In an era of high speed Internet access, cell phones, and palm pilot organizers, it was only a matter of time before dog trainer would adopt the electronic training collar as an acceptable and humane way of training dogs. Notice I did not use the term "shock collar". The reason will become clear after a brief look into the evolution of "The Dog Training Collar".
More than 30 years ago, electronic collars made their way into the dog-training scene. However, because the first generation of dog training collars were only capable of delivering one level of stimulation to the dog, they where appropriately nicknamed shock collars. These collars required the trainer to select the level of correction by inserting an "intensity plug" into the collar (before putting the collar on the dog for training, once the collar was on the dog they could not change the intensity level). This plug would then cause the collar to emit the same level of stimulation for all corrections issued during the session, regardless of how small or large the infraction - hence the nickname - shock collars.
The term shock collar had a very negative connotation that dramatically decreased their widespread acceptance in the dog-training arena. It was commonly stated that, "Only hard headed dogs that could not be trained by traditional means where run with shock collars". As a result, very few professional trainers were public about their use of electronic dog collars fearing that clients would not entrust dogs to their care. However, some professionals, including legendary Rex Carr, where up-front about their use of electronic collars and worked diligently at developing a training program that utilized the collar in a way dogs could understand. Rex quickly became know as a pioneer of training retrievers with electronic collars. In fact, most if not all training techniques used today with retrievers are derivate from Rex's original work.
Recognizing the limitations of the first generation of electronic dog training collars, manufacturers worked to refine their design. It was only until the release of the second generation of electronic collars that allowed the trainer to vary the level of intensity from the hand-held transmitter. The trainer could now select from one of three levels of intensity for a particular "intensity plug": high, medium and low. This design still had its shortcomings. The trainer still only had 3 levels of stimulation to choose from and the lowest level of stimulation was typically inappropriate for simple corrections.
While the second generation of electronic collars was a great advancement in dog training collars, this technology was replaced in the last decade by collars that gave the trainer the ability to select multiple levels of intensity from the transmitter. This single advancement combined with customer education has done more for the widespread acceptance of the electronic collar than any other advancement in the collar's history.
Manufacturers quickly recognized that a great design alone was not going to give their product the acceptance needed to support their newfound industry; it was only through education that new customers would understand how to use these training devices to advance their dog in a proper manner. The most significant form of education came when Tri-Tronics released a book written by Jim and Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodward, Tri-Tronics Training Retrievers. This book focused on incorporating electronic collars in all phases of training retrievers and walked the reader through a series of detailed steps, bringing a dog from A to Z.
As a result of the technological advancements and the educational support provided by manufacturers, the days of the "shock collar" are gone, giving way to the remote training collars. Today, like cell phones, its becoming more difficult to find someone who trains without an electronic collar.
The remainder of this article will focus on the technology found in many of the collars manufactured by the industry leaders and explain how each is applicable in training gundogs and your selection of an electronic collar.
Let's start by defining the two forms of stimulation available on the market today. First, there is continuous stimulation; this method of stimulation delivers an electronic correction to the dog for as long as the trainer presses the button on the transmitter. If the trainer holds the button down for five seconds the dog will receive five seconds worth of stimulation. However, most models on the market today will timeout after seven to ten seconds of stimulation has been applied to the dog.
The second form of stimulation available on some collars is momentary stimulation. Momentary stimulation, sometimes call a "nick", is different from continuous stimulation in one simple way; no matter how long the trainer depresses the button, the dog will only receive a short electronic correction, the duration of which is measured in a fraction of a second.
Continuous form of stimulation can be used in training when you need to extend a meaningful correction to your dog and re-establish control of a training situation. A great example of a training scenario where you might need to apply continuous stimulation is when you need to gain control over your dog on a runner. In this situation, a simple "nick" or short burst of stimulation may do nothing to stop him on that illusive cock pheasant. Often, a dog might just run through a short burst of electronic stimulation because he is too excited about the prospect of fresh scent to listen to your sit or "hup" whistle. The continuous level of stimulation is what is required to stop him in his tracks. Because the correction is applied to the dog for as long as you hold the button down the effect to the dog is a stronger form of correction. Another example of when continuous stimulation would be a valuable training tool would be when teaching a flushing dog to turn on the "come around" whistle. Here you would use a much lower level of stimulation and apply the stimulation in conjunction with the "come around" command/whistle, only releasing the pressure when he complies with your command. In both training scenarios, the dog has to be taught the way out of the pressure (or the correct response) before utilizing a collar.
Momentary stimulation can be used in training when you need to apply a short, light form of correction. A classic training scenario where we would use momentary stimulation is when utilizing "indirect pressure" during training. With indirect pressure, you want to apply a short, quick correction for not compiling to a command after you have gotten control over him through attrition. For example, if your dog refuses to take a "right-handed angled back" command on a blind retrieve, momentary stimulation can be used after stopping him with a firm "sit" whistle, "nicking" him once he is sitting for refusing to take the "right-handed angle back" command, then re-issuing the "angle back" command. In this case, the momentary stimulation applies a short less intense correction that does not "rock the boat".
Upon first consideration, you may not think that you would need an electronic collar that has a range of one mile. However, if you are hunting over a big running pointer, in the thick backwoods of New England, you might be better served with a collar that has an effective range of a half-mile or greater than a collar with less range. Most manufacturers quote "line-of-sight" range for their collars. However, the effective range of an electronic collar can vary according to terrain and environmental conditions. For basic obedience and most yard work, a collar that is capable of extending to 150 to 300 yards is more than adequate. However, if you are training in the field or working in any type of cover, more range is needed to produce a reliable signal.
Maybe the most important advancements in the electronic collar in the past ten years has been the change in the design of the electronic collar to allow a trainer to change levels of stimulation at the transmitter, rather than at the collar. In days gone past, a trainer could only change the levels of stimulation by physically changing the "intensity plug" and/or contact points on the collar itself.
Today, virtually all quality dog training collars on the market allow the trainer to select the level of stimulation from the transmitter. The old term, shock collar is no longer accurate, the term "electronic training collars" has since replaced this term primarily due to this single design change which allows a trainer to select just the right amount of stimulation necessary to correct the dog making the electronic collar a humane approach to training dogs. Now you can select a mild level of stimulation (barely noticeable by human touch) or a severe level of correction that would make even the toughest man take notice. The responsibility is now with the trainer to select the appropriate correction for the dog.
Probably the most important factor in regards to usability of an electronic collar rests within the transmitter design. Most transmitters on the market today fit easily into your hand. However, differences exist in the design of the transmitter. Some manufacturers make transmitters that are small, lightweight and can be hung on a lanyard. Other manufacturers make transmitters that are larger but extremely easy to use. Like most things in life, it comes down to personal preference. In order for any collar to be an effective training device it must be easy to use and be able to apply the correction at the exact moment it is needed. The last thing you want to be doing is fumbling for your transmitter, setting an intensity level when you should be delivering a firm correction that the dog will understand.
The last feature to take into consideration when evaluating the design of a transmitter is the resistance of the transmitter to weather. Some transmitters are water resistant while others are waterproof. If using an electronic collar while waterfowling you might want to consider a transmitter that is waterproof and can endure a "fall in the drink".
The final consideration when choosing an electronic collar is the design of the collar/receiver unit itself. Some earlier models of electronic collars, intended for upland use, had external antennas that extended beyond the body of the collar and often became caught up on or became damaged by heavy brush. This design has since been replaced with antennas that are self-contained within the body of the receiver unit.
Like the transmitter design, collars also come in units that are water resistant and waterproof. If you intend on using your dog in or around water I would highly recommend purchasing a collar that is waterproof. These collars can be fully submerged in water while in the field without harming the internal electronics, a must for most hunters.
Used correctly, the electronic collar can be an invaluable tool when training your gundog. There is no other tool that can help you effectively apply a correction to your dog than one of the many electronic collars on the market today. The days of chasing down your dog to apply a traditional correction (only have lost the significance of the timing) are long gone. Now you can effectively and reliably apply the correction at the moment when it is needed.