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Todd Agnew with springer spaniel holding a bird

This has become a very volatile issue over the years and anyone that speaks openly regarding e-collar training becomes an easy target. I do not mind sticking my neck out and I am confident in my e-collar knowledge regarding its proper use. However, you need to understand my stance on e-collars.

If anyone wants to read how passionate I am about e-collars and the proper use of them, they can go to my website and read the electronics sections. It essentially outlines that I am an e-collar trainer. I believe that there is no better training tool than a properly used e-collar…but used incorrectly, there is no worse training tool. Although it could not be enforced, I believe people should have demonstrated a proficiency in their use prior to being allowed to use an e-collar.

Craney Hill Kennel, like many professional kennels, conducts training seminars that include sessions on the proper use of an e-collar. However, there are many ways to properly use one. For example, we use a combination of continuous and momentary stimulation. The retriever world uses primarily a technique known as indirect pressure. There are terms such as positive (the term that television and movies promote) and negative. The point is that I am not the only person that knows how to properly use an e-collar and the way I use it on our flushing dogs is not the only way to use it.

If you really want to learn to use an e-collar properly, contact a professional trainer and go watch them use it. You should be able to tell if they are good with it or not. Ask them if they have put the collar on THEIR neck, ankle, wrist, etc. Ask if they have put a bark collar on THEIR neck and barked to test it. Ask which manufacturer they use and suggest. Do they only use one collar or do they have many products that they use?

These questions are important because if they do not try the collars on themselves, how can they begin to understand how they work? How do they know that when it is put just under your chin the stimulation can be felt and when it is moved about ¼ inch to the side that it can no longer be felt? Do you think that this might be important when making flash decisions as whether or not to increase the stimulation level on a dog that MAY be ignoring the stimulation or MAY not feel the stimulation? Does the trainer trust the light on the transmitter unit or does he trust the dog? Does the trainer know that on some collars there is a delay from when you push a stimulation button until the stimulation turns on? Likewise, does he know that on some there is a delay on when it turns off? Does the trainer know what the lowest stimulation level is that the dog feels?

I could go on and on with questions because I have tested all of this stuff. I know which collars have true continuous stimulation and which ones are not. I know which collars turn off after 8 seconds and which ones turn off after 10 seconds. I know which collars are on a digital frequency. I know that the packaging that indicates the range that each collar has is not accurate in the field. More importantly, if the e-collar has a range of one mile, who can see their dog one mile away? And if you cannot see your dog, why would you be stimulating it?

Now that you all will seek professional help with an e-collar, I will climb off my soapbox and start to tell you about them. I want to talk about some of the many features that e-collars have and which features I believe are most important. I do not care which company makes the collar. I want to use the collar that I think is best for the way I train. Here are the important features.

Almost all e-collars now have variable stimulation of at least seven levels. Your dog will certainly be able to be trained with one of the levels of stimulation. Remember that a level one on e-collar A may be “hotter” or milder than level one on e-collar B. The collars that work best for us are the ones that have a “jump” feature. This means that I have a button that will stimulate the dog at one level and another button that will stimulate the dog at a higher level without having to move the stimulation level dial to another level.

I want an e-collar that is true continuous stimulation. This means that when the stimulation is turned on, I want it to stay on when I increase the stimulation level. The stimulation on many e-collars actually turns off when you increase the stimulation level and you have to take your finger off the button and restart the stimulation.

People should only consider e-collars that have a waterproof receiver AND a waterproof transmitter.

Most e-collars now use rechargeable batteries so that is what I want.

I do not use vibration, tone or any other “positive” feature. This is a concession the manufacturers have made to try and improve public perception. The fact is that I train bird dogs and if anyone thinks that a tone or a vibration is going to stop a bird dog in the cattail slough when it is hot on a pheasant, they are mistaken. If a dog comes off of that pheasant due to a vibration or some other “positive” tone, then I do not want that dog!

These are the features you will want to think about. The e-collars generally fit on the dog the same way regardless of the manufacturer. The e-collar should be snug enough so that you can just slide two fingers under the collar.

springer spaniel with an ecollar

If you spend some time doing some research, you will make a wise purchase decision. Spend most of your time researching someone that you can learn from. Do not believe people that say you cannot use an e-collar around birds or in other situations. We use an e-collar in all situations. We have stimulated dogs with a bird in their mouth. If used properly, you can use an e-collar in all situations and have a dog that is exciting. It will not show evidence that it was trained with an e-collar. When we hold out an e-collar at the front of the kennel, our dogs run up front to put their head through the collar…now that is what I call POSITIVE training!


Todd with springer spaniels Riley and Alder

Todd Agnew Spaniel Training


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