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By Robin Tierney

NOTE: The content on this website cannot be used in connection with any profit-seeking activity due to agreements with the writers, editors and sources contributing to the content. These articles may NOT be reproduced in any form without author permission. To contact the author, email Robin at Tierneydog@yahoo.com.

Collars and Sense

When it comes to collars, one size -- and one kind -- definitely does not fit all. There are so many choices that it can get confusing, but collars should be chosen carefully. Quality, functionality, comfort and safety should drive your decision, not fashion or looks.

Also, plan on getting more than one collar. As your dog grows and matures, you'll want to replace collars.

Types of collars and related restraints:

It's important to understand that any particular collar can be effective, ineffective or harmful, depending on the handler and also on the individual dog. It's vital to learn as much as you can about training and educating your dog, choosing training tools, matching the tool to the individual dog, and using such items properly and humanely. In addition, proper fit is crucial.

* Buckle collars. Every dog should wear a buckle collar, indoors as well as outside. After all, even a canine homebody could feel compelled to dash out a door or run off when feeling insecure or frightened. This collar provides a handy "handle" for catching a loose or overly rambunctious dog, separating animals who don't get along, and for attaching the dog's I.D., dog license and rabies tags. If the tags clatter too much for your liking, you can mute the sound by affixing clear packing around them.

Buckle collars are made of leather, cloth, nylon and other materials. Choose a collar for sturdiness and comfort over looks. The collar should be adjusted tight enough so that it cannot slip off the dog's head; it should be just loose enough to allow you to slip two fingers between the collar and the dog's neck.

Buckle collars feature a ring to which you can clip a leash. Some folks, include many canine professionals, use this kind of collar for walking, while other folks like to use a body harness, head harness or training collar for walks outdoors for added control.

* Training collars. These include metal chain collars, choker collars, braided or rolled nylon slip collars, and cloth slip collars. A key benefit of this type of collar is that it self-adjusts, when used with a leash, around the dog's neck, giving the handler control and preventing the dog from slipping out of the collar.

However, training collars are among the most incorrectly use tools ever invented. So it's worth taking obedience classes to learn how to use them correctly. Hint: if your dog continually pulls when you're walking her with a training collar, you're not using it properly. Don't feel bad; you have plenty of company. Other signs of misuse: the dog is choking, gagging or wheezing during walks.

Common training collar mistakes include:

1. Using too long a collar. When the collar is placed on the dog, the part of the collar extending beyond the loop should be only 3 inches long. That comes to 3 inches longer than the dog's neck measurement.

2. Too tight a collar. You should be able to fit two fingers between the neck and the collar.

3. Putting the collar on wrong or "backwards". If put on the wrong way, the collar will not release naturally after you make a leash/collar correction (which is counterproductive for training, not to mention uncomfortable and unkind to your dog). Have a canine professional show you how to put on a training collar and use it properly. Since the standard walking position for the dog is by your left-hand side, you would take the chain collar, slip one end through the other to form a loop, then when you face the dog, the collar should look like a "P" (instead of a "q") as you slip it over the dog's head.

4. The handler constantly or frequently pulling on the leash. If the dog is pulling, or the handler feels he/she has to pull back, the handler is in need of training, so that he/she can, in turn, properly educate the dog.

5. Leaving a training collar on a dog. Important: training collars should be used only during training exercises and walking. For safety reasons, they should not be left on the dog. For example, the chain collars easily get caught on things, leading to choking and strangulation. Thus, you do not want to attach the dog's tags to training collars.

The training collar should hang loose when you're walking the dog. The only time it should be pulled tight is when a "collar correction" (also called leash correction) is needed, if you're using that type of training instead of a more purely positive reinforcement (or "reward-based") teaching method. Such a correction resembles a quickly yank followed by immediate release. A correction should be given only if a verbal command or hand signal signifying "heel" or "sit" is ignored by the dog. (Of course, you cannot expect the dog to understand a command unless you have carefully taught him the command and how he is expected to respond. Lassie was trained, not born obedient.)

Trainers who use training collars advise handlers to make the leash/collar correction a quick motion that sharply tightens the training collar about the dog's neck. Then the handler should immediately release pressure; if the collar was put on correctly, the links should immediately loosen up in response. Otherwise, if the training collar remains tight, the dog won't be able to distinguish between an intentional correction and the handler simply pulling on the dog's neck for no reason. The dog will quickly get accustomed to being uncomfortable, rendering the training collar useless (and possibly leading to a hurt neck or throat).

* Snap-on collars. These can be fine for gentler, less rambunctious dogs, but the closure can give way with stronger ones. As for stretch collars, we do not advise them for dogs, since a dog could back out of the collar.

* Martingale collars. Also called greyhound collars, these nicely designed devices serve as a gentler, relatively comfortable but still effective alternative to chain, slip, choker and other training/walking collars. The Premier Collar, made by a company by the same name, is just one example of this buckle collar, which typically looks like two loops of material. The leash is attached to the extra, smaller loop. This self-adjusting collar tightens if the dog pulls or tries to slip his head out, evenly around the dog's neck without risk of choking the animal. Martingale-style collars provide control to the handler while preventing injury to the dog. It's a humane and effective choice for many dogs, and is bidirectional -- you can it use it without adjustment no matter which side of body you heel your dog.

* Pinch or prong collar. This one has metal prongs on connected links of the collar. When you pull the leash, the prongs press into the dog's neck, in effect applying pressure to many points around the neck. The prongs should have vinyl coverings on the tips or the handler could injure the dog. Even with coated/covered prongs, many people misuse or overuse this restraint, reducing the potential effectiveness of the device and causing injury to the dog, immediately or over time. And as with training collars, when using pinch and prong collars, they should never be left on a dog.

If you use a prong collar, here's a tip. Sometimes, the link can disengage, allowing the dog to get off-leash. You can use an extra-long chain training (choke) collar as a back-up. To do so, connect the leash to the non-sliding ring of the chain training collar. Provided the chain collar is long enough, it doesn't interfere with the operation of the prong collar.

Like many other training tools, this kind of collar can be effective, ineffective or harmful, depending on the handler and also on the individual dog. It's vital to learn how to choose and use collars correctly to avoid subjecting your dog to confusion, discomfort and injury ... and to avoid self-sabotaging your plans to obedience-train your dog. It's always worth consulting with a certified, positive methods-oriented trainer or canine behavior specialist when starting to train and educate your dog.

* Body/shoulder harnesses. There is quite a variety of harnesses. Some are described below. Some advantages of harnesses over more traditional neck collars: comfort; allows the dog some greater range of motion; no pressure on the neck and throat (important for sensitive dogs); nice for outdoor activities such as hiking; good for some canine competitive events such as tracking. Disadvantages: some harnesses can chafe under the arms, and for those, slip-on pads and sheepskin covers can help; some handlers report less control with some harnesses (though that depends on the dog and the type of harness); since the head has more freedom of movement, the dog can more easily graze on walks and get in other dogs' faces; some Houdini hounds can slip out of some harnesses.

Some body harness choices include:

Front control harness: When the dog pulls, this harness guides the dog to turn back toward you. A drawback is that some dogs can slip out of this and some other kinds of harnesses. But through careful fit and managing your dog, you can avoid that.

Harnesses designed to reduce pulling: When the dog pulls, this variety of harness pulls the front legs back, nearly stopping the dog in her tracks. When she stops pulling and looks at you, praise her, give her a treat, and then move forward. The No-Pull and similar harnesses fit loop around the front legs and over the shoulders. Fit the harness so that it is snug but not tight or you'll impede blood circulation. Remember that this kind of harness provides no control of the head; also, it is not recommended for dogs with back problems.

Sporn harness: This well-designed restraint has straps that go around each leg and hook to the back of the collar. It works very well to discourage pulling, and many users find that it gives them better control than does a training or prong collar.

* Head harnesses. These clever, humane training devices include Gentle Leader (also known as the Promise collar) and Halti. As one trainer says, they're like power steering for dogs, and when used correctly, make many dogs feel more calm and safe. Recommended by the veterinary experts at Tufts University School of Medicine, the head collar/head harness is based on the principle that wherever the head goes, the body follows. Like horse halters, dog head collars hold the jaw and cheek, with one strap encircling the dog's nose and another running behind the back of the head. You hook a leash to a ring to the snout strap under the chin.

Used properly, head harnesses enable you to keep and redirect your dog's attention to you, helping give you the edge over distractions such as squirrels, rabbits, bicyclists, skaters, smelly roadside "attractions" and other approaching dogs and humans. Then when your dog is looking at you, reward her for paying attention to you and ignoring everything else.

Gentle Leader (www.gentleleader.com), Halti and similar collars pull the dog's head downward when the dog pulls, thus hampering forward motion. For many dogs, if the device is used correctly, the device coattails on natural physical responses and helps the dog soon figure out the correct response (ie, walking with instead of ahead of the handler, not lunging or pulling).

For an idea of how head halters compare to other types of collars for walking, Sarah Wilson of "Good Owners, Great Pets" (greatpets.com) suggests pros and cons. Advantages: excellent control over the dog's nose, particularly helpful for scavengers and aggressive animals; allows for smooth direction of dog with no jerking motion; allows smaller and less powerful people to more easily manage larger/more powerful dogs; because action is smoother, corrections are more acceptable to many. Disadvantages: some people don't like the "muzzle" appearance; head halters must be fitted properly to be safe and effective; second "back up" collar recommended for safety (particularly with strong dogs); some dogs take a while to get used to these collars; some dogs appear depressed or stressed on the head halter; can be dangerous if misused (do not jerk the leash, and never use head halters with a long-line or retractable lead); may not stay on some short-nosed dog; especially for bulgy-eyed dogs, eye scratches can result if the dog fights the head halter.

Expect the dog to struggle to remove the head collar when you start to use it. Practice inside, in very brief sessions, using tasty tidbits or even bits of peanut butter to distract and calm the dog. In most cases, the dog will acclimate to the head collar and eventually become very comfortable with it. The key is proper acclimation and use of the device. And never jerk this kind of collar.

Since it is possible for some dogs to slip out of a head harness, some trainers recommend placing another collar on the dog (and attached to the leash) as a back-up. Chain training collars are a good choice for this because they're loose enough to let the head collar do its job without interfering. Attach the leash to both collars just in case the head collar comes off. On a related note, Gentle Leaders are sold in buckle and snap-closure styles; opt for the buckle style for security. Some people use head collars long-term for their dogs; others use them during training periods and then phase out the head collars after the dog passes behavioral/training goals.

Be sure to read up on head collars/harnesses before using one. An in-person demo by a canine professional can be helpful as well. As with everything else "dog", starting off on the right foot, and paw, really pays.

See these good articles about head collars and how to choose and use them at


By the way, some folks object to the somewhat muzzle-like look, but head collars are not muzzles, and cannot be used in place of a muzzle, since a dog can still use his teeth when wearing a head collar. These collars can be very effective for many handlers and individual dogs. Properly adjusted, your dog will have plenty enough range of motion to bark, drink, eat, lick and pant.

* SofTouch SENSE-ation harness. This no-pull device employs SofTouch, a no-force training method that applies horse training concepts to teach dogs not to jump, lunge or pull. Dogs learn using their sense of touch and natural instincts, avoiding stress or injuries. The leash connection ring on the chest strap moves the strap in four different directions to apply body cues. More information at www.softouchconcepts.com and www.st-training.com.

* Self-correcting Z flexible leash/collar. This healthy, humane design helps prevent the injuries common with other dog restraints, while increasing the handler's control and comfort. Versatile for walking and training, the Z features a cushioned, durable, adjustible collar affixed to the end of the flex section. It can help train your dog without causing the pain evoked by many of the more traditional collars. The same company also offers a humane leash designed for walking two or more dogs at a time. Find details at www.larzequipment.com.

* Shock collars. We do not recommend shock collars for training, behavioral modification or other uses. Positive reinforcement typically works better than punishment and use of pain, which is an aversive. If you use a shock collar, your dog will likely associate the pain of the shock with whatever triggers his pulling, lunging or other undesirable behavior, instead of associating it with the behavior itself. Thus, for example, if the dog pulls at other dogs when on walks, he will come to associate the pain with the other dogs -- which can stoke anxiety and possibly aggression, worsening the problem.

* Anti-bark collars. There are better ways to address a dog's barking behavior using positive reinforcement methods, including but not limited to clicker training. If you're considering using aversive devices, consider using a nontoxic citronella oil-spraying collar instead of a shock collar device. Not only is the citronella solution more humane, it's typically more effective. A Cornell University Veterinary College study showed electric shock anti-bark devices to be 44.4 percent effective, while a device delivering a squirt of citronella oil was 88.9 percent effective. For details, contact Animal Behavior Systems at 1-800-627-9447 or visit www.animalbehaviorsystems.com.

Some new leashes, FYI:

* Leash waist belt. While not a collar, we wanted to address this sometimes-handy device, by which you can brace the dog with your whole body. One drawback: depending on you and your dog, you can get pulled down. That's why it is not a good choice for people who want to bike or skate with their dogs in tow.

* The Bottoms Up leash. Designed for arthritic dogs and dogs suffering from leg and hip injuries, this device encircles the dog's backside with webbed straps and lifts weight off the hindquarters. Information at www.Bottomsupleash.com

A reminder:

When your slip collars, harnesses, head collars and leashes are not in use, put them out of the dog's reach, or else the dog may be tempted to chew on them.

Collar Safety Tips:

* Attach an I.D. tag with your address and phone number. This information is more important than the dog's name. Even a young pup can slip out a door. And even the most well-behaved "velcro" dog can get loose and lost. Take the effort to eliminate all opportunities for escape, but just in case, your dog should always have at least one form of I.D.

If the dog has an I.D. on the collar, there is a much greater chance that a neighbor or shelter will be able to contact the owner/guardian. Microchipping is highly recommended, but it is not a substitute for standard I.D. tags, because most people and some shelters don't check for chips. Tattooing the inner thigh is another way some people I.D. their dogs. Another choice is to have the address and phone number stamped on the underside of the buckle collar, although some people may not think to look under the collar for information.

We recommend using both a physical tag and an implanted microchip. Microchip I.D.s are now very affordable and available at most animal hospitals and through an increasing number of animal shelters and humane society clinics.

Remember, never attach I.D. and other tags to a training collar, leash or harness, since the tags should be on the dog at all times. Lack of I.D. is, sadly, what keeps so many lost dogs from being united with their owner/guardians.

* Adjust the buckle collar snug enough so that the dog cannot get a paw, limb or jaw stuck in it... another dog can't get entangled in the other's collar while playing...and the collar is less likely to catch on something. Such situations can lead to injury, trauma, suffocation or strangulation. There should be room enough only for you to slip two fingers between the collar and the neck.

* For people who have two or more dogs, adjustable collars can be problem because one dog might yank on the other's adjustable collar, tightening it to the point of danger.

* Crates and collars: Most people who crate their pups with the collars on have never had a problem, but in a few tragic cases, dogs have gotten collars and tags snagged on crate wire, leading to panic, neck injury and even strangulation. The risk of such a situation occurring is reduced if the collar is fitted snugly, as described elsewhere in this guide.

A slight majority of trainers and dog handlers interviewed noted that they always keep collars and I.D. tags on their dogs except during bathtime, because the risk of a dog getting loose and lost without identification is greater than a dog being strangled by a collar. However, strangulation is a tragedy no matter what the frequency, so some people remove the collar when crating their dogs.

If you keep a collar on a dog being crated, make sure the collar is snug and minimize the length that the tags dangle. Make sure there's a tray, mat or other material covering the bottom of the crate so that the dog is not on or right next to the crate wire/rails/grid when he is lying down. (This will also keep the dog from getting his toes caught in the bottom grid, which has sometimes happened to a few unlucky dogs.) Some folks who crate their dogs use rolled leather buckle collars; if those collars get caught on something, the dog can usually break away because the part where the buckle attaches is weaker and can be broken.

If you remove the collar while crating, remember to put it back on as soon as you release the dog. Keep it close to the crate, but not so close that the dog could reach it and pull it into the crate.

* Check adult dogs' collars as well, since collars can get tight or loosen over time.

Leash-Handling Tips and Some Key Training Principles:

* If your dog resists your first attempts to walk him on leash, remain calm and positive, engage in encouraging happy talk and verbal praise for any sign of cooperation using the pup's name, and walk slowly and evenly forward, gently tugging as needed. No yanking, though.

* Since pups have limited attention spans, such training should be conducted in very brief sessions three times a day. Keep the initial "walks" very short (you might wish to just start indoors), working up to real walks over a period of several days. Again, remember always to praise at all signs of acceptable behavior. Use verbal praise, and consider combining that with little training treats or kibble that you can carry at all times in a pouch, fanny pack or zip-lock bag. This typically will accelerate learning.

* Watch Me: When the dog looks at you, use verbal praise and treats to reinforce this desired behavior -- paying attention to you and ignoring everything else -- with praise and small treats. You can teach the "watch me" command in this manner, which especially comes in handy when walking a dog who has shown aggression or fear towards approaching people or animals. Carry the treats in a fanny pack, zip-lock bag or pouch (you can even purchase special treat pouches from animal supply merchants). When using a head halter, say "watch me" while you turn the dog's head with the collar. She will learn that when you say "watch me", she must look at you to get a reward.

* Work towards having a loose leash during your walks with your dog. Meaning, your dog walks calmly beside you, confident you are in control and will protect him should any threat arise, and not straining on the leash.

* One technique to discourage your dog from pulling. When your dog pulls, every time he pulls, stop and turn in a complete circle towards the right. Try to get turned and headed in the opposite direction even before the dog sees you moving the other way. Keep your hands close to your center and arms tight. In this manner, the dog receives a gentle correction by virtue of the momentum of your movement in the opposite direction. Your dog will soon learn that he won't get where he wants to go by pulling -- and that he should pay attention to you at all times because at any time, you might change direction.

* Another stop-pulling technique: When your dog pulls forward on a walk, and you pull back, the dog pulls harder to counterbalance the effect. When the dog pulls forward hard, even with a flat buckle collar, trachea damage can occur. A training/choke collar can do even more damage. So to minimize these unwanted outcomes, try this technique: when the dog begins to pull, turn to the right and keep turning, wrapping the leash around your legs, quickly. This startles the dog into stopping, as he is tight against your left side, and all of your weight keeps him there. Next, grab the leash, keeping it tight, and pull your dog around the front of you, then around the back of you -- in a complete circle -- then back into the original left side position using little tugs. You will pull with the leash extended over the top of the dog's head, pulling forward, toward his nose, instead of backward, toward his tail. In essence, you are pulling the dog "forward", taking pressure off the neck. By pulling forward from overhead, you thwart the dog's ability to counterbalance you.

* Technique to stop lunging dogs. This is Los Angeles trainer Cinimon Clark's "Backing Up" technique. When the dog starts lunging at an animal, person or object on walks, just back up and totally ignore the dog. When he calms down, resume advancing in the direction of the behavior-triggering stimuli. Repeat as necessary. This shows the dog that if he lunges and acts up, nothing happens; he cannot move forward. It teaches both dog and handler patience. It helps to use treats. When you back up and the dog looks anywhere close to you, give him a treat. When the dog learns the routine, whenever he sees a cat, he will look at you for the treat.

* Ideally, you want to do more than to inhibit the undesired behavior; you want to extinguish the behavior and guide the dog to a more desirable response to stimuli -- such as ignoring it and paying attention to you.

* Discourage your pup or dog from mouthing, grabbing at or playing with the leash. Do this from the beginning and you will avoid problems. If your dog likes to grab the leash, put the leash back on its hook or on an elevated surface and tell the dog to sit (of course, first teach him how to sit before engaging in this leash exercise). Once he is sitting and waiting calmly, attempt to put the leash on again. Repeat as often as needed until the dog stays calm. He'll learn that he won't get to go on his walk until he behaves. Some folks also discourage leash-chewing by spraying the leash with bitter apple or wrapping the leash in aluminum foil.

Collars for Puppies:

* Many folks purchase a lightweight nylon collar that provides room for the pup to grow.

* Put a collar on your pup the first day you get him or her to help the dog acclimate. The longer you delay this step, the greater chance your active pup will try to pull off a collar. It's common for pups to try to scratch around and pull at the collar at first, since they don't care for new constraints. But do not give into sympathy; leave the collar on and the dog will get accustomed to it.

The same goes for taking the pup on his first walk on leash. The leash section of this tipsheet contains more leash-walking tips.

* While you do not want the collar too tight, you do want to adjust it snug enough so that the pup cannot get a paw, limb or jaw stuck in it, or so that another dog can't get entangled in the other's collar while playing, or so that the collar is less likely to catch on something. Such situations can lead to injury, suffocation or strangulation. There should be room enough only for you to slip two fingers between the collar and the neck.

By the way, be sure to puppy-proof your home to eliminate chances of your pup getting his collar caught on furniture pulls, appliance hardware, wires, fence edges and other things that protrude. We don't want the pup to get tangled or strangled.

* Safety collar choices include the KeepSafe Break-Away Collar by Premier. It is designed to prevent strangulation incidents such as from collars getting hooked on fences, deck boards, crates, vents, furniture knobs and cabinet hardware, or when two dogs get entangled in play. It features a special safety buckle that is reusable after release. The collar also has an override feature so the collar may be used while owners walk their dogs on leash securely. www.keepsafecollar.com, 888-640-8840.

* A word about metal link training collars, also called choke collars, and any other loose collar device: these are to be used only during training sessions and walks. Do not ever leave them on the dog, or you risk strangulation.

* Check your growing puppy's collar each week to see when it needs adjusting or replacement.

Collars for Cats, Ferrets and Rabbits:

* We recommend an I.D. necklace for cats, ferrets and rabbits that combines an adjustable-length collar and I.D. tag in one.

A Final Thought:

All of these collars should be considered tools in the trainer's toolkit -- tools to use when and if needed, and best used with initial guidance from a qualified canine trainer/behavior specialist. A growing number of contemporary trainers prefer positive reinforcement-based methods that use less aversive equipment. Some trainers will have a client use a training or prong collar to establish control only at the beginning of training with a new active dog, then switch to another type of collar as soon as the client gains the attention of the dog. However, it bears repeating that most training tools can be effective and humane or ineffective and harsh depending on how they are used.

More Information:

Collar choices:


Head harnesses/head collars:


Stopping Lunging and Other Undesirable Behavior on Walks:


Dog Tips! Robin's Dog Tips is a free feature providing tips and guidance on dog behavior, health, management, safety, humane treatment and other issues of interest to dog folks. To find current tips, see the index at http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/dog_tips.php . These tipsheets may be used free of charge for nonprofit purposes only. To receive the biweekly tipsheets, contact Tierneydog@yahoo.com

Pawtraits! To order an original, whimsical painting of a favorite pet -- and support animal welfare at the same time, contact Kevin Tierney through Tierneydog@yahoo.com. This Maryland-based artist donates 50% of proceeds to animal welfare charities.

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Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport