By Sherry Davis
Last week I weighed in on the pros and cons of flat or buckle collars and slip (or choke) collars for training purposes.
Here are the rest of the collar options:
Martingale or limited-slip collars
These collars combine features of both the flat collar and slip collar. They can be a combination of nylon and chain, or chain or nylon only.
A martingale collar has two loops; the smaller loop tightens the larger loop when pulled to prevent dogs from slipping out of the collar. It has limited constriction ability, applies even pressure around the neck, and is recommended for sighthounds and other dogs that can slip out of regular flat collars. I like them as transition collars, on brachycephalic breeds like Shih Tzus and Pekes, and for others needing minimal correction yet offering more control than a flat collar.
The much-maligned prong collar consists of a series of chain links with blunted open ends turned inward toward the dog's neck. The design of the prong collar is similar to that of the martingale collar with a limit to its tightening ability, but has links that are added or removed to make sure it fits correctly. When the dog pulls against the collar, pressure is only applied by the links in that specific area of the neck. Unlike slip collars, the entire collar does not constrict, or "choke," the dog.
These collars can be useful in bringing large powerful breeds under control, and operating more like "power steering" than weapons of torture, actually allow the dog the "choice" to maintain a loose leash. They should be used in combination with a training program to establish a leader/follower relationship, and once this is achieved, their use can be discontinued.
Interestingly, prong collars are often worn by guide and assistance dogs to assure control where the handler's strength is an issue, and also by police and military K9s in dangerous situations where their handlers must demand immediate obedience and be able to make effective corrections the dog will not interpret as punishment.
Quality of workmanship is important in selecting a prong collar, with the best ones being German-made. Poorly manufactured and cheaper prong collars do not have rounded and smooth links and can damage the coat or skin, and they are also extremely hard to open and close. Prong collars should be selected, fitted properly and used only under the advice and instruction of a professional trainer because their use with certain aggressive or reactive dogs can be counterproductive and is not recommended.
Halters are designed to work on dogs exactly like they do on horses. They fasten behind the ears and have a strap that wraps across the muzzle. This enables the handler to turn the dog's head in the desired direction, or slow forward momentum by pulling back.
Their use is indicated for walking or training dogs with weak or collapsed tracheas, but they are also often chosen as an alternative to collar training.
Many dogs object to wearing them initially, but this can be solved with positive training and a correct fit that doesn't allow the straps to dig into the dog's skin or ride up into their eyes.
They can be dangerous if the owner suddenly jerks the dog's head up or to the side, which can cause neck injuries. And while some trainers advocate their use with very aggressive dogs, I am not one of them. Although they have a latch that attaches to the dog's collar to prevent it from getting loose, if an aggressive dog pulls out of the halter, all control of the "business end" ceases. Although dogs can open their mouths, pant and drink freely while wearing a head halter, they are frequently mistaken in public for muzzles.
If you were to take a ride on a dog-powered sled in Alaska, it would become immediately apparent to you that all the dogs are wearing harnesses.
Or if you are watching one of the animal shows on TV with dogs participating in carting events or weight-pulling contests, you will see they, too, are all attached to their loads by harnesses.
A harness is specifically designed to be worn across the chest and strongest muscles of a dog's body, enabling it to apply all its body weight and power against the harness. A harness encourages a dog to pull!
So using a harness to teach a dog to walk on a loose leash without pulling, while not impossible, certainly gives the dog the advantage and may be a study in frustration for its owner.
If a dog has a medical condition that prohibits it from wearing a collar for training, then it should wear a harness (or a head halter), but many people simply put harnesses on their dogs assuming that the use of a collar for training is mean, or will automatically cause throat damage.
To that I say: Only with improper instruction or in abusive hands.
Next week: The dog trainer's "other" best friend: A good leash.
-- Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @csi4K9s. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.