E-Collar Review: OL Tests the Best Electronic Dog Collars

The results might shock you

brittany lab and chessie

ecollar_intro

The best opinion I ever heard on e-collars came from an old trainer in South Dakota. He worked big-ranging pointers that roamed the wide-open uplands for pheasants and sharptails, and he made retrieving machines out of labs that earned their kibble snagging downed ducks in the prairie pothole country. "An e-collar is like a long arm," he said. "It puts you in control, but use it like you would your hand." Looking for your own long arm of control can be a daunting task. So here's a review of eight top electronic collar systems from four leading manufacturers. Take a look, consider your options, and get ready to extend your reach. See how we tested here. Meet the Test Dogs Rascal the Brittany (left)
I belong to the guy who coordinated this test. I'm purely an upland dog--roosters and ruffs are my specialties. Water work is not in my contract, although I'll splash out to get a pheasant if Dumbo shoots one over the slough. I ride in the front seat of the truck. I'm pretty soft and mellow, and don't need much stimulation. Bob the Lab (middle)
I'm a duck dog. My guys hunt me 30 to 45 days a year. My favorite time is when the divers come in and I get to jump into freezing water to retrieve canvasbacks and bluebills (when my guys actually hit one, that is). Snow makes it even more fun! I'm a hardhead though. That's why they keep a collar on me. Clint the Chesapeake (right)
I do it all: upland birds, waterfowl, deer (heh heh). You name it, a Chessie can do it and I'm the best of the best. Oh, and another thing: Don't get too near my master or look at me sideways and we'll be just fine. I weigh about 110 pounds. If I had a dog like me, I'd put an e-collar on him too.
OL
tri tonics dog collar

Tri-Tronics Sport Basic G3 EXP

$266; tritronics.com
Range: ½ mile
Battery: Collar unit charges in 2 hours; transmitter uses 9-volt battery
Warranty: 2-Year Comprehensive
Tester: Clint Overall: ****
Collar/Receiver: B-
Transmitter: A+
Ease of Use: A+
Durability: A- Pros: Tough and durable; good value for the money; can add up to 2 dogs; integrated antenna
Cons: Too easy to accidentally change stimulation level
Bottom Line: Clint took this through a mucky mess of a half-dried-up pond, and it kept going for the duration of the test. Then the Chessie took it through the brambles. All in all, I'm confident to say this an exceptionally tough and durable unit. It kept out the sludge, and I have faith it would perform as well in a duck slough. One of the best features of this unit is the transmitter's ease of operation. The buttons are clearly marked for Buzz (BZ), Continuous (C), and Momentary (M) stimulation, and there are 10 levels of both continuous and momentary stimulation. The dial is a little too easy to move though, so you'll want to be careful of that. You can add up to two dogs, and the three-way switch to change transmission is color-coded. The Sport Basic G3 is an excellent starter unit, but its reliability would serve the experienced dog handler well, too. It's a top all-around unit whether you're working the uplands for birds or the lowlands for ducks.
Tri-Tonics
dt systems

DT Systems H2O 1820 PLUS

$280; dtsystems.com
Range: 1 mile
Battery: 12 hours to charge
Warranty: Premium Warranty: Parts and labor for first year, all parts for life of unit
Tester: Bob Overall: ***1/2
Collar/Receiver: A-
Transmitter: B
Ease of Use: B-
Durability: A+ Pros: Has beeper, run and point modes; easy one-hand operation; 16 stimulation levels (including nick and vibration); waterproof
Cons: A few too many buttons on the transmitter; screw-in transmitter antenna; receiver is heavy and a little clunky (best suited for large dogs)
Bottom Line: Bob the Lab took this unit right in the water, and kept going. It certainly stands up to the "H2O" label in its name. You have a lot of options with this unit. Two things I like were the pure vibration mode (great for soft dogs that just need a little reminder, or for stealth situations) and the V+S (vibration plus stimulation) button that adds stimulation after a half-second of vibration. I would consider this a fine unit for your waterfowl dog, and it will transition easily into the uplands. It could handle multiple dogs, but the collar-selecting switch is tiny and hard to get just so; the system seems more suited to one dog. The ideal user is someone graduating from a more basic unit.
DT Systems
Sport Dog e collar

SportDog SportHunter SD-1825

$320; sportdog.com
Range: 1 mile
Battery: 2-hour charge
Warranty: 2 Years
Tester: Bob Overall: ***1/2
Collar/Receiver: B-
Transmitter: A-
Ease of Use: B
Durability: A+ Pros: Comes with an excellent manual and DVD to train you on good e-collar use; available in camo; 16 stimulation levels (including vibration and tone); fully submersible Cons: Stimulation dial on transmitter protrudes a bit, inviting accidental changes; probes on receiver seem too long for optimal comfort on dog Bottom Line: After Bob retrieved a couple dozen dummies in the creek while wearing the SD-1825, there was no visible wear-and-tear to the collar unit; it was watertight as could be. I would not hesitate to put this unit on a serious duck dog, and it's sized for Labs, Goldens, Chessies, and other waterfowl dogs. As a plus for the waterfowler, the SD-1825 is also available in camo. All that said, this collar would excel in the uplands, too. With vibration for silent calls and reminders, as well as vibration-free tone when you mean a little more business, the unit will do well in the pheasant fields and grouse prairies, even for pointing dogs. This is a great unit for the two-dog guy. The toggle needs only a flip of the thumb to easily change between dogs, with one drawback: You will have to change stimulation, too, if the two dogs require different levels. The stimulation dial sticks out a little too far, and Bob accidentally got nicked a little heavy once, so be careful to prevent accidents.
SportDog
Sport Dog e collar

SportDog Field Trainer SD-400

$175; sportdog.com
Range: 400 yards
Battery: 12 hours to recharge
Warranty: 2 Years
Tester: Rascal Overall: ***1/2
Collar/Receiver: A+
Transmitter: B-
Ease of Use: B
Durability: B- Pros: 16 stimulation levels (including tone); stimulation dial is unlikely to change by accident; waterproof and submersible to 25 feet; durable orange collar is easy to see/find; expandable to 3 dogs; easy to use Cons: Lacks silent/vibration mode; "only" 400 yards range (but how much do you need?); small transmitter might be challenging to use with big or cold hands. Bottom Line: This is a good, solid, basic unit for e-collar beginners, both dog and human. It's simple to use, with a minimum of buttons to memorize. The positive-click stimulation dial will help you avoid over-stimulation accidents. Rascal the water-avoiding Brittany wore this one through mixed upland habitat, so it didn't get a full water test. Because of range limitations, this would be the perfect unit for smaller, softer dogs (up to 50 pounds or so) working the uplands: close-working flushers, well-behaved little pointing dogs like Britts or Viszlas, and smaller labs. It would be good for waterfowl dogs on small waters and potholes, too. If you're just getting into e-collars, you can't go wrong with this unit. Its only shortcomings are the exceptionally small size of the transmitter in even medium-sized hands like mine, and the lack of a vibration mode for gentle reminders and silent call-backs.
SportDog
DT Systems micro

DT Systems Micro iDT PLUS

$180; dtsystems.com
Range: 900 yards
Battery: 12 hours to charge receiver; transmitter takes 9-volt battery
Warranty: 1-Year Parts & Labor
Tester: Rascal Overall: *** (83.75)
Collar/Receiver: B-
Transmitter: B
Ease of Use: A-
Durability: B- Pros: Add-on compatible with up to 2 more dogs; perfect collar for a well-behaved dog; 16 levels of stimulation (including vibration and nick); priced right with lots of features Cons: Difficult to switch settings when operating with multiple dogs; no tone; magnetic on/off at collar is sort of a pain Bottom Line: Mild-mannered Rascal put this collar through its paces in the uplands, but I convinced her to splash through a marsh and the receiver came through the moist environment well. The system is simple and easy to use, with the only real drawback being the lack of a pure tone to call back your dog. That said, the vibration mode is nice, especially for upland dogs where stealth is important in your hunting approach. One drawback of the unit is that the stimulation count on the dial can be hard to read and discern what level you're at, so pay close attention. This collar would do best on a pointing dog or a flusher in the uplands for pheasants or prairie grouse, or in the timber for ruffs. The price is right, and you get many good features for your dollar.
DT Systems
Dogtra e collar

Dogtra Element 300M

$200; dogtra.com
Range: ½ mile
Battery: 10 hours for full charge; receiver and transmitter charge at same time
Warranty: 2-Year Limited Lifetime
Tester: Rascal
Overall: ***
Collar/Receiver: D
"Plasticy" collar was tough on the little Brittan'y's skin (would do better on short/thick haired dog); On-off: Have to hold receiver to transmitter … sort of a pain
Transmitter: A-
Nick or constant stimulation; pager button (non-stimulating) is nice; palm sized; easily visible green lights shows you're transmitting; stimulation dial is such that it won't be accidentally changed; gradual "rheostat" dial
Ease of Use: A-
Easy-operate transmitter feels good in your hand; simple to use - all in one hand without manipulation/shifting
Durability: B-
Unit held up well in test, cleaned up easy Pros: Waterproof receiver and transmitter; non-stimulating pager button; easily visible green light on transmitter shows you're transmitting; stimulation dial won't be accidently changed Cons: Limited to use with one dog (sister unit 302M allows two dogs); plastic collar was tough on the little Brittany's skin; have to hold receiver to transmitter to turn of/off; detachable antenna Bottom Line: This is a great collar for softer, easier dogs that only need gentle or occasional reminders, and where low and/or precise stimulation is a priority. Brittanys, springers, cockers, and setters seem the perfect match for the Element 300M, as do the uplands these dogs hunt. Rascal ran it through CRP grass for an hour; the half-mile range seems plenty, but I like to keep my pointing dog closer than most guys. The transmitter is simple and easy to use, and I especially like the pager function, to call your dog back without stimulation, or to figure out where she is. The detachable antenna worries me a little bit: I've lost them before, and this one loosened during our workout. But the gradual-change rheostat stimulation dial is perfect for fine-tuning and precision. If you're a one-dog guy starting out with e-collars and staying in the uplands, and you're looking for excellent value, this is the e-collar unit for you.
Dogtra
Dogtra e collar

Dogtra 1900NCP Field Star

$250; dogra.com
Range: ½ mile
Battery: 10 hours for full charge; receiver and transmitter charge at same time
Warranty: 2 Years
Tester: Clint
Overall: ***
Collar/Receiver: C-
Plastic collar material seems thin / not wide enough; collar does not seem comfortable for big dogs (100 pound Chessie didn't like it); like the on-off button: You know if it's turning on / going off; contacts seemed too big for comfort on dog; waterproof!
Transmitter: A-
Gradual stimulation change is nice (rheostat style dial); offers nick and constant stimulation; non-stimulating paging feature is great; LCD display of stimulation level - new to me, worked well, might be nice
Ease of Use: A-
Easy to figure out the buttons; simple operation / would be good in the field; nice battery life indicator
Durability: C
Seems durable, but plastic material does not seem as tough as the rubbery material / finish on other units Pros: Fully waterproof receiver and transmitter; great LCD screen for displaying stimulation level, battery life; simple operation Cons: Thin, narrow plastic collar may be uncomfortable for your dog; stimulation dial may move a little too easily Bottom Line: This is a burly, heavy unit for a big dog. It did its job, and did it well, with Clint the Chessie, but I would hesitate to burden a smaller dog with it. Clint took it in the water multiple times, and rolled in the mud as is a Chessie's wont, and the receiver kept on going just fine. This would be a great unit for your waterfowl dog, but it could do the job on a big, tough, wide-ranging pointer too. Two of the things I liked best about the unit were the easy on-off switch for the transmitter, and the gradual-change rheostat-style stimulation dial. I was skeptical at first but really grew to like the LCD display of stimulation level and battery life remaining. This unit offers many good features for your dollar.
Dogtra
Tri-Tronics Classic 70 G3 EXP e collar

Tri-Tronics Classic 70 G3 EXP

$354; tritronics.com
Range: 1 mile
Battery: Charges in 2 hours
Warranty: 2-Year Comprehensive
Tester: Bob Overall: ***
Collar/Receiver: B-
Transmitter: B-
Ease of Use: C-
Durability: A- Pros: Expandable 6 dogs; battery life was good; heft and solid construction means lasting value; positive clicks on the stimulation dial Cons: Might take a while to get the operation straight; heavy (half-pound) transmitter; Bottom Line: I see this as more of a trainer's unit than a hunting e-collar. First of all, it seems built for the experienced e-collar handler, and is really well designed for multiple dogs (up to six), which is about five more than most of us hunt with. If you're a multi-dog guy, this is a great unit for you. The transmitter, though a little big, offers two features I found convenient--a green light that gives an affirmation that your message is reaching the dog and a permanently attached antenna that even I couldn't lose. Bob gave the unit a wet workout, and it came out strong. In the end, it's a stalwart model for training, as the Classic 70 has been around and doing just that in one form or another for 40 years.
Tri-Tronics
testing e collars

How We Test

Each of these collars spent time on a real, live hunting dog in field situations. Stimulation was kept to a minimum, but the transmitters and collars were worked hard later, off-dog, to see how well they functioned. Each system was then graded in four categories: Collar/Receiver, Transmitter, Ease of Use, and Durability. I am not a professional dog trainer, but a hard-working regular-Joe hunter in both uplands and wetlands, and so these collars were evaluated from that user perspective. Comfort on the dog was of primary importance, as was ease of use for the human with the transmitter in hand. I'm a freak about making sure stimulation doesn't change easily or arbitrarily on the unit (don't ask—bad, long story), and I prefer units that excel in simplicity and ruggedness.OL