Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Don't Underestimate the Importance of the Proper Training Collar


Pet Column for the week of April 21, 2003


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ann Marie Falk
Information Specialist

After you bring home that cute puppy you couldn't help but love, a trip to the local pet store is your next stop. Cruising down the aisle, you fill the cart with food bowls, toys, and, of course, a collar! Choosing the correct collar is extremely important for both you and your pet.

Proper use of training collars is vital, and most collars are used incorrectly. Dr. Christine Merle, a veterinarian formerly with the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, explains, "A collar won't be any good unless you know how to use it. It is important to learn from someone how to put it on and use it properly."

A common mistake is putting the collar on too tight. Two fingers should be able to fit between your pet and the collar. Dogs also need to become used to wearing a collar, and this training should begin when they are puppies. The first time you put a new training collar on your dog, the problems you've been experiencing will not go away immediately.

"A dog needs to become accustomed to a collar. You can't just put a new collar on one day and expect your dog to walk normally. The collar is a training tool and a learning experience for your dog," comments Dr. Merle.

The most prominent training collars currently on the market are the choke collar, pinch or prong collar, Halti or Gentle Leader, and No-Pull harness. Not all dogs respond to each collar the same way. What works well with your neighbor's dog may not be the best choice for your dog. Dr. Merle advises, "Knowing the ability of each collar helps you find the appropriate one."

A choke collar is a chain or rolled, braided nylon. Prong collars are made of metal prongs that connect to each other and provide many pressure points. With both types the owner corrects the dog using a quick motion that sharply tightens and releases the collar while telling the dog to stop. The dog is given minimal choice or control.

Some dogs learn to ignore the collar when allowed to pull steadily and continually against it. The owner no longer has control. Dogs that pull forward constantly against the collar will often make a choking sound. If your dog is doing this, stop the use of the collar. Such collars can damage dogs' necks when not used correctly or if the dog is able to override it. Proper training from the start can prevent these problems with choke or prong collars.

Choke and prong collars can be very effective training tools when used appropriately and many professional dog trainers use them as part of their training plan.

The Halti, Gentle Leader, and No-Pull harness, on the other hand, allow the dog control. These collars pull the head down when the dog pulls, thus stopping forward motion. The collar also places pressure behind the head in the spot where dogs signal each other when they want to control or stop another dog.

With these collars the owner is a bystander. The owner should not tug on the Halti or Gentle Leader. The dog needs to be allowed to make the correction.

"By giving the dog control, you allow it to fix the problem as well. This teaches proper behavior without punishing bad behavior," says Dr. Merle.

These head collars are very similar to horse halters, holding the cheek and jaws while one strap runs over the dog's nose and another behind the back of the head. The leash is hooked under the chin to the nose strap. Owners may find these collars a little intimidating to put on at first but will have little problem after being shown the correct way.

Head collars give you more control of where the head is, and where the head goes, the body usually follows! "Taking control of where the head goes is better than taking control of the neck, because the neck doesn't necessarily guide where the body moves," says Dr. Merle.

As with all collars, getting the appropriate fit is of utmost importance. The dog should be able to comfortably eat, drink, pant, and bark. These collars are not muzzles. Dogs can still bite with a head collar on. These collars are great for dogs with neck problems and are extremely safe.

No-Pull harnesses fit under the dog's front legs with loops over the dog's shoulders. When the dog pulls, the harness pulls the front legs back thus slowing the pace. Make sure the collar is not too tight, because it could cut off circulation.

The harness is great for dogs that pull or lunge, but if your dog is prone to nipping, this collar is not recommended because there is no control of the head. Also, if your dog has back problems, a different collar may be more appropriate.

Appropriate training collars can help you to enjoy your daily dog-walking adventure! For more information about the correct choice of training collar, consult your veterinarian and professional dog trainers.