Collars and Corrections

I never recommend the use of a collar for a dog who is not on a leash. I have known of several dogs who have either been killed by a collar getting caught on something or who've had a near death experience and were saved only because the owners were right there to rescue the dog. Many (maybe most) people have their dogs in a collar 100% of the time not realizing the dangers, but if people had heard of as many dog collar catastophes as I've heard over the years, they would take them off.

For dogs on leash, I recommend several different types of collars for different situations. For puppies under 5-6 months of age, I only recommend a buckle collar or my personal favorite, a Martingale. Those who advocate positive only training methods recommend a halter type collar such as a gentle leader. There are certain situations where I would recommend a prong or shock collar if a person was trained in their correct use. I believe that these training devises have received a bad name because of those who don't know how to use them properly and kindly. The only collar that I do not recommend is a choke collar (sometimes referred to as a slip collar). I will discuss here under what circumstances I'd use the different types of collars.

If your dog is always under control on a leash and doesn't pull, then a buckle collar or martingale would be the best choice of collar. Mild corrections can be administered with either of these collars if your dog should pull. I recommend a collar correction once the dog is over 5-6 months and has been trained with positive methods not to pull, but still insists on pulling unless you are giving him an unending stream of treats.

I want to emphasize before starting a discussion of collar corrections that I do not use them unless necessary. Usually they aren't necessary. I might use leash pressure in higher levels of obedience training but that is beyond the scope of this article. For most of my training, I don't use leash corrections at all. It has only been necessary with a couple of my dogs and then only for a short time. I don't ever suggest training with leash corrections. Corrections are only for those cases where you are past the training phase and you are more than 100% sure that your dog knows what is being asked of him and refuses to do it.

Martingale collars are hands down my favorite collar. They are designed to fit fairly loosely and are therefore comfortable to the dog. They tighten up when a dog pulls. This can be the basis for a small correction, but more importantly this feature keeps a dog from pulling out of a collar when on leash. It is a tremendous safety advantage over a traditional buckle collar. Unlike the old fashioned slip or choke collars, the martingale has a limit on how tight it will tighten. There is therefore no danger of the collar tightening too much with extreme pulling and possibly damaging a dog's trachea.

Unlike the picture that is often painted by the uninformed, a prong collar in the hands of someone who knows how to use it can be a valuable and humane tool. None of my dogs fear or even mind a prong collar. In fact, they are excited to see it because it means a walk will follow. For a Golden Retriever (or really any soft tempered large dog), I recommend buying smaller links than are typically recommended. Links larger than 1 inch are not necessary and those can be painful. Collars with 1 inch links are typically only 12 inches long so for a Golden Retriever, you'll need to buy extra links for it to be long enough. I admit that the thought of a prong collar on me is painful, but dogs and people do not have the same type necks. Dogs have very tough necks with much tougher skin than people have and they are also covered with hair. I've never had a dog to squeel or cower or do anything else that would indicate pain with a prong collar. My gentle little pops are just reminders of Hey, I'm in charge. I control the speed. Don't pull me along. A prong collar, used correctly is basically power steering for dog walking. You don't jerk your steering wheel while driving. You shouldn't jerk a dog around while walking.

Another type collar that has gotten a lot of bad press is a shock collar. I often take 4 or 5 dogs out for a walk off leash. I put a shock collar on a couple of the more confident excitable dogs as a reminder that they need to come when called. I also wear my treat pouch and reward my dogs for quick recalls. The collar is just for insurance. Without the collars, I wouldn't feel comfortable taking so many dogs and some of them would miss out on the fun. For most walks, they aren't necessary, but for those times when there has been a big temptation, I've been glad that I've taken the time to put them on. I only use a level 2 out 10....only enough to remind the dog that he needs to listen if he doesn't come quickly when called. If your dog responds with more than attention or if your dog yelps or jumps, you've used too big of a correction. This can make a dog timid. Always use the smallest correction to get the needed response. I only recommend the shock inducing training collar for those who’ve watched a good DVD explaining their use such as the one with Michael Ellis.  Used incorrectly, a shock collar can cause more problems than it solves.  A dog trained to an invisible fence is essentially trained with this same type collar.  Again, I recommend not training a puppy with any type shock collar until they are over 5-6 months including to an invisible fence.

A head harness type collar such as the Gentle Leader is quickly becoming popular with all positive trainers. They claim that this collar controls a dog rather than correcting him. I personally don't want to control my dog on a walk. I prefer to train him. I like to give my dogs a choice and for him to learn to choose to do what is right instead of me always having to control him. I have a couple of Gentle Leaders and I have used them. They aren't my favorite. I personally don't like to take a walk with a dog that looks like he has a muzzle on. None of my dogs like the Gentle Leader. Granted, its advocates say that it takes time for a dog to get used to it, but I think it's interesting that my dogs prefer me to pull out the prong collar than the Gentle Leader and that no adjustment period was necessary for the prong. I do like the fact that the Gentle Leader stays secure, high on the dog's neck where any collar should fit. A dog's neck is more sensitive up high and having a collar fitted up just behind a dog's ears will give you either more control or a more effective correction depending on how you use it.

At the risk of being redundant, I will say it again. Use corrections sparingly. Positive training and corrections are like putting money into a bank and taking it out. You need a full account in order to have a happy confident dog. Take too much out and your dog will suffer.