The issues that crop up with using more traditional corrective collars is that it requires more skill on the part of the handler than with an electronic collar. I give fine leash corrections and I know how to physically correct a dog appropriately. Sometimes clients are too enthusiastic and they overcorrect or they are so soft spoken that they do not correct effectively or consistently. Lack of consistency will slow down training very quickly and can lead to confusion on the part of the animal and frustration on the part of the client. Using an electronic collar we can find a dog's perfect level of correction to effectively communicate to the dog that they made a mistake.
When some people think of electronic collars they think of the early collars that have these massive collar packs with a big antenna sticking up above the dogs head and a remote that has 3 settings. Modern electronic collars have packs smaller than a credit card and it is extremely adjustable to the point that you can find a level that does not hurt the dog but that is sharp enough to convey a correction. With the good collars having at least 100 levels of stimulation as well as a vibration setting (that I like to use to teach Recall) I have not yet found a dog for whom I could not find their perfect level of correction. For some dogs this is the vibration level (like my GSD mix Ted) and for others it is a higher level. Kylie's perfect level of correction is 35. Whoever is handling her knows to start with the collar at level 35. We have the freedom to bump it up to 40 or so if a distraction turns up, like a reactive dog, if we need to. Her corrections are always consistent and she always understands that she received a reprimand. We then repeat what it was we were working on and when she gets it right she receives my affection and my praise. Dogs always know when you are being insincere and they can always tell when your happiness is genuine. You have to be genuine with your affection and praise or the dogs will simply stop working for you.
Because electronic collars are so adjustable now they are used often to train deaf dogs. It is possible to lower the level of stimulation to the point that the dog feels it but it is so minor it is really more of a tap than a correction. When you get the level to the tapping sensation you can then use the collar to give a command and so the fact that the dog cannot hear your voice no longer limits their ability to be trained to the level that hearing dogs can be trained.
I can train a dog with a slip chain. I could train a dog with a 6' length of rope if I had to. The tools I use are only those which help the dog learn effectively, fairly and efficiently. Some dogs I prefer to train on a more traditional collar but if it is the ambition of the owner to be able to have their dog off leash then an electronic collar can make that possible and still keep the dog safe from harm. In Lawrence, if one looks up the leash ordinance for the city, electronic collars are considered legal leashes. The ordinance reads like this:
"Pet owners must keep animals on leashes and under control at all times when outside their own fences. Dogs on electronic collars, under the control of the owner, are exempt." http://lawrenceks.org/lprd/_recreationfacilities/dogregs
I love the wording of this law because it stipulates that the dog must be under control of the owner. One cannot simply buy a collar and slap it on the dog and start buzzing away and have the dog under control. It requires training (preferably under the supervision of a professional trainer who knows how to safely use the equipment) to teach the dog to understand the sensation they feel from the collar. Like most training tools it is absolutely possible to confuse a dog and to abuse a dog with an electronic collar but when they are used correctly and the time is taken to make sure the dog understands praise and discipline and the collar is used as a tool to communicate, it can open doors for dogs and owners that were closed before.
I walk Kylie and Ted almost exclusively on their electronic collars. I live in Old West Lawrence and on our walk we pass through the Train Park or we go up to campus and walk through the Grove. It used to be that the dogs were kept on their leashes. So they got to sniff around the sidewalk but always on a 6 foot leash. With the electronic collars we have them in a Heel command for 6 or so blocks to the parks and then when we get into the grass we can give them their release word "OKAY!" and they can run and play and wrestle and really get their blood pumping. But if they go to far, if they approach the road, if they start heading towards strangers who might not want two 85 pound fluff balls visiting their picnic we can page them with the vibration setting on their collar and call them back to us. If they did not have electronic collars on there would be no guarantee that we could get them to come back and still give them the freedom to really play without a tether.
I will always use leashes. There will always be a need for physical leashes (like a good walk down Massachusetts street which is the one street in Lawrence where all dogs MUST be on a physical 6' leash). But when it comes to training I have really come to appreciate what the modern electronic collar has to offer. It it also much easier for people who do not have a dog trainer's honed technique with a leash correction to train their own dogs using an electronic collar (with the guidance of a professional trainer).
The collar that I personally love is the Dogtra IQ Yard Trainer. It has a small collar pack which is not heavy and so it can be worn by small dogs. The remote is ergonomically designed to be gripped in your hand and it is simple to use with 3 buttons and one dial controlling the level of stimulation. It is water proof and has a 400 yard range. In an urban situation that is more than enough room for most dogs and owners. The only gripe I have about the Dogtra collars is that they only use buckle collars. I prefer snap-around collars because they offer a consistant fit and they are quick to put on and remove.
I have gone from only occasionally recommending the use of electronic collars to describing it as my preferred method of training for companion dogs especially if the owner wants to train the dog themselves. Electronic collars allow for better exercise and freedom for the dog while remaining within the reasonable boundaries of the leash law and keeping the dog safe with a level of control not offered by retractable leashes (look forward to my gripe about retractable leashes in a future post) or by simply removing the leash all together. If you are interested in allowing your dog off leash or simply wish take your dog's training to the next level I would highly encourage you to look into training your dog with an electronic collar under the guidance of a professional trainer.