How to Choose the Right E-Collar for Your Hunting Dog

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If you’ve ever shopped for an e-collar, or electric/electronic or “shock” collar as you might have heard them called, you know that there are several prominent brands on the market and each offers a myriad of models to choose from. Picking one that has the right range, levels of stimulation and features can be downright draining from a mental perspective. From a monetary standpoint, buying an e-collar is not something you want screw up as most decent models run from $200 to $500.

But what are the most important features for retrievers, bird dogs or hounds?

As president and part owner of Gun Dog Supply, Steve Snell knows a thing or two about matching people and their dogs to e-collars. Here are a few tips I gleaned from Snell about how to choose the right electric-dog-training collar.

“The problem most of my customers have is that they’ve never used an electronic collar before, so I try to get them into one that has a lot of versatility. You can’t tell how a dog is going to react to stimulation based on physical corrections, temperament, etc,” said Snell. “I’ve currently got 15 dogs and a couple of them are hard as nails; they’ll go all day and they’re stubborn, but put a collar on them and on the lowest setting they’ll react.”

While the top-selling collars at Gun Dog Supply include the Tri-Tronics Sport Basic, the SportDOG 1825 and the Dogtra 3500 for retriever and bird dog owners, the Tri-Tronics Classic 70 is very popular with houndsmen. However, you have to look at the breeds and number of dogs you have to determine which collar to buy.

For small and big-game houndsmen, range is the dominant concern when looking at a collar – followed by expandability.

“Range is the most important thing for these dogs. With beagles you want a minimum of a mile and a hound guy is going to want a minimum of two miles,” said Snell. “Generally, you don’t need a lot of subtly when calling a dog off trash or recall, so you don’t need a collar with a lot of stimulation levels.”

Currently, six-dog models are the most Gun Dog Supply sells, but Snell says that will change soon. “With the TEK series coming from SportDOG, you’ll be able to go up to 12 dogs,” said Snell, mentioning that the SportDOG 3225 is popular with beagle owners because of its smaller size. He also says the Dogtra 1804, a four-dog system, is popular, as is the Tri-Tronics Trashbreaker with its two-mile range.

For pointing bird dogs, range is the most important thing to look at, followed closely by levels of stimulation.

“I don’t care how close your dog works, you need range. If you get a collar with a one-mile range, that’s great. Too much range is never an issue,” said Snell, who recommends a minimum of ½ mile range for most bird dog owners. “Some collars only reach out to 400 yards. And while everything else on the unit will work perfectly for you, what are you going to do if your dog is at that furthest point and is ready to turn, and suddenly he jumps a deer? If you have shorter-range system, it’s not going to cut it.”

As far as the number of stimulation levels, Snell recommends collars that have 16 to 20 different levels. “You’re looking for a gradual increase in stimulation levels so that you can find the level that the dog understands and feels and can react to it without over reacting,” he said. “That’s very different from a problem-solving collar, which you don’t see a lot of anymore these days. If you do see them, they’re more skewed towards the hounds or beagles and that just has to do with how it’s used.”

For waterfowl and upland-hunting flushing retrievers, range takes a back seat to features and versatility.

“For retrievers, range isn’t that big of a deal. With the exception of field trial dogs, 95 percent of them aren’t going to be more than 150 or so yards out. You don’t want to buy that short of a range, but a ½ mile is great,” said Snell. “Features are more important when it comes to retrievers. You want to make sure that both the transmitter and receiver are waterproof and that there’s a wide range of stimulation levels. A dog walking at heel and creeping is going to be at one level, but when that same dog is at 200 yards and is distracted making a retrieve it’s going to take another level.”

As with bird dogs, a collar with 16 to 20 levels of stimulation allows you to fine tune the adjustments and corrections you’re giving the dog. With fewer levels, the step up from one level to another will be the same but it might be more than the dog needs for a transgression. The ability to have a low, medium and high selection at each level, or a multitude of different levels, gives you the flexibility to let the dog know it performed incorrectly but without shell-shocking it to the point that he can’t keep his head in the game and continue to work, learn and retain the lesson.

For more reading, including category breakdowns, checkout:
Snell’s 2011 Dog Training Collar Buyer’s Guide
Quick Picks by Range
Stimulation Differences Between Manufacturers
Multi-Dog Units

Photo Courtesy: Tri-Tronics