The myths and magic of the electronic collar

I imagine I am the only one in Curlies who uses an ecollar to train everything (well, except show ring stuff). This is partially because it is easier on me to use instead of a leash or having to walk back and forth on remote work, but mostly because I do believe it is the best tool available. It is versatile, clear and reliable and I don't think that can be said of any other training tool. I've been using the collar in the field for 25 years, and in obedience and agility for over ten. Unfortunately, it also has many myths surrounding its use, which I will try to bust here.

Myth 1. It hurts the dog.

Well, yes, it sure can hurt the dog if you crank the setting up past what any given dog is capable of handling. Just as you can strangle a dog with a choke collar or poke holes in it with a pinch, it's all in the loose nut at the other end of the leash or transmitter. Modern collars have settings that most people cannot even feel on their bare skin, and they work their way up from there to encompass dogs with thick skins, and dogs under heavy distraction. My current collar, which is a TriTronics Pro 100 G2, has six settings and three levels within each setting - I have never used anything more than a high 3 with that collar, and I personally cannot feel a 1 at any level. So there is really no way that I could be hurting a dog at my usual spot of low 3 - startle yes; make uncomfortable at times yes; hurt? No.

Myth 2.

You need great timing to use the collar. No, not any more than you need great timing to use a collar and leash, or clicker - actually, I believe you need much better timing to effectively use a clicker than an ecollar. Unless you are burning your dog, a poorly timed ecollar correction will cause no more problem for the dog than a poorly timed leash correction and less problem than a poorly timed clicker noise. Dogs are forgiving creatures and humans are fallible; if perfection or even greatness were required to train a dog, none of us would be doing it!

Myth 3.

It's a negative tool/all it does is punish. Again, it depends on how it is used. Old style field trial retriever trainers do use the collar almost exclusively to punish a dog or to force it to move away from something, but that is definitely not the only (or the best) use of the collar. Its probably also why so many dogs wash out of trialer's trucks since most dogs do not work well under continued negative reinforcement.

Myth 4.

I don't need to use an ecollar. Technically, you don't need to use anything to train a dog, every tool we use is just to make it easier on the trainer and the dog. I choose to train with the collar because it is easier on myself and on the dogs - corrections or good dog tones are given at exactly the time you want to tell the dog it is doing right or wrong and you can change the level of correction from where you are if needed. Dogs live in a pretty black and white world, and they don't speak English, so once they learn that a collar correction means that whatever they are doing is wrong and they should check in with the trainer, training becomes much clearer.

Do I think everyone should use the collar? No, particularly not those who have mild mannered dogs and who are only interested in basic obedience - ecollars are expensive! Neither do I think that people with little patience should use the collar, but then I don't think they should be doing much dog training anyway. What I do believe is that there is nothing wrong and a lot right about training with an ecollar!