eCollar Off Leash Training Guide : From Zero to Off Leash

by Michael Bloom on May 20, 2024




Table of Contents

eCollars make it possible to manage and correct behaviors in real-time, which is especially valuable in both basic obedience training and more complex training scenarios. This immediate feedback loop allows for quick corrections or rewards that directly relate to a dog's actions or behaviors at the exact moment they occur. This immediacy not only enhances training sessions but also builds a stronger bond between the dog and the trainer, as effective communication is consistently maintained. Keep this in mind while training, timing is everything.

Before delving deep into eCollar training, it's essential for every dog owner to fully understand and teach their dog the four fundamental principles of using an eCollar effectively:

  1. Understanding where the stimulation is coming from.
  2. Learning how to activate the stimulation.
  3. Learning how to deactivate the stimulation.
  4. Knowing how to avoid the stimulation.

The Importance of Solid Foundation in eCollar Training

Many well-intentioned dog owners often rush the eCollar training process without properly establishing these foundational skills. Although speeding through the initial steps might seem appealing, this approach is likely to create long-term problems. Owners who rush this process typically end up frustrated with their dogs, feeling overwhelmed and desperate to advance quickly. However, it's crucial to take the necessary time to ensure a thorough understanding and application of these principles, benefiting both you and your dog.



Days 1 to 2 - Structured Initial Training No eStim

For the initial two days of training, you'll conduct two to three brief sessions each day—one in the morning and another in the evening, within the comfort of your home or apartment. Keep each session to no more than five minutes. Surprised? It’s true! If your dog is highly food-motivated, you can leverage their regular meals as a reward during training. Offer them a small handful of their kibble with each training repetition until the meal is finished. Alternatively, if treats might drive your dog more effectively, consider using those. Dehydrated beef liver treats are particularly popular among our clients' dogs for their palatability and low calorie content.

Initially, you'll need to decide which method to use to capture your dog’s attention using the e-collar—either the tone or the vibration feature. As we advance into training at longer distances and potentially off-leash, this choice will become crucial and will complement your recall command ("come"). The selection typically depends on the type and model of your e-collar. If your e-collar is capable of emitting an audible tone, that’s usually the preferred option. If it offers vibration, use that unless you've noticed it tends to frighten your dog. In such cases, especially if using vibration, introduce it outdoors where distractions can help mitigate any fear response. If your e-collar lacks both tone and vibration, simply use verbal commands like "come." As we move forward, we'll refer to the use of tone or vibration as T/V.

Begin by switching on your e-collar and its remote, then properly fit the collar around your dog’s neck. Start the training inside your home, using a standard six to eight foot leash. Initiate the session by moving away from your dog and simultaneously giving the "come" command followed by a press of the T/V button. When your dog responds by coming towards you, immediately reward them with a treat and plenty of praise. It's perfectly fine if your dog follows you around the room; simply continue walking backwards to maintain distance. If your dog is already approaching you, continue to use the commands and the T/V button to reinforce this behavior. Think of it as rewarding an employee who shows up early for work.

Keep each session to about five minutes. During this time, if your dog seems confused by the tone or vibration, reassure them by using their favorite nickname and giving additional praise. Always be generous with praise when they respond to your commands. Holding a treat in your hand as you call them can make the training feel more rewarding. Don’t worry about looking silly—your goal is to make your dog associate the T/V commands with positive outcomes.

Establishing a positive association with your dog and eCollar is very important so they should only be using T/V, Come, and Yes commands on the first 1-3 days.



Introducing eStim and Selecting Levels for Training

Dogs exhibit a range of behaviors when they first experience e-collar stimulation. The most typical reaction is similar to a dog looking around suddenly. This would be akin to a ghost tapping you on the shoulder. Some dogs might simply stop their activity and appear slightly confused. In cases where there's no obvious behavioral response, you might notice subtle signs like a minor muscle twitch in the neck—this is particularly common in bully breeds due to their muscular necks and shorter coats. Others may show even subtler signs, such as quickly licking their lips.

Begin your training at the lowest setting, level 1/100. Tap the continuous button briefly and observe your dog for any slight behavioral change. Gradually increase the intensity one level at a time—tapping once at each increment—until you see one of the responses mentioned. The level at which you first notice a response is where you should start your training session.

It's important to take your time during this process to accurately find the appropriate working level for your e-collar. Initially, this might take around four to five minutes. If you need to adjust above level 20/100, it's possible that the e-collar isn't making proper contact, and you may need to adjust the fit, reset the level to zero, or switch out the contact points. Remember, each e-collar and each dog is unique, making it difficult to predict a specific level that will work universally. It's crucial not to assume that your dog requires a high level; the correct intensity should be barely noticeable. If your dog shows any signs of discomfort, the stimulation is likely too strong and should be reduced immediately for a subtle and effective response.

It's vital to start each session by identifying your dog's working level. The working level is the lowest continuous stimulation eCollar setting at which your dog perceives the stimulation without discomfort. This level is foundational for effective communication and ensuring your dog's comfort with the eCollar.


Days 2 to 6 - Building on the Basics w/ eStim (Basic ReCall and Leash Pulling)

From days 2 to 6, continue with two brief training sessions daily: one in the morning and another in the evening. Conduct these sessions either in your yard or during leash walks, limiting them to five to seven minutes each. During these days, you won't need to repeat the exact lessons from the first two days. Instead, focus on new training points that will enhance your dog's readiness for eventual off-leash control. This period will reinforce the four foundational pillars of e-collar training: identifying the source of the stimulation, learning to activate and deactivate the stimulation, and understanding how to avoid it.

Begin each session by walking your dog in your yard or along a sidewalk. When your dog becomes overly interested in something ahead to the extent that they near the end of the leash, immediately halt, command them to come, and tap the T/V button. If your dog seems confused, encourage them to return to you by walking backward and enticing them with a treat. Always reward your dog with some food or treats and plenty of praise as they respond and come towards you.

You may notice that the distractions of the outdoor environment captivate your dog, making them less responsive. If this happens, use the continuous stimulation button at the previously determined working level of the e-collar to regain their attention and compliance.

Keep practicing this routine for five to seven minutes, and then conclude your session. Your dog will soon understand that they can avoid e-collar stimulation by mirroring your movements, such as turning when you turn. This straightforward exercise introduces several key concepts that will be crucial for later stages of training.

As training progresses, you may need to adjust the stimulation level one level at a time to maintain your dog's attention and responsiveness, especially when faced with outdoor distractions. Regular practice, using commands and stimulation appropriately, will teach your dog to respond reliably under a variety of conditions.

To elevate this training, take your dog on a walk and perform a 180-degree turn on the sidewalk, followed by another 180-degree turn to proceed with your walk. This approach will not only teach your dog the training concepts but also help in slowing them down if they have a tendency to pull on the leash.

Lastly, do not forget to provide immediate positive feedback with treats and “yes / marker word” upon good behavior.

These lessons impart the following key principles:

  1. The source of the tone, vibration, or e-collar stimulation is you.
  2. Ignoring the "come" command activates the stimulation.
  3. Responding to the "come" command deactivates the stimulation.
  4. Your dog can bypass the gentle e-collar stimulation by mirroring your movements, such as turning when you turn.


Days 6 to 10 - Long Leash to Off Leash

From days 6 to 10, you will continue the exercises from days 3 to 7 but add challenges by increasing the distance and distractions involved in your recalls. Use a long leash, ideally between fifteen and twenty-five feet, to give your dog more freedom while still maintaining control. If your ultimate goal is off-leash reliability, these tests are crucial to ensure your dog can handle the freedom responsibly. Conduct these sessions outdoors, extending them to anywhere between ten to thirty minutes, twice daily.

Before starting, make sure the e-collar is properly fitted and turned on, and attach the long leash. Have treats ready to reward your dog. Begin each session by strategically placing some high value food (cheese, bacon, etc) in your yard—or around your urban walking route if you’re in a city—where your dog can detect but not reach them. This setup mimics real-world distractions.

Initiate training by commanding your dog to come while tapping the T/V button. If your dog doesn’t immediately respond, press and hold the continuous button for a second or two while moving in the opposite direction, encouraging them to follow. Reward them with treats and praise as soon as they come to you, regardless of their initial hesitation. If your dog repeatedly ignores the recall command and the e-collar’s cues, gradually increase the stimulation level until they start to comply more consistently.

Continue this practice for 15-30 minutes, setting up four to five food distractions during each session. This will teach your dog to focus on you over the distractions by associating your commands and the e-collar cues with positive outcomes like treats and praise.

If you notice that your dog responds well at a lower stimulation level without distractions but requires a higher setting when distractions are present, this is normal. You may need to adjust the stimulation up one or several levels—it varies with each dog. Once you identify a consistent pattern in how your dog responds to various distraction levels, you can preemptively set the e-collar to an effective stimulation level, known as establishing "pattern levels." This proactive approach helps in managing your dog's response more predictably during training.



Continuous Learning and Adaptation

Remember, eCollar training is not just about controlling your dog but educating them to understand and respond to commands consistently and comfortably. This training approach not only enhances your dog's obedience but also strengthens the bond between you and your pet through effective communication and mutual respect.

By adhering to these structured steps and consistently applying the principles of eCollar training, you can ensure a successful and rewarding training experience for both you and your dog.