Different Tools in Dog Training – A Highlight on Collars

Collar CollageAs with anything in life, there are multiple ways to help you achieve your goal. Some things along the way help you while others seem to make no difference at all. The same is true with dog training which is why there are so many tools out there. The amount of different training collars can be confusing and leave you with more questions as to what is best for your dog. Of course, the only one who can tell you that it works properly is your dog. If the tool is doing the job it was created for, your dog’s behavior will improve. So, to help you search through the aisles at the pet store I have highlighted the nine main types of training collars to address in this blog. You will find a few pros and cons of each here but please look for detailed blogs on each collar down the road.

1. Head Collars (Halti & Gentle Leader) The concept behind the head collar is simple…wherever the head goes the body must follow. Head collars are useful tools for dogs that pull but do not have a lot of strength behind them, dogs with sore necks or medical conditions such as collapsing trachea, and dogs with the inability to redirect their attention away from stimuli. My view point on the head collars is that they are not ideal for most dogs and here’s why. The first thing I think about is the undue strain put on the dog’s neck by having it held in a c-curve to try and walk faster. If the neck is constantly held in this position I can’t see any way that it will not be harmed whether it’s a pulled or torn neck muscle or simple structural deformities that could happen. Secondly, they really do not teach a dog not to pull. They simply make it harder for the dog to pull giving the owner an upper hand in the tug-of-war game played with dogs on leash.

The Gentle Leader and Halti are the most reputable brands of head collars and function in pretty similar ways with the biggest difference being the Halti is made to close the dog’s mouth when the leash is tightened. This makes it an ideal tool for dogs that are going through behavior modification for biting (humans and/or dogs) since you can close their mouth.

2. Harness How many times have you seen a dog walking down the street, wearing a harness, pulling its owner behind him? Quite frequently I’m sure. Therein lays the problem. The harness does not make walking your dog any easier. Harnesses actually promote pulling! Think about it a moment and you will quickly understand. What do all of these dogs have in common: a Bernese Mountain Dog pulling a cart, a team of dogs pulling a sled through the snow, a search and rescue dog covering ground while finding a lost person, and a Weimeraner skijoring with his owner? Have you figured it out? …….. They all wear harnesses.

Now don’t get me wrong, harnesses definitely have their place in the dog training world but they should be used with considerable care when being applied to help dissuade a dog from pulling on the leash. I think it very important for people to understand that you are very limited to how you can use this tool. The most important things to know is that it is extremely difficult if not nearly impossible to give a leash correction and your dog can spin around at the end of the leash making it quite difficult to keep them in one place or facing forward.

However, if you plan on doing any training or sporting event with your dog that requires him to do a lot of pulling or you need the freedom for the body to move easily, a leash is your tool. My dog wears a harness on two occasions, and only those two. The first is when we are doing his tracking and the second when he is doing his bite work training. I don’t want there to be any tension on his neck during either of these times so we utilize the structure of the harness.

3. No-Pull Harness The No-Pull Harness was created to rectify the issues noted above with regular harnesses. Since the leash connects to a D-Ring at the front of the harness (at the dog’s chest, between the shoulder blades), it allows the owner to slow the dog down by pulling on this area. Again, it does not truly teach a dog not to pull but masks the issue by limiting the amount and strength the dog can pull.

4. Slip Collar (aka Choke Collar) The slip collar, most commonly called a choke collar, is one of my least favorite tools. This particular collar is meant to rest comfortably around your dog’s neck and tighten only when a leash correction is given. However, due to improper education on the proper fitting of this collar it is primarily always in a corrective state, meaning the collar is continuously tight. Hence, the common name of a choke collar simply because it is doing exactly that – choking the dog and why it is my least favorite. Slip collars come in many diameters, gauges and colors but they all perform the same function. Slip collars are not ideal for training as most dogs learn to pull into the collar and accept the discomfort of a continuously tight collar around their neck. The other difficult part of ensuring a slip collar works is that you have to purchase a collar large enough to fit over your dog’s head which can make the collar quite large and cumbersome on some breeds.

5. Flat Collar A flat collar is a simple collar most dogs wear with their identification tags attached. They can be in the form of a buckle or snap closure as is most commonly seen in pet stores. As with slip collars, most dogs learn to pull into flat collars and accept the discomfort of a continuously tight collar around their neck making them least likely to be good training tools. Once a dog pulls a collar tight, there is very little room to have that collar become loose again. This has been shown to lead to scar tissue build up around the organs in the neck and can even cause laryngeal paralysis or collapsing trachea issues. Flat collars are best suited for a decorative item to hold your dog’s important information, not for training.

6. Martingale The martingale collar comes in two primary fashions – all cloth or cloth with chain. The primary focus of the martingale collar is that it should fit like a flat collar but have the added benefit of a slip collar when needed. How is this possible? The main portion of the collar looks like any other collar – it is typically made out of nylon or fabric and is made of a single loop. What makes it different is that a second loop is used to connect the original cloth loop. This second loop holds the leash and works by tightening both sides together of the “flat collar” portion when the leash is pulled tightly. If this loop is made of chain, the sliding action is much quicker allowing for proper pop-and-release functions of the leash whereas the fabric ones are a bit slower. These collars were most popular with sight hound breeds, such as Greyhounds, because the collar tightens enough to keep the dog from slipping free of it. Martingale collars can be great training tools if the dog responds properly. Unfortunately, a lot of dogs learn to pull into this collar, much like a flat collar, and accept the uncomfortable tension around their neck.

7. Prong Collar Probably the world’s “scariest” dog training collar that deserves more respect. Although the prong collar, also known as a pinch collar, looks like a medieval torture device its technology allows for easy training. It is true that a prong collar can cause damage to a dog’s neck, but so can almost every other collar out there when used inappropriately. Prong collars allow the dog to feel pressure points around their neck that pull the skin backwards towards the nape of the neck. Since these collars have “points”, I feel they can cause less damage to the neck structure since there isn’t constant stricture. I also feel these collars work best with dogs that pull a lot, are strong (physically and mentally), and dogs that don’t respond to other tools because the dog learns much quicker to stop their action meaning less collar corrections over time. Two important facts I will list here: First, the prong collar does not get placed over the dogs head when putting it on, instead you must open a link to place around the neck then re-link securely. Second, the prong collar should be light weight; otherwise the weight of the collar will be too burdensome for your dog.

8. Starmark Martingale Collar  If you have worked with me before then you know this is by far my most favorite training collar because it does the job of a prong collar yet looks appealing to the owner and society. The Starmark Collar is a plastic version of a prong collar and functions in exactly the same way. A perfect training tool in that it can be used on tiny dogs (Chihuahua’s and Dachshunds) all the way up to extra large breeds (Rottweilers and Mastiffs) with the same reliability. Although it can be quite difficult to open and close the collar in the beginning, the Starmark collar is the ideal collar for training most dogs.

9. Dominant Dog Collar I included this in my post because I have started to see these collars in stores, however they are labeled as “slip collars”. Please be aware that these collars were created for very “dominant” dogs that needed to be choked out from the behavior they were doing. This particular collar is meant to ride very high on the dog’s neck and sit in the throat groove so that if needed, when the collar is tightened, it will literally choke the dog causing the behavior to stop. Obviously this type of collar should be used as a last resort, and as with most training collars, should only be used under the supervision of a professional.

Again, this was only a synopsis of training collars with more detailed information to come in future blogs which will include how to fit properly, how to put on and where to purchase the best kind.

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