Forty years ago, remote training dog collars were called shock collars, and rightly so. The first collars had one level of stimulation, and it was high.
The next generation of dog training collars had three levels, with the lowest of those still very high. Jump forward to the last ten years, and the invention has evolved into a remote training e-collar, most with at least 20 different levels of stimulation.
Used correctly, the remote training collar is an awesome, invaluable tool for training any upland dog, flusher or pointer, or family pet. Let’s learn the two most important aspects of remote training collars – choosing the right one and using it in training.
1. How to Choose the Right Training Collar for Your Dog
I remember collar shopping and being surprised by the operating ranges, from ½ mile to one mile. I couldn’t imagine allowing my bird dog to get a mile away from me.
“A ½-mile sounds like a very long distance, but keep in mind that many variables affect how far away the collar can receive a signal from the transmitter,” said Tom Dokken, professional trainer inventor of the Dokken dummy and SportDOG pro staff member. “The stated ranges are based on “line of sight” - that means you can expect good performance at the stated range on flat terrain with no obstacles between the transmitter and collar Receiver.”
“If you have a retriever that you use only as a flushing dog for pheasant hunting, a short range may be all you need,” he added. “Unpredictable situations can crop up, and I feel better having the extra range at my disposal, because it’s never bad to have more range than you need.”
Most modern dog collars will have about 20 levels of stimulation. Some also have a tone or vibration feature, which can be a used as attention-getters. The vibration feature on the collar I use had an immeasurable value – it helped me keep my old dog hunting. When he could no longer hear, I used the vibration feature to get his attention in the field.
2. Before You Use Your Remote Training Collar, Get This Simple Tool
There’s one more piece of equipment you need to buy before you use your remote training collar, and it’s a no-frills, simple tool - the indispensable check cord. Working your dog on a check cord like the Dokken's Pro Check Cord Dog Leash, which should be from 20-30 feet long, is an important element of obedience training.
The remote training collar is not a short cut to obedience. It is a way to remind a dog on the proper response to a known command. The
commands must be taught first.
Tip: Before using the remote training collar, teach the dog to recall on command by using a check cord, first in a yard and later in a field.
“No matter which collar you buy, you must take your dog through proper obedience training before you use the remote trainer,” Dokken said. “If you fail to do that, it’s not fair to the dog, and you will end up frustrated with the training experience.”
My female German shorthaired pointer Scout was acing her yard work. Heel? Piece of cake. Here! The little angel came right to hand. Our training area was a fenced yard.
Before we practiced those commands in the field, I attached a thirty-foot check cord to her collar and let her drag it behind her. Before she’d used up those thirty feet, I gave her the Here command, and it was if she’d never before heard that word. She did glance my way briefly but kept going.
I’d tied a knot at the end of the check cord, making it easy to step on or grab with my hand. I gave the recall command again and reeled her in to me, using a series of sharp tugs. Over many sessions, Scout got to the point where she reliably recalled on command. Each recall ended when Scout touched my outstretched hand – make this a habit, and it will be easier to teach your dog to retrieve to hand.
Tip: Before using a remote training collar, use a check cord as part of your obedience training in the field.
In the field, I continued to let her run while trailing the check cord, as a safety net for me – she recalled on command, but would she be reliable if something with a large white tail leaped to its feet and ran from her?
A wise old trainer, Pierce Sanute (yes, that’s his real name) once said to me, “Never give a dog a command unless you can enforce it.” Having the check cord gives you that ability. The transition from yard to the field is a big step, and making a dog comply with a command gets you well on the way to building the right habits.
Dog Training Skills, Some are More Important Than Others
The Garmin company includes tips for obedience training with the literature you’ll get with one of their collars. The recommended obedience skills are Heel, Sit, and Here, with Here being the most valuable. Always put the remote training collar on the dog for obedience sessions, so the dog grows accustomed to wearing it, but don’t turn it on.
When you’re introducing the remote training collar, the recall command, or Here, is the perfect place to start. Nail it down with the check cord in the yard and in the field, and you’re ready for the next step.
Tip: Always be aware of the location of the dog and check cord. A dog can quickly circle you, and if you don’t react quickly, the check cord may wrap around your foot or leg. In my training group we call this the “Ahab” danger.
3. How to Fit the Dog Training Collar to Your Dog
You shouldn’t be able to slide or rotate the collar when it’s buckled around the dog’s neck. Once you have it on the dog, wriggle the contact points unit to work the contact points through the dog’s coat.
Your dog will most likely be wearing its “regular” collar. Position the remote training collar above that.
Tip: The dog should be able to swallow. There’s a name for a collar that is too loose: Bling.
4. How to Find the Right Collar Setting Level for Your Dog
Start with the controller (or transmitter) at its lowest setting and push a stimulation button (not the vibration or tone). Pay close attention to your dog, watching for a reaction. You shouldn’t be expecting a yelp or leap; the reaction you see may be very subtle, such as a change in ear position or head tilt.
According to recommendations from SportDog, it’s quite possible that on the lowest level, your dog won’t notice anything. Simply increase the static level by one and repeat the process. I’m currently training four dogs, an English Setter, and English Pointer and two German Shorthaired Pointers. The lowest levels for those dogs ranged from 2 (the English Pointer) to 4 (one of the shorthairs), using a collar with 22 stimulation levels.
You’re choosing the lowest level that the dog notices because the purpose of the remote training collar is to refocus the dog on a learned command. The collar is not to punish the dog and shouldn’t scare the dog.
5. How to Use the Dog Training Collar for Corrections
Start in a familiar area, ideally your own backyard. Work through the obedience commands that you’ve taught the dog. You should be focused and ready to use the collar if needed. Only use the collar when the initial voice command is not obeyed. Give the command word a second time, simultaneously with the collar use.
That “perfect level” on the collar that you found for your dog will almost certainly change as conditions change, especially when moving from the backyard to the field. The field is endlessly more exciting for the dog, with plenty of opportunities for distraction. You may have to go up one or more levels.
Start With the Dog Command Here Plus Video:
Give the command clearly and while the dog is still relatively close, no more than 30 feet. In other words, you don’t want to wait until young Lightning is merely a dot on the horizon! I like to use the dog’s name, followed immediately by the command. Remember, you’re only going to use the collar if the initial command is not obeyed.
With the Here command, the corrections the dog gets via the training collar are just like those tugs on the check cord. I like to use the stimulation button of the shortest duration, often called the Nick or Momentary button.
If the dog doesn’t respond to the Here command, I tap that button, “nagging” the dog until it turns and starts coming to me. When that happens, I immediately stop using the button, but I keep my finger on it, in case the dog veers off to the side or stops. I want the dog to come directly to me and touch my hand.
What do you do if the dog perfectly obeys each command, and there’s no reason to use the collar?
Pat yourself on the back – you’ve done a fantastic job with the obedience training. Continue the sessions and stay vigilant. Learning to deliver a correction fairly and with good timing is a crucial part of the training process.