How to Condition an E-collar or Remote Collar

how to condition a remote collar

When we start working with remote collars, there is a crucial period early into training that we at Lugaru K9 Training call the “conditioning period.” This period serves several purposes, but in essence is there to help the dog understand how remote collar pressure works and what to expect out of future training.

In the conditioning period, the goal is to make sure the dog knows a few crucial concepts. The dog will need to know where the pressure (in this context, this means the stim) is coming from, and how their behavior influences the pressure they will experience. This influence ecompasses how their behavior can turn the pressure on and off, as well as how they can avoid the pressure entirely.

Taking the time to gently condition the remote collar, rather than charging in with higher levels, is crucial in helping the dog understand the concepts and therefore learn more quickly when it comes to the higher levels that some dogs need for unwanted behaviors later on. Preparing your dog to know how to avoid the stim pressure and how to adjust their behavior accordingly allows us in most cases to create the most minimally aversive training, because the dog will be more likely to understand a correction immediately, which decreases the likelihood of us having to use more corrections than necessary.

Doing this conditioning also gives the dog a chance to wear the remote collar without experiencing any form of discomfort, which helps avoid unwanted associations. The association with the remote collar should be neutral at worst for the dog. Introducing the collar a with low levels and guiding the dog through what it means helps keep the dog from forming unwanted negative associations around the remote collar.

My personal dogs know that their remote collars mean we are going to go do something fun, so every time I bring out their e-collars I get to see the tippy-tappy dance as they get excited and finally settle down. This doesn’t have to be the goal for every dog, but the point is really that the dog going in to e-collar training should think of the remote collar as a part of daily life, not as a precursor to a punishment.

This conditioning process is a step that we do to some extent with all dogs going into any of our e-collar training programs or implementing remote collars into their training plan.

I hear a lot about dog owners who run head-first into the process of remote collar training without properly setting the foundations through the conditioning process. There are times that this may be tempting, especially when you are dealing with a dog that is showing stressful or dangerous behaviors; understandably, the idea of relief from these behaviors can make any dog owner want to get to the corrections already, to just make it stop. While the temptation is understandable and I do empathize with the frustration dog owners feel, my advice is always going to be to take just a couple days to do what is best for your dog. This is not just for their comfort, but also for their long-term success on a tool that is meant to do so much more than correct behaviors.

Preparing for Your E-Collar Training

The first few days start the dog off with wearing the remote collar. Put the collar on your dog in the morning or after giving it a good pre-charge when you receive it. Ensure that the collar is sized appropriately with contact points that are suited for your dog’s coat. Allow the dog to wear the collar for a little while before starting your first training session, as we want the dog to become naturalized to wearing it.

woman with labrador on grassy lawn

These sessions are going to be building foundations, and we are introducing a lot of new things to the dog. Therefore, these sessions should be a maximum of five minutes each. It is also a good idea to keep an eye out for any signs of abnormal stress, and shorten the training sessions a bit if your dog gets overwhelmed. Take your time with this process if need-be. Most dogs, however, will do just fine with a couple sessions per day at around five minutes each.

During these training sessions, you will continue to use reward in the training process. If your dog has a high food drive, we recommend using your dog’s daily food or meals for their training sessions. If your dog is a little indifferent to food, you might try dog treats or something a little more “valuable” to your dog. Some dogs are incredibly indifferent to food, and if that is the case try to use a type of reward that appeals to your dog specifically.

Before jumping in to the training process, determine what function you would like to use to ask your dog for their attention. On E-Collar Technologies remote collars, which we use most at Lugaru K9 Training for a number of reasons, your e-collar will have a tone function and a vibrate function. The vibrate will cause the receiver (the box on the dog’s collar) to buzz like a pager, and the tone will cause the receiver to emit a distinct single beeping sound.

You will want to pick one of these to be used in your conditioning process, but long-term this function will also mean recall (in addition to your spoken command) and will build into a highly beneficial skill for you and your dog. I typically use the vibrate function myself, but understand that some dogs that are particularly sensitive may be fearful or averse to the vibrate function. For these dogs it is best to use the tone function.

Remote collars from E-Collar Technologies have both the tone and the vibrate functions, but some remote collar brands may have only one or the other. Use whichever you have, and if your remote collar does not have either one, use your regular spoken recall command.

Going forward, I will refer to the interchangeable tone/vibrate/verbal command as T/V.

If you are not sure what kind of remote collar you have, most will have a brand name on the receiver, the remote, or both. And, I always recommend going through my written guide on quality remote collars, What is the Difference Between Shock Collars and eCollars?

It’s crucial that you use a high-quality remote collar for this process, or do not do it at all. It is practically impossible to condition a generic shock collar because the levels are inconsistent and often much higher than most dogs would need even for correcting unwanted behaviors.

E-Collar Conditioning: Days 1-3

The first three days or so are going to include just two or three training sessions per day. I recommend either one session in the morning and one in the evening, and maybe one in the middle of the day if you have the time or the means to. Again, if your dog gets overwhelmed it is okay to take your time and prolong this process for an extra day or two.

These sessions will start inside your home in a low-distraction area. The more sterile the environment the better. You’ll begin with a standard six foot leash, but longer leashes are also okay as long as it is a standard/regular leash.

Give your dog your recall command, and press the T/V button while walking away from your dog. When your dog follows, give them your “yes” marker word (good, good boy/girl, yes, etc.) and give them a food reward.

After a couple repetitions it is normal for dogs to start following you around during this drill, and that is okay. If this starts happening, you can transition to walking backwards with them following you and capturing the behavior by pressing the T/V button with the verbal recall command and giving more rewards.

This behavior is a good thing. This anticipation, and they are giving the behavior before being prompted. Even if your dog is jumping the gun, they will still be learning what the T/V means even if they are following you for the food.

During these short sessions, your dog is learning that T/V means good things, receiving a reward as food or praise. They are also learning that T/V means recall/come, and that both are coming from you, their handler. In addition, if your dog does not already have a solid grasp on your verbal marker for “yes,” they are also learning what that means and that good things come as a result of hearing it.

During the first few days, we are only using the T/V and using it to practice recall drills within the home. Taking a few days to practice this will familiarize your dog with the remote collar, and teach the foundations we will need to move on to the stim function.

action adorable animal beautiful

E-Collar Conditioning Days 3+

After about three days or after you are confident in your dog’s understanding of the T/V, you can move into the next phase of conditioning for the remote collar. You can stop doing the earlier drills from the first few days as we start building on the concepts learned.

Similarly, you will be sticking to only two or three short sessions per day of about five minutes each. At this point, however, you will be going outside. If you have a yard where you can control distractions, start there. If you’re in an apartment or don’t have a good yard for these drills, you can be doing these sessions on short walks.

These lessons will build off the early sessions and will also help prepare your dog for reliability with or without the leash. Note that, whether or not your dog is truly “off-leash ready” will depend a lot on other behaviors which will be addressed later on in the training process, but this will set the foundations and also help with low-distraction recall, like calling your dog back inside from the back yard.

These sessions will start to make use of the remote collar’s stim function, which is the muscle stimulation technology present in high-quality remote collars. We will be using the dog’s working level, or the level they just begin to feel or notice. We are not using high levels during this phase of training.

To find your dog’s working level, I recommend reading my article, How to Find Your Dog’s E-Collar Working Level.

The goal of these sessions are to introduce the same concepts from T/V training into the stim function. Your dog will need to understand that the stim is coming from you, the handler, how to influence the pressure from the stim, and how to avoid the stim turning on entirely.

Again, if you have a back yard or other private outdoor space I recommend doing your first couple of sessions there, especially if you have a dog that may become reactive to things out in public.

Take your dog out on their standard leash to the yard, driveway, or walkway near your house or apartment. As soon as you notice your dog becoming interested in something (watching, sniffing, walking off, etc.), give your recall word and press the T/V button.

Give your dog a treat and praise with your yes marker word for coming to you. If your dog seems confused or is too intent on something, showing or allowing them to sniff the treat can help break that.

If your dog does not come back right away to the T/V recall cue, press the continuous button for the stim feature on your remote collar. If your dog is especially distracted by sights and smells or is choosing to ignore the established command for their recall, you can hold down that continuous stim button and start walking the opposite direction.

Release when your dog begins moving in your direction, and give praise and food rewards.

You can do this walking back and forth similarly to the drills you did while conditioning the T/V function. Walking back and forth several paces and turning, have your dog continue to come to your cue, and reward with food whenever you see the behavior you want.

If your dog does not seem to be responding to their working level, simply increase the level one at a time until you see your dog responding the way you expect based on the process of initially finding their working level. As dogs enter more exciting and distracting environments, it’s normal for working level to change. Continue this practice for around five minutes. You should see your dog starting to respond more and more to the T/V recall expectation within the first session or two with this drill.

You do not need to use the stim function if your dog is focused and recalling properly. You will find that your dog will become more engaged as you go through these five-minute dog training sessions.

During these sessions, your dog is learning that they can avoid the stim on the remote collar by following through on their known recall command, and focusing on their handler even when outside. They are also learning that the stim is coming from the handler, and they are learning how the pressure works. Through these sessions, the dog learns that ignoring the known recall command makes the low-level stimulation turn on, and that following the recall command will avoid it or turn it off.

As you get confident doing this in your yard, driveway, or other low-distraction environment, you can start moving these sessions out in public, like on the sidewalk or park near your home.

E-Collar Conditioning Through Obedience

After a few days of practicing these drills, you can start using the remote collar with your dog’s obedience training drills to build on the understanding of the stim function.

To do this, take your dog’s known commands, the ones you are absolutely certain your dog knows well, and mix them into your recall drills by walking a short ways, stopping, and asking your dog to sit. If your dog sits, give them a food reward and some praise, and begin walking again.

If your dog does not sit or ignores the command, hold the continuous stim down and give the command one more time. Release the stim when your dog sits.

Begin to incorporate prompts of known obedience commands throughout your training sessions, in both sterile environments like inside your home as well as out on walks and in the yard.

By about a week in to the conditioning process, your dog should understand how the e-collar works and how to influence the pressure being turned on and off.

This is when you can start using the remote collar more often in daily life, like following through on non-compliance with lower level corrections. This is also when it becomes more appropriate to start using somewhat higher levels to begin correcting unwanted behavior, as your dog will understand more fully that the stim comes as a result of a behavior or decision on their part.

Having gone through the conditioning process before starting to incorporate remote collar training into daily life, we give our dogs the chance to understand the training without experiencing undue discomfort, and set them up for success during the rest of their program.

Author: Kimberlee Tolentino

Kimee has worked hands-on with dogs for over ten years, and today serves the role of head trainer and owner at Lugaru K9 Training in Port Orchard, Washington. Kimee has been a shelter volunteer, a dog walker, dog behavior intern, a dog trainer, and now specializes in behavior modification for pet dogs.

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