Is a Remote Dog Training Collar a substitue for a leash?

I had an interesting call the other day from an Animal Control officer wanting to know my take on whether or not a remote dog training collar should be considered the same as a leash. Apparently the idea was proposed that city ordinances be altered to include e-collars as an acceptable substitute for a physical leash.

Those of you that have been following this blog for a while are probably pretty aware that you won’t find a much bigger advocate for remote collar dog training than myself so do you want to guess my response?

remote dog training collar
Who’s walking who?

It was, without hesitation, an unequivocal, NO.

There is no way I would want a city ordinance to say that an electronic or remote dog training collar is considered as a substitute for a leash.

Blasphemy, coming from me you say?…well, let me explain.

It just isn’t that simple. If municipalities go that route of thinking it is too easy for someone to go out to the pet store, purchase a remote dog training collar, strap it on their dog and go on their merry way believing they are abiding by the law.

Government entities are concerned with dog’s being under control so that their constituents feel at ease with dog’s being in public. An electronic collar strapped to the dog’s neck doesn’t mean the dog is under control of the owner. Or course neither does a leash, a head halter, a prong collar or a bag full of treats. These are all just tools created to assist a dog owner in gaining control through training. How would we know if the person took time to learn how to use these things successfully?

A dog running a-muck, barking, lunging or dragging someone down the street puts a black eye on all of us. It is a problem. (oh yeah, and the pooping on the street and not picking it up, shame on the guilty dog owners for that one)

The remote dog training collar isn’t magic. None of the tools are really all that mystical (although I did have a lovely elderly client once who called her Dogtra remote her Magic Wand which was very cute)  🙂

In the world I envision the laws will allow for dog’s to be off leash in public if owners prove themselves capable of maintaining control despite distractions. A simple test administered by the ACO or other official and the dog/owner team earns a permit for off leash access to the city that year. It would be good for dog training, good as a revenue source for the city, good for dogs and good for helping owners learn more about how to develop that kind of relationship with their beloved pet. A big win all around.

And get this…It is already actually being done! No need to reinvent the wheel if your looking to create this kind of legislation in your area.

It isn’t about the tool. I urge you to remember it about understanding dogs, people and training.

Now don’t get me wrong or I risk losing my Shock Collar reputation! (wink, wink) I still firmly believe a remote dog training collar can help the average dog lover achieve off leash reliability WAY faster than they would otherwise.


  • I appreciate your perspective on the use of remote dog training collars and whether they should be considered a substitute for a leash. Your firm stance against categorizing electronic collars as a leash substitute makes a lot of sense. It’s crucial to recognize that tools alone don’t ensure responsible dog ownership or control.

    Your point about the potential for misuse if electronic collars were accepted as leash substitutes is well taken. It’s easy for individuals to assume compliance with the law by simply using a remote collar without investing time in proper training. The importance of understanding dogs, people, and training as a holistic approach to responsible ownership is a key takeaway from your post.

    The idea of a permit system for off-leash access, contingent on a demonstrated ability to maintain control in distracting environments, is intriguing. It aligns with the principle that control is about more than just the tools used; it’s about the relationship and training between the dog and the owner. Your vision for a balanced approach to legislation, combining responsible ownership and the welfare of dogs, is commendable.

    Your acknowledgment that remote dog training collars can be valuable tools when used responsibly is a balanced perspective. It’s evident that you emphasize the importance of education and understanding, not just relying on tools, and that’s a message that resonates well with responsible dog owners. Keep up the thoughtful discussions on effective and humane dog training methods!

    • I would love to respond. I see the authors point but I will play devil’s advocate. I would like to know that if I can’t use my electronic collar because the law says I have to have control of my dog, what happens when my dog (meaning anyone who walks a dog) over powers the owner and the owner loses control and dog is now free. At that point there is no difference between a electronic collar and a leash. You would then have to rely on the training of the dog and hope they obey!!! Right… Secondly I think it is a grey area also because in my state I must keep a dog on a leash, but if I am on a trail and come across a hunter there dog is allowed to run free.. BS. just had this conversation with DCR. was told if I was training hunting my dog then I could. But I would have to provide a hunting license. I do not hunt. So my taking my dog out of leash and trying with commands is different than a hunter how? Because he has a hunting license.. I’m not trying to fight the system but to prove a point… A leash law is a leash law…

  • I found your website after having an incident in a public park. I asked the person to put their dog on a leash and the owner (who apparently was not the person playing catch with the dog) told me to mind my own business. The owner lives in NorCal and I live in SoCal and the park was my neighborhood park.

    The owner said the dog had an electronic leash. I’m pretty much with you on this. Electronic dog collars and fences don’t prevent dog fights.

    • That’s only true if the owners let their dog engage beforehand. My dig responds appropriately to an e-collar and I would never assume that another dog is going to be best buds with mine and vice versa. I keep a leash handy to introduce my dog to another and in almost nine years I’ve never had an incident.

  • I see both sides of this, I actually came across this article because I am trying to research what other counties have done regarding ecollars in place of leash laws. I live in an urban area and own a German Shorthaired Pointer that I hunt with but 95% of the year when we aren’t hunting I need to run him off leash. There is a soccer complex near me that recently changed ownership from private to the county and now has rangers that enforce leash laws. The only other option near me is a field full of foxtails… Needless to say I continue to go to the soccer complex daily and while I haven’t received a ticket it’s probably coming soon. While I agree with you that just having an ecollar does not mean a dog is under control, the reality is that having a leash law doesn’t mean that dogs are on leash either. The second part of most leash laws that gets ignored is that “the dog must be under control of it’s owner” and anyone with a well trained dog knows that MOST dogs aren’t under control on a leash and will lunge at yours when they pass unless you get off the trail. We are so far from having dogs be under control and under the letter of the law that it doesn’t make much sense to me to not have an exemption for the ecollar since what matters is control, and it would be most enlightened if enforcement was carried out for dogs out of control rather than specifying the device, because law enforcement isn’t giving tickets to dogs lunging at others if they are on a leash but they are giving tickets (well, threatening tickets so far) to me who when the ranger came to me today I called my dog to heel and then put him in place while I talked to the ranger. So ultimately the laws should focus on control rather than leash vs ecollar. Similarly the ranger should ticket someone with a dog out of control on an ecollar. The rules are just so hamfisted that MOST people ignore them because they don’t really have a choice, dog parks are just full of biting dogs and this soccer complex is actually used more by dogs than soccer on a day to day basis.

    • Hi Nick, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’d say we are pretty much on the exact same page. If situations would be taken on a case by case basis and people held accountable for their dogs behavior, people might be more likely to step up and train their dog. (and to higher standards.)

      When I wrote this blog a number of years back, my focus was more on the owners that take their dogs off leash in areas that are highly used by the public. It isn’t uncommon on many of the FB pages I follow to see advocates of ecollar training walking their dogs off leash through dog friendly stores like Lowes, or other areas of high pedestrian areas. That sort of grandstanding is not a good image to leave with the public, IMO. That is the type of situation I take issue with.

      I myself will run or work my dogs in green spaces that fall under a municipalities leash law. I’ve had law enforcement watch and never both me and a couple times I’ve had officers came over and comment on how well behaved my dogs were and acknowledge the work I was doing. I’ve been fortunate that common sense was applied in those situations.
      That said, I always leash my dogs if someone else comes into the immediate area where I’m working. The same holds true on hiking trails. I take my dogs off leash until I see that I’m going to come into reasonable proximity of someone else…then the leash goes on. Operating that way demonstrates my awareness of other people emotions or concerns about dogs and sends a better message about the appropriateness of ecollars.

      • Sounds like we have very similar methods, and really it’s only recently caught my attention as something that I may need to worry about because of the specific park I go to increasing enforcement and also the city increasing off leash fines to potentially $500… I’m very tempted to lobby the county/city for something like this Rockville MD legislation, are there other examples of cities and counties adopting similar kinds of things? I would love to get more examples if there are any

  • I have a 18-month-old pitbull hound mix she listens to my every command she’ll stop whatever she’s doing if I tell her any command I give her she obeys me 100% if she’s running after an animal and I use my e-colar on her she stops dead in her tracks. I beg to different with you with your thoughts on a leash versus the e-collar If the leash gets loose the dog is free to do whatever it wants to do or going to do with the e-collar like I said she stopped dead in her tracks up to 300 yards. Yes anything could happen at any time at least can come loose out of the owner’s hand or battery could be dead on e-collar without the person known these are called accidents they happen everyday all over the place and every situation. Is there someplace I can meet you someplace I could show you a video of my dog in action some way I can get some kind of certificate that shows my dog is properly trained with the e-collar so I could leave her off leash and she listens to me?

    • Hi James,

      I am super happy you have achieved that level of training with your dog. It takes work and you are to be congratulated.

      But I think you may have missed my point in what I wrote. I’d humbly suggest you re-read the post and then ask yourself the following question. Do you believe that anyone should be able to put a remote collar on their dog and that alone should be considered a legally acceptable substitute for a leash?

      That was the question posed to me that I was attempting to answer.
      warm regards,

    • I agree. I had 3 ,pibbles that I brought to beach national parks for 14 years, the remote collars were magic. ( I can’t imagine having a dog on beach, leashed. What’s the point? When the beach wasn’t populated, they could run wild and I could call them back in a heart beat. During heavy traffic, they stayed withing 3 feet of me. Remote collars are GREAT! And my doggles were happy, fulfilled AND well behaved, always

  • I’m disabled and use a walker more often than not. I just moved to a 55+ apartment and have two dachshunds who recognize me as the alpha. They walk behind me and I often feel their noses on my calves. I’ve trained them with e collars. If leashed they will not stray enough to potty and the leash is a hazard for me getting caught in the walker wheels and tangled around the dogs and my feet/legs. The facility requires leashes and at this time I’m the only one living her with dogs. I feel guilty just using the e collars because of the rules, but at the same time I want to keep myself safe from falls and give my dogs the freedom to do their poop walk. There are dogs in the area in homes and my dogs have stayed at my side and not run at them. I even control their barking with a beep. How do I convince them towards leniency? They have seen that the dogs are obedient. The district manager is more lenient but the woman above her was not. I feel conflicted about breaking the rules, but as a major stroke survivor I can’t risk a fall and my two dachshunds mean the world to me. 😭

    • Hi Sally,
      I understand the situation you are in. That is a difficult one. I would say the best you can do is request a conversation with your landlord. Explain to them your situation and most importantly, demonstrate your ability to maintain control, even when there are distraction present.
      Good luck!

      • The apartment managers tried to get me a 504 exception but it was denied by the corporate office aka Woda Group. The managers seem willing to look the other way and other residents love my doxies and see they are well trained off leash. I use Patpet and they respond immediately and have not tried to approach neighbor dogs in the “hood”. I do not like to break the rules and feel guilt and stress over this matter. I wish leash laws could accommodate individuals like myself on a case by case basis.

    • An e-collar is a tool and not a leash. On the street people do not need to become investigators to find out if all these dog owners with dogs off their leash trained their dog or if they are even wearing an e-collar. Do the responsible thing and put leashes on your dogs. It gives me great anxiety to be walking with my dog and encounter multiple men. It always seems to be these ex-military, ex law enforcement alpha types, who love to tell me how trained their dogs are and why they don’t need a leash. I don’t care, I don’t want to get into a discussion about the type of training your dog had. I’m training my puppy, who loves to bark at other dogs and all I can feel is their dog stop and ears go straight up and point directly at my dog. If you share the street with other people, that is the only way people know you can control your dog so keep the leash on.

      • I agree with you that having a leash on a dog in a high-traffic, public space is the polite and socially responsible thing to do. It simply puts others at ease and that is reason enough for me.

  • DISAGREE. Big breed dogs can drag their owners while holding a leash with an ecollar at some point the dog will stop with the strength of electrical wave if NEEDED. Easy argument, Ecollar is proven you have more control of your dog no matter the situation.

    • Hi Hugo,
      Thanks for sharing your opinion. I hope you understand I’m a HUGE proponent of remote collars. You might want to re-read the article…it is not that I’m claiming a leash provide more control than an e-collar. It is that I would not want someone to simply think having an e-collar on = control. Without proper training, the dog won’t understand it and it may not do the job it is intended to do. We want people to train and use them properly…not just purchase, put it on the dog and mistakenly think it is a substitute for a leash.
      Additionally, I think it is polite to put a leash on the dog, even if one has impeccable control with an e-collar, simply because it gives others a visual that the dog is restrained. Off leash can be even more intimidating to people that are already afraid/apprehensive around dogs.
      Hope that helps clarify my thoughts. Again, thanks for sharing!

      • Dogs are animals and can have bad days, like people. If a dog is having a bad day while running free without direct physical control of their owner, attacks another dog or a person before receiving an electronic signal or ignoring that signal, the damage is done. We have a leash law in the county where I live, and my wife was attacked by a neighbors dog running free. she spent two days in the hospital as the dog severed an artery in my wife’s leg. This did not involve an e-leash, but it demonstrates that dogs can be on a person in a flash when running free no matter how well trained they may be. I just had an encounter with a guy who had his dog on an e-leash and it was running all over the place far out of the reach of the guy who had to take time to reach into his pocket to hit the controller. If that dog did something, it would be faster than that guy could react. Also, if you can’t control your dog on a real leash, you have no business owning a big dog. At any rate, the Law is the Law and should be obeyed.

  • Robin, you are obviously well thought out and experienced in dog training. I agree completely with all your statements concerning e-collars, long leads and electric fencing. In my years in dog traing I have observed many instances where owners put an e-collar on their dog, and consider it under their control. I am not a proponent of any type of invasive training for dogs. I believe they respond much better to respect and more gentle methods. I have been involved with training for 40+ years and have never considered e-collars as completely reliable as many factors are involved in a decision a dog may make while excited or under duress. They can be unpredictable based on stimulus and surroundings. I had the unfortunate experience of seeing this happen. A new owner of a young dog was walking in our local park with his dog on a recently purchased e-collar. My dog and his interacted nicely, tails waging and playing. We spoke for a moment about the e-collar his dog was wearing and he was very positive about it. I moved on and shortly thereafter I heard screeching brakes and witnessed something no one should see. Apparently his dog saw a rabbit and it gave chase. As much as he tried he was unable to shock the dog into stopping. We loaded his dog into my car and rushed it to the emergency vet. where unfortunately she did not survive. It was heartbreaking to say the least. My take away is no dog is ever totally under complete control of their owner. Outside influences play a big part in how animals will react and you must stay on high alert when walking your dog. Keep up the good advice, you make perfect sense.

    • Hi Keith,
      Thank you for sharing. That is a sad story. It is so unfortunate when any accident like this occurs. The best we can do is to train and do our best to prepare for the unexpected. I’m an advocate of all tools and doing all we can to set the odds in our favor. But even at that…things can happen. When someone has the recipe for 100% perfection at all times…I’ll be begging them to share it with me! 😁

      Happy Training!

    • Hi Colleen, You would need to check with the animal control office in your community to see if there is an off leash testing process for your area.

  • Robin after reading your comment I wonder just how and what is your experience, long leads are used for call back training how many owners have them “I do”, Long leads are not and should not be used for general walking, then there is retractable leads, banned in some states they give zero control of the dog are know to fail and break under load, are know to cause severe cuts and amputations in both owner and dog, if you were the expert you purport to be be you would realise a well trained dog on an e-collar is every bit as controlled and in some cases more so than your average mutt on a lead. Dogs not well trained well they are under the car and no longer a problem. However I do not support e-collars for street walking any more than I do retractable leads horses for courses, dog parks, bush walking and of leash beaches are where the e-collar reigns and of course hunting dogs where their owners do spend a considerable amount on an e-collar with GPS tracker included. Robin if you are going to make comments please let them have a basis of fact not opinion.

    • Hi Michael, I’m a bit confused about what comment of mine causes you so much concern? Perhaps you can point out exactly what I said in the original article and the following comments that is causing such emotion and to question my credentials?

      And just to make sure my opinions are clear let me sum up (since I wrote the original piece in 2011)
      1. I do NOT support e-collars being legally considered an equivalent to a physical leash. My reasoning for that is it opens the door to uneducated dog owner purchasing an e-collar, not putting in the needed training to actually have a well mannered dog. I’m concerned they may apply misguided thinking that they do have contro and are legally entitled to walk their dog off leash simply because they have an e-collar on the dog’s neck. That I see as a big potential problem.
      2. I am a very strong advocate for e-collar training in general. I believe it provides many owners the ability to train their dogs to enjoy off leash freedom (where allowed) that would otherwise not be able to achieve it.
      3. I believe long lines are a necessity in teaching a recall. I also believe an e-collar can be used to teach Heel or any other obedience command for that matter.
      4. I believe a competent handler can certainly walk their dog at heel on a long line if they want to. Competent, being the key word. I have taught many owners that when their dog is on a long line they can practice recalls in a larger green spaces and then gather up the extra so they are working on a 5-6 foot length when there is a need to Heel such as city, sidewalk or high traffic areas. They can toggle between these two concepts rather easily if properly taught and it simply saves them the need to carry both the regular leash and the long line.
      5. I realize many dogs on a physical leash are not well trained and behave out of control. Never the less, I believe putting a physical leash on even the most highly trained dog when in a public setting is a polite thing to do simply because it puts other more at ease. I respect that some people are deeply afraid of dogs and even though I could heel my dogs right on past without a problem, I put a leash on because I care about the emotional impact the presence of my dog may have on others.
      6. As for my can google for bio and some insight but the short version is: plus or minus about 15,000 pet dogs over the last 23 years. That includes what I’ve trained here locally in Iowa and on the road doing workshops. It doesn’t include folks that reach out to me virtually with questions about my dvd’s/blogs. Nor does it include the police and military k9 work I’ve done or the 200+ professional trainers I’ve worked with that are using many of the techniques I’ve taught them to train dogs in their areas.
      7. I’m not much of a fan of retractible leashes… although I have found a few training situations where they have been valuable for a few select situations…but I won’t bore you with my lack of expertise. 😉

  • If you are right, then the wireless fence should not being considered as a real fence for the matter of “pets are under control”.

    • Hi Nan,

      I don’t know if I’m “right” but I am sharing an opinion based on a significant amount of personal experience.

      I’m not a huge fan of wireless fencing and have a preference for solid, ideally, non-see through fencing instead. That preference is based on my experience that too many people simply don’t understand their dog’s natural instinct to become territorial. Rather than using fencing as an extra layer of security when they are out in the yard with the dog (ie. supervising) they let the dog outside with little to no over-sight. This causes problems for many dogs that begin to guard and find success running a fence line (regardless of what type of fence). The frustration escalates and often in households with more than 1 dog, that frustration can spark into redirected aggression toward one another.
      Again, this can happen regardless of the type of fencing…but, the greater the visual of approaching strangers is, the more likely it seems to happen. From the perspective of the person on the other side of the fence…it is daunting to feel secure if there is not a physical barrier.
      Invisible fence doesn’t provide any sense of security for the passer-by. (unless the home owner leaves the signs or flags in place) Additionally, a physical barrier does a better job of stopping people and other animals from entering the yard thus helping the resident dog feel a bit more at ease as well.
      I get why invisible fencing has gotten so popular. Communities wanted to create a sense of more open space and prevent home owners from haphazardly constructing any variety of materials to contain the dog. That said, I do believe developers creating new subdivisions would be better served to consult with a knowledgable dog person to come up with solutions that can meet both the need for security and visual appeal.
      warm regards,

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