How to Use a Deben Box and Collar

Purchasing a Deben Collar and Box: A Deben locator collar and box can be purchased from the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America at If you prefer, you can order a 15' terrier collar directly from Deben Industries at If you have have more than two working dogs, I recommend buying two complete collar and box sets. Though in theory you can get by with just one box and one collar, boxes are prone to going on the fritz, especially in the rain and snow, and having a backup box in your pack is a very good idea. A second collar is also a good idea, as sometimes a collar will get wet and go on the fritz, in which case a second dog can be sent in to locate if needed.


New Deben Boxes &Collars
Due Out at the End of Oct. 2004

Deben will be introducing a new locator box and collar in later October of 2004 -- their first upgrade in decades.

The new box will feature a search mode for 20 ft, then by sliding an external switch you get a depth location for 10 ft.and under. There are no external depth controls; all the information is shown on a calibrated LED bar graph display. A clicking sound is also emitted, and gets more intense the closer you are to the collar.

A kit consisting of 1 collar and 1 locator box will cost 125 UK, or about $225 U.S.

For a U.S. source, check the JRTCA web site


Preparing the Collar: The collar should be treated with shoe polish and mink oil to soften it up and make it a bit more waterproof. The collar leather is long, and should be trimmed to fit the neck of the largest terrier you will hunt. Leave a bit of a tongue on the collar, but not so much that it extends past the transmitter. Slide a brass slide tag on to your Deben collar with your name, address and phone number on it. Why brass? Now if your dog is lost in the field, or if a collar falls off, you have some chance of having it returned.

Preparing the Box: Carefully unscrew the top to the Deben box, and with the aid of a spoon handle as a lever, connect the battery terminal inside the box to a fresh 9-volt battery. Take your time and be careful -- the goal is to not damage the contacts or electronics inside the box. Once the battery is connected, I recommend running a bit of electrical tape from the battery over the lip of the box to help stabilize the battery within the case. A Deben box is often tossed about, and a loose battery can easily damage the rest of the electronics inside. I recommend running a band of electrical tape around the edge of the box at this point -- a simple prevention that might keep a bit of moisture and dirt out (though the slot at the dial remains a vulnerable spot). Put your name, address and phone number on the box by taping an address label or business card to it, and then slide the box inside one of the nylon or leather carriers sold by Deben. Now if you manage to lose your box in the field, there is some chance it will be found and returned to you.

Insert Batteries and Tape Up the Collar: A Deben collar can be run on two single batteries or one double battery. The single batteries are made by quite a few companies and have different chemical attributes, but any of these will work fine: Duracell D375H or D393; Panasonic SR44W or SP357 or ST48W or SP393; Ray-O-Vac RW42 or RW48; or an Ever Ready BSR 44H or BSR 48H or BSR 48L. If you prefer a "double height" battery, I recommend a Duracell DL1/3N. Do NOT use zinc-air batteries commonly sold for hearing aids, as they require oxygen to run properly and will die if put into a collar. Batteries should always be taken out of the collar at the end of the day. Many people use the same batteries for many, many digs, but I try to remember to swap them out after three or four full days of digging. For an illustrated guide to taping up a collar, see >> taping a Deben collar.

Deben Box Basics

Using a Deben box is not very complicated, but there are some basic points that need to be reviewed:

  • A Deben box is a radio receiver set to a special frequency, while a Deben collar is a small and very weak transmitter set to send a signal at that frequency. The dial on the side of a Deben box "steps down" the receiver so that it becomes less efficient as the numbers on the dial are rolled down. At the lowest numbers, the Deben box can only "hear" the transmitter when it is very close.

  • Arrow up & Collar Not Too Tight: Both the box and the collar are directional. For the box to work, it must be held straight up and down, with the arrow on the box pointing upward. The locator collar should be buckled to the collar so that there is at least a finger's worth of room between the collar and the neck. If the dog turns sideways in the tunnel, as they sometimes do when digging, you want the collar to slip around and be at the lowest point in the pipe, with its transmitter shooting a radio signal straight up.

  • Avoid Electrical and Second-collar Interference: The Deben box is a weak radio receiver that can be thrown off if is used in close proximity to electric fences or directly underneath high-voltage power lines. Some folks have also reported their boxes acting erratically during electrical storms. Another confounding issue occurs when several terriers are wearing Deben collars and they are staked out near the dig. If more than one terrier is wearing a Deben collar, move the nonworking terrier or terriers back from the hole. Also, remember that a working collar that is taken off a dog and put into your pocket will trigger the locator box in your hand unless you also take the battery out of it.

  • The Dial is Very Approximate: The dial on the side of a Deben box is numbered, and these numbers roughly correspond to the depth of the dog underground. The true depth of the dog will depend somewhat on the density of the soil and the freshness of the batteries, but also on how your specific box was assembled at the Deben factory. Every box is a bit different. Experiment with your collar to get a handle on whether a five foot reading on your box is really closer to four feet than five.

Wait for the dog to settle. When a dog goes to ground and locates, it will begin to bark. Excellent! Now slow down a bit -- let the dog push the animal to a stop end or to a bolt. If you try to locate the dog right away, there is a very good chance that you will not get an accurate reading as the dog will still be moving about pushing quarry. If you do not want the animal to bolt, now is a good time to block bolt holes by earth stopping them.

Pinpoint the Location: Locating a dog underground with a Deben box and collar is done through a process of "triangulation".

  • In the diagram below, I have indicated the den entrances with circular brown marks. In all likelihood, you will see your dog go to ground and you will have a pretty good idea of the general idea of where the dog is located, based on sound and the den's exit holes.

  • Begin by setting the dial on the box at 10 feet and. holding the box upright, sweep across the top of the area where the dog is located. The Deben box will begin to emit a clicking or knocking sound as you get in the general area of where the dog is located.

  • Turn down the dial and concentrate in the area where the sound is loudest. Keep turning down the dial and focusing on where the sound is loudest. After a very short period of time, you should know within a foot or two of where the dog is.

Wait a few seconds and then rebox this location using very precise triangulation.

To fix an exact location for your dog, make a straight line sweep above where you think the dog is located, and do it at the lowest number on the box that you can get a signal. In the diagram below, I have indicated the first sweep of the Deben box in blue, with the thicker line signaling a stronger signal, and the thinner line a weaker signal. During this weep, mark the exact center of the strongest part of the signal. If you go left from this spot, the signal should start to get weaker. If you go to the right from this spot the signal should also start to get weaker.

The second sweep of the Deben box is indicated in red. This second sweep is done at a right angle to the center point of the first sweep. Once again the thicker line signals a stronger signal, and the thinner line a weaker signal. Once again mark the exact center of the strongest part of the signal. This second mark should be fairly close to the first mark, but it may be as much as a foot or two away.

The third sweep of the Deben box is indicated in green. Once again the thicker line signals a stronger signal, and the thinner line a weaker signal. Once again mark the center of the strongest part of the signal. The area between the three points should now be very small -- no more than the size of a CD-rom. This is where your dog is located.

Read the side of the box to get a rough idea of how deep the dog is located. If the dog is three feet down or more, you will have to clear a bit of space to dig, as a deeper hole requires a wider hole as well. The rule of thumb is that the hole should be at least as wide as it is deep, up to about 5 or 6 feet or so. For additional instruction on how to dig, see >> digging to your dog

Some Final Tips

Using a Deben box requires a bit of art, a bit of experience, and a dash of voodoo. The more you dig, the better you will get. If you are brand new to using a Deben box, you can practice locating your dog underneath a bed, sofa or table.

The deeper the dig the harder it is to get an exact location and the more important it is than you do so. Remember that the box is directional. Once you have dug down a few feet, you can box the inside of the hole to help you figure out if you should be digging a little more to the left or the right.

In emergencies, and if a dog goes so deep that it is "off the box," the receiver can be boosted a bit by placing it in the center of large plastic mixing bowl, if you happen to have access to one. Remember, the Deben box is just a radio receiver; whatever will boost the reception on a radio will also boost reception on the box as well.

It is also possible to boost the power of the transmitter by extending the collar cap so that it can hold an additional battery. This is not recommended under normal conditions, however, as a larger battery pack increases the chance that a collar can get "hung up" under ground. n