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There are Only 3 Levels on a Remote Training Collar?

by Robin MacFarlane

What do we mean by "Just Right" when selecting stimulation levels?

One of the tag lines I've coined surrounding e-collar use is the idea of training with the "Just Right" level of stimulation. Whether I'm teaching a workshop, doing a video project, or writing, I want people to gain a very clear understanding of this concept.

Using the Just Right level is a key ingredient in being able to train effectively with a remote collar.

So let me explain what I mean when I say: "There are only 3 levels to any and all remote collars on the market."

Here's where the idea is NOT coming from.

It is not coming from the remote collar manufacturer's perspective. From their perspective there are a wide range of levels. Some e-collars have a clickable dial that have anywhere from 1 to 15 levels or perhaps even more. Some collars have a rheostat system that adjusts from 1-127 levels. A good majority of e-collar models offer various features to choose between momentary or continuous sensations plus low, medium, and high ranges for all of those options. There are so many variations and combinations that can be used that from the marketing and manufacturing perspective, the collars have many, many levels, not just three.

This is a very good thing. The more levels the actual collar has to offer, the more finesse you will have in finding just the right level for your dog.

I'm also not addressing the topic from the handler's perspective. Once the handler becomes familiar with his dog and how he works on the equipment, he'll come up with a number of levels that are appropriate for his particular dog. He may say he needs 2 levels, a low distraction level, and a high distraction level. Ask another dog handler and he may state that his dog has 4 levels. The no distraction, low distraction, moderate distraction, and high distraction level.

I understand this concept and why we would think of it that way. My own Malinois, Tommy, fell into the 4-category concept in his working days. He had the "going for a walk in the field" level, and the "I want to chase the cat" level, plus the "somebody's knocking at the door" level, and the "I get to bite the bad guy" level.

The first three levels were not all that far apart on the dial, but when we played the "bad guy games," the number tripled or quadrupled the others. Protection work was his highest intensity mode of operation. He loved that game and communicating through the adrenalized rush he experienced while participating was an entirely different playing field.

From Tommy's perspective, it didn't matter what the number on the dial read -- each of those selections was just right for that moment in time.

The numbers are reference points for us to help in selecting an e-collar and to help in knowing our way around the remote, but in reality those numbers could be replaced with symbols like a tulip, a sunshine, a rainbow, and a smiley face. They could even disappear entirely like the volume control on a radio or television. The numbers are meaningless to the dog. The intensity setting at any given time is either too low, too high, or just right.

Personally, I like the radio dial analogy. I turn up if the volume is too low, and turn down if the volume is too high. I strive to always be at a level that is just right so I can hear in any given situation. Where the dial is positioned depends on the noise in my surrounding environment.

I hope this makes sense, because it is a concept I really want to drive home with remote collar users. The positioning of the dial will change. It will vary depending on the surrounding distractions competing for the dog's attention. You should concern yourself with the collar being set just right at all times.

Because the only perception that really matters, is the dog's.

Just Right is a level of tactile sensation that motivates the dog to respond to it. Too low and the dog either doesn't notice it at all or simply ignores it. Too high of a level causes a dog to be so concerned and bothered by the sensation that he can't concentrate on anything else. Just right is noticeable and motivating to the dog.

Be aware that every single dog is different. There is no magic intensity number based on age, breed, temperament, or hair coat.

This is why we have to learn to keep our eyes on the dog while training rather than on the equipment. The only way to be aware of what a dog is noticing is to watch him!

I'm encouraging you to become so familiar with the transmitter of your remote collar that you don't need to look at it to make adjustments in intensity.

If you can adjust the volume on your radio while keeping your eyes on the road, you can learn to adjust the intensity on your e-collar while keeping your eyes on your dog.

Give the concept some thought and then practice -- eyes on the dog. It will make you a better handler and build better communication between the two of you.
-- 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.
  • Robin writes for Gun Dog Supply on our E-collars Dog Training blog
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