The difference between walking your dog - or for some, the dog walking you - and training your dog can often be explained by which collar you use, how you use it and when. This article explains the different types of dog collars on the market today, as well as how and what they are used for.
First things first: Any collar used on any dog can cause injury if used improperly. From the harness to the shock collar, a heavy handler, over-zealous owner or inexperienced trainer can employ techniques that can create such force and tension so as to create an injury. Any time a collar of any design is used it must be fitted and used in a manner that will not create pain, harm or injury.
No Collar Should EVER be left on a dog when the dog is unattended! I understand that many owners and professionals will balk at this advice but the bottom line is ... it is unsafe and unnecessary. Your dog should be micro-chipped so if it should run away and tuned into the shelter your dog will be scanned for the presence of a chip and returned to you.
NOTE: I will never use or recommend the use of shock collars as they are specifically designed to create, at a low level, discomfort and at a high level, pain. Because we cannot know the pain tolerance of each individual dog, it is more likely than not to cause pain. (Read my article; The Shocking Truth)
Buckle Collars are simply collars that are fastened with a buckle. They are typically made of nylon or leather and are can be flat or rolled. Most buckle collars are adjustable but do not tighten on the dog's neck once fastened. Rolled leather collars, although more expensive, tend to fit more comfortably. Adjustable nylon collars are recommended for growing pups.
Break-away Collars are a special quick-release collar that will unfasten if a strong pull is placed on the collar. However, the collar will not unfasten when attached to a leash. This collar was designed after the inventor's dog choked to death because its collar got caught on something.
Choke Chain (Slip Collar) is a length of chain or nylon rope with rings at either end such that the collar can be formed into a loop around the top of the dog's neck, just behind the ears. The ring which connects to the leash goes over the back of the dog's neck, not under. When the leash is attached to the dead ring the collar does not constrict on the dog's neck. When the leash is attached to the live ring the chain slips (adjusts) tighter when pulled and slips looser when tension is released. This type of collar should never be left on an unattended dog and always removed when the leash is removed.
Shock Collars/Electronic Collars often called remote or e-collars collars by advocates, and shock collars by detractors, are devices that deliver an electrical stimulus causing pain to the dog when given a correction. It is my experience, when evaluating most dogs that have been trained using shock devices, that these collars can destroy a dog's self-confidence. I would never use nor do I advocate the use of shock collars as an obedience training device. A well-trained handler, obedience trainer or knowledgeable owner, would never have to resort to using one. I have trained thousands of difficult dogs without the need to use a shock collar - which is really only using pain-compliance in an attempt to train a dog quickly. The results are often disastrous. (Please read our article: The Shocking Truth)
Head Collars (Gentle Leaders, Halti, Promise Collars) are also commonly marketed for use on dogs that pull. They are marketed to owners as "Gentle, and humane". (Yet, this manufacturer also produces one of the most popular brands of Shock Collar.) They were designed based upon halter's that are used on horses. However, unlike a horse halter, which sits down on the bridge of the nose, dog head halters sit below the eyes. Most dogs are uncomfortable with them and rightly so - the dogs muzzle is extremely sensitive and dogs use their noses and mouths to not only communicate, eat and play, but also to defend themselves. From a psychological standpoint, any canine, being a predator, would feel extremely vulnerable having its muzzle restricted in any way.
Halters are not muzzles - the dog can still drink, eat, bark, and bite! Also, there has been some concern expressed that a lunging dog could hit the end of the lead and snap its head around, causing injury to the neck.
Body Harness Harnesses are not collars. But, some people mistakenly use harnesses in an attempt to stop their dogs from pulling when on lead. This is a very contradictory use of the device - consider that sled dogs use harnesses to pull and you can imagine why they are usually not effective in stopping this behavior. However, for toy breeds they are often a better option than using any kind of collar for walking and training purposes.
Limited Slip Collars are adjustable collars designed to tighten around a dog's neck, but that stop tightening before they actually constrict or choke. They are good for dogs that tend to "slip" out of their collars but they are not as effective for this behavior as a choke chain or slip collar.
Martingales are similar to limited slip collars, except they don't have a buckle. Martingale collars are recommended for sight hounds because their heads are smaller than their necks and they can often slip out of standard collars. They can, however, be used for any breed of dog. Their no-slip feature has made them a safety standard at many kennels and animal shelters – we issue them at our doggie daycare. A martingale collar has 2 loops; the smaller loop is the "control loop" that tightens the larger loop when pulled to prevent dogs from slipping out of the collar. Similar to a prong collar, the martingale has limited constriction on the dog's neck and applies even pressure.
Prong Collars (and often mistakenly referred to as Pinch Collars) are used for the same purposes as the choke collar, to "correct" the dog by using a quick snap and release of the leash followed by praise. The prong collar is actually far safer, and much gentler, than the choke training collar. Prong Collars are a series of chain links with blunted open ends turned towards the dog's neck. The design of the prong collar is such that it has a limited circumference unlike slip collars which do not have a limit on how far they can constrict on a dog's neck. The limited traction of the martingale chain combined with the angle of the prongs prevents the prongs moving close enough to pinch. The collar is designed to prevent the dog from pulling by applying pressure at each point against the dog's neck.
Good Dog Collar - Plastic Prong Collar from Triple Crown. This dog training collar is actually just a modified prong collar, but it is made from hard plastic. They are more appealing to the eye. It works well for dogs that constantly pull on the leash but not so much that a traditional prong is needed. The link design fits together, producing a watchband pattern. This also makes it easy to remove links as needed, or add links to quickly lengthen the collar for a perfect fit.
John Rubin has been training dogs for over 27 years and has extensive equine experience as well. He is the founder of John Knows Dogs. LEARN MORE
Bonnie co-owns John's Natural Dog Training Company along with her husband John Rubin and is co-owner of Kamp Kanine. LEARN MORE
Jessica McCloskey is John and Bonnie's daughter and has been working with and training dogs from a very early age. LEARN MORE
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