Late spring tends to be the high-water mark every year for new bird dog puppies. For first-time hunting dog owners that often leads to first-time e-collar purchases. Many of them usually just have two e-collar features of concern, the remote design layout and price. After users are acclimated on the correct of their e-collar unit, they sometimes find themselves desiring additional features. Take heed, this is one of those times that spending extra on the “bells and whistles” may be a good idea.
The first entry of this e-collar series discusses various features you should consider before ordering your first e-collar unit.
The range of your e-collar unit, particularly for grouse hunters in the Appalachian region, it is recommended you buy a unit with more range than you anticipate you’ll need. Thick cover severely limits signal when that is paired with mountain range typography, your beginning to rely more on signal bounce. Also, when battery levels are significantly depreciated, the unit’s range will take an additional hit. For example and reference, if your pointing dogs stay within 200 yards, you may find yourself limited owning a 1/2-mile range unit but should be safe with a 3/4-mile range – there are some 1-mile and 2-mile range options too, but beware they often offer extended range for more money with no additional features. Some may question if the use of stim is appropriate when the dog is that far out, rather than rambling on a dozen appropriate scenarios, I’ll just drop one word, deer.
You’ll find stimulation (or “stim”) levels are much more of a subjective feature. With range by and large, 3/4-mile is what it is (some manufacturers test differently!), but there’s no real baseline for “high” or “10” with stim levels. Not only are there different dial-controlled analog settings, usually 7 to 10 choices, but with some units there’s the ability to select from a pool of low, medium and high modes within which those “7 to 10” dial settings can operate. On the digital side, some of those units have 100+, which I’ve never seen a dog that could tell the difference between 49 vs. 50 let alone a 49 vs. 59. A unit with seven dial settings and three selection or programmable ranges provides a total of 21 stim levels. Usually, you’ll only use 2 to 3 stim settings for a given dog, but these collars are manufactured as one-size-fits-most, and these additional ranges are effective for dogs with varying temperaments.
If you intend to utilize the tone feature, it helps to listen to the feature before purchasing. Volume and pitch will vary, and outside factors can influence what you may prefer in the field. Some use tone as a pre-stim warning, I don’t generally bother with that unless there’s an outside stimuli acting as a distraction. Others use it for positive reinforcement. Where I’ve found it useful is to silently recall a dog at range. Tone can be used as a silent command for “come” instead of a verbal command. Here’s a scenario I find it most useful- When the dog is outside the distance of a “normal voice” and they spot another hunter that they begin to approach, usually awkward when they’re not bird hunting. Rather than yelling for the dog, I tap a button and the dog is on it’s way back to foot.
Collar vibration is generally used as a “pager” to get your dog’s attention. Vibration is nice to have for dogs with a soft disposition or a very biddable demeanor. Another way vibration can really be effective is e-collar stim has been misused on a dog. Vibration can be just enough to bring around a leery dog and soft enough to help it move past a bad experience. Not all collars are equal – generally the heavier the collar is the weaker the vibration with effectiveness being almost null on GPS tracking/locating collars. This is another feature having unit in hand to try can really help.
Generally, the units that are robust enough for the field are expandable to three dogs. Some two-dog and some six-dog are also available. All six-dog units sacrifice other features such as tone/vibrate or momentary stim, with some of these units adding more than one dog with re-purpose/re-program buttons if they do not have a collar selector switch. If you are looking for a multi-dog unit without a selector switch/dial, your fingers pushing the correct button is your means of selection – push carefully!
Other On-Collar Features
Some manufacturers have incorporated collar lights which are generally geared more toward hounds that hunt at night. They could be used along roadways for regular morning or evening walks. The collar light feature may help with bigger running dogs on low-light upland hunts. Another feature that some e-collar manufacturers have started to include is a no-bark setting. Generally, batteries on these units don’t seem to last as long as traditional no-bark collars, but it’s still a nice feature to have in a regular e-collar unit.
Additional Unit Accessories
For the most part beepers are usually the only additional accessories that can be controlled by an e-collar system handheld unit. One or two of them out there can control remote bird launchers and backing dog silhouettes for training, those are few an far between.
Part 2 will cover conditioning a dog to an e-collar unit . . .