Dog Collar Basics!
Hi everyone and thanks for coming back for more, or if this is your first article of mine to read, welcome!
I realize that something as seemingly basic as dog collars might not necessitate having an entire article written about it, but hopefully once you finish reading, you'll walk away understanding the subtleties between them all a bit more, especially the pros and cons of each type. I'll have some nice pretty pictures included as well and links to my favorite shops for them! I will start off with collars that I personally view as safe and friendly to our furry companions, moving on to the less than ideal, and finally closing up with the absolutely absurd and abusive.
The Good Guys!
The Buckle Collar: This is your tried and true, everyone's got one, collar. There aren't any tricks to this, and hopefully no explanations on how it's supposed to work. It is my strong 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. To all of you reading this it seems like a no-brainer I'm sure. 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 an exceptionally painful ordeal 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 the athletes of the dog world have necks thicker than their heads. A typical buckle collar might slip off their head. 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.
Gentle Leaders: 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. Shaping interest and building value for the halter is vital for your dog. 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.
Basic Harness and Easy Walk Harness: Your basic harness is also another very 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 causes discomfort to your dog when pulling, a basic harness will actually make it easier for them to pull if that's what they want to do. You've removed the control from the head and neck area and are allowing them 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 and I can't say anything bad about them. 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, and it also serves as a helpful reminder that, "hey! someone's on the other end of my leash!".
The Bad: I am tossing the Choke Collar in here in the middle as I believe that though it is a nastier type of tool to use with your dog, if used correctly, it can prove to be helpful for certain situations until a better technique can be employed. This is not me saying that certain dogs can't be helped and so must be controlled with a choke collar, because I absolutely don't believe that. But what I am saying is, if you can be taught how to calmly, gently, and maturely use a choke chain, then the chances of negative results happening lessen. 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. I don't know about that... 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 breeds or 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. You must be extremely observant of your dog when using this method as you don't want to overdo it. A dog should never, I repeat never be unattended with this sort of collar on. I also see at dog parks frequently dogs that are allowed to just run around and rough house with these collars on, or go busting through the woods. This spells disaster to me and it only needs a quick and strong enough freak moment to really hurt your dog, or worse.
The Ugly: The following collars I would like to discuss are the ones that I view as completely asinine and only aid in the movement of dog training backwards into the middle ages where might, brawn and fear were the tools of the day. I have yet to hear any argument condoning the use of these tools that is effective or makes sense. I find them unquestionably barbaric, and only serve as indicators of your poor education and ignorance in dog training.
Prong Collars or Pinch Collars: Nasty, nasty, nasty. These "tools" come in varying degrees of wickedness, from plastic points to the more familiar (sadly) metal prongs. If you can imagine the martingale collars fabric replaced by sharp, pointy, long barbs, then you've got the right idea. How these collars assist in doing anything apart from embedding fear and uneasiness into your dog, I'd love to know. When the prong collar is used as a corrective tool for training your dog, the behaviors that are strengthened are that of distrust and heightened paranoia. 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.
Shock Collars: Ooh the shock collar, how I loathe thee. I can't make up my mind which is worse between these and the prong collars. It depends on who's on the other end of the leash I guess. Anyway, 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 vicious and 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, guess what they'll become reactive to in the future? Yes, dogs and people.
Closing... 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. Give me a shot if you think an email or video could be helpful for you.
DarthShepherd on July 27, 2014:
I have to agree with previous comments; some misinformation on certain collars. As with any tool, if used in the wrong way it can have a bad outcome (ie., fire can be used for good: keeping people warm, cooking things, etc. or it can be used to destroy things; it all depends on who is using it) There are just some dogs that need stronger means of correction than others. I worked at a vet for a while and at a grooming shop for years, and I've seen more damage done from regular buckle collars and even head collars, than from any prong, chain, or e-collar. Not saying that those collars CAN'T do damage; I'm just stating that in the 10+ years I've been working with dogs, I've never had any negative outcomes from using a prong collar or e-collar (personally I'm not a fan of choke chains, but I do use them) I've never had a dog act scared or like they were uncomfortable when using these types of collars. If I did, I wouldn't use them!
Ken B on February 21, 2014:
Your article is full of misinformation at the best, and possibly disinformation. There isn't an electric collar in the world that physically harms the dog, those marks were caused by an owner who had the collar on loosely and let the collar get wet, which resulted in the skin being rubbed off the dogs neck. And the prong collar is technically the safest collar listed, as it does the least amount of damage to a dogs trachea and neck, and there's plenty of scientific data to back that up. But, just like anything, in the wrong hands anything can harm a dog. A dog can seriously be injured using a harness if the owner jerks the dog around with it. The quality of the prong collar is also an issue, the prongs need to be large and well rounded, a sharp prong will of course cause lacerations.
The e-collar in particular is a very useful tool that allows for communications and corrections from a distance, without any pressure whatsoever on the dogs trachea, neck, spine, etc. I use mine set on 2 out of 100. I have set the collar to 100 and timed it out on my leg (10 seconds), so I know full well what this collar feels like. Yes, if someone with no idea how to use an e-collar throws it on their dog and starts hitting buttons, the dog is going to wind up a basket case, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a highly useful tool in the right hands.
And yes, I do believe in positive reinforcement, it's how all of my training begins. But, with a true working dog, like the Malinois from good working lines, one would have to be ignorant or foolish to think that corrections are unnecessary.
T-W on November 29, 2013:
I had a Doberman puppy that was really starting to pull. One day with prong collar, treats, rewards, and gentle use, it corrected the problem. It didn't embed into his flesh of put him in pain. It was simply uncomfortable, he had a choice and he had to give me the right answer. It wasn't harsh and he didn't act frightened, scared, or in pain. He responded well and corrected himself to loose leash walking
Gu on January 24, 2012:
I have also seen people using the prong collar inappropriately- even in public settings! Great hub!
smilemegrj (author) from North Dallas on January 24, 2012:
Thank you both very much for your supportive comments. I was inspired to write this based on what I saw at my local dog park as well as from my experience working with dogs in various circumstances.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on January 24, 2012:
Good Hub on dog collars. I was married to a Vet. and I've seen dogs come in for treatment with a chain collar inbedded into the dog's neck. It would require surgery to cut it out and suture the poor dog. I hated owners who did this to their dog. I voted this Up etc.etc.
Cardozo7 from Portugal on January 24, 2012:
I like the way you write.Good hub. I personally prefer the chest harness, but i think it can get easier with a neck leash in the way you control their heads better. If you control their nose you pretty much control everything when walking outside