The ATF’s E-collar trained detection dogs.

This following e-collar article is copied and pasted direct from, a government issued newsletter.

My friend and fellow Dogtra ProStaff colleague, Pat Nolan, has taught me a thing or two. His skill level and knowledge are unsurpassed. I can attest that these will be WELL trained dogs very capable of doing their job. Congratulations Pat on this wonderful accomplishment!

This spring, Labrador retrievers wearing virtual leashes will begin nosing around for explosives to make work easier for federal law enforcement personnel, according to contracting papers.

The five dogs, which will be delivered to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives starting in May, are part of an experiment conceived earlier this year to try electronically guiding canines from afar, ATF officials said. The bureau awarded instructor Pat Nolan, from Ponderosa Kennels, a $32,500 contract for “training Labrador retrievers for directional control work through use of remote-collars . . . at extended distances from a handler.”

E-collars, sometimes derided as “shock collars,” control dogs with pulses that should feel like small taps on the neck.

The Smithsburg, Md.-based kennel supplying the dogs was selected in part because it is near ATF’s canine operations center in Front Royal, Va., officials said, thereby reducing transportation and lodging costs that would be incurred with more distant vendors. Ponderosa Kennels was the only nearby vendor that could supply five sniffer Labs accustomed to e-collars within three months, according to a justification for awarding the contract without competition. The purchase is expected to save about $15,000 in recruiting costs.

“The temperament, drives and collective traits required to perform this specialized mission necessitates selection of dogs that exceed industry standards for conventional on-leash detection canines,” the papers state. The agency’s own canine trainers, who have evaluated hundreds of “improvised explosive device,” or IED, detector dogs, found that those animals exhibit common characteristics, officials explained. 

The Marine Corps Special Operations Command and Naval Special Warfare Command also have employed Nolan to train e-collared dogs for explosive detection work, according to the contract justification, which was signed last week.

“Rather than tugging on the leash or pushing the dog into position, we will use low-level e-collar taps to apply very slight but noticeable pressure that encourages him to act,” Nolan says of the digital direction technique on his business’s website. “This system of using the e-collar is even gentler than traditional leash training methods, offers increased reliability and, because the e-collar provides instant feedback to your dog, it accelerates his learning.”


  • Hi Robin,
    I purchased the ecollar with hesitation due to our dog having fear aggression towards other dogs. I have been battling this behavior for a few years now…she was a rescue and found stray at age one when I adopted her. She is great in our home and learns fast, minds well…unfortunately, her behavior is quite uncontrollable outside and on walks.
    We have done obedience classes, then positive reinforcement training with the clicker…I feel we just reinforced her anxiety towards dogs by treating her when she walked by them. She does distract herself and sniff or eat grass when other dogs are near and she is anxious(and according to BAT training that is good) but that only helps a fraction of the time.
    The goal with the ecollar was to get a better grip on her behavior while walking, so we can hopefully manage her reactive behavior. It has worked like a charm for the past couple months but we have a long way to go. At least it seems to over drive her instinct/predatory behavior where she actually… finally listens to us.
    So…my question is, do you think we are doing the right thing for her now? Should we not be using the collar because of her aggressive tendencies? We live in Seattle and in the city so lots of dogs out at all times. I can avoid them but do get stuck in moments where they sneak up and Reece is barking/lunging.
    Do you have any suggestions/recommendations?

    • Hi Breanne,

      If you are seeing improvement than I think you are on the right track. I use the e-collar with aggression cases to first establish greater control by re-directing to obedience in the midst of the distractions (other dogs). Then once we are making good progress I add in counter-conditioning and desensitization exercises to change the dog’s emotional response to the triggers. I also do off leash pack socialization to complete the process and the vast majority of dogs are rehabilitated and overcome the issues. It is a process and to get that far you will likely need someone experienced to coach you. Unfortunately I don’t know of anyone in your immediate area who is offering these same type of services I describe. I do know there are some north of you in the Vancouver area…or if you want to make a trip out here to the Midwest we’d be happy to help!
      When someone comes from behind and your dog fires up…keep moving, whether you go forward, sideways or turn around and go back, keep in motion and enforce a heel command. That is generally much easier than trying to maintain positive stationary behavior. Movement helps to dissipate stress. Keep working and search through this blog, there are other entries that address these issues and might provide further insight.

  • That is all true, but how would you explain the few places in the United States that turn out some of the best dogs there are for law enforcement, and never use the collars?

    • Hi Richard,
      I’m not sure how to respond to your question without having a bit more detail. What programs and agencies are you referring to and what parameters are you using to define “the best dogs”?

  • I think the e-collar is a perfect training tool for the working dog. After attending seminars by both Robin and Pat to learn the proper way to use the e-collar, I have been using one on my human remains detection K9 since he was a puppy.  Many members of my search and rescue team were skeptical about me using an e-collar. They said things like “using an e-collar will decrease your dog’s drive to work” or “e-collars will make him startle easy.”  After seeing my dog’s success with the collar, most members of my team have received appropriate e-collar training and utilize the collar daily. We have a confident and successful team that can work both on and off lead in the heaviest distractions.  So speaking from experience, proper e-collar use does NOT decrease a working dog’s drive. I think it only helps them stay on task to get to their reward faster! I’m anxious to see the results of Pat’s program.

  • I am so excited to see the end response to this project. I hope this serves as a way to educate the public on the remote collar use, as well as create more open minds to its use!

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