Using a dog training collar is a cause of much controversy. There are two distinct schools of thought in dog training, whether you are focused on simple obedience or more complex tasks such as agility training: those who believe in using some level of force and those who believe in non-aggressive reinforcement. Either can be effective and what works for one dog and handler may not necessarily work for another.
The key to any type of training is reinforcement. You want to get the dog used to following a command by associating some form of reward with the action in question. The more you repeat the action and reward the response, the more the dog will learn that this is an acceptable behavior. At the same time, you need to dissuade the dog from negative behaviors. This is where training collars can come into play and where some trainers vary drastically in their methods.
Obviously, you never want to do anything to harm your dog. This is not training, it is simply abuse and can cause a dog to shut down entirely or become dangerously aggressive. That being said, there is a long way between using a collar and abusing your dog. Training collars can help the trainer to maintain some level of control and to get the dog to focus more sharply on his work.
When it comes to agility training in particular, dog training collars can be quite useful. Although the ultimate objective in agility is for dog and handler to communicate at a distance and with extreme confidence, it may be necessary for the trainer to maintain some sort of control at the beginning in order to guide the dog through the necessary disciplines.
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In this case, the type of dog training collar used most often is a "handle" or "grab" collar. As the name denotes, this is a collar with an extra loop of fabric at the back that the trainer can use to grab the dog and guide it physically. Because it is specifically designed for this type of work, a handle collar is made to be unrestrictive and not cause any physical pain.
It is generally not recommended that a collar be used when a dog is running an agility course as it will usually be moving at top speed and there is potential for a collar to become entangled in some of the equipment and cause injury, but these "handle" collars are used in early agility training with much success. Eventually, in order to compete, the dog will have to be weaned off the collar entirely.
Another intriguing option for a dog training collar is the remote collar. This allows trainers to give dogs verbal commands from a distance. This way both dog and trainer can get used to the distance element of agility. And because remote collars don't require any physical contact, it can be easier to wean a dog off of one, substituting direct verbal commands or gestures for the commands given using the collar.
Training your dog, whether to get him to do tricks or follow simple commands or to turn him into a highly skilled agility athlete, can be one of the most rewarding experiences you can both have. Provided they are used properly, training collars can be a useful tool to help both of you get up and running smoothly.