Certified Professional Trainer
Training and Behavior
A few years ago I posted a review of my favorite Dogtra Ecollars vs my favorite Tri Tronics Ecollar. Since technology is always changing, I thought it would be a good time for an update. This post is going to be less a review of features of the devices, and more a review of my experience as a trainer using them (and interacting with their respective manufacturers).
I know there are many who criticize the use of Ecollars. An Ecollar is nothing more than a tool - and any tool can be misused, including the human voice. An Ecollar, when used properly, allows for very gentle, reliable, and diverse training. It is my tool of choice for any owner wishing to help their dog earn off leash privileges. I also have worked with many dogs over the years that remain in good homes instead of being put down or sent to a shelter because of them.
First, let me talk about Tri Tronics. To be blunt, I haven't used any of their products for the past 3-4 years. My favorite Ecollar of theirs was the G3 Combo which had 30 levels of stimulation. Their other collars I found too pricey, or too limited in the number of stimulation levels. A few years ago the company was acquired by Garmin, Since that time they have changed their dealer and trainer programs, which became of no interest to me, or benefit to my clients. Also, their research and development now seems focused on building GPS into devices. While this may be a desired feature for some, it's not needed for typical obedience and adds further cost to already pricey products. They have recently discontinued production of the G3 Combo unit noted, which I felt was their best training product. While my past experience with their devices found them extremely reliable, for the reasons just mentioned, I have not found anything in recent years of interest to me. I can no longer offer hands on commentary of their current product listings.
Over the past 3 years I have used primarily 3 products from 2 manufacturers - the Dogtra 280 NCP, the Dogtra iQ, and the Ecollar Technologies miniEducator. Of these products, I have been using the Ecollar Technologies minEductor exclusively for 18 months. When using and evaluating products for my clients, I am always looking at several key factors. I recommend devices that have a rheostat for precise control of stimulation levels, are simple to use, reliable, designed for many different types of dogs, and provide VALUE.
2-3 years ago I was using Dogtra products, and found them reliable and meeting many of my requirements. From a user standpoint they were very simple and easy to use. The Dogtra 280s accounted for 90% of my sales over the 3-4 years I used them, and I really had no major complaints. The iQs sold at a lower price point, and their construction / ruggedness certainly is where Dogtra cut some corners. I did have a few of these units fail over the 1-2 years I was using them. For both devices, I would occasionally see chargers fail - and both typically needed battery replacements within 2 years of regular use (not uncommon). Since the chargers and batteries were not warranted after 1 year this was an added cost for some owners. Also, any warranty work required an owner to ship the device to Dogtra at their expense, Shipping and turn around times generally meant an owner would be without their Ecollar for 10-14 calendar days.
As a trainer I had other issues using Dogtra products. First, as a 3rd tier dealer, Dogtra required me to take back defective units for 30 days and send them back at my expense. Since I also paid for them to ship the unit out in the 1st place, any bad units became an expense for me. Also, if an owner changed their mind and returned an Ecollar, as a dealer I was required to accept the return for 30 days BUT Dogtra would no longer warranty the unit to a new owner. It took about 5-7 business days to receive orders, and I had to use multiple devices because their units had limited design features (varied receiver sizes and intensities). Finally, their dealer agreements require units be sold at a minimum price. Ebay and online retailers were clearly ignoring this policy, yet Dogtra continued to sell to these folks who were undercutting reputable dealers following Dogtra's agreement. For all these reasons I was looking for many months for a replacement to their products.
And a I did find a great replacement with Ecollar Technologies and their miniEducator collars. For owners, these devices provided all the functions of multiple Dogtra units in a single device. Their warranty was better than Dogtra in that it covered chargers and batteries for 2 years, If a unit proved defective during the warranty period, Ecollar Technologies ships out a new unit to the owner with a return label for the malfunctioning unit (no expense to the owner or dealer). Being in Indiana, an owner can have a replacement for a defective unit (here in Ohio) within 1 business day vs 1-2 weeks with Dogtra. And while warranty and service is better than Dogtra IMO, these devices have been just as reliable, or more reliable, as the previous Dogtra models I was using. The miniEducator also has a few additional features including a tracer light and boost button. Finally the device (with better warranty and more features) sells for about $45 less than comparable Dogtra units - a much better VALUE.
As a dealer Ecollar Technologies has been outstanding - I don't use that term often. When I call I am always speaking with someone that can answer my questions and is very informed about their products. I have talked with the owner on numerous occasions, and it's clear the company values feedback from trainers as they work on improving and developing product lines. In fact, their company has been far more responsive to making changes and developing their products than most other manufacturers IMO. Many of these changes are very well thought out, some simple, and some groundbreaking, The company stands behind their product line with pride. If there is a problem with a device, it's not on a dealers back to fix it - they make everything right at their expense. If an owner changes their mind and returns a unit they will warranty the device to a new owner, If anyone is selling their products below agreed cost they no longer sell to that person, and they do not charge dealers for shipments. If this all sound too good to be true, well all I can say is their company and employees have definitely impressed me. I hope they keep up the outstanding work.
So perhaps this thread isn't a nuts and bolts review of Ecollar devices, but I hope it provided some insight into why I use and recommend the products I do. For now, Ecollar Technologies will be what I am using when training dogs in Central Ohio.
One of my professional associations has a member who not only trains dogs, but is also offering business webinars regarding marketing. Many of the association members have made very favorable comments regarding the service, so I listened in on one webinar and watched several podcasts that were provided free of charge. While I was considering signing up for the entire series, I was a little put off by the free, live webinar. The host, who was promoting their service, made many statements suggesting successful trainers should be getting at least $1,000 to $1,500 per client they sign up.
The bulk of the material I saw had a strong focus on getting more $$$ for less work. I truly appreciate free enterprise, and respect any business owner's choice regarding whatever models, programs, services, etc. they wish to offer. But for me, when you're in a service industry, I think there's more to success than maximizing profits. I've also been a firefighter for over 30 years, and nobody gets into that profession for riches. True SERVICE professionals embrace their calling because they like to help, not for money. Yes, they need to make a living too, but helping is the stronger motivation. It's very easy to recognize these professionals when you run into them. They measure success based on client satisfaction, not on money in the bank.
Over the years I have adjusted my fees to allow a fair profit for my weekly work. I rarely have clients that pay anywhere near the fees the "marketing expert" above was proposing. If I did, based on the number of dogs I work with annually, I'd have one of the most lucrative training businesses in the country. What I do have is many satisfied clients, living life with better behaved, more obedient, and calmer dogs. That's my motivation to train dogs, and my idea of being a successful service provider.
At a recent family dinner one of my relatives (a teacher) shared the following story. A high school student had been caught cheating on a very important exam. The teacher (not my relative) removed the child from the test room and advised they would need to re-take the test. The parents called the principal contending that these actions embarrassed their child (the cheater). The teacher was forced (by the principal) to apologize to this student in front of the class.
While this story made me grate my teeth, I also realized that I didn't find it too surprising. Over the past decades our society has grown very tolerant, sensitive, and accommodating to those that break its rules. While I'm not here to offer parenting suggestions or lament the good old days, I would like to point out that Nature is not tolerant, sensitive, or accommodating. My personal belief is that those that respect this reality thrive, those who dismiss it never will.
In terms of dog training and behavior, I feel the same societal influences that have shifted us collectively toward a warmer, fuzzier, softer humanity have had profound impacts on our interactions with pets. I respect an owner's right to decide how they live and interact with their own pet. But those thinking love and rational thought alone provide effective training and behavioral solutions are ignoring this natural language our pets require.
Specifically, Nature uses a balance of rewards and consequences when teaching - dogs understand this language. Popular training that dismisses the impact of consequences ignores this reality IMO. I'm NOT advocating teaching using corrections only, any more than I would advocate using rewards alone. I do advocate using Nature's balance of rewards and consequences which offers meaningful information and language to our canine companions. Balancing the components of this language is truly a skill, one which can't be taught or learned online. But when Nature's balance is absent or poorly weighted, results will always be poor.
This concept is one that consumes a great deal of discussion time on various trainer lists and in many online training communities. I understand that as humans beings we will never agree on everything in entirety. But I would offer that the flood of positive ONLY training that has swept in over the past decades is just another result of trends toward less respect of our Natural world. From where I'm sitting, there are a lot of very harmful behaviors that are no longer effectively corrected in society - both in humans and dogs. If we as a society let the lines of appropriate behaviors blur, we aren't doing any favors for ourselves, others, and our pets. Consequences are simply a natural way to provide a "NO" that is, in fact, meaningful and brings favorable change. It assures everyone can live together in harmony rather than in conflict.
This post was published some time ago, but due go some technical glitches was deleted. I'm re-publishing today...
A great deal has been written about dogs as descendants of wolves. For many, it seems popular in today's culture to focus on this heritage and discuss dog behavior in relation to pack behavior. Recently, I read a comment on a trainer's list that caught my eye. To paraphrase, one trainer stated that those working with dogs using pack mentality/hierarchy may be effective in spite of their approach - not because of it.
While dogs may have descended from wolves, they are not wolves. They are domestic animals, and over the past 10k years have evolved in ways that should be respected and appreciated. One key difference is the dog's desire to work and be with humans. This important trait no doubt developed gradually over time. Early transitional animals (pre-dogs) likely found it easier to scavenge food from humans vs hunting. Over time they became more comfortable sharing space and interacting with humans. Our ancestors benefited as friendlier dogs eventually helped with work and provided alert/protection.
Because pack discussions often focus on concepts of dominance and submission, I have always been a bit uncomfortable with this terminology when applied to dogs. Dogs are pre-wired to work with humans, and such outlooks diminish a predisposition for a strong partnership. While leadership and structure (also pack components) are important, dominance and submission is usually counter-productive IMO. In fact, I would argue it misses a key element of what makes dogs the wonderful companions into which they have evolved.
As a trainer I spend a great deal of time away from my office, in homes, and on the road. For years I have used various technologies to help me track appointments, client files, notes, and other items needed to provide service to my clients. I have high expectations of all devices I use. While this review of the iPad may not be a "dog related" item, I am offering it this week for other dog trainers seeking information that might help them when considering what devices they wish to use when going paperless.
My experience with Apple's ubiquitous iPad occurred over 3 years of use, starting in the fall of 2010. I purchased a 1st generation iPad from Best Buy, and discontinued using the device about 6 months ago. I am now using all android products, including a Nexus 10 tablet and android phone. To keep this post simple and to the points, I'll simply list pros and cons I found using an iPad over 3 years, with brief comparisons to my experience with other (past and current) android devices.
PROS - what I liked:
1) My iPad proved very durable over 3 years of ownership, I experienced no hardware failures. Even the Apple cover looked good after 3 years of daily use.
2) Battery life was great. I only needed to charge the device about once a week, this with about 60+ mins use each day.
3) The hardware design was very nice - clean and functional.
Having said I like all of the items above, I would also mention that the Nexus 10 I've been using for the past 6 months is giving me comparable battery life and also has a very nice hardware design. Time will tell about durability, but I see nothing to suggest it shouldn't provide a comparable service life.
CONS - what I didn't like:
1) Connectivity was the #1 failing of my iPad. My model was WiFi only, and I while I have a strong signal throughout my office area, the device would fail to connect multiple times each week. In fact, this grew worse over time. By the time I sold the device I would need to reconnect manually every time I turned it on. While this might have been a hardware issue, the internet is stuffed with complaints by users with similar problems. I believe this to be a software issue. There are countless threads on Apple's own website discussing these issues, and they offer dozens of remedies. In the end, owners shouldn't need to spend hours troubleshooting a device simply to get it to connect to WiFi. I have 5 android devices that have no issues connecting - this is an Apple problem which they seem unwilling to even acknowledge. If you don't admit there's a problem, there will never be a fix. Unforgivable IMO.
2) When I bought my iPad my #1 need was to be able to open and edit word and excel files in the field. I actually purchased the iPad because, at the time, Apple had the most robust app library. I chose Docs-to-Go for my file tasks, as I had experience using the app years ago with a Palm Pilot - their app also contained synchronization abilities. While all of this worked ok, it was not without numerous headaches. First, syncs typically took 3-4 mins. When you're doing syncs twice a day that adds up to about an hour of time each week. Also, I would occasionally have syncs that would stall or corrupt a file. The worst issue though included an update to Docs-to-Go that stopped support for 2007 Word files. I spent a week manually converting frequently used files to the .docx format so Docs-to-Go would work again on the iPad. Totally unacceptable for an app to loose backward compatibility IMO - but I worked through it. Otherwise, I found few if any apps that were useful to me. I also didn't like the need to purchase an app to see if it would be useful. My experience with Android has found stock and free apps that, frankly, work better than the iOS apps. I can also sync files in a fraction of the time, saving a great deal of time over each week.
3) iTunes on my Windows computer was very annoying and did not run well on my machine. There were frequent problems launching, numerous and cumbersome updates, and the software provided very limited useful utility. It was needed to move files (pics, videos, etc) on and off of the iPad, so I had to keep it, and keep it updated. Apple eventually allowed over the air updates to the iPad's OS, so I used iTunes less and less as time went on. Android has better options for moving files on and off their devices IMO.
4) It was also annoying to find Apple stopped providing software updates to 1st gen iPads less than 3 years from my purchase. While I don't expect a device to last forever, over the last year of use there were many apps that wouldn't run on the iPad because Apple wouldn't allow upgrades to their latest iOS. Apple fans suggest the older hardware couldn't support the new iOS upgrades - but still. at 3 yrs the device was basically obsolete, and the new iPads weren't anything radically different.
As mentioned, over the past 6 months I have been using an android tablet. It's a big improvement over the iPad for me. Whether some of that is from simply having a newer device I don't know. What I do know, is that I grew less and less impressed with my iPad over time. I need devices to run software reliably and simply. After switching over to a Nexus tablet I'm realizing how mediocre the iPad was. Most user reviews come from people that have had a device a few days or weeks - they also seem to focus on screen resolution and watching videos or playing games, I'm offering this review as a person who used an iPad for over 3 years, needing something to primarily handle word documents. In my experience, the iPad was ok, but my Nexus has been much better for work use.
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