Why E-Collars Are Misunderstood
Updated: Aug 7
It never fails, a dog owner struggles to gain control over their dog and they have "tried everything", so they make a trip to Pet Smart to purchase an E-collar hoping that this will be the saving grace. Not knowing that these devices should actually come with very extensive instructions, they strap it on the dog and start pressing buttons. Out of confusion, the dog shuts down and stops making movements in any direction. Typically, they will find their "safe space", which is usually next to their owner, and cease all bad behavior. Unfortunately, this method of "direct collar pressure" will typically result in a very confused and afraid dog.
To the naked eye, this may appear to be a pretty "under control" dog, but in reality the dog is just reacting out of fear and nothing else. The owner typically likes the immediate results, but they don't like the change in their dog's fun-loving personality, so they discontinue use and start bashing E-collars because they are "unfair" to the pet. Ironically, the only unfair thing about this situation is the fact that the owner purchased and used a device on a dog without teaching the dog the proper commands first. The bad guy is actually the owner, not the E-collar. As the saying goes: It is the Indian, not the arrow. When potential clients call to ask questions about our training program, they often talk about the negative effects E-collars have had on their dogs and their fears around using them, then they follow it up with a story similar to this. I am very quick to correct them and explain that these devices are hands down one of the most effective tools in dog training today... when they are used properly.
The best and most competitive retrievers in the world are trained on electronic collars. If you have any question about a dog's understanding of E-collar pressure applied correctly, attend a training day with a well known field trial pro in your area.
I promise, you will quickly change your mind as you witness the excitement of these dogs as they work in the field. If you want to dive even further into the effectiveness of E-collars, go to an open stake at a weekend retriever field trial.
Ask around in the gallery and see if anyone there has trained their dogs to this level with positive reinforcement and "attrition" only. You will find that the answer is "no" every time. Dogs that compete at this level simply cannot perform to the best of their ability without fair, indirect collar pressure. This strict and disciplined skill set is taught through communication with an E-collar, stemming all the way back to their foundation training as young dogs. These dogs will continue to train wearing an E-collar all the way up until they retire, at around 10 years of age. The training and learning never ceases and these dogs continue to enjoy their job throughout their lifetime.
Dogs must undergo on lead obedience training for a number of weeks prior to wearing an E-collar. After this process, they must then be "E-collar conditioned" (still on lead) to understand the pressure coming through the device. We as trainers show them how to properly "escape" the pressure quickly by obeying a previously taught command. As with anything, these devices can be used unfairly by amateurs and professional trainers alike, but isn't that the truth in almost any industry? Not all doctors and lawyers are created equal either. This is why doing your research when looking for an obedience or gun dog trainer is key. Kids do not grow up to be successful adults without learning about boundaries and rules. As my husband always says, we have laws for a reason. Our world is crazy enough WITH the laws we have put into place, but what if everything were just a free for all? Can you imagine? Dogs are no different. There has to be a standard and a set of rules that come with it.
Some will have natural eagerness to please and obey the rules, while others will constantly test them. Doesn't it sound just like people? Word of advice, if you ever approach an obedience or retriever trainer that claims to use positive reinforcement only, you might want to politely excuse yourself and look elsewhere for your training needs. These methods have proven to be ineffective long term and when significant distractions are present. Do your part as a responsible dog owner and have your dog trained on an Electronic collar by a reputable, well respected trainer, it will be the best decision you ever make for you and your pet and could potentially save their life one day!