E-collar: E is for e-x-t-e-n-d-a-b-l-e

Occasionally I post video clips of some of the e-collar training we do here at That’s My Dog! Recently I posted footage of our group class when we played a game called Red Light – Green Light.

You remember that game from when you were a kid? One person is the ‘caller’ saying red light or green light to indicate stop or go behavior from the rest of the players. The objective is to run as fast as you can when you hear green light to get to the target (the caller) before you hear red light and have to stop. It is a fast paced, stop and go game.

When we play with the dogs we are teaching them to listen and stop quickly even in the midst of high energy, lots of movement and distraction.

When I posted the video on Youtube I got some interesting responses from opponents of e-collar training.

One of the common themes amongst the comments was “why would you use fear and pain to elicit behaviors that you can get in other ways?” For now I’m not going to respond to the ‘fear and pain’ part of the question. It is pretty apparent from the video clip the dogs are having a ball! Plus, we’ve covered the topic ad nauseam that the e-collar does not have to be painful in order to be effective or gain attention.

However, I do think it is a logical question to wonder why chose to use an e-collar to train simple behaviors like sit and down when those skills can be achieved in a variety of ways.

Personally I like the e-collar because once learned it becomes an extension of your hand if you need to reach out and get your dog’s attention from afar. There is simply no easier way to gain off leash, at a distance, under distraction reliability than through the use of an e-collar.

Imagine needing to stop your dog when he is running 50+ feet out from you chasing a frisbee. A sudden wind shift catches the disk, causing it and your dog to drift toward the street. At moments like that, it is hard for an excited dog in pursuit to “hear you” and owners end up wishing they had the same flexibility as Stretch Armstrong. To be able to reach far out and touch their dog to make sure they don’t get into harms way.

That is one of the things an e-collar can do. It acts as an extension of you. A way to reach out and touch the dog as needed to regain attention. But the key to using it that way is to FIRST make sure the concepts are taught close up in more controlled environments. It would not be fair to the dog to not use the e-collar in routine situations and then suddenly strap it on and tap the button when under much greater distraction and expectation.

That kind of use (without proper collar conditioning) is exactly what causes the poor reputation of electronic dog training equipment to begin with. It is not fair to enforce commands with the remote collar if you haven’t taken the time to teach with it first.

So the idea behind the video clip was to demonstrate the teaching environment of dogs learning quick response in high distraction in close proximity. Then the concepts can be moved to outside and advance the distance. Of course it was cold and snow outside at the time too and I don’t do snow and cold very well. 🙂

When viewers challenge that the same results can be achieved sans e-collar, I have no problem with the throw down…but then in all fairness… show me.

Please make sure we compare apples to apples. A room full of dogs, not preselected or screened…all breeds, all ages, all temperaments, with average pet owners, some of whom have only had a months worth of training…and play the game red light – green light. If others are achieving it in other ways…I say excellent! and absolutely keep up the good training work. You are to be commended for making the world a better place for dogs and their people.

AND if we are both getting the same reliable results; happy dogs and happy owners who really cares what tools are involved?

e-collar training for dogs
into the great wide open


  • Training dogs require “both sides of the coin” especially when it comes to distractions. Just food or a toy reward is not going to change many dogs’ minds to do an instant recall from chasing squirrels and other high trigger distractions which could turn into a life or death situation.

    I think most dog owners recognize this and we’ve made progress with educating folks about the benefits of the remote collar . Most of my clients have already thought about purchasing a remote collar or have one in the closet already but weren’t sure how to go about the training. So it’s no longer a point of educating the client about the benefits of remote collar training but instead how to go about it that is fair and easy to understand by the dog.

    As your post points out, we need to educate how important it is to train the dog in the “foundations of remote collar training” (at short distances and with no or limited distractions) before adding in large real world distractions.

    And, as always I love your analogies…..”Stretch Armstrong”. : ) That’s a great teaching moment that is easy to understand for all.

  • I’d save the throw-down for your real-world scenarios with real-world distractions. That’s where you’re going to blow it out of the water! I can’t even count how many times I’ve worked with someone that has done “another training approach” and are now at an impasse with distractions. They’ve hit a wall with their training because their dog can’t do the commands in the “real world,” with a squirrel or another dog nearby, certainly not off-leash. I asked a woman in a consult the other day if she could imagine walking her dog down the sidewalk of her street off-leash, “Oh my God no…I’d never trust her!” She’d been in training with her dog for 1+ years at this point! If off-leash reliability/freedom in the real-world (where most of us live and want our dogs to accompany us) is not the goal of a training program, then why bother training the dog?! And if it IS the goal, what’s a reasonable time frame to achieve success, 6 months of training, 8 months, 1 year, 2 years, more?!

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