Dog collars are one of the oldest tools used since the beginning of the human/dog interaction, and the purpose of it hasn’t changed a lot throughout history.
The first uses of collars
In the beginning, dog collars were used primarily for two purposes, to restrain the dog from running away (or to keep him under control) or the other purpose was to protect the dog’s neck when encountering predators (wolves, coyotes, bob cats, etc.), or in war battles.
Live stock guardian dogs, in many countries worldwide, even to this day, often wear spiked collars that can help protect their necks. In ancient times, dogs were excessively used in wars and conflicts. Being dressed up in heavy armour with large spiked collars, helped make them ferocious and well-respected warriors.
Dog collars in today’s world
Today we have dog collars of various different shapes, forms and uses. To make it easier we will divide them into a few groups:
- Buckle (flat) dog collars
- Slip Collars (choke chain)
- Prong collars
- Head halters (leaders)
- Spray (citronella) collars
Most all dog collars fall somewhere in these groups, the only one not mentioned here is the E-collar. Since the E-collar is a tool that requires specific instructions and a specific way in which to use them (this is one of the most misused tools that can create serious damage to your dog), I have created a specific part of the website for anyone who thinks of using this tool. On that page, you can find more details about E-collars and to help you determine if this tool is actually what you need or are looking for.
You can also find out more about the use of E-collars on the E-collar training page.
Buckle (flat) Dog Collars
A buckle (or flat) collar is probably one of the oldest types of dog collars in the world (along with wolf collars), and the purpose of it was the simplest one: to physically restrain the dog in order to prevent him from leaving or doing any kind of damage.
This is one of the first collars that most dog owners start with. This is also one of the tools that contribute to creating one of the most unwanted dog behaviors…Pulling.
Buckle (flat) dog collars don’t technically fall under the “training collars” group. If you are a new dog owner or new to dog training, just by doing some of the more common mistakes you will actually help your dog create pulling habits.
By being restrained and by feeling a little discomfort (pressure) from the buckle collar, the dog will actually increase drive and will start pulling in order to reach his goal. If you allow him to pull you, this will become a highly driven and passionate behavior that you may have difficulties dealing with down the road.
Buckle (flat) dog training collars are commonly used among clicker/marker dog trainers who use dog training techniques that are not based on corrections; however, dog trainers that use different training techniques have mostly found this type of collar to be of no use to their training.
Buckle (flat) dog collars are made out of different materials (mostly, leather, synthetic or rope) and have either plastic (snap) buckle or a metal buckle.
TIP: I always recommend using a flat collar with a metal buckle. Plastic is less resistant to wear and tear over time and you don’t want your dog’s equipment to fail at the most critical moment.
One of my students had a wonderfully trained and behaved dog that was not pulling in situations where most dogs would have failed. However, one day when she was walking on the side of the road, a car accident happened near her. The loud noise and commotion scared the dog, who pulled at the leash and the plastic buckle snapped. The terrified dog bolted a couple of blocks down the road. Luckily, nothing physically bad happened to this dog however in many cases dog owners are not so lucky.
Always remember that we are dealing with animals, and in real world situations many things can go wrong. The last thing that you need is an equipment failure.
Slip Dog Collar (choke chain)
The Choke chain became vastly popular during the 60’s and 70’s, primarily by Barbara Woodhouse and her show “Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way”. Today there are many varieties of slip collars (choke collars) either made out of metal or synthetic materials.
In today’s world of obedience schools, the use of choke chains is widely used. It would be fair to say that it is one of the most commonly used tools in obedience classes. The reason for this popularity is that it allows training concepts to be compressed into ridiculously short time periods of a few weeks or so.
Unfortunately, the majority of dog owners will face a complete failure within a few weeks after the school is done.
A Slip dog collar is considered to be a “dog training collar”. This expression was coined during the last century when compulsion and J&P (stands for jerk and praise) were standard dog training concepts.
The purpose of a Slip dog collar (choke chain) is to apply pressure (negative reinforcement) or a correction (positive punishment) when a dog is “misbehaving”. By popping the leash (as it is called in dog training terms) the slip collar will tighten around the dog’s neck and will only release once the dog slows down, or the handler will release the pressure once the dog performs the requested exercise on the leash.
Misuse of slip dog collars (choke chain)
Most people get choke chains in order to address behaviors. Pulling is one of the most common ones.
Will this help your dog pull less?
In the short run yes, in the long run, no! Normally, once you put the choke chain on your dog you will get results for some period of time until your dog develops a higher pain tolerance (the more correct term would be “learned helplessness”) and then he will start pulling again, more and more.
The same goes for the choke chain “corrections”. Often, I see dog owners (or even dog trainers) that use choke chains and constantly “jerk” their dogs for the same behavior patterns (misbehavior) throughout years, or sometimes throughout the dog’s whole life. Once the dog gets accustomed to one level of correction, you will probably need to increase the level of strength in order to get a response from your dog.
TIP: Always remember the rule of three, if it happens that you are applying the same corrective methods for the same behavior more than three times, you are either doing something wrong, or your dog doesn’t understand what he is getting the correction for. In either case, change the approach and try something else.
Are slip dog collars (choke chain) dangerous?
There has been a huge debate over whether or not the choke chain is dangerous, and from the scientific point of view of the argument, the answer is “yes”.
A Choke chain can (and will) damage your dog’s neck if used inappropriately for an extended period of time. It is recommended NOT to start using a choke chain for dogs younger than 6 months old. If your dog still pulls or you see that the choke chain doesn’t produce an effect on the behavior that you are trying to address, stop using it.
Unfortunately, it is a considerably high number of dogs that have various different neck damages related to choke chains. It is for that reason that veterinary associations across the world and many dog experts recommend using alternative dog training methods.
This is another type of dog collar that has been used for a long time. Together with the Choke chain, the prong collar is considered to be a “training collar” used most commonly with compulsion based dog training principles. This is an older type of training collar, but according to some references, today’s version of this collar was developed by a veterinarian. These references claim that the collar was designed to mimic a dog’s corrective bite to the neck (this is a common way of correction among dogs).
The biggest difference between a prong dog collar and other dog collars is the way the collar touches the surface of the dog’s neck. Most collars touch a dog’s neck with their full surface and length; prong collars on the other hand, have a minimum contact through only the ends of the prongs.
This design creates more discomfort and animals are more sensitive to it.
Pros & cons of prong dog collars
As with most dog training tools, there are both the good and bad sides to the prong collar.
The benefits of prong collars are:
- Immediate responsiveness from the dog
- The amount and level of pressure or correction is drastically lower than with other tools
- Tends to create far less physical damage than any other type of dog collars (if not abused)
Now the downsides for this type of dog collar are:
- In certain situations the level of discomfort can increase a dog’s aggressive response.
- It can provoke handler aggression
- If not used properly; it can create serious psychological and physical damage.
- It creates one of the highest levels of stress in dogs among different dog training tools (level of stress was measured by the dog’s cortisone levels in a study)
One of the reasons most dog owners choose prong collars, choke collars or gentle leads (head halters) is to address walking and pulling issues. If this is your reason then you are on the wrong path. Using one of the tools above may only temporarily fix your issue, or it may solve the problem only as long as the tool is applied.
TIP: As soon as you change the collar, the dog will go back to pulling, remember that any training aids are there to help you while training your dog, used on their own, they only provide a temporary solution when the tool is applied.
Head halter dog collars
These types of dog collars are relatively new on the market (comparing to other dog training collars), and have gained a huge popularity especially among “positive reinforcement” dog trainers. The description often attributed to these dog collars are along the lines of: new revolutionary design, non harmful way, etc.
The truth is that head halter dog collars, as much as they are advertised as a positive approach, actually use the same old technique as choke collars or prong collars, which is negative reinforcement.
The idea behind choke collars and prong collars is that when a dog pulls he feels a discomfort sensation (choking effect or prong pressure), and in order to shut down that pressure, the dog needs to slow down. The same principle works with head halter dog collars. If a dog pulls, his head gets turned sideways, and in order to release the pressure, the dog has to slow down.
Pros and cons of head halter dog collars
Although the principle is similar to the choke or the prong collar, there are different benefits of the head halters:
- Far less possibility of damage compared to choke collars
- Less aggravation or aggression escalation issues than prong collars
- Works great and is effective, even with large powerful dogs (who tend to have a higher tolerance to the effects of choke or prong collars, making these last two more ineffective than the head halter).
The negative sides about head halter dog collars would be:
- It takes some time to properly train a dog to accept these types of dog collars, and this is one of the biggest reasons why a majority of dog owners simply quit trying or decide not to go with these products
- Your dog will still get frustrated and stressed (as a result of being restrained in some situations, combined with the effect of negative reinforcement)
- A dog may overreact and get panicky in some situations (due to the sensation on his snout, combined with the effect of twisting the neck)
- There is a possibility of the dog sustaining neck injuries
Although many dog trainers argue that head halter dog collars are not “training tools” simply because there is no way to apply corrections, the head halters do have their own usage and one of the top ones (the reason why they were created in the first place) is to address dog walking issues, therefore it can be used as a training tool for this issue.
This is a great tool that can help you control your dog while you learn how to resolve the walking and pulling issues, unfortunately, most dog owners look at it as an external tool that will fix their issue, and then the head halters become a lifelong toll for their dog, as they skip the training part altogether.
Even if you have used head halter dog collars for years, without proper training to address the issues themselves, as soon as you stop using the halter your dog will go back to that pulling mode in no time.
Spray (citronella) collars
This is a relatively newer product on the market which it is often advertised as a better alternative to the e-collar. With all the bells and whistles about this product, as well as some studies done about it, this is one of the products that I personally strongly recommend not to use. And there is a reason why…prolonged punishment.
The principle of punishment states that the punishment should be applied during or right after the unwanted behavior (the best time is within less than 1 second), so that the dog can associate his actions with the correction in order to avoid performing the same behavior in the future.
For example, with an e-collar, it would be wrong to apply the correction and after hitting the “nick” button (which produces 0.15th second length shocking time), the e-collar continues to leak the electrical current (at a lower level, but still uncomfortable) for a period of a few minutes or even longer. This would be a prolonged punishment, and would result in a total failure. The dog would have no clue what he is getting the correction for and it can definitely be characterized as abuse.
Most people would agree that this would be wrong and they would feel uncomfortable if someone proposed this to them.
This is the exact effect that a spray dog collar has. Once the spray dog collar is activated and the citronella or other smell is sprayed in the air, a good portion of it ends up on the dog’s fur. And the dog can smell this for a long time. You will often notice that most dogs that have contact with citronella or other spray collars, start to react as soon as the collar is nearby. They start to shut down, and some people think that this means it ‘works’, but it is actually an effect of prolonged punishment.
A study done in the 1990’s by the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, claimed that the citronella bark collar produced better results than the normal bark collar, however they never published the after-effect findings, or the results of the overall dog behavior after the citronella was applied, only that it stopped the barking at that moment.
There are even dog trainers or “experts” that claim that dogs can’t smell the citronella after the initial cloud of spray disperses. This is underestimating the power of a dog’s sense of smell, which everyone can agree is extremely sensitive.
How good is a dog’s nose?
One dog expert and professional dog trainer from Canada, Jay Bissell was one of the first pioneers to train pipeline leak-detection dogs. Back in the 1980’s he was working for ESSO Company, and sometime in the late 80’s he was a part of a research project whose goal was to determine the dog’s sniffing capabilities, this study was conducted by the University of Oxford and the University of Auburn in the USA.
The researchers found out that a dog is capable of registering the scent at one part per trillion. The final result hasn’t been reached as the dog’s sniffing capabilities have gone beyond laboratory mixing/measuring abilities.
Although using a spray collar for correcting may look more appropriate or less harmful than other techniques, it is not up to us humans to determine what is more unpleasant to dogs. Every dog is unique, and every dog finds different aversive tools more or less unpleasant than others. It is the same thing with people, you can ask yourself, what would you prefer, a sharp painful pinch or to stink like a skunk for hours.
If the spray dog collars didn’t have that prolonged punishing affect, they would be a much more useful tool, but as mentioned earlier, because of the prolonged punishment affect, this is a tool that I wouldn’t recommend.
TIP: If the spray dog collar is your choice, I would recommend that you go with the brands and models that have replaceable cartridges or can be filled up with pure (unscented) water in order to eliminate the side effects as much as possible.
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