog’s 15+ year lifespan– there will be a time or circumstance when he is not wearing an e-collar. Your dog still needs to listen to you. 100% e-collar trainers will reply by taking the e-collar off their dog and showing that– yes– there dog still responds to commands. That’s because he’s conditioned to respond to commands. (And that’s a good thing!) But put the dog in a new circumstance around new distractions and he may not respond. This is not a criticism specific to the e-collar, either. It’s true of all training devices. This is why sometimes it’s important to physically make the dog do an exercise, so that he learns you will make him listen, regardless of the tool you’re using. This way, the tool (the training collar) becomes an adjunct to your relationship with your dog, not a crutch. “I’m going to make you do the behavior/stop doing the behavior, regardless… this tool just makes it easier for me.”
- There are some people who will never, ever use an e-collar but they ** will ** use a mechanical training collar. I don’t typically cater to people who come to me for advice… and then tell me what tools I can or cannot use. If you want my help, then you’re going to use my tools. And there’s a good reason for that: I know what works. But if a client prefers to use a prong collar instead of an e-collar… and I know that e-collar will work just as fast… I’ll do it. For example: When a dog owner wants to teach their dog to walk on a loose leash… I can teach the dog to walk without pulling by using a prong collar just as fast as I can with an e-collar. Sometimes faster, actually. Is it worth losing a potential client because, “when all you’ve got is a hammer…” You know the rest.
- For some dog owners, there’s no point in buying a $200 training collar if a $15 training collar will work just as well. I sell Do-It-Yourself dog training information products on the internet. Sometimes, a dog owner is looking for a way to fix one simple behavior. Like jumping up. Why do they need to buy a $200 tool (an e-collar) when a $15 tool (a prong collar) will work just as well? It doesn’t make any sense to spend the $200 when the dog owner is happy with everything else about their dog.
So, with that being said: Under what circumstances would I become a 100% e-collar trainer?
- If/When I open another brick and mortar dog training company. When I have the luxury of working with a dog owner face-to-face, I will promote a 100% e-collar training system. Why? Because when you have a local business, each and every client is a salesperson for your business. I want to know that if they’ve gone through my in-kennel program and they’re walking around town with a t-shirt advertising my company name on their back… that there dog will be better behaved than any other dog training school in town. And if a dog owner is looking for a one-shot fix? I’ll still recommend they get one of my dog training books. But if they want to work with me in person then their dog will be a representative of my school and must be able to sit/down/heel/come/stay in any off-leash setting. Sure, you can do all of this with a traditional training collar too– but the e-collar makes it much faster and easier. And when time is money and I’m there to show them how it works… the e-collar usually makes more sense.
- If I Was Training Dogs Exclusively For Competition Or For Working Dog Applications.
It’s much easier and faster to get the type of high level consistency and flash when using the e-collar than with any other tool. When training high drive, hard temperament working dogs, the e-collar is par excellence.
- When I Train My Next Demo Dog. Same reasons as above: Just like I did with my current dog, the e-collar is too powerful a tool not to use. The trick is to not use it to the exclusion of other tools.
- If I Was Training Dogs Exclusively For The Handicapped. The e-collar is especially useful for those with physical handicaps. It’s much easier to simply press a button than to manipulate a leash.
Do I recommend that you get an e-collar? It’s not necessary. Neither are electric screwdrivers in most cases. But they sure do make life easier.