Training Collars

By Barb Gordon

During the past ten years the methods and understanding of the training of dogs have changed enormously. Along with that some new equipment has been introduced.

I have found that many of my new students are understandably confused in not only what method of training to pursue with their dogs, but which equipment is best. The following information is based on my own experiences in not only training my own dogs for basic obedience and competition sports, but on instructing both family dog and competition dog owners. It is not meant to praise one method over another, or one piece of training equipment over another, but rather to explain design and usefulness. In doing so we hope that this will help the reader make an educated decision based on facts instead of emotional response.

THE PLAIN BUCKLE COLLAR

Every young dog that attends my class, starts out with a plain buckle collar. The reason for this, is that the owner is less likely to do damage to the dog, while learning. This is not to say that a plain buckle collar cannot cause a dog pain or be abusive, but it is more difficult to do so. Most new and inexperienced trainers have a tendency to fight for control by holding the dog in what I like to call a "death grip."

It's important to note here that I do not recommend the buckle collar because I feel it's "kinder." A dog pulling hard into a collar is still being choked and therefore being harmed and in some cases injured. The use of a plain buckle collar does not make one owner kinder and a better person than the person who uses a prong collar. It's how the collar is used that makes it a good training aid or an instrument of torture.

The other reason that my students start out with a plain buckle collar, is to evaluate just what equipment, if any, the dog will require in order to get the best and most positive results. In many cases the buckle collar is like a large truck without power steering. For many people, the strength required to control and train a dog with a buckle collar, is more than they will ever possess. Therefore they may never reach the level of obedience they are hoping for with this type of collar.

THE CHOKE TYPE

This collar comes under several different names and styles. It has commonly been called a choke chain but is also known as a snap and release, slip, or simply choke. It comes in several sizes of chain, nylon, rope, and leather. The very large chain link is known as a "fur saver," and is commonly used by people in protection dog sports. The "fur saver" as its name implies, means that it does not yank hair off the dog's neck, that the regular chain styles are known for.

There is a misconception that the choke training collar is kinder than some other choices, simply because it is in common use, and accepted in the obedience ring. This is far from the truth. Whenever a student decides to try out a choke collar on their dogs, they must first understand the principles of the "jerk and release." The collar is not meant to restrain a dog by keeping the collar tight around his neck in the "choke hold." Unfortunately this is what I most often see people doing to their dogs with this type of training collar.

The dog must also respond favorably to this collar and method. In other words, if the appropriate correction is given, the dog must have learned from it and responded in a positive manner. In other words his attitude is still good and the problem has disappeared. If this is not the case, this is not a good piece of equipment, no matter how acceptable it is

in the public eye. We are trying to do the best by the dog, not trying to please the uninformed. Some people unfortunately fall into the trap, that fooling themselves into believing they are being humane and pleasing others is more important than what is good for the dog. Truly what makes the dog happy. There is no kindness in this attitude, and in the long run both dog and handler will be miserable.

THE PRONG COLLAR

Also known as the pinch collar, this is the most misunderstood training collar. Its unusual appearance tends to frighten people at first glance. From my experience, it's a far better and humane collar than the choke. I have never seen a dog gag on a prong collar, have his skin pinched, or his hair pulled out.

When I first show it to an owner whose dog I feel will profit from its use, they usually eye it warily, and give me that sad owner look which says, "Do I have to?" "I don't want to hurt him." The underlying fear is that the dog will hate them.

First of all no one needs to use anything on their dog that they do not want to use, but I hope that the reason that they are making this decision is based on factual information, not on the human emotional need to think they are kinder, and better than others, no matter what it costs. The cost here being the welfare of both dogs and people. I have never understood the person that would prefer for the dog to remain untrained and undisciplined, perhaps even dangerous, based on their misdirected concern over the dog's happiness. Kindness is giving the dog a clear understanding of the rules, in a manner that he can quickly and clearly understand. This and nothing else makes a dog happy. If I know that the prong collar will get a dog there, it's the collar I will use and the one I recommend.

Once people get over their initial reaction, get the facts and understand the collar, they are usually overjoyed with the response from their dogs, that until then has been discouraging. Once balance is maintained, (in other words the humans are running the show and the dog is obeying), everyone is happy.

I never recommend a prong collar for competition dogs. I know a lot of people use them successfully, but my experience has been that the dogs become equipment dependent. They feel they must respond in a certain way when they have the collar on, because this is what they are used to wearing in a training situation. However when it's not on, they are usually not in a training situation and therefore do not need to respond i the same manner. The use of the prong collar is not allowed in the obedience ring or even on the grounds where they are being held. I've never really understood this since I consider the choke and the prong both training collars. Since you cannot correct a dog either on the grounds at a show or in the ring what does it matter what type of training collar he wears. However the rules are the rules and prong collars are not allowed.

Some competition trainers gave had success using two collars on the dog at the same time, a plain buckle, and the prong. The only way to see if your dog will respond well to this method is to try it. Once again I'm looking for quick understanding without losing attitude. When my dog is simply on the plain buckle collar, am I still getting the same level of obedience?

THE TACK COLLAR

This collar comes in two styles, the choke and the plain buckle. I prefer the plain buckle type. The collar is designed to be reversible. One side of the collar is flat and plain. The

reverse side has brass or copper rivets. These rivets can be left blunt or sharpened according to the hardness of the dog. In other words where they need to be to get the correct response without ripping the dog's head off. By the way if at any time you are ripping your dog's head off, you either need better training equipment, a course in good dog training, or both.

The rivets should never be pointed and sharp. Just like the prong collar they are not designed to puncture the dog's neck or inflict wounds. This would certainly be cruel and unnecessary. This collar was not created by brutal people to torture our poor dogs, but simply to be a better training aid. This is once again a very misunderstood piece of equipment. The advantage to the tack collar is that it is two collars in one. When a correction is necessary, the tack side is turned in. It is then returned to the flat side. This tells the dog that he is expected to be obedient on a plain buckle collar. This is especially useful for very bright dogs that quickly find that they cannot be corrected because they no longer have a training collar on. My experience with this collar has been so positive, I prefer it over any other collar I've used. Once again what I'm looking for is quick response and understanding, without loss of attitude. The thing I love most about this type of training collar is that once the dog is done with his initial training, he spends the rest of his training career on a plain buckle collar, because he understands that this is the collar he works in.

THE HALTI

This is a halter that fits on the dog's head similar to halters used on horses. The difference is that it has a pulley action that tightens down around the dog's nose and the back of his head when he resists. Some people are nervous that others will think they are using a muzzle on their dogs, or the idea of walking a dog on a halter looks silly. After struggling with a big strong dog and seeing how easily they are trained and controlled by the use of a halti, they are quickly won over.

The big advantage of the halti is that it controls the dog by his head where he has the least amount of strength. It also has a calming effect on anxious and aggressive dogs. When the dog is stronger than the owner, the advantage to the owner is that it gives them control over the dog by leverage. It's very easy to turn the dog's head and where his head goes his body follows. Sometimes dogs can be taken off the halti and returned to a training collar, but the majority of the time, they will wear the halti for walks, etc. all their lives. Therefore I do not recommend that the halti be used in the training of competition dogs. If a dog needs to constantly be controlled by training equipment due to aggression, then competition sports will be out of the question anyway.

THE ELECTRIC COLLAR

I own an electric collar, and have used it on very stubborn dogs when all else has failed. I know that there are trainers who train from day one with them and I've come across a few training videos and articles on their use, but I find nothing as helpful as hands on instruction. To date there doesn't seem to be sufficient information if any on the subject, or trainers in obedience, close at hand, that know much more than I do, so what little I know about their use has come from trial and error, and what little I've been able to gleam from other people's experiences. Its main disadvantage is that it's a very expensive piece of equipment, and unless you plan on training more than one dog, is probably not worth the

cost. The most useful thing I've found about them is to stop bolting and running, and to teach a dog to come. The biggest thing I dislike about them, is that even when using a dummy collar, the dog knows when the collar is on and when it comes off. So far as maintaining a high degree of response, with the collar off, I haven't had a lot of success.

People unfamiliar with the electric collars are concerned that the collar sends an electric shock into the dog's neck, the equivalent to sticking a fork into a wall socket. I have held my hand, which has thin skin, not hide like a dog's, over the contact points to see just what strength the shock is. While very unpleasant, it's hardly life threatening. In fact when weighing the odds of a dog running into a car, being killed or crippled, or stopping him with the electric collar, the collar wins out every time.

HARNESSES

Unless you are tracking, have a seeing eye, or service dog, carting, sledding, or your dog has some throat injury, I do not recommend the use of a harness. Some people use them because they think they are "kinder" then having something around the dog's neck. This may be so, but from my experience, dogs learn how to pull hard in a harness, and its design makes it difficult to stop this unwanted behavior, or to train a dog in general. They have a tendency to rub and chafe, (due to pulling hard) which can't be pleasant for the dog.

There is a new harness design that has come along called a "No Pull Harness." While it appears effective, when on, to control hard pulling dogs, as soon as it comes off, the dog remains untrained and out of control. When I'm looking at training collars or any equipment, I'm looking at its ability to train, not simply restrain a dog. So from that standpoint, I do not recommend the use of a harness.

The reason that there are so many choices of training collars, stems from the many different styles of work, that man has long used dogs for. In our modern world of pets, where simple companionship, or the freedom of pursuing sports, is more common, than the need to have a dog perform a very necessary function, we are more focused on collars communicating proper and/or better behavior to the dog. We think of certain collars as a better "hearing aid" so to speak. If a dog needs to be on a certain style of collar to suppress dangerous behavior, and the owner insists on a collar he feels the dog will like better, he does harm all the way around. The dog remains ignorant of good manners and a threat to good dogs and people, and the owners remain fearful of their own dog, existing on a very fragile relationship that both the dog and owner are miserable with.

In the training of competition dogs, a change in training equipment can quickly clear up a problem, simply by creating a better communication between the dog and handler. In fact improving the bond that's essential to team work. Whatever is decided, it is our hope that people will do so in the best interest of all involved and for real kindness to their dogs.