Thursday, January 07, 2016

Dog Training: Clarifying Battle Lines in E-Collar Wars

The message of ALL sides should be the same: Move to NEW tech, not ban ALL tech.

Electric collars are easily demonized by know-nothings, but I also see an annoying -- and dangerous -- tendency for e-collar advocates to rise to every debate and think every argument has to be "won" as if it's some sort of wrestling match in which one side or the other has to be pinned.

Success does not lie in that direction.  There is no "winning" Internet arguments, and besides the demonizers are not entirely wrong, even if they are only a little bit right.

Not everything is black and white.

If someone is demonizing e-collars I always ask whether the person on the opposite end of the wire actually has any recent experience with an e-collar, and please tell me what brand and model. Be specific.  Post a picture.

Here's a clue:  Most folks demonizing e-collars have no experience, or "cannot remember" what make or model, and have no pictures of the equipment in question.


Theory running on rumor, rather than knowledge running on experience.  A common-enough illness.

So where is the grain of truth to what the demonizers are saying?


Most e-collars being sold today are inadequate for the job of real training. 

These collars were designed over a decade ago and are commonly sold on Ebay, and at Petsmart, PetCo, Bass Pro Shop, and Cabellas.

The picture, above, was taken at the Bass ProShop in Memphis last week, and it shows a tremendously expensive collar with only six levels of stimulation -- far too few to actually use this e-collar as a true training tool.

And note that this collar is NOT being sold as a true training tool; it's being sold as a "buster" collar designed to send a powerful "knock off" signal to a dog chasing deer or other "trash" animals.

Invisible fence containment systems are also "buster collars" that send a strong signal.  To be clear, invisible fences work very well to contain most dogs (especially short-haired dogs), provided the collar is tight, the right contact prongs are on the collar, the battery is not expired, and there's no threat of a coyote or large dog coming on to the property to maul your unprotected animal.  Invisible Fence collars keep your dog IN; they do not keep other dogs and animals out.

For the record, I have used an invisible fence to contain my dogs for more than 15 years, and it's a terrific system because buster collars work well for the very limited number of things they are designed to do.

But are they a dog training collar?  

No.  In my opinion, "buster" collars with just 6 or 7 settings are pretty close to worthless for training except, perhaps, for proofing a recall when used at the lowest setting.

But are the modern e-collars with 100 levels of stimulation "buster" collars?

They are not.

I cannot feel an E-collar Technologies collar set on 10 or 11, and my dogs are worked at level 4-6, depending on the weather and the level of distraction.  These are not "shock" collars but "tap" collars designed to break through canine Attention Deficit Disorder and reinforce basic collar-leash training at a distance and with perfect timing.  They are, truly, a marvel.  That said, they are also not commonly sold at pet and discount stores and, when they are, older and cheaper "buster" collars tend to beckon to the first-time dog owner.

Hence the need to "fence up" and "fence out" when talking about e-collars.  They are not "all alike," and they do not "all do the same thing."

Finally, a simple point:  the fact that an e-collar advocate has a newer e-collar and a better training technique does not make him or her a genius, or folks on the opposite side of the e-fence lying idiots. It simply makes that person up-to-date, and the other side not (yet) fully informed.

The message of ALL sides should, in fact, be the same:  Move to NEW tech, not ban ALL tech.

Modern e-collars are a massive step forward in the world of dog training. But if the goal is training, that e-collar has to be a modern training collar, and not an old "buster" collar from 10 or 20 years ago.

E collar advocates need to stress this message, demonstrate the product, and not engage in every debate.

When debate is engaged, start by asking what make and model the other side is using, and explain where they are right (yes, they have a point), and where they have gone wrong, and what the unified message should be.

Finally, don't try to "win" the argument.  Time and technology are on "our" side.  Be confident of that. As more people learn, the truth will be revealed.
A repost from January 2016.

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