I know that something as basic as dog collars might not require having an entire article written about it, but hopefully once you have read it, you’ll walk away understanding the differences between them all a bit more, especially the pros and cons of each type. I will start off with collars that I personally view as safe and friendly moving on to the less than ideal, and end with the absolutely absurd and abusive.
The Flat Buckle Collar
There aren’t any tricks to this, and no explanations are needed on how it’s supposed to work. It is my belief that every dog should have at least one standard buckle collar with their name, your contact information, rabies vaccine tag, and city registration tag. (It is the law to have city registration, at least where I live.) The important thing to note about this particular collar type is that the size of the collar must fit your dog. The best test for this is to stick two of your fingers beneath the dogs collar and move around their neck. If it’s comfortable to you that way, it should be good for your dog. Unfortunately many times people will forget to check the collar on their dog, and collars can become embedded in the throat of the dog or rub away the fur. This is painful for your pet and if you notice any red skin or hair loss, remove the collar immediately and readjust the buckle or get a new one if need be.
The Martingale Collar
Historically, the advent of the Martingale collar is found with sight hounds, as they have necks thicker than their heads. Increasingly these collars are being seen across the board as many trainers and pet owners consider them a kinder, gentler, baby version of the choke or slip collar. For proper fitting of these collars the width of the dog’s neck should be the width of the collar when drawn closed, which when not being pulled will rest comfortably around the dogs neck. Natural Dog does not promote use of this type of collar.
Gentle leaders are head halters similar to those seen in everyday use on horses. The idea is similar in that with the leash being connected at the chin, the head of the dog is more readily controlled with less frustration on both ends. If your dog has a pension for eating strange things off the sidewalk or if you have a huge friend, these halters can be very helpful when used correctly. This is not to say they cannot be used on all sorts of dogs either. With that in mind it is wise to seek advice on the proper use of these collars because of how they function. A quick jerk on a tool like this could cause damage when compared to what might occur with a buckle collar. If you’ve ever experienced whip lash just from turning your head too fast then you can understand this warning. The process of introducing your dog to this tool should be slow and full of treats and rewards. Don’t shove their head into it and expect them to be comfortable with it. Dogs who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the halter may try desperately to pull it off and hurt themselves by scratching their faces or causing their paws to become tangled in the material. Remember, going for a walk shouldn’t be stressful for your dog just because of this halter. (Haug et al, 2002) (Ogbern et al, 1998).
Basic Harness and Easy Walk Harness
Your basic harness is also another popular and familiar item. It is a working of material that runs down the front of the dog’s chest and around their front legs with a ring for attaching the leash located in the center of their back. It’s use and practicality vary from dog to dog, regardless of size and temperament. Many people believe that the harness prevents your dog from pulling, and while some harnesses are created in a way that cause discomfort to your dog when pulling, a basic harness will actually make it easier for them to pull. Once you’ve removed the control from the head and neck area they are allowed to push against it with their chest, a much more broad area of their body, which is more comfortable to do. With that said, any dog can be taught to loose leash walk with a standard harness with the same technique you would apply to use with a buckle collar.
Easy Walk harnesses are another trend on the rise. The biggest difference they have with the standard harness is that the ring for attaching the leash is now situated in the center of the dog’s chest. When walking, if your dog decides to run ahead, the tension created on the leash at the center of their chest causes them to turn into you, making forward movement awkward. This could cause injury to your dog if a sudden jerk is applied knocking the dog off balance.
This collar uses global positioning satellite technology to help locate your pet if he gets lost.
The following collars are the ones that in our opinion should never be used. There is no scientific evidence to support their use, and are considered ‘punishers’.
The choke collar does just that, choke. It’s use is typically found in large breed dogs and bully breed dogs, because for some reason people think their tracheas work differently than other dogs. When a dog pulls on the leash, the chain tightens around the throat, effectively cutting off the wind pipe and scrunching all those vital tubes and arteries uncomfortably close together. For dogs with extra skin around their throats, it tightens and pinches the flesh as well. The choke collar is a noose in every sense of the word, tightening in on itself as pressure is applied away from the rings attached to your leash.
Prong Collars or Pinch Collars
These “tools” come in varying degrees of wickedness, from plastic points to the more familiar metal prongs. These collars do nothing, apart from embedding fear and uneasiness into your dog. When the prong collar is used as a corrective tool for training your dog, the behaviors that are strengthened are that of distrust and fear. Your dog does not like these and they do not get used to them. When a dog does something which provokes a correction, the prongs are tightened around their necks and driven into the flesh, pinching and hurting the dog. When used overzealously, the injuries caused by these “tools” can be extremely painful and traumatic.
These are collars which have electric nodes attached that send strong shocking pulses of electricity to the dog’s throat. You’ve more than likely seen a dog with one of these running around, with an owner too lazy to train, and ignorant to boot. Defense of the use of these collars runs from:
- Dogs that are too large
- Aggressive breeds
- Hyper dogs
- Roaming dogs
Though these may be good excuses to undergo extensive training and checking, it still doesn’t come close to being a good enough reason for implementing such painful methods as the shock collar. The shock causes the dog to associate anything around it with discomfort and pain. If you were to shock a dog every time they showed interest in approaching dogs or people, they will become reactive to dogs and people in the future.
Always keep in mind that no matter what kind of problems you think your dog is experiencing, physical abuse and correction should never be an option. There are always ways to work with your pet and to encourage behaviors that end well for the both of you. If you feel that your dog can never be taken on a leash, feel free to seek help and advice from a qualified behaviorist.
Our Position Statement on Use of Punishment
Natural Dog Behaviour is concerned with the recent re-emergence of Dominance Theory and forcing dogs into submission as a means of preventing and correcting behavior problems. For decades, some traditional animal training has relied on dominance theory and has assumed that animals misbehave primarily because they are striving for higher rank. This idea often leads trainers to believe that force or coercion must be used to modify these undesirable behaviors.
In the last several decades, our understanding of dominance theory and of the behavior of domesticated animals and their wild counterparts has grown considerably, leading to updated views. To understand if the techniques that are being used are Dominance Theory-based, we must first understand the principles.
Definition of Dominance
Dominance is defined as a relationship between individual animals that is established by force/aggression and submission, to determine who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots, and mates (Bernstein 1981; Drews 1993). A dominant/submissive relationship does not exist until one individual consistently submits or defers. In such relationships, priority access exists primarily when the more dominant individual is present to guard the resource.
In our relationship with our pets, priority access to resources is not the major concern. The majority of behaviors owners want to modify, such as excessive vocalization, unruly greetings, and failure to come when called, are not related to valued resources and may not even involve aggression. Rather, these behaviours occur because they have been inadvertently rewarded and because alternate appropriate behaviours have not been trained instead. Consequently, what owners really want is not to gain dominance, but to obtain the ability to influence their pets to perform behaviors willingly —which is one accepted definition of leadership (Knowles and Saxberg 1970; Yin 2009).
Applying Dominance Theory to Human-Animal Interactions
Even in the relatively few cases where aggression is related to rank, applying animal social theory and mimicking how animals would respond can pose a problem. First, it can cause one to use punishment, which may suppress aggression without addressing the underlying cause. Because fear and anxiety are common causes of aggression and other behaviour problems, including those that mimic resource guarding, the use of punishment can directly exacerbate the problem by increasing the animal’s fear or anxiety.
Second, it fails to recognize that with wild animals, dominant-submissive relationships are reinforced through warning postures and ritualistic dominance and submissive displays. If the relationship is stable, then the submissive animal defers automatically to the dominant individual. If the relationship is less stable, the dominant individual has a more aggressive personality, or the dominant individual is less confident about its ability to maintain a higher rank, continued aggressive displays occur (Yin 2007, Yin 2009).
Natural Dog Behaviour promotes harmony between humans and companion dogs through understanding and communication based on positive interactions only. We do not use or endorse any training technique or device that uses dominance, aversion, physical punishment or harsh correction.
– Neal Espeseth