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Electric Collars - A Forthright Discussion
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It’s time for forthright discussion about the use and misuse of electric collars (e-collars). The general public has accepted and embraced their use with underground fence systems, and pet owners are picking them up at pet supply stores to attempt to eliminate a variety of unwanted behaviors.

The use of e-collars is commonplace in some venues, for example, retriever trainers doing field work. Yet in other venues the attitude toward the e-collar is one of complete disdain.

I am not advocating for or against the use of an e-collar. However, some of you are using it, wishing you understood it better. Some are using it secretly, as if ashamed. Others are rallying against it, convinced it’s cruel and abusive. Everyone benefits from the knowledge available when discussions were open and honest. My husband, Pat Nolan, and I would like to share our knowledge and experience with you.

My own experiences with e-collars goes back 40 years to a time when they were starting to be used in the field trial game. The rudimentary design was not nearly as sophisticated as the tools we have available today. I purchased my first field trial dog in 1995. Since then I have trained earned Field and/or Amateur Field Championships on five retrievers that have also earned Obedience Championships. I have never advocated that an e-collar is necessary to train a competitive obedience dog. However, I would not attempt to train a Field Champion without one.

My husband, Pat Nolan, trained competitive field trial retrievers for 30 years. Now he uses those skills as well as his knowledge of e-collars, to do research and consulting, primarily for the Department of Defense. The dogs working with our military must have impeccable off-leash control in highly distracting situations.

What is an Electric Collar?
Electric collar is a term used to describe a training collar that delivers electrical stimulation of varying intensity and duration to the dog via a radio-controlled electronic device. This article is about e-collars that are operated by the trainer, using a transmitter. The trainer controls when the dog feels the electric stimulation by pushing a button on the transmitter.

Why would you use an E-Collar?
If your goal is to have a well-mannered pet, or a good obedience or agility dog, you may never have a reason to use an e-collar. However, if your lifestyle demands completely reliable off-leash control, or if you have a dog that is frequently unreliable off-leash, the e-collar may be the right tool for you.

When would you use an E-collar?
An e-collar should never be used out of anger or frustration at a dog’s inability to perform. Appropriately using an e-collar involves teaching your dog how to respond to the stimulation the collar delivers. This needs to be done in a step-by-step fashion that shows the dog how to stop the stimulation when it occurs and teaches him how to prevent the stimulation from occurring. Then, the e-collar must be used regularly. It is not a quick fix that you use one time. It is not something you only use when you are frustrated. The e-collar, used correctly, becomes part of your training program. The e-collar must be associated with play or work that the dog loves, or he will quickly learn when it is on and when it is not, and only perform when wearing it.

This leads to several additional questions:

  • If you need to teach the dog how to control the stimulation that the e-collar delivers, how do you do that?

  • Is an e-collar of any use if you train in locations or in situations where you are not allowed to use it?

  • Should you use the e-collar to enforce commands or to stop unwanted behaviors?

  • Is there any backlash that you should expect if you use an e-collar to enforce one or two commands?

Together, Pat and I are preparing information for you to discuss all these topics. Be on the lookout for our second message next week.

Meanwhile, if you have any questions about e-collars, please send them to me. I will be happy to discuss them with you.