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Proper Fit of E-Collar

by Robin MacFarlane

Improper fit of the electronic collar is one of the leading reasons for problems in the training process.

So you've done your research and purchased the e-collar that you think is the right one for your dog. The day has come, and you're ready to begin training. You turn the collar on, strap it on your dog and start pushing buttons to figure out what level he can feel.

Low and behold -- nothing happens. So you turn the dial up and nothing happens. You turn it up again -- still nothing happens. You're hanging onto Fido's leash, and he's taking you for a drag-along tour of the property while he snuffles the grass and follows every crooked path through the yard.

In your dismay you turn up the dial again and push the button just as he lifts his head to look at you. Suddenly, a yip and a jump like some imaginary critter just bit him on the behind. Your dog now looks a bit worried, and you feel terrible.

Before you toss the collar back into the box declaring "this thing doesn't work!" lets take a look at one of the most frequent mistakes new users make when starting with an electronic collar.

Improper fit of the electronic collar is one of the leading reasons for problems in the training process.

The nature of an electronic collar is that it must fit the dog's neck properly in order to work properly. Inside the receiver box that sits on your dog's neck are components (circuit board, battery, antenna) that create an electronic stimulation pattern that transmits out through ONE of the contact points (not both). In order for your dog to feel the sensation being transmitted, BOTH of those contact points must be in good connection with the skin. The skin acts as a conductor between the points. It allows the electricity to make it from one point to the other, and thus your dog can feel the sensation in the space between those two contacts.

That means if the collar is not snugly fit on your dog's neck, there is absolutely no sensation being felt at all. Just in the way that a human medical TENS (Transcutaneous Electronic Nerve Stimulator) works.

If only one contact pad is placed on the humans skin there will be no transmission and the human feels no sensation. The reason the dog in the example above yelped when he lifted his head is because the collar that was too loose, likely because the handler positioned it low on the neck. When the dog lowered his head to sniff the ground, the collar slid down the neck toward the ears, and no sensation could be felt. When he lifted his head, the collar slid back toward the shoulders, and suddenly both contacts points were touching again. At this point the level had been turned up way higher than was actually needed for the dog to feel the sensation.

So how do we prevent this? What is proper fit of an e-collar?

Proper fit means that both of those points (or probes as some refer to them) are in definite contact with the skin at all times regardless of the dog's head position. In order to achieve this type of fit it is important to place the collar relatively high on the dog's neck rather than low by the shoulder blades. It is also important to snug the collar strap down tight enough so that is takes a bit of resistance in order to move the receiver's location on the neck. If the receiver box swings freely around the dog's neck when you try to move it, it is on too loose. If the receiver box will not budge when you try to move it, it is on too tightly. Too tight of a fit can contribute to pressure sores being created under the contact points. Pressure sores are a problem we want you to avoid (and we'll cover it in more detail in another article).

Another thing to bear in mind about proper fit is the length and density of your dog's hair coat. Most e-collars have options that allow owners to lengthen or shorten the contact points in order to accommodate the length of hair the dog has.

Dogs with average coat (think: Retrievers, Border Collie, Airedale, Wheaten Terrier, Heeler) do fine with a standard length contact point of approximately 5/8 of an inch. Dogs with super short coats (Pitbull, Boxer, German Shorthaired, Weimaraner) do better with a shorter 1/2 inch point or possibly a Contact Pad. Dogs with longer coats (German Shepherd, Collies, Great Pyrenees) need longer points closer to 3/4 of an inch.

Dogs with extremely dense coats (Chow Chow, Norwegian Elkhound) can be the most challenging to fit properly. It is never necessary to shave a dog's neck to get a good fit, but these dogs can benefit from having the hair thinned around the neck to make fitting the e-collar easier.

With the longer and heavier coats, wiggle or rake the collar box back and forth a few times to separate the hair and get the points touching the skin before snuggling the strap down.

Regardless of coat type, it is important to brush the dog regularly (paying attention to the neck area) to remove accumulated loose hair and skin cells. This keeps your dog's skin and coat healthy, looking it's best and helps to ensure proper contact and fit of your e-collar.

-- Robin

Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.

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