Dog training collars – which to use?

As with everything to do with dog training, you will get very different answers about what kind of training collar to use with your dog depending on who you ask.  Each type of collar – buckle collar, slip leash, Martingale collar, prong collar or choke chain – has its own benefits, so this article will cover many of the types of collars available and a bit of info on where they’re used.  Hopefully this will help you decide what will work best for you and your pup.

First, it’s important to understand that some types of training collars should only be used during training sessions. When you’re not actively training your dog, they should be in their regular collar. Specifically, these include the prong collar and choke chain.

Buckle collars

buckle collar stripedA regular buckle collar works just fine for most dogs as a training collar. The trick is to make sure it’s set at the right length for your dog. Many dogs are wearing collars that are much too loose to be effective.  Ideally, the collar should only be long enough that you can slide 2 fingers under it – and that’s all!  If you slide 3, 4 or more fingers in your dog’s collar, tighten it.  Other than making sure it doesn’t fall off them, it is safer and gives you more control.

Slip leash

Slip leashIt’s amazing how much you can train a dog with a simple slip lead.  I use them often. They’re nice because they loosen when the dog is walking nicely, and tighten when they’re not.  In other words, the degree of tension is totally dependent on the dog – assuming you are handling the leash properly. Since I like being hands-free as much as possible, these also are nice because they easily roll up and slip into a pocket.

Martingale collars

martingale collarOriginally designed for greyhounds, these make great training collars for many dogs.  They’re buckle collars, but work much like a slip lead, prong collar or choke chain because the degree of tension is totally dependent on the dog. They tighten or loosen depending on the dog’s tension. I’m surprised more people don’t use them.  My new pup Casey is in one whenever he’s having one of “those” days where he doesn’t think he needs to listen (and I disagree).

Prong collars and choke chains

These collars generate a lot of passion – from those who love them and from those who see them as tools of torture.  As with most things, to me it totally depends on the dog whether or not these are appropriate tools to use.  One thing, for sure, is neither of these are ever to be used as regular collars – they should be used as training tools only. They work like a slip lead in that they tighten only when the dog pulls, but otherwise hang loose around their neck. They are not tools of torture. On the other hand, I personally don’t think they’re necessary unless you have a very strong or very intense dog  that doesn’t respond to other methods.  If that’s the case, they’re absolutely appropriate to use and I’ve used them in the past.  Less so, now that I understand better how to communicate with my dog.  Still, they can be valuable tools when used properly.

prong collarProng collars are very effective with a strong or stubborn dog. They have teeth set at angle so that when the dog pulls, the feeling on their neck is similar to how a mother dog disciplines a puppy by putting her teeth on their neck.To test this yourself, go into a pet store and put one around your arm or wrist and give a quick tug on it.  That will give you a sense of how it feels to the dog.  Why your wrist and not your neck?  Because your wrist more accurately reflects how most dog’s necks are built.

choke chain collarChoke chains are just chains that tighten around the dog’s neck and work like a slip lead except they are made of chain. They’re often used on strong, powerful dogs. Never ever use them as a regular collar because they can be very dangerous if they are not put on the dog properly, and the dog needs to be under supervision at all times when wearing one.  To be honest, I’ve only ever used a choke chain a few times, so I’m not competent to comment on them.  I will say that I have seen them used effectively.  But if you’re going to use one, make sure you know how to properly put it on and are working with someone who is very familiar with them.

How I choose what collar to use

My personal preference is to start with the softest, most gentle initial method (buckle collar or slip lead) and work on having the dog want to do what I ask. Then, as needed, I gradually move up the tool list until I find the right balance between asking the dog to do something and then telling them that they have to do it anyway.  For example, for the first 2 weeks I had Casey, he was in a Martingale.  Now that he’s starting get the idea, he’s in a regular collar most days. I do foresee that I may need to get him a prong collar at some point for those occasions where he gets so excited that he loses his ability to pay attention. He is party Husky, after all…  Time will tell with that, since he’s only been with me for 3 weeks.

Hopefully, this bit of info will give you some good things to consider when you’re trying to decide what to use with your pup.

Dog parks – yes or no?

black-white dogs playingCasey is a tired puppy. He had his first-ever trip to a dog park today.  While many trainers discourage people from taking their dogs to a dog park, my personal perspective is that the answer to the question of whether or not you should go to a dog park is “it depends.” The up side of dog parks is learning socialization skills with other dogs and free range play to release pent up energy.  The down side is that owners may not pay attention to their dogs who are misbehaving, and there is the chance of picking up a disease or infection of some kind.  Here are some things to think about on both sides of the issue.

Dog Park Down Sides

I recommend keeping your dog out of dog parks when

  • The park is too small to support the number of dogs in it.  Your pup needs room to run and be alone if they so choose and a one acre park is a postage stamp – not a park. It’s hard for a dog to be properly socialized when they don’t have room and can’t easily avoid dogs they don’t want to be social with.
  • Dog owners stand around at one end of the park and pay no attention to what their dog is doing. This means there are probably dogs there who do not play nicely and fights can begin.
  • It’s a big flat space with nothing interesting to explore (i.e., trees, water, items to play on, and the like). Unless you have a retrieving dog, there is absolutely nothing of interest to dogs other than each other, and that can become a problem if a dog just wants to be left alone.
  • dog park mudThere is no grass – just dirt.  Beyond the mess (especially if it’s been raining), what fun is that? And how healthy is it likely to be?
  • There are no rules about vaccinations for park attendance and/or there is standing water that gets slimy.  Both of these instances raise the risk of infection or disease, which is not something you want your pup exposed to.

Dog Park Up Sides

Here are the good things about dog parks when the items listed above aren’t an issue.

  • Well behaved dogs in a dog park are a great way for a pup to learn proper socialization skills.  Nobody can teach a dog proper play manners better than other dogs.
  • It’s great for you because you can meet other dog owners who understand
  • Responsible dog owners keep an eye out for their own dogs and will alert you if your dog is doing something they know you don’t want.
  • dogs playingThey can run, play, and burn off steam
  • Because it’s an enclosed space where they can safely be off leash, it can be a great way to work on commands like “come” where they learn to come to you even if they’re free of the leash. That’s one of the things I’m doing to teach Casey.  He’ll be off and heading out of sight and I’ll call him.  So far, he’s doing really well about listening and comes running back. yay! But if he ignores me, I know he can’t go anywhere and get into trouble.
  • You get to return home with a very tired and very happy pup.  Such as you see here:

tired pup after 1st park trip 100115

Casey Puppy Training Week 3

Ok, so I was a little optimistic about Casey Puppy’s training plan for last week.  He’s still doing fabulously given the whole new exciting world he’s found himself in, but I need to take another week to let him get even better about a few basics such leash pulling and not exploding the instant he sees something exciting to a dog.

He’s come a l-o-n-g way in just 2 short weeks.  He’s about 80% of where I want him to be before we start working on serious basic obedience commands. Here’s what he’s learned and a few notes about how we’re working on that:

  • black dog in back of carHe can’t jump out of the back of the car until I say so
    • He has to wait for a minute or two until I can see that he’s just watching and not getting ready to lunge at the first exciting thing he sees
  • He can’t explode with excited joy whenever he sees a person, dog, squirrel! (ala Doug in the movie “Up”)
    • I bring him close and then slowly and calmly stroke his chest, ears, shoulders, or back until he settles down. Depending on the level of excitement, this can take a minute or two.  Patience matters here – he can’t move again until he’s settled down.
  • He can’t go through any door before me.  I can’t take credit for that one – it’s either a natural behavior on his part or his previous people worked with him on that.
    • This is a matter of simply reinforcing a behavior he already knows
  • dog coming when calledHe needs to consistently come to me when he hears, “Casey come!” This is a basic obedience command that must be obeyed always!
    • When he returns as commanded, he gets a “good boy” and some nice petting
    • When he ignores me, he gets a pop on the leash until his stubborn little butt is standing in front me. Then, after a moment’s pause, he gets his petting.
  • He’s not allowed to yip or otherwise pester me and demand play time whenever he wants it
    • yappy dogIf he’s nosing me, I push him away and ignore him until he settles down
    • If he yips (and he does have the Husky yip!), he is firmly told no with a palm’s up gesture towards him that says “forget it buddy.”  If he continues to yip, I slowly stand up and make myself big and just stare at him until he settles down. This usually involves him rolling over on his back and trying to get me to play.  This is completely ignored.

dog sit commandThere’s more that we’re working with — occasionally and randomly having him sit or lay down, and a few other basics like that.  So far, though, it hasn’t been in a formal training session.  I’m just occasionally introducing him to a new thing that we’ll work on more later once he’s just a little bit more consistent with impulse control and the things we’re already working on.

Hopefully, the ideas and approach given here will help you with your pup(s) too, and give you some ideas of things you can do or adjust to get the well behaved and happy buddy you’re wanting.