Best E-Collars and Tracking Collars for Training, Exploring, and Hunting
Nothing can safely give your dog more freedom than electronic collars and tracking collars and should be on your required list of dog equipment. You need the right equipment, so let’s run through your options. If you’re familiar with these tools, jump to the bottom to see the ones I purchased.
E-Collars vs Tracking Collars
As you dive into the world of technological dog collars you need to understand the difference between e-collars and tracking collars. The “E” in e-collar stands for electronic which causes some confusion since tracking collars and even beeper collars also have electronic circuits and batteries. E-collars allow you to provide electrical stimulation which is why they may also be referred to as shock collars.
Tracking collars simply allow you to know the direction to or location of your dog. All current models of tracking collars use GPS location services to show your dog’s actual location on a handheld GPS unit or even on your phone.
Both e-collars and tracking collars have a transmitter, the handheld device or your phone, and a receiver which is attached to a collar worn by the dog. The e-collar receiver will have a set of two prongs that protrude from the receiver in order to make contact with the dog’s neck. These prongs are absent on a tracking collar but you will have the addition of a long antenna
Will a shock collar (electronic collar) hurt my dog?
In the beginning, electronic collars may have provided a severe shock with limited adjustability, but they have advanced far beyond that now. The electrical stimulation is just like the treatment you would receive from a physical therapist or chiropractor but they call it e-stim (electrical stimulation). So no, it will not hurt your dog if used properly. I can say that with confidence because I have used it on myself and the lowest setting are often imperceptible.
Should I get a tracking collar or an e-collar?
When I am in a training session doing “yard work”, I only use an e-collar. These systems have been used and refined for roughly fifty years for this specific task and they are simply the best tool. The simplicity and quick adjustability of the handheld transmitters makes their use very intuitive allowing me to focus my attention on the dog I’m training. In these situations, the dog will never have the opportunity to get out of my line of sight, so I have no need for a tracking system.
As soon as we leave civilization and venture out for hunting or hikes, I always place a tracking collar on my dog. German shorthaired pointers have been bred specifically to enhance their natural instincts to find and point birds for you. They can’t do this walking right next to you. When allowed to do their job, they will range out hundreds of yards and log three to four times as many miles as I will on the same hike.
You may contest that you will train your companions to remain at your side at all times so you don’t run the risk of losing sight of them. This will be helpful but with their high prey drive, it will likely only be a matter of time before something draws them away from you. Your dog isn’t abandoning you, they are performing their instinctual job.
The difficulty occurs when your buddy goes on point. This can mean they won’t move a muscle or respond to your pleas to return for a very long time, potentially over an hour. This can happen even when the “animal” they are pointing isn’t there, but the scent is strong. Locked up thirty feet away in dense cover, you won’t know if he’s chased a deer into the next county or if something tragic has happened to him.
I have spent frantic hours searching for dogs that lost track of me or were on point. To my relief, I eventually found each of them, sometimes very close to the spot where I lost them. Other tools exist like bells and beeper collars are better than nothing but tremendously less effective. If a dog is on point, the bell won’t make a sound. Beeper collars make an obnoxious amount of noise and are disappointingly ineffective when wind, dense cover, and terrain come into play.
If your dog is ever off leash, which hopefully is an option for them, make sure you have a tracking collar.
I can’t let my dog off leash, won’t he/she run away?
If you are wondering this, the answer is very possibly yes! If your pup has never had the opportunity to do their instinctual job, the excitement of off-leash freedom may cause them to lose their minds with delight. There will be so much to see and smell. The wind and environment will be rushing past their ears so fast they won’t even notice your cries or cursings. All of this changes with an e-collar and a tracking collar.
An e-collar works as a very effective psychological leash and the tracking collar gives you the peace of mind of knowing the exact location and direction of movement of your dog. With proper training and these tools, you and your dog can thoroughly enjoy the outdoors with much more freedom and peace of mind.
Which E-Collar Should I Choose?
E-collars are not the place to start being cheap and you will find a seemingly infinite number of options, brands, and prices. You are selecting a device that is going to deliver electrical stimulation to your buddy, make sure you are getting a quality tool. You need the controls to be reliable and consistent and I wouldn’t trust any of the rebranded collars on Amazon that you’ll easily find on AliExpress.
Let me simplify your options to three primary and well-established brands Garmin (purchased Tri-Tronics), Dogtra, and SportDog. These are not your only options but it’s a great start. I currently have Garmin and Dogtra systems.
Here are the criteria I require in an e-collar:
- 3/4+ Mile Range – This range published by manufacturers is under ideal conditions and peak battery strength. I want the assurance of flawless performance under normal conditions and distances.
- Expandable to three dogs (able to add additional collars)
- Tactile buttons with no digital adjustment for electrical stimulation
- Durable Transmitter
- Receivers match the size of the dog (small dogs don’t need large receivers)
- Established and Proven Brand
- Different sized receivers
- Excellent Reviews
The only collar I found that came closest to meeting my criteria was the Garmin Sport PRO Bundle. The issue I had with this system is the receivers are far too large for small or young dogs. After scouring numerous websites for a solution, I discovered a little-known secret. The Garmin Sport PRO Transmitter can be connected to a much smaller Garmin receiver, the Garmin Delta XC/Delta Sport XC receiver. Problem solved! Yes, you can purchase just the Sport Pro transmitter and the Sport XC receiver to create your own perfect bundle and that’s exactly what I did. This combination is perfect for what I need. A bonus feature I didn’t originally appreciate was the intelligent bark collar mode. It can be turned on or off remotely so it’s easy to switch between bark collar mode and regular e-collar mode.
I always want a better deal and really shopped around for better pricing but Garmin maintains strict controls over their retailers and I never did find a better deal.
As I sifted through numerous e-collar systems, I did find some strong candidates you may want to consider:
Should I get a GPS tracking collar that has a built-in e-collar?
The only advantage of a tracking system without a built-in e-collar is a small cost saving. You may be thinking that you can’t imagine a scenario when you would need to apply electrical stimulation to your sweet, obedient companion. I’ll give you some ideas of dangers that you may encounter where you may need to grab your dogs attention and demand compliance at any distance:
- Thinly iced-over rivers, lakes, or ponds
- Cattle or horses
- Algae poisoned ponds/reservoirs
- Chasing non-target animals, pets, or livestock
If you run your dogs without a leash, I strongly recommend utilizing an e-collar. If you already have an e-collar you may choose to purchase a tracking collar without that feature but you will have the bulk of two separate receivers and have to manage to handheld devices. I prefer the simplicity of a combination tracking/e-collar.
What is the best dog GPS tracking collar with e-collar?
The options are fortunately limited, which simplify this decision. For me, the decision was between the Garmin Alpha 100 TT 15 Dog GPS Bundle and the Dogtra Pathfinder. Going into this decision, I expected to go with the Garmin Alpha as a natural progression from my Garmin Astro (tracking only collar). It was the sticker shock of the Alpha that prompted me to research all available options
A friend of mine had just experimented with numerous collars, including the Alpha, and strongly recommended the Dogtra Pathfinder. I did my own research and was excited to make the purchase.
The Pathfinder utilizes your cell phone and has an app packed full of features with real-time stats on each of the dogs. Read through the Pathfinder features and watch some videos because it’s awesome. A cool bonus: at the end of a hunt or hike, I can replay the trip and watch a map with the progress of all the dogs and myself.
The Garmin Alpha is a great collar but I wasn’t able to justify the additional cost so I decided to purchase the Pathfinder and love it. For hunting or exploring, I strongly recommend the Dogtra Pathfinder.
This model should not be confused with Dogtra’s cheaper Pathfinder TRX version without the e-collar feature built into the collar. After running this system for a year and being very impressed, I decided to go all in and purchased three Dogtra Pathfinder Additional Receivers.