Updated: Sep 12, 2022
Written by Ashton Aubuchon Veteran Owned and Operated Business Owner of Command Performance K9 LLC
Retired Military Working Dog Handler-US Army
What is an E-Collar/Remote Collar?
In most cases when I mention e-collars/remote collars to clients they respond back with, “oh, you mean shock collars.” Although these two tools are technically the same thing, the word “shock” does not accurately describe this device. A popular myth is that the “e” in e-collar stands for electric. Despite this popular belief, the “e” really stands for electronic. So if these collars are not electric collars, then what are they? E-collars/remote collars are actually TENS units. These training tools are the exact same machine you will find in all of your local physical therapy clinics. If you have ever had the patches stuck to you that flex your muscles, then you know the exact machine I am referring too. E-collars/remote collars have prongs instead of patches because dogs have fur. In a literal sense, the patches would never stick. TENS units use the bodies nerves and a positive and negative charge to create a full circuit. Since TENS units use the body itself to create the circuit, and electricity actually is not used, this device will not cause physical damage to your dog. Not only will it not cause damage, but because actual electricity is not used with these collars they are 100% waterproof. That is right, these are safe to use even when fully submerged in water.
Why the Bad Stigma?
If you have stumbled upon this post, there is a good chance you have done so in search of answers. Is the collar humane? Is it ethical? Will it hurt my dog? There are an infinite number of post out there that are pro e-collar, and just as many that are against them. The reality of the situation is that just like any tool it comes down to how it is used. Can this tool be harmful? Absolutely. Can it also expand the horizons and possibility for you and your dog? The answer is again, absolutely. So, why the bad rep? It is simple really. This is a tool that when used on levels outside of your dog’s threshold will cause discomfort and pain. We go back to the TENS units we discussed earlier. If you have ever used one of these machines then you know that the level used needs to be within a specific window. If the stimulus is set too low, you will not get the desired pain relief. If the levels are too high, it will cause too much discomfort. If there is too much discomfort, the mark for the desired outcome will again be missed. So how do we avoid causing harm to our dog, both physically and psychology? We educate ourselves. We learn the correct way the tool is worn, the correct way for it is used, and how to create a clear communication channel between you and your dog. You may or may not have heard this before. The hard part of the job for a dog trainer is never training the dog, it is always educating the human. Anyone can slap a collar on a dog and start pushing buttons. It takes someone trained and skilled in dog training to properly create this channel. As trainers, we must then pass that knowledge onto the owner in a way in which they can fully understand and enforce the training that has been set in place.
How an E-Collar/Remote Collar is Worn.
So, how do we use an e-collar? First thing first, we must know how the tool is to be worn. Because TENS units are used anywhere there is a major muscle source, the collar can be worn high, low and 360 degrees around the neck. You should change the collar placement each time the collar is worn. You will find different opinions throughout the web in regards to length of time the collar should be worn on the neck. My rule of thumb is to rotate the collar every four hours. This helps prevent the risk of pressure sores developing on your dog’s neck. At the proper tightness, you should be able to simultaneously wiggle your pointer and middle finger under the collar at the same time. Any more than this and the collar may be too loose. If the collar is too loose and consistent contact between the prongs and your dog’s skin is not made, you lose your clear communication channel. The risk of inconsistent contact between the prongs and skin is the risk of inappropriate levels being used. If the contact is not consistent, there is no guarantee that when you push the button the dog will feel any type of sensation. If this happens the typical response is turn the pressure of the collar up. All the sudden at random the prongs make contact and now the dog is experiencing a level of pressure that goes beyond their working window. If this happens, the dog might not be able to process what is being asked of them. This is why proper collar tightness is essential, and especially if the dog has yet been taught what pressure is and how to respond to it. Otherwise, you end up with confused and scarred pooch.
How to Introduce an E-Collar/Remote Collar.
So now that we have the right fitting of the collar, how should the collar be introduced? I would recommend the dog wearing the collar for a couple weeks before it is actually used. This helps the dog get used to the collar without any negative association to it. This also allows the dog to get used to the collar just being a part of their everyday life. This is essential in the beginning phases of training in order for the dog to not become collar savvy. This brings us to the term pressure and pressure release. When a dog experiences any kind of pressure, we have to teach the dog how to get it to stop. The key here is to intro whatever pressure it is you are using on their “recognition level”. This is simply nothing more than a level in which they identify a sensation they have never felt before. It needs to be high enough to be felt, but just barely. This prevents the dog from being overly stimulated, or startled when feeling this sensation. As the dog gets used to pressure higher levels may be used as needed. As we are introducing the pressure the key is to teach the dog that when pressure is felt, to do the opposite of whatever it is they are doing. This is what I mean by a dog understanding pressure on its most fundamental level. If a dog knows this, it does not matter what they are doing a push of button is all it takes for them to understand what is being asked. For this reason when I intro pressure I do so without introducing it with a command. This avoids the dog from associating pressure with just one command in itself.
Now I know what you are thinking. Get on with it already. What is the secret? The secret sounds simple, but it must be done carefully. When introducing pressure you must first find the dog’s recognition level. This is done by placing the collar on the dog and applying stimulus one level at a time. You are looking for the dog to give some sort of sign that they are feeling something they have never felt before. This could be a tilt of the head, scratching the neck where the receiver is sitting, twitching an ear, freezing etc. What you want to avoid is the response being anything more intense than casual. Once this level has been identified, you then want to place the dog on a long line. A long line is a leash ranging in length from 15’-50’. You let the dog take the line and as they are walking away, you start to tap the pressure button. Simultaneously you use the long line to assist the dog back to you. As soon as the dog turns around to come back to you pressure stops and praising starts. You repeat this step until the dog is turning around and walking back to you every time pressure is felt. Once this step is complete, the collar has been successfully introduced. It is now ready to be introduced with commands, curbing of intensity, and curbing of inappropriate behaviors. Once your dog is trained on the collar, the level of pressure you use should always match the dogs intensity level. For example, the level needed to recall your dog with no distractors will not be the same as the level needed to recall your dog when in pursuit of a rabbit. The end goal is to use clear signals paired with the collar. All this really means is that once training is complete the collar is only used when your dog fails to listen to a command. The collar is not the command itself.
One last thing to keep in mind during this phase is that it is perfectly normal for your dog to show signs of stress. I assure you as long as things are being done correctly this is not because the dog is experiencing physical pain. This discomfort comes from change. Just as people experience feelings of discomfort when going through changes, so do dogs. And just like people, dogs will also adapt. Once the dog understands the tool, the communication channel, and the new standard the stress will go away. This tool will not break your dog’s spirit. It will just allow you and your pup to have more freedom.
The Benefits of Using an E-Collar/Remote Collar.
Now that the collar has been introduced, let’s talk about all the ways in which it can be used. When the collar is introduced, it opens the door to so many other opportunities. If you have a dog who suffers from separation anxiety, fear aggression, inappropriate barking, jumping on people, counter surfing, and a non-existent recall the collar can be used to clearly communicate the desired standard. So why use a collar, and not another training tool or technique? For one, I do not know anyone fast enough or agile enough to chase down a dog. For that reason, dogs are confined to leashes and very rarely given the freedom they deserve to run wild. The collar also takes out any interaction from people. Therefore, when a dogs being held accountable using the collar it does not come from the humans hands. For that reason, it avoids any negative association with people. Lastly, the collar allows the dog to be trained whether they know the owner is present or not. For example, if a dog is digging holes in the backyard without the collar the owners must physically insert themselves into the dog’s environment to reprimand the behavior. With the collar, it can be corrected without the owner present. Therefore, the dog learns to think for them self whether the owner is present or not. This can transfer over to training separation anxiety. When a dog is placed in their crate, the owner leaves, and the dog starts whining typically people reinsert themselves into the dogs space to try and get it to stop. Even if the owner is entering the space to correct the dog, negative attention is still attention. In this scenario, the dog did not learn to control their emotions on their own. What they learned is if I whine, bark, scratch/bite my crate etc. then my owner comes back. When a dog has on a collar it can be used to create an emotional thresh hold for the dog. For example, if the owner is in the other room every time the dog whines they can use the collar. The owner could push the vibrate button or use the lowest level of pressure needed to get them to stop. Every time the dog feels feelings intense enough for them to want to verbally or physically manifest them the collar is used to bump them back down. The owner is the one doing this, but the dog does not know that. There for the dog is learning to control their emotions. When a dog learns this skill or task, it transfers over to other environments. Let me ask you this, if a dog must control their emotions in the crate, why would they not have to control them elsewhere too?
Note: This is just a possible addition to crate/separation anxiety training if the initial method of how separation anxiety should be trained does not work. Click here to read about separation anxiety and how you should start this training.
There is one major concern for me as a trainer when it comes to e-collars. That concern is allergies and pressure sores. That is right, allergies. The tips of most prongs that come with e-collars is made out of nickel. As most know, nickel is not good for our skin. Therefore, if it is not good for us then it is not good for our dogs either. The simple solution to this is to buy upgraded dog prongs. They make all sorts of attachment prongs for e-collars. I personally go for the winged comfort pads, or the prongs made out of titanium grade surgical steal. Both of these options are made out of metal that does not typical aggravate the skin. That brings us up to pressure sores. Just like people. If we wear anything tightened down to the skin for an extended period of time, a pressure sore will develop. That is why it is important to follow the two-finger rule. It is just as important to make sure the collar is tight enough as it is to ensure it is not too tight. This is why it is also important to rotate the collar every 4 hours. Lastly, although these collars are water proof wet skin heightens the risk for irritation. For this reason, the collar should be removed or loosened when possible to allow the skin to dry before putting the collar back on.
The collar I recommend for all my clients looking to train their dog on basic and advanced obedience is the Mini Educator 300. You can find the collar online by following this link:- Amazon. These collars typically run for $180. I choose this collar for multiple reasons. They are the most user friendly, the levels can be adjusted the quickest, and there are 100 levels of pressure to choose from. Having multiple levels to choose from allows your dogs working window/threshold to be more honed in and personalized. The remote itself is waterproof and floats, there is an LED light and vibrate setting on the collar, and I have personally had mine for over three years. It still works as it did when it came out of the box. Replacement parts for the collar or remote are extremely cheap and the company has a fantastic warranty. Any of my clients who have had an issue with their collars had no problem getting a replacement immediately sent to them. For more information on these collars follow this link to the E-Collar Technologies Inc. website.
With all of that said, I hope I was able to offer some insight on what e-collars/remote collars are, how they work, and the benefits when used correctly. If you are ever ready to become an e-collar handler, reach out to a professional. Ensuring the introduction is done properly and you receive the right training is essential to the success and happiness of your relationship with your dog. So do your research, ask questions, read reviews and please reach out if you think there is any other way in which I could assist you. You tell me, did we debunk the e-collar/remote collar?
Business Owner and Master Trainer
Command performance K9 LLC Denver, CO