The Electric Collar

By Bobby George

A caveat - this was written when electric collars were just coming into being.  Inordinate changes have been made in the use of a collar when training field dogs, and in the severity of the collars since those days.

I remember when I first encountered an electric collar being used in a training group that I joined once a week.  It had one big red button, and that was what was used.  I did not use it in that training group as I was taken aback and afraid of it.  I had competed  in obedience and tracking where  or at least as  far as I was aware), it was not used.

At times I went and sat in my car while a couple of the trainers were running their dogs, as I did not like watching. I was there to have some birds for my dog and for some people to throw some marks.  Definitely, not everyone  was as brutal as described below, and with time, the collar evolved into a more nuanced training device with a variety of levels of corrections that could be applied. Bobby wrote this in the '80s and it was in Gun Dog magazine. When use correctly now, it can be an asset in training, but do not strap it around your dog's neck until you have had some instruction  in what is the proper and the most compassionate way to use one.

The man's lips drooped in a mask of smugness. The whistle fell limply from his mouth. His right hand, the one with the tubular black transmitter topped by a long silver antenna, reached toward the Midwestern sky. The novice, whom God had blessed with a field champion, squeezed the red button and the Labrador Retriever, at least 150 yards away, went into a howling, cringing fit.

The man's face was cruel, graffiti. It read, " Burn, baby, burn."

The electronic stimulation lasted only a few seconds. But the memory of the business end of a thunderbolt would last forever.

The electric collar, from its primitive beginnings in the 1950s to its sophisticated form of the '80s, is often misused and largely misunderstood.

The " collar" and never has been and never will be a training tool for the guy who " just wants his dog to come when he calls him."

In the hands of the weekend dog trainer, the transmitter can become a physical extension of the psyche.

Depressed? Frustrated at work? Then leave the collar and transmitter in the case.

The red button is easy to press - in the hands of most people, too easy. And the results can be disastrous. Nevertheless, the electronic collar is the most effective dog training tool man has ever created. But its use requires a practical education in animal behavior, a cool head, good reflexes, and a coach who knows about dogs and electricity.

The coach of choice would be Rex Carr.

It is safe to say that Rex, at 72, has collar trained more sporting dogs and trained more collar trainers than any other dog man in the nation.

"The collar is badly used by most people ...  just human nature," he says from his home in Escalon, CA. Carr has trained a lot of trainers, "gobs of 'em, but don't hold me responsible for their actions."

Rex has seen it all, literally.

"It started out back in the 40's. I was farming near Escalon and I had a few dogs as a hobby. I started training in '48 and within a year, it started getting out of hand. The pressure was on me. People started seeing what I was doing with my dogs.

I had to do it full time to pay for my hobby... and farming was a complete bust."

Rex talked of his first attempt at electronic training in the 1950s. He used a small, six-volt dry cell battery attached to his belt. The connection wire, similar to an extension cord, ran from the battery as his side to the dog’s collar.

"I used it for obedience and force breaking," he recalls.  But obviously, its uses were limited. "Then I backed off, wait­ ing for something to happen. When they started flying airplanes around with remote control, I knew we were not far away."

About the same time in Tucson, AZ, a hunting guide and hound man, Dale Lee, had been embarrassed for the last time by his hounds chasing everything but mountain lions.

He wanted a way to reach out and touch someone," says Chad James, director of marketing for Tri-tronics, Inc. a major manufacturer of electronic collars. " Lee built the first electronic collar in 1955 and for several years thereafter, hound men were its only users.

Although Lee was the originator, Rex Carr is "one of those certain individuals in any activity that has incredible natural ability. He learned how to use a remote trainer and get positive results." Says James.

Rex trained all breeds. He trained bird dogs to retrieve which was taboo back in the 50's and early 60's. "Now they're all doing it,"  he says.

But he is probably best known in the retriever ranks.   Rex has achieved mythical status, particularly in  the area of electronic dog training.

"No one has given this thing the effort that I give it. I get up at 4 a.m. and I am going as soon as my men get loaded.

Although a well-trained dog is the goal, the trainers, the people, require the most time and attention. That is, of course, the point, Rex says.

" I'm in this not because of the dogs but because of the people. If we go through this world without helping people, we have missed the boat. What good are we if we do not do that.

"That's the bottom of my soul. "

Some would call it a bottom. Some would call it a foundation.

Bobby was an outstanding dog trainer and his loss in 2020 was a loss for everyone.  But not everyone knows that Bobby also was an outstanding writer and wrote for Gun Dog magazine about not just retrievers, but also other breeds of field dogs. Thanks to his wife , Sue, for letting us use copies of many of the articles  Bobby wrote. Glenda

P.O. Box 1966 Suisun City, CA, 94585P.O. Box 1966 Suisun City, CA, 94585