How Collars Can Change a Dog's Behavior

Some training gear makes dogs hot "under the collar".
Some training gear makes dogs hot "under the collar". | Source

Some Thoughts About Dog Collars...

A dog collar may seem like a simple device encircling a dog's neck for control and identification purposes, but there is more than meets the eye. While a collar by itself is obviously incapable of causing harm, the way it's used once the dog wears it can change behavior for the better or for the worst. Knowing how a collar can change Scruffy's behavior will make you a better trainer and Scruffy a better dog.

Collars from a Dog's Perspective

Along with the many things we introduce dogs to, collars are one of those that take some getting used to. If your dog has never worn a collar, you'll likely see his behavior change the first time you put it on. Whether you're collaring a puppy or a rescued dog who has never seen a collar in his life, expect behaviors such as pawing at the collar, shaking the head and rubbing on furniture or carpet to get it off. To make the process smoother, you can work on introducing the collar gradually and associating it with great things such as meal time and high-value treats.

If you've never heard about collar sensitivity, now is a good time to learn about this. This may sound like a new type of allergy, but it's actually a behavioral issue. It stems from repeated collar grabs to the point that Scruffy believes that, upon being grabbed by the collar, pain or some other unpleasant consequence will occur. This issue is widespread; consider that about 20 percent of dog bites occur when a person grabs a dog by the scruff or collar, according to dog trainer and president of Open Paw, Kelly Dunbar. To prevent this form of defensive biting, avoid creating negative associations with being taken by the collar, and teach your pup that the collar and your touching it leads to positive consequences. You may be interested in reading how to get a dog used to a collar and leash.

There are Collars and Collars: the Good, the Bad the Ugly

Choke collars, prong collars and shock collars may seem to change behavior for the best, but in reality they only suppress behavior rather than work on a dog's underlying emotions. If Scruffy is scared of kids on skateboards and reacts by lunging at them, you may feel compelled to use a shock collar to stop him from engaging in this behavior. Shock after shock, your dog may ultimately stop lunging, but the use of such corrections will do nothing to address the anxiety. Actually, the use of such a deterrent can sabotage the training process by increasing adrenaline and cortisol, creating more stress.

Some collars have the potential of creating deleterious effects on a dog's behavior. Choke collars, prong collars and shock collars cause constriction, pressure and pain along with negative associations. For instance, if you consistently give Scruffy a correction each time he sees children, other dogs and strangers, sooner than later negative associations will form and he'll start pairing them with pain. The risk with using punishment is that there are risks of creating negative associations to something in the environment, the environment itself or even the person handling the dog the moment punishment is delivered, according to Four Paws University.

Head collars may appear to be much more positive training tools than chains, prongs or shock collars. However, for many dogs wearing them, they can be mildly or even greatly unpleasant. Many dogs will turn into a canine version of a bronco, lunging against the leash, pawing at the collar and trying to rub it off. On the other hand, some dogs become very subdued, losing that special spark in their eyes and keeping their tails low. Don't confuse subdued behavior in this case with calmness, explains Pat Miller, trainer and owner of Peaceable Paws, an article for the Whole Dog Journal.

For a change, collars can also change behaviors for the best. Remember: Dog collars are only training tools, and as such, no tools should be a substitute for training. If you invest some time using positive reinforcement training along with force-free behavior modification and avoid using training tools that have the potential to cause pain and fear, then your dog will love wearing his collar and with that he'll also learn to enjoy walks, being around you and all the wonderful sights, smells and sounds that cross your path.

What collars do I recommend clients? Just regular buckle collars, harnesses and front-attachment harnesses. As a force-free trainer I do not allow choke, prongs or shock collars in my classes. The dogs respond beautifully to my techniques because they are based on positive reinforcement training. In my classes, my ultimate goal is to have dog owners no longer relying a leash. Yes, the leash is there to abide to local laws, but it's almost as if wasn't there because the dog has learned to walk on a loose leash. If you are interested in learning more about loose-leash walking, read my hub: The best leashes and techniques to train a strong dog to walk on a leash.

Alexadry© All rights reserved, do not copy.

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Comments 13 comments

wetnosedogs profile image

wetnosedogs 3 years ago from Alabama

Great article. With the harness for each dog, it will probably be easier walking the three dogs and they will be more comfortable.

Nature by Dawn profile image

Nature by Dawn 3 years ago

Thank you! I LOVE this article. Someone actually recommended a shock collar for training my sweet and gentle Labrador Maya to walk properly on a leash. She gets so excited when she sees people and other dogs that she can be difficult to control. Using positive reinforcement is working but it is taking a long time. The way I see it, though, I'd rather take a long time to do it right than take harsh shortcuts that might damage her lovable personality.

I saw a dog trainer last month that had their clients use both prong and shock collars to train their dog. One of these clients had a Dachshund. Seriously?!?!?

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Wetnose, thanks for stopping by! A Sporn No-pull walker can be a good idea. Best wishes for a blessed new year to you and your dogs!

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Nature by Dawn, it's amazing how many trainers are lately depending on e-collars. Slow and steady is the way. After all, children takes many years in school to learn so why would dogs have to learn in so little time as a 6-week class? I had a dog who got really excited to see people so I took her often to the city in crowded areas. There were so many people, she started caring less and had a great opportunity to train her. Tip: the worst thing you can do is allow your dog to pull sometimes yes and sometimes no. This inconsistency will make the behavior of pulling on the leash more difficult to eradicate.

Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 3 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

Great advice, I hate prong,shock and choke collars. With patience and reinforcement most problems can be overcome. I hope this hub reaches a wide audience.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Gypsy! I no longer accept them in classes as they conflict with positive reinforcement training. Thanks for stopping by!

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 3 years ago from USA

I have recently been thinking about changing my dog's collar from one on the neck to a harness type. She has been scaring herself while eating or drinking when her tag hits the sides of her dog bowl. I don't want to remove her tag or collar, but am thinking of optional ideas to keep her from freaking herself out. You have posted some helpful ideas here to keep in mind. Thanks!

GiblinGirl profile image

GiblinGirl 3 years ago from New Jersey

Really interesting. My dog definitely does seem to shy away a bit when I try to grab her collar to attach a leash and perhaps it's because I do tend to tug on her collar to correct her behavior, especially when walking her. I'll have to check out your hub on loose-leash walking. Thanks for sharing!

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

tlpoague, your dog may perhaps do well with a tag silencer such as this one:

KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 3 years ago from Sunny Florida

I was fascinated with the differences in the collars as far as their uses. I use a regular buckle collar on all of my dogs. Great article. Up useful and interesting.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for stopping by KoffeeKlatchGals! That's what I use too and my goal is to always walk on a loose leash.

FurMinded 6 months ago

Thank you for a well written article. It is my belief that any aggressive or hurtful stimuli used to influence a behavior will eventually backfire.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 6 months ago from USA Author

Thank you for stopping by, there should be no pain in training!

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