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How e-collars can improve K-9 training

E-collars offer several advantages that keep both police K-9s and their handlers safe – the key is to use e-collars as part of ongoing, consistent and patient training


In this Tuesday, May 30, 2017, photo Massachusetts State Police K-9, Maximus, searches a car for drugs with Trooper Brian Bonia, left, during a training session in Revere, Mass.

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

By James Careless, P1 Contributor

E-collars are the wireless modern way to train police K-9s.

Consisting of a special collar equipped with batteries, electric contact points and a radio receiver tuned to the handler’s handheld transmitter, e-collars allow police K-9s to be trained off-leash and at a distance. The handler uses varying ranges of alternating current to shape the dog’s behavior in response to verbal/hand commands on an ongoing basis; from staying by the handler’s side to subduing a perp using a bite hold and then dropping that hold upon command.

Sergeant (ret.) Doug Roller knows all about e-collars and K-9 training. Now owner and lead instructor at Tactical K9 LLC, Roller was the Chief Trainer Metropolitan Division with the Los Angeles Police Department’s K9 Platoon. He spent 25 years with the K-9 Platoon and has helped with over 6,500 K-9 training deployments in his career.

“E-collars have a very important place in K-9 training,” said Roller. “But they are not an end-all and be-all in themselves. A handler still has to train a K-9 from an early age with consistent, clear commands and expectations. And they have to form a team with their dog; a partnership where the two work together willingly, even though the human is in charge.”

Roller offers these three tips to explain the best ways to use e-collars in K-9 training.

1. Every day is training day

Unlike humans, dogs do not make distinctions between work life and off-duty life. To them, it is all the same.

This is why handlers need to approach their K-9s in all instances as if they are in a training/working situation. Doing so will provide the dog with a clear, consistent environment that they can adapt to with a sense of personal security and trust.

In this environment, positive reinforcement is as important as negative reinforcement. The whole point of K-9 training is to shape the dog’s behavior in all aspects and situations, so that they can respond appropriately, obediently and willingly to their handler’s commands – especially when being told to release a bite on an apprehended suspect.

2. E-collars are a form of conditioning, not punishment

The fact that an e-collar can be used to “zap” a disobedient dog misses the purpose of its power. An officer could also TASER a dog to the same end – but that would hardly train the dog to willingly obey the human ordering them around.

“The purpose of an e-collar is to use its electric charge to do everything from catch a distracted dog’s attention and get him re-focused, up to re-establishing control over him during high-stress situations when his drive is high,” said Roller. “For this reason, a handler needs to start with the lowest possible stimulation when using an e-collar on a new dog. And they must resist the urge to use it as a form of anger-directed punishment when the dog misbehaves.”

In other words, an e-collar is a K-9 training/control tool; not a cattle prod. Handlers should never use it as such, any more than they should lose their tempers with K-9s and overwhelm them with fear.

3. Start young, associate the e-collar with other forms of control

A smart handler introduces a K-9 to an e-collar as early as possible in training. They also use the e-collar in tandem with other training techniques, such as leashes and verbal/hand commands, so that the dog will learn to associate specific levels of stimulation, patterns, and levels with specific leash-led commands.

The goal is to get the dog accustomed to the e-collar being a communications tool with his handler – because that’s what the e-collar is – as soon as possible. “Using the e-collar with the leash and verbal/hand commands can help transfer this understanding to the K-9 in ways that he can grasp early on,” said Roller. “This makes the e-collar an effective training tool once you take the K-9 off leash.”

If in doubt, turn to a K-9 professional familiar with e-collars to guide and train your K-9 handlers, to ensure that they get the most of the e-collars your department purchases. Properly used, e-collars can save the lives of officers, dogs and the public that they work together to protect.

About the Author
James Careless is a freelance writer with extensive experience covering computer technologies.