If you have a dog, chances are she has a collar on — and if not, she should.
Collars are a necessity in this day and age; they often contain important information, such as rabies and licensing tags, as well as contact and medical information.
Collars are also tools for walking and controlling our dogs. Regardless of how well trained a dog is, there’s always a possibility that her instincts are triggered or her excitement overcomes her training, and she’ll want to bolt. So the trick is to find a collar that both the dog and her humans can live with.
Dog collars are not one size fits all. Check the fit of your dog’s collar regularly. Dogs’ physicality changes over the course of their lives — gaining weight, losing weight — and puppies grow so fast that a collar that fits perfectly one week may be too tight the next.
“The collar should be loose enough that when she’s lying down it doesn’t dig into her neck but tight enough that she can’t pull backward and pull the collar right off over her head,” advises Tracie Hotchner in The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know. “To get a neck measurement, put a flexible tape measure around the neck and then add 2 inches to that number. If you have a really small dog, add only 1 inch to the actual measurement.”
Head Collars: Not for Everyone
Some dogs struggle to adjust to a head collar. It may feel restrictive and even frightening to have something essentially wrapped around your dog’s face, so it may take time and patience for her to accept a head collar.
In Train Your Dog: Teach Yourself, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers advises taking these steps:
- Allow the dog to see, smell and take treats off the actual head collar.
- Use small treats to entice her to put her nose through the nosepiece.
- Repeat until she is comfortable sliding her nose in (this may take days).
- Slide the straps around her head while she is eating a treat, but do not fasten the straps yet.
- After she is comfortable with the feeling, buckle the straps into place.
- Once the collar is on, continue with praise, treats and other positive reinforcement.
- Repeat this process, gradually having your dog wear the head collar for longer amounts of time.
Hopefully, you and your dog can adjust to the head collar. But if you’ve tried it and your dog still acts anxious and afraid, choose another training/walking aid. Forcing the issue will only create tension and possibly aggression in your dog.
Don’t Use Pain-Causing Collars
Some collars are designed to teach or punish through pain rather than positive reinforcement. These collars include choke chains, pinch collars and shock collars. The problem with using these types of collars is that you’re teaching fear, not lessons.
“They suppress the unwanted behavior, but they don’t teach them what the proper behavior is. At best, they are unpleasant for your dog, and at worst, they may cause your dog to act aggressively and even bite you,” says the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Choke chains and prong/pinch collars need to be properly fitted, but many who use them don’t realize this. These collars are intended to rest higher up on the dog’s head, just behind the ears, but they’re often used around the throat. Not only is this painful for your dog, but also you risk choking her too hard and causing damage, or worse: The dog could catch it on something while you’re not looking and choke to death.
Watch this dog behaviorist share his opinion on a variety of dog collars:
Shock collars are painful and confusing for dogs. “The trainer can administer a shock to a dog at a distance through a remote control,” says HSUS. “There is a greater chance for abuse (delivery of shocks as punishment) or misuse (poor timing of shocks). Your dog also may associate the painful shock with people or other experiences, leading to fearful or aggressive behavior.”
No-brainer alert: If your dog’s collar causes her pain, it’s a pretty safe bet that she hates it.
Take the time to ensure that your dog’s collar fits properly and is tailored to not only what you need but also what she needs. Use positive reinforcement tactics and make the collar a fun thing; you’ll both be glad you did.