Something I’ve Not Just Recently Noticed

By Lynn –

A lot of people like to use training collars, both choke and pinch collars, for management of the dog during either during walks, or they just leave them on the dog all the time. Most of them only use the collars during walks.

And then they get upset when someone points out that the dog is choking itself because it’s pulling so hard and the collar isn’t allowed to release. “It’s the way we’ve ALWAYS done it and he’s just fine!”

(This happened to me a few years ago: someone came into the store where I worked at the time and her dog was hacking and wheezing from a tight choker. As I was one of the only employees who understood how to properly apply a training collar, I decided to step in and politely explain what exactly was going on and, for the benefit of the dog and to make her outings a little more fun for both, here’s a tip on how to use the choker correctly. She got upset that someone was “telling her how to walk her dog,” yelled at my manager about it, and I was reprimanded. I see both sides on this, where both of us went wrong…but to this day, I have no remorse about attempting to help that dog breathe easier.)

Here’s the point: the tool is not a magic bullet. There is no such thing as any tool that, once applied (or even merely PLACED on) to the dog, will magically fix the problem at hand.

Case in point…a horse and all it’s appropriate tack will not make you a first-place jumper. If you think the first couple of jumps are bad, keep watching (and don’t ask me HOW the guy picked that stirrup back up at the two-minute mark)! The text at the end translates roughly to “We guarantee that the animal was left with [only one ligera??] back pain and the next day was in perfect condition to return to jumping.”

There’s something missing from this picture, and it’s something a LOT of people tend to leave out: good ol’ elbow grease and a healthy relationship. Put it this way: giving me a tire iron neither makes me a mechanic nor makes my plebian sedan a flashy hot rod! Sure, I can use the thing…but do I do something to the lug nuts with it, or do I whack people or cars with it, or is it some kind of fancy paperweight? (For the record, I do know how to properly use one, thank you very much!)

Simply buying a training collar and putting it on the dog will pretty much get you nowhere.

You must know how to fit it correctly. This doesn’t mean “Can I toss it around his neck like I’m playing horseshoes?” It doesn’t mean “I don’t want him escaping from it, tighten it as FAR AS IT WILL GO!” Nor does it mean “I don’t want to hurt the poor baby, it must only touch his neck as lightly as a butterfly would land on a flower.”

You must know when to properly use it. Contrary to the advertising on a certain agility starter kit, this doesn’t mean “What do you mean, we can’t use it as his permanent/everyday collar?” It means that you take into account the inherent risks of what COULD happen when you are not around or you are too far away to do anything quickly in the event of an emergency. [Disclaimer: I am not against agility or any particular agility sets. Please make sure your dog is decked out appropriately with a buckle-type collar that has a low risk of catching on something, and be sure the set is safe for your dog to use!]

You must understand what role it plays in accordance with dog psychology, not yours. Does that extra-large tuff-looking 3″ spike collar do a better job on your mojo than that Viagra from overseas? Great! Now, what does it do for the dog? Is he really any better for wearing it, or do you think that he might benefit from something that might help you a little more with his misbehaviors?

You must understand what role it plays with dog physiology. If you can see raw skin after applying said tool, you are either using it incorrectly or it is simply not meant for use on dogs. If your dog is tearing his face raw because you can’t distract him with a treat long enough to KEEP him from trying to get that headcollar off, he might really be trying to tell you something (and no it’s not “I know you’re trying to take control from me and I don’t want that!”). If the choker you’re using is breaking off all the hairs around his neck so that the hair is significantly shorter and/or you can see his skin, it might be time to either look at another type of training collar, or think critically about how exactly (and how many times!) you’re correcting this dog.

You must not be ashamed to use it. This doesn’t mean apologizing for why your dog is rasping his face on the ground while saying “Tsk, he’s been wearing it for months and he still doesn’t like it!” This also doesn’t mean showing it off and attempting to alienate as many people as possible because you choose to be a jerk (no pun intended) about how you use it. It means educating yourself about the tool and being able to show both sides of how it works, and why it may not be right if someone’s just looking for a quick fix. (My response to someone who told me what a cruel collar I had was something like “You’re right! Some people don’t know how to fit pinch collars properly, or how to use them fairly and humanely! I’d be happy to help you understand where these people go wrong so you might learn why my dog is well-behaved, confident and happy.”)

You must seek advice from a professional if you do not know how to use it. This doesn’t mean “My friend/neighbor/boss told me…” Unless your friend/neighbor/boss has direct first- or second-hand experience with the tool (such as what can be found here), it’s best to look for more opinions from someone who actually knows what they are talking about. Hint: Yahoo! Answers is not a good place to start. While some products do come with fitting and usage instructions, these are pretty much the “How-to” bare bones. Pretty much nothing that comes with any tool will tell you HOW to make it work the way it was intended, or what happens if something goes utterly wrong.

So do some research into what tool you choose to use and learn how it can both positively and negatively impact you, from either how you use/apply it, or even just how it’s made. If a trainer can’t give you such an analysis for most commonly used training tools out there, whether or not they use it…then you might want to look elsewhere.