Properly used, collars support good training.
Collars are often overlooked as training equipment, which is a mistake. A good collar, made to handle the rigours of an active there is a wide variety of styles and materials to choose from.
What follows is a run-down of some of the most popular collars in the marketplace, along with their advantages and disadvantages as an essential, albeit basic, piece of canine equipment.
If the collar fits
The standard collar is only as good as its fit. I can’t tell you how many dogs I see with poorly fitting collars. This situation not only means they can often slip through it, but it could also be a hazard.
When a collar sits directly on a dog’s larynx it causes pressure in that area that can make breathing difficult and can even injure your dog.
Instead, a collar should sit high up on the dog’s neck, closer to its ears than shoulders. It should also fit snuggly; two fingers under the collar is sufficient and desirable for it to be safe and effective.
Leather: For the traditionalist, a leather collar is a time-tested classic. It requires little care and generally comes with a sturdy buckle fastener that, while somewhat heavy, is strong and dependable. The drawback is that wet leather can take a while to dry.
Nylon: Lightweight and strong, nylon collars come in many colours, are adjustable, and easy to care for. But don’t skimp. Cheap varieties tend to have weak or ill-fitting plastic snap clasps that don’t stand up to a strong dog’s occasional tendencies to pull.
Rubberized synthetics: A good compromise between leather and nylon is the more modern rubberized vinyl collar. Pliable and strong, most use a buckle fastener and offer strong D-rings for attaching the leash.
The big advantage of these collars is that they dry almost immediately, preventing a damp soggy collar that can encourages bacterial growth.
With terms like “shock” and “choke” is it any wonder many people see training collars as torture devices? Misuse and ignorance of proper training methods have led to rampant social media campaigns and even failed attempts at legislation aimed at banning many devices.
However, there is a grain of truth in those otherwise incorrect assumptions: training collars can do harm if used improperly. Informed training handlers understand that, while they are extremely valuable tools, training collars are only to be used when actively training a dog and should never be left on a dog when it is not being directly supervised by its owner or handler.
Electronic training collars: These relatively modern devices have revolutionized dog training. In the hands of an informed owner who has learned to humanely and carefully use them, they can be the most effective and compassionate of all options available.
Of course, improper use can create a disaster of a dog that is constantly confused and insecure. Take the time to learn from reliable electronic training manuals and you will be thrilled with the results.
Choke chain: This collar’s value is in its ability to be tightened when necessary and to loosen immediately when pressure is released. This is done by making sure the chain is large enough when on the dog that it can easily slide loose as desired. (See above diagrams).
Choke chains are best thought of as an extension of your leash and should always be removed when the dog is off leash. Never use them to tie a dog to a leash for lawn or yard time.
Prong collars: These collars look menacing, but in many ways they are more humane than the more widely used choke chain. The prongs are designed to apply a pinch to the dog’s neck, not to tighten around their neck. Accidental choking is impossible.
These are very effective collars and I much prefer them over choke style systems. It’s no surprise that most service dogs are trained using prong collars. With these, a dog’s failure to comply with a command isn’t an option.
Success in training is, and has always been, dependent on the tools used and how we use them. When we train our dogs properly, the result is better hunting companions and canine citizens, and perhaps in the mix we can build a better reputation for the methods and tools we depend on.
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Originally published in the Jan.-Feb. 2018 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.