While the eCollar (also known as an electronic collar, electric collar, stimulation collar, or shock collar) is a valuable tool in dog training, we cannot stress enough the importance of the proper usage of this device. At the end of the day, they’re just one tool to be used by people who understand dog training. eCollars are not magic wands.

eCollars have mixed reviews, ranging from people who are opposed to their use entirely to people who strap one on their dog, turn it up and think all of their dog’s behavior issues are magically going to be solved. The anti-eCollar crowd feels that these devices cause a dog to experience undue pain, that they don’t work, or that they can have harmful effects on a dog’s personality or behavior. In (too) many cases, they’re right. The reason? eCollars are often used improperly by amateurs or do-it-yourselfers who have no idea how to train a dog with an electronic collar.

We’ve seen it all—dogs with no prior experience with an eCollar, dogs that have been to numerous other trainers using eCollars with little result, and dogs who were “trained” at home by an eager owner with an unfamiliar piece of technology. Our experiences with eCollars have led us to this conclusion: they are one of the most valuable training tools we can use as dog trainers, but they should not be used without a deep understanding of the technology and dog behavior.

Do Your Research

You shouldn’t use or condemn any training tool without understanding it. Most eCollars have adjustable levels of intensity, and most of our training is done in the bottom 20% of this intensity range, where most people aren’t able to feel anything and dogs feel more of a tingling sensation than a “zap.” The stimulation is light because that’s all that is needed. Think of it simply as a way to communicate clearly with the dog. The eCollar is a consistent way to “mark the moment”of good or bad behavior when leash correction are not an option. It’s not meant to be a form of corporal punishment.

We use eCollars as a part of our approach to teaching adult dog obedience as well as to work with behavioral issues, but we’re careful and systematic about how we use these tools. We’re able to use them to produce lasting training results without hurting dog. We do this by putting a heavy focus on foundation training prior to using the collar. We show dogs the behavior we expect using rewards, praise, and traditional corrections. Once the dog understands the expected behavior, we transfer the concept gradually to the eCollar, allowing them to understand how to turn off the stimulation.

We don’t just teach dogs how to understand the collar, we teach their owners, too. It takes guidance and practice to get the timing and techniques down for proper eCollar corrections, but it’s worth the time. Correcting a dog at the improper time will degrade the training associations the dog has made. Giving corrections that are too strong can confuse a dog or cause them to shut down. He or she will enter a hectic mindset where learning is impossible. We mentioned earlier that we rarely go above the 20% intensity level, but there are people who set their collars to level 100+ and think they will get a faster result when they are actually doing just the opposite.

Higher intensity levels on eCollars are meant for harder dogs; usually working dogs with intense drive that would not respond to a lower level. Using these high levels on your pet will not help them understand concepts any faster. The appropriate level of correction is going no higher than you need to get the appropriate response.

In our opinion, places like Petco and Walmart should not sell eCollars. Most of their selection is not as precise or humane as professional grade collars, and by selling them in a chain store they are encouraging people to use eCollars on their dogs without proper instruction.

If you are considering using an eCollar with your dog, please consult a professional!

We offer board and train options for off-leash obedience in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. We can work out a training program specific to your dog using a combination of training tools that include an eCollar. We won’t just train your dog—we’ll train you and your family on the principles of the eCollar and how to use them properly. If you’re located within driving distance of Groveland, MA or Exeter, NH, contact us today to schedule a training consultation.