When used correctly, e-collars are effective training aid
One could argue that the electronic collar (also called e-collar, e collar and shock collar) has helped train retrievers more effectively and humanely than any other training aid. Unfortunately, you could also say it has ruined more retrievers than any other training aid. When using an electronic collar to train retrievers, it can be a powerful training aid and when used correctly can dramatically speed the learning curve for your retriever.
Why e collars are great training aids
When used correctly, a dog trained with and electronic collar will thrive and become better adjusted mentally.
It may help to think about your electronic collar as an insurance policy or even a hearing aid. When used correctly, your dog will be corrected the instant he/she chooses to disobey, therefore greatly increasing the understanding of the correction and why. A correction timed closely to an offense helps the dog make the connection and associate the correction to the offense. The result is a more responsive and obedient retriever.
Learn more about the importance of timing in How to train a Labrador Retriever – Tip #7.
Why electronic collars get a bad rap
Many people think of electronic collars as a quick-fix solution for behavior issues. This could not be farther from the truth! If your dog misbehaves and you, in frustration or anger, strap an electronic collar on them and give a correction, that is cruel and unfair. Electronic or shock collars are not a magic pill. Putting one on your dog does not automatically make your dog obedient or erase his behavior issues. And using an electronic collar without proper conditioning is not humane.
Unfortunately, many people still do this.
An electronic collar in the wrong hands can ruin a dog. It can take a happy confident dog and turn him into a cowering, shaking, scared dog, that is constantly wondering when they will be corrected.
In addition, kids should not be allowed to operate electronic collars unless they are mature enough to know its purpose and responsible enough to use restraint. Teaching with an electronic collar requires understanding, patience, and correct timing. Not everyone is able to do it.
How to introduce an electronic collar correctly
The first, and most important step, when introducing your dog to an electronic collar is to have your dog wear the collar during training every day for several weeks with no stimulation or correction. Just put the collar on your dog and go train or go for a walk. You don’t even have to turn it on. Just let the dog get used to having the collar on while training.
Note: Companies sell “dummy collars” which are collars that are inactive and incapable of giving a shock. I prefer to use a working collar, but just have it turned off so there is no way you can correct the dog with it. But you should know this option exists.
Proper e collar conditioning – avoiding a collar-wise dog
We do not want the dog to become collar-wise. A collar-wise dog will only listen and obey when the collar is on and/or they are timid and frightened when wearing the collar. This happens when the collar is not introduced properly or is only used to discipline after an offense (i.e. your dog disobeys so you grab the collar and strap it on and use it to discipline him).
To avoid a collar-wise dog you must be consistent. Every time your dog goes out to train, or out for a walk or outside, you put the electronic collar on them. Again, it does not have to be turned on, but it does need to be put on the dog.
Make it a habit. It won’t be long before your retriever will be excited to get the collar on because he or she will associate it with fun. That is what we want. We want the dog to associate the collar with fun, getting trained or getting exercise.
At Otter Tail Kennels, starting on day-one of training, the retrievers have an electronic collar put on them. It is enjoyable to watch them jump out of the dog truck and come up to me and immediately sit, waiting with expectant eyes for the collar to be put on them. They know that once it is on the fun begins!
Beginning e-collar training for retrievers
After a few weeks of conditioning, where your dog is wearing the collar with no corrections, then it is time to start introducing e-collar for corrections.
Teach then enforce
The key to using an electronic collar correctly is teaching the command first, without using the e-collar. The e-collar should never be the first form of pressure.
Follow this type of progression:
Step 1- Start with the SIT command. Teach your retriever SIT using treats or by pushing down on their behind and pulling up on the lead. Once your dog understands the command and is fairly reliable, move to Step 2.
Step 2 – Continue teaching SIT but now add more pressure. This can be done using a heeling stick and tapping them on the behind if they don’t SIT on command. Or, you can use a sharp tug on a chain collar attached to a lead.
Once you are confident your dog understands the command and is handling the pressure well, then, and only then, can you move to Step 3, using the electronic collar for enforcement.
Step 3 – Say the SIT command, give an electronic collar correction, and say SIT again. Be sure that your dog completely understands why he or she is getting the correction by saying the command before and after the correction.
All commands should be taught and enforced with manual pressure (i.e your hand, lead, or heeling stick) before moving to enforcement with the electronic collar. I cannot stress this point enough.
Follow this same progression for all basic obedience commands. Do not try to do this all in one day. You should allow a minimum of one day for each command, and likely more time would be better. Slow and steady wins the race.
Determining the pressure needed
When you begin giving your retriever an electronic collar correction, you should always start with the lowest setting possible and work up from there. Some dogs will respond to Level 1 while others may take a 4 or 5. Each dog is different.
Not all collars have the same numbering system for corrections. Some have a simple one through 8 system, others have 1-130. Start low and slowly increase the level or pressure until you see a reaction from your dog.
In addition, the response from each dog will vary. Some dogs may cry out on a low level, and others just twitch their ears or turn their head. You do not need a strong response to make an impression. If the dog responds to your command quickly, that may be all the pressure needed. But we also do not want to nag the dog with the collar. Nagging with the collar is when you use several low-level corrections that are being ignored instead of using one higher level correction that would get the quick response you are looking for.
If you are interested in more training on using an electronic collar to train your retriever, check out our other posts on this topic.
Considerations when buying an electronic collar
There is no shortage of electronic collars available to purchase. With prices range from $25 to $700, how do you choose the best one for your dog?
All electronic collars are not equal. Reliability, durability, and performance separate them. Here is the process I use when selecting a collar.
Electronic collar must haves
At Otter Tail Kennels, we train retrievers, so we are only interested in collars that:
accommodate bigger dogs
But another thing to consider is distance. You can find electronic collars that work from 100 yards to over a mile. I know what you are thinking. “My dog will never be a mile from me, so I won’t need to get one of those!”
Keep in mind that the advertised distances for electronic collars are with a full battery and in line of sight. Dogs going through corn trying to find the ever-elusive rooster are not in line of sight. So, distance can be an especially important feature.
Other e-collar features
A good brand electronic collar should last you for many years, so I also prefer:
- a collar from a reputable company that has been making them for a while
- a good warranty
- a good repair/replacement policy
- and since I train professionally, I need multiple dogs wearing collars at once so I only consider models that are expandable to multiple dogs.
Professional recommendations for electronic collar
The products we recommend we believe are a good value or good investment for anyone working to train or maintain training on their retriever. When possible, we include links to the product. Some of these links may be Amazon or other affiliate links in which I am paid a small commission at no cost to you. All opinions and recommendations are our own.
Taking all these considerations into mind leaves me with two time-tested collar companies that I recommend. Dogtra and Tri-Tronics/Garmin are in my opinion leaders in the electronic collar world. Both put out high-quality collars designed for hunters and competitors. Their collars are not the cheapest but there are some things I don’t skimp on and this is one of them.
Before I go any further, I am not saying other companies’ collars won’t work or are not good. I am simply recommending the ones I personally prefer.
The Dogtra 1900s is the collar we recommend to our clients when their dog completes our training program. We have found that this collar has all the features our clients need and is very dependable. You can order it from Amazon or you can visit our recommendations page and order it directly from Dogtra. We even have a code listed there that can get you a small discount on a collar.
Final thoughts on using an electronic collar to train your retriever
Electronic collars are great training aids, when used correctly. They can really help retrievers, and other breeds, quickly learn commands and speed responsiveness. But they must be introduced and used correctly. When used correctly, your retriever will develop into a happy, obedient, and mentally stable family dog and hunting partner that is a joy to be around.
Remember, if you really want your retriever to grow and progress this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I’m here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.