All About E-Collar Training: A Guide
Many people think that an e-collar is synonymous with a shock collar. That is not the case. The main difference is that an e-collar does not shock your pet. It uses electrical stimulation to get your pet’s attention and can be an effective training tool. Another way to figure out the difference is the price point. A shock collar is around $30-$40 dollars. An e-collar is around $100-$200 dollars.
After trying to train my Australian Shepherd and only getting her to do tricks for treats, I decided it was time to put her into official training. I was failing at teaching her basic commands like recall (come here), extended sit, extended lay, and heel. After perusing local dog training facilities I found one with raving reviews, but I was extremely skeptical because they used e-collar training. I had been told by so many in the dog mom community that this was not necessary and only positive reinforcement-based training should be done.
After completing a basic obedience course using an e-collar I can safely say I disagree. Please do not be dog mom shamed about how to train your pup. My main reason for enrolling Ellie, my Aussie, in a course like this was to make sure she didn’t lunge at other dogs (even if it was a friendly lunge), jump on children, run away from me when playing, and to keep her and the general population safe and happy. To do that, I wanted to ensure she could follow basic commands.
Also, positive reinforcement techniques can be used with e-collar training. Another HUGE benefit to e-collar training is that your pet does not become a food and treat focused animal. I started to notice that Ellie only listened when I had a treat (she could smell it — I’m telling you). This didn’t work for me. I needed her to listen to me without being rewarded with food every time.
How to e-collar train
Here’s the low down. I paid $550 dollars for four training sessions, an e-collar, and a 15-foot training leash. Our trainer was amazing. She explained the dog psychology behind why Ellie was misbehaving. It turns out Ellie was training us. So, here is what we learned in each training session.
Session One: come & SIT
I was nervous walking into our first session. I felt like Ellie was a lovable dog but her behavior could be embarrassing. She is very vocal, meaning she howls, barks, and whines a lot to express herself. She also had a problem with jumping up on others to get them to play with her. She did these things when we walked into the training studio and the trainer laughed. She loved Ellie and Ellie responded really well to the trainer’s commands.
It’s important to note that when introducing a dog to e-collar training that you are also using leash pressure and not just correcting behavior with the e-collar. This is simply because your dog does not know what the e-collar is. They do not understand yet that if they behave and listen, the sensation will go away. Again, this does not hurt the dog but it buzzes, or vibrates, very quickly and gives a very weird sensation. During our first session she had us try the e-collar on the base of our hand to see what it felt like. Feeling the sensation relieved any anxiety I had surrounding the e-collar. My rule is that I would never use a level, or number, on Ellie that I could not handle.
So, the first lesson was sit. Ellie already knew how to sit — or so I thought. Ellie caught on very quickly and we immediately introduced the command “come.” This is done with a hand signal as well which is an open palm, facing you, that you bring toward your chest. You give the dog a chance to follow the command without any correction. If they do not execute the command, then you correct with leash pressure and the e-collar at the same time. Ellie’s working number starting out was an 8. After a month of training, her working number is a 12. These are not high numbers as the e-collar goes above 50.
Then, after about forty minutes the trainer passed Ellie off to us. We practiced these commands using the e-collar remote at the same time as the leash (it’s trickier than you think)! After the hour was up she assigned us homework which was forty minutes a day we practice come and sit.
Session two: Place
I was extremely excited about place and this is Ellie’s favorite command to do. Teaching this command is quite easy. Our trainer said a lot of dogs love this command because they get to sit on things or sometimes jump up on things.
To teach place you use an open palm to gesture to the dog where you want them to sit or lay. After they place, meaning they are in the area you want them, they should automatically sit. You may have to teach this to your dog. So it might go something like, “Ellie, place. Ellie, sit.” If she does not listen to the commands the second time you then correct with leash pressure (gently pulling on the leash) and the e-collar stimulation.
Just like with come and stay, the trainer worked with Ellie for forty minutes and we took over the last twenty minutes of the session. Then, our homework was to practice place for forty minutes a day until our next session.
session three: heel
Okay, I lied. I was most excited for Ellie to learn heel. I had been working on teaching her heel and she was pretty good at loose leash walking before beginning training. However, we really needed help with her barking at other dogs, wanting to go greet kids at the park, and jumping up on strangers. So, heel was an extremely necessary command for Ellie to learn.
This session was a little different for us. For the first forty minutes the trainer took Ellie outside with her and we stayed inside the studio. After forty minutes, the trainer invited us outside to partake in the training. She showed us what to correct Ellie on and what heel should look like.
Here are some hard and fast rules for heel:
1. Your dog’s collar should not be past your leg.
2. Your dog should not be sniffing the ground while in the heel command.
3. Your dog looking at you or ahead is ideal. You should praise them for this with things like, “good girl,” or “good dog.”
To teach heel, you first need to decide which side your dog is going to always heel on. We chose the traditional heel which is the left side. However, it really doesn’t matter which side unless your dog is a show dog. But I am right handed and it was easier for me to hold Ellie’s leash in my left and and the e-collar remote in my right.
Next, you step forward with your left leg and tap the side of your thigh with your left hand. Your dog should get up from the sit command and enter into the heel command. From here, you correct your dog for the following things:
– Going ahead of you (remember the collar should not go past your leg at any time)
– Straying away from you
– Crossing into your space or going in front of you
Then, you need to focus on the turns. These can be tricky. When teaching turns you should remind them of the heel command right before you turn. This gives them a heads up that there’s a change coming. Do this without any stimulation from the e-collar first. If they do not stay in the heel command, correct with the e-collar. Any time you use stimulation from the e-collar make sure you are saying the command you want them to do. Otherwise you are just getting their attention but they have no idea what you want from them.
session four: lay
I thought Ellie knew how to lay. I mean she did. But she didn’t always listen to the command. So when we entered the studio that day I thought, “this is going to be easy.” I was wrong. Ellie knew the command as “lay down,” “lay,” and “down.” So the trainer had us pick one word. The most important part is picking the command word that works for you and that your dog knows and can follow.
The trainer said this is the most difficult basic command to teach because it is the most submissive command for a dog to learn. Then it clicked why Ellie didn’t always listen to that. Before training Ellie got away with a lot because, one, she’s cute, but two, we thought we were being stern enough with her.
To teach lay (or lay down), you have your dog sit. Then, while they are sitting you get their leash and place it underneath your foot loosely. You gently start to pull on the leash while it is still looped underneath your foot. As you put gentle leash pressure on your dog, they should lay down. If they fight against it and stand up — keep the leash pressure going but correct them and have them sit again. When they lay down make sure you praise them heavily. Then, repeat this until your dog no longer needs the leash pressure and can go from sit to lay by themselves.
My final thoughts about the e-collar are I wish people would not give them such a bad reputation. They are such a great training tool for super intelligent, dominant dog breeds. Ellie LOVES training. She would run to the door and like her trainer to death. She would whine to get out of the car when we pulled up to the building. Eventually, she learned that, “do you want to work?” meant it’s time to train and she would get incredibly excited. So, I firmly believe that if you aware of what you’re doing and you do not abuse an e-collar (because it does have higher settings for emergencies) then it is a great tool to utilize while training.