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Collars – Training and Fashion

Val Cairney July 22, 2022 130

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Hi everyone, welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  In this episode, let’s talk collars!

Getting the right collar for your dog can sometimes be a bit of a challenge.   So, let me go through the various types of collars and their use and see if I can’t make things a bit easier when you go collar shopping.  

Let’s start with puppies.  Often a new pet parent will come in with a tiny new puppy and they want to get a collar.  My number one suggestion is to just get something cheap and cheerful because they are just going to grow out of it.  It should be a light, thinner, perhaps nylon collar that is basically just being used to get the pup used to wearing a collar.  Some people are thinking about training but as I suggest, at this point, all you are trying to achieve is having the pup get used to wearing a collar and having a leash lead them about.  Again, the leach should also be light without a heavy clasp so don’t get anything too expensive.  

By 8 weeks, many people like to start their pup in puppy school.  A new pet parent would have to check with the training schools in their area to find out what their start age is for pups.  Whether you are training on your own or have enrolled with a school, the type of training collar you chose can vary.

Many puppy schools like pups to come with a nose band collar often a Halti or Gentle leader.  These type of head harnesses is basically meant to prevent pulling by the dog when walking.  The head harness will attach to the back of the dog’s head and a strap will go around the muzzle.  So, regardless of advertisement, this type of collar/harness is an aversion tool.  This means that the dog will get an unpleasant consequence when pulling by having their snout pulled sideways and feel a constriction around their nose.  The idea here is that the pet parent is directing and steering the dog from the front and the pressure is more on the back of the dog’s neck.  When the dog pulls, they will feel this restraint and to avoid any more unpleasant pressure, the idea is that the dog will pull back instead of continuing forward pulling on the leash. 

The head harness is very popular especially with certified service dogs who use this tool right away when training service dogs.  This is a good telltale when someone is trying to pass off a dog as a service dog and the dog is wearing a prong collar.  Yeah that’s a no no.  Some dogs do very well with a head collar and sometimes this is the only way to get them to walk without pulling.  However, there are dogs that just absolutely will not take to wearing a head collar and will do everything they can to get the strap off their nose.  And some dogs even with the head collar secured in place, don’t care and will pull regardless leaving the owner still fighting with the dog and the strap up into the dog’s eyes.  I’ve seen this.  Believe me.  The thing here is that some pet parents are told that the head harness is going to be the answer to all their problems and it will solve the pulling like waving a magic wand.  Well the answer is, not always.  Trying a head collar for walking is fine, but it is a try, and if the results are magic then great, but not every dog does well with this type of walking device.

Some dogs do very well with a training collar that is part nylon collar and then is joined by a chain that has a ring at the end.  The chain floats pulling the nylon part together and then releasing as the dog pulls or stops pulling.  The floating chain is called a martingale.  This is also an aversion device as the dog will feel the restriction around their neck when they pull and then feel a release when they stop.  This training collar can be very useful but does need to be used properly.  When the dog pulls there should be a correction with the collar as opposed to letting the dog pull and pull until it is coughing and choking.  The idea is to let the dog know there is a consequence to the pulling.  Martingale collars can be a very helpful tool when used correctly.  They are also available where the martingale part is an additional nylon strap not a chain.  The advantage to a Martingale is to have a consistent restriction around the dog’s neck so there is a full pressure all the way around the neck, not just one spot.  

Choke chains have fallen out of favour in the last little while.  They are highly criticised and not recommended for an inexperienced dog owner.  Used incorrectly these chains can cause serious damage to a dog’s neck and throat.  You will be hard pressed to find positive information about the use of choke chains on line. The only real pros you will find is that they are often effective for dogs that pull, if you know what you are doing they can be easy to use and they are not very expensive.  Choke chains should be sized very accurately and put on correctly so that they release when the dog stops pulling.  The best thing a pet parent can do if they really want to use a choke chain, is to watch videos and do some research.  

So, that takes us to the next controversial training device and that is the prong collar.  Many people believe that prong collars are cruel and hurt the dog, so let’s go through this.  Prong collars are metal collars that have prongs all the way around the collar and a martingale.  The prongs are not sharp let’s make that clear.  The positive side of things with a prong collar is that usually there is an immediate response from the dog.  It provides universal pressure around the dog’s entire neck.  When properly used it will not damage the trachea.  According to rescuedogs101, “the prong collar when fitted properly, is designed to be the most humane way to train and to NOT harm your dog.”  So, let’s get real here.  Someone looking into using a prong or pinch collar has probably gone through every other collar or harness available to stop their dog from pulling them off their feet to no avail.  The last resort is usually the prong collar.  So, here is where sometimes we have to dial up our tools in order to get the job done efficiently and to make exercise fun and safe for both the human and the dog.  As stated one of the pros with a prong collar is that it usually gets the desired effect quite quickly.  The prong collar is also an aversion tool as well as the dog will not like the full circumference restriction it is feeling with the slight digging in as well.  To really understand the feeling of a prong collar, I suggest getting one with a clasp so it can open be opened, putting it on your own thigh, and give it a good tug as if you are correcting your dog.   This way the pet parent can get a real feel of what the dog is experiencing and make a decision from there.  Many trainers will use prong collars especially for the large powerful dogs and if it means the difference between never going for a walk or a few uncomfortable tugs, then, well this may be the only solution.  The thing with a prong collar is that dogs usually respond quickly, so it doesn’t take much to have a well behaved dog at your side wearing a loose prong collar.  Often they know they are wearing it and behave well so no correction is actually needed.  Now, I have read where it is stated that a choke collar and a prong collar will create a fearful dog and cause psychological damage.  I personally have never seen any indication of this.  Usually as I have said, when someone is at the prong collar stage they have a big dog, that is becoming dangerous to take out, who is strong and confident.  The prong collar gives this type of pet parent more tools to get the job done quickly and allows the dog to realize that the human is in charge not them.  But, as I said, it is best to do some homework and I mean dig deep with this as the initial google searches will have you think that you are about to put the biggest torture device on your dog.  So, not true.  In this case judging a book by its cover isn’t the best.  If using a prong collar turns a difficult or dangerous dog into a happy to walk dog, then this could mean a win win on many accounts.  Dogs that lunge at other dogs or people can be seen as dangerous and that opens a big can of worms.  Worse, is that dogs that cannot be walked often end up in shelters and it’s not the dog’s fault.  But, the cycle of being surrendered may not get broken and a dog may end up being put down when simply some stronger tools and training was needed.  So, there are some very good videos available to learn how to use a prong collar properly and as I said, they are often sought when someone is at the end of their rope.  I used to look after a neighour’s German shepherd a lot.  She was a great dog to take on hikes and walks.  I also like taking her to outdoor events.  She was a powerful dog and had gone to training with a place that specialized in Shepherds and Dobermans and Rotties.  They trained her on a prong collar.  If she was not wearing the prong collar, there was no way, I would have been able to control her if something happened.  If she had the prong collar on just resting gently on her neck, not feeling any pressure, she was good as gold.  Also, I felt more secure knowing I had better control crossing roads or in a group of people which probably gave her more confidence and assurance as well, feeling that from me.  Anyway, the bottom line is, this type of collar is a tool that can be very effective when all else fails.  Yes, there is opposition, so a full research into its use is needed and trying it on oneself as well.  But, try not to judge someone using this collar harshly.  It could be saving that dog’s life.  

Okay, away from the training collars, let’s take a look at some of the regular collars available.  There are some awesome collars that are so pretty or have fun designs it is almost endless.  Everything from nylon to leather to neoprene can be found.  Dogs that like to swim a lot can benefit from the neoprene collars that can withstand getting wet and not fall apart or smell.  Outward Hound has a great line in this type of collar.  Leather collars tend to have a buckle closure as opposed to a snap closure so for some dogs the added strength of the buckle can be helpful.  Some people like leather collars for their softness and dogs with lots of fur can benefit from a rolled leather collar so the collar doesn’t flatten their fur.  Other collars can have patterns or now even have a tracker on them that allows you to use the app to know where your dog is if it gets away.  There are also custom collars where the dog’s name and number can be embroidered onto the collar taking out the need for an I.D. tag.  And speaking of I.D. tags, I strongly recommend that an I.D. tag be on all dogs.  It is best to make sure the dog’s name and the owners phone number be on the tag.  Some people like to have the dog’s address as well.  We find that in most cases where someone finds a dog, they simply put the dog in their garage or back yard and phone the owner.  Rarely do people drive around looking for an address.  But, there is always that one person out there that will go the extra mile, so if you do decide to put all the info on the tag, make sure the tag is large enough to able to actually read the info.  Many dogs are microchipped and this is extremely helpful if the dog has been taken to a vet or shelter with a scanner.  But, that does not always happen, so have the I.D. tag as well.  

So, collars come in many varieties for the fashionable dog.  Training collars are just that, for training, so a dog that needs a special collar for walking or is in training should also have a regular collar for wearing at regular times.  Tundra has a collar that he wears on a regular basis and we do take it off at night.  He has a training collar that is nylon with a martingale that I use when we walk, but to be honest he really doesn’t need it.  When we first got Tundra he had forgotten a lot of things he had learned in the past and one of them was walking nicely on a leash.  He was a challenge at first let me tell you, one where I ended up ass over tea kettle in the garage and him running around in the forest like a crazy dog yelling if he could, I’m free, I’m free!!  Well at that point I was ready for battle.  Okay, dog I said, we’ll start with a Halti.  Well, that just turned him into a different crazy dog, running his face along the grass and rolling over and over absolutely intent on getting this thing off his nose and of course he did.  I said to my husband, if I can’t figure this out, I will go to prong collar.  Well, I went to the next level which was the training collar and did not exercises outside with that on and low and behold that was the trick.  Something clicked in his head, where he was like, Oh yeah, I’m supposed to walk gently beside the human.  Right.  I remember.  And he did.  Today, we have to walk down a very busy road, which it never used to be, but is now, to get to the area where we can enjoy the grass and a little creek etc.  He walks right beside me, his leash is in my one hand, loose at my side.  He never pulls, and I’ve even got him to learn a new cue that I call “Single file”.  If there is a series of cars coming I tell him, single file and he walks directly behind me.  Once the cars have passed he resumed his place beside me.  What an awesome boy! 

Well there you have it on collars.  I hope this has helped a bit.  And just as an added tip, if you are going to look for a new collar or training device, measure your dog’s neck.  Their weight means nothing to us, so just take a tape measure and know your dog’s neck size so we can help you chose.  And when it comes to the training devices or tools to help you walk with your dog without pulling, do some homework and see what the trainers recommend and have an open mind, because as I say, knowing is caring.  

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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