Remote Collar Training for Dogs: The Problem with the Numbers…

Remote Collar Training for Dogs Requires Skill?

There are several skills one must master in order to become proficient at remote collar training for dogs. Learning when to tap the button and how to help the dog understand the sensation are two of the main components for success. But the one that seems most intimidating for the novice handler is understanding how to adjust the stimulation level appropriately for the dog.

The e-collar instructional dvd’s  I created were titled “Just Right” for a reason. Just right is a level that is appropriate for the dog’s sensitivity and it is variable depending on the situation and distractions at hand.

The thing about “just right” is it is not a number. It is a sensation. The numbering system on the electronic dog collars are there to guide the human, they mean nothing to the dog. The problem with the numbers though is that humans tend to get hung up on them. As the numbers increase some people get increasingly uncomfortable. I supposed that has to do with our perception of linear systems and the idea of “higher”.

Too often I’ve witnessed handlers spend lots of time staring at the e-collar LCD screen making painstakingly incremental adjustments to the stim level. As a result, they aren’t actually watching the important part of the training equation, the dog. After all it is the dog that tells us everything we need to know about whether or not the e- collar stimulation level is Just Right or not.

When our clients become a bit obsessed looking at the numbers instead of the dog, we have a solution. We cover up the dial.

Now pay attention to the dog. Is the dog noticing the stimulation? Is there any sign that he/she feels it? An ear twitch, an increase pace in the step, a momentary pause in movement or a quizzical expression. Then you are probably at Just Right for teaching behaviors. Is the dog jumping, yipping or startled, then you are Too High. Is the dog continuing to sniff the ground, play with his toy, paw and jump at you, then you are probably Too Low.

That is the one question you ask yourself regarding the level and the answer is provided by the dog…is it too High, too Low or Just Right?

This is a technique I teach to all my students who are interested in remote collar training for dogs. It is absolutely the best way to learn to use a remote collar successfully. When I present an e-collar training seminar the question inevitably comes up, “what level are you working at?” and my response is always “just right”. I’m not attempting to be smart when I say that but I have no awareness of “what the number is.” I rarely bother to look at the transmitter…my eyes are where they are supposed to be when training, On the dog.

The best advice I can give others is to watch The Dog,  turning the dial to and fro according to what the he or she is saying.

The numbers on the transmitter are nothing more than a reference point. Take note of where your dog “typically works” and use it as a starting point but don’t get consumed with what number the e-collar transmitter is set on.

It really can be easy to learn remote collar training for dogs if you commit yourself to letting go of preconceived notions and just pay attention to the dog.

Happy Training!


  • Thanks Robin for all your help and your quick responses. I am now positioning the collar on more of the side of the neck, rather than the front. Will follow your advice and keep you posted.

  • Sorry Robin, couldn’t reply above, had to start a new one. Mario typically responds to a level of 20 – 50 depending on the distraction. I mostly have problems with recall when he is sniffing, so head is down to the ground. Also, the power lines are the huge ones, so I wonder if there is some interference there. Thanks

    • Hi Barbara,

      If those are typical levels than I don’t think you need to upgrade the collar. Either A. he needs more practice with distraction…go back to working on a long line + e-collar OR B. (and I’m strongly suspicious of this) the collar is not snug enough. I’ve seen quite often that it seems tight enough because we put the collar on the dog when he is either sitting or standing and if we place it too low on the neck and snug it, it becomes too loose when the dog lowers head to sniff…ends up slipping toward the ears and contact points end up dangling and not making good contact with skin. So really check the fit because it is super important.
      As for the power lines I did receive and answer from Dogtra. I am told the lines should not cause any kind of malfunction but if these are the large metal structures the size and magnetic field that surrounds them could cause your range to be diminished so it is possible if he is in that area he may not be receiving any signal.
      hope that helps,

  • When I was in dog training school in the Army, the instructors taught us to look for the JND in the dog. Stood for “Just Noticeable Difference” This applied to searching huge fields for a decoy who was hidden out there. We’d walk a pattern down the downwind flank of the field and watch the dog like a hawk for the moment you noticed that he caught the scent of the decoy. If you missed the JND and your instructor caught it, there was HELL to pay in the form of lots of physical fitness exercises in the July Texas sun. I learned how to read a dog REALLY good! This article reminded me of those days. 🙂

  • I don’t even look at the transmitter until I’ve established a base line. That is to make note of where the dog is noticing things. My pet collar of choice is the Dogtra IQ with the 400 yard range. When we get into more advanced behaviors I like the 280 for that. The Dogtra Edge is my personal collar with a one mile range. When you get into the hills and hollows of S. Indiana, that one mile range drops quickly.

  • How far is the maximum range on an e-collar. I’m certain it is based primarily on cost, but a general idea would suffice or even a spectrum according to variable pricing. Thank you.

    • It does vary. I generally recommend collars that have minimum of 1/4 mile range and 1/2 mile for larger dogs. That is because a dog can cover a lot of ground fairly quickly and the distance advertised on the e-collar is always in ideal conditions…flat terrain, line of sight etc….so in woods, through buildings or undulating terrain having the 1/2 mile capability is very valuable. There are some collars that go up to 2 miles however that is overkill for the average pet dog.

  • What do you do when you see the ear or neck twitch, but the dog is not responding? Do you still go up from there?

    • Good question Barbara. It depends. The question I’d be asking myself next is “Does this dog understand what it is I want him/her to do?” If not then it is my job to assist the dog in performing the behavior so he/she learns how to turn off the sensation.
      If I am certain the dog does understand but is still too distracted then yes, I increase the level.

      • He does understand what he is supposed to do, which is return to me. But when he is focused on a scent I have to increase the level quite a bit, sometimes to the max, to get him to respond to the command, even though I can see a neck twitch the distraction seems to be too great. I am currently working with the Dogtra element 300 M.

        • The neck twitch doesn’t mean much other than muscle contraction. Have you ever experienced a twitch in your eye? It is distracting, doesn’t hurt and you can carry on with whatever you are doing without even noticing it much.

          For the situation you describe you do need to turn up. If you are going up rather gradually I would suggest you ramp your rate up faster (perhaps try doubling pressure right away) or there are other ways to increase pressure that may not require turning the dial. You can try using your Continuous button and holding on it a second or two, that often breaks through distraction better than a quick nick. Or if you are using the Nick (momentary) button try tapping with a faster cadence. That also can work to break through distraction.
          It is also possible that your dog’s level of sensitivity is higher than you think. The 300M is a low to medium power collar. If you are routinely working on levels around 50 on that collar it is possible it is not enough to motivate and gain your dog’s attention. IF that is the case a low to high stimulation collar may be needed.

          • Thanks for all your great insight. What would be the next collar you recommend? I was looking at the Dogtra 280 NCP online, it looks as though that goes up higher in stimulation levels. Also, our property backs up to high power lines, wonder if that is affecting the collar at all.


          • Hi Barbara, The upgrade I would recommend would be either the 1900 Field Star or the SureStim H Plus.
            I’m trying to track down an answer regarding the power lines. I don’t know if that would interfer with signal transmission or not. Are you talking about regular power lines or those big metal monster size structures? Also what level does your dog routinely work at?

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