The subject of which type of collar should be used to train a dog and whether it is "kind" or "inhumane" is fraught with controversy.
Although I don't require a specific type of collar in my training classes and only advocate the use of one over another on an individual basis, I will offer my observations on the pros and cons of each from my experience training thousands of dogs.
Not one to use a one-size-fits-all approach in training, I feel the selection of a collar should be based on a dog's age, breed, size, coat type and temperament.
And since it is equally important to consider the physical ability and temperament of the human half of the team, I prefer to see the dog and owner together before making a recommendation.
Collars and leashes are important tools in training, with their most valuable aspect being that they give the trainer the physical ability to effect a psychological change in the dog. Controlling the direction the dog must walk, teaching him to remain at your side and look to you for information as well as his choice to move at all become factors in defining the leader/follower dynamic in the relationship.
Used properly, collars and leashes enable owners to teach their dog basic commands and re-enforce their role as leaders. Used improperly, they become weapons with which impatient and frustrated handlers, lacking knowledge and ability, punish their dogs.
There are people who believe that some training collars are barbaric and cruel, and to that I must respond that it is the human on the other end of the leash that determines how any collar is used. I have found that in some cases, changing to a collar that immediately stops a dog's lunging and pulling may be the only way to convince an owner to continue working with his or her dog instead of chalking it up as a lost cause and banishing it to a life of backyard isolation.
The end goal should be to train the dog without harming it physically or psychologically, and continue re-enforcing proper behavior to the point of it becoming so habitual that the dog could literally be walked on a piece of string.
Flat or buckle collars
These collars, made of nylon or leather, are the best choice for everyday use and the ones to which a dog's ID tags should be fastened.
The nylon variety usually has a plastic quick-release buckle and the leather has one similar to that of a belt buckle. They are ideal for teaching puppies how to accept wearing something around their neck as well as how to walk on a leash, and many dogs never require the use of any other collar throughout their lives.
Not technically classified as training collars, they are often the collar of choice for people whose training is primarily clicker or food-based, as well as in the training of many agility and fly-ball dogs where the slip variety is undesirable and dangerous.
I am less a fan of the snap-together type because of their tendency to pop apart when placed under sudden or extreme stress, and in my classes I require owners with reactive dogs (large or small) to use another type of collar, or a slip collar in conjunction with them for security. This also applies to dogs whose heads are smaller than their necks and have the ability to back out of their collars.
A variation of the flat collar is a rolled-leather one, recommended for dogs with heavy coats to prevent breakage and hair-loss. (Frank wears one.)
Although touted as a "humane" choice, chronic pullers wearing flat collars are usually the ones that can be heard honking and gagging with their windpipe pressed against the collar as they pull their owners down the street.
Slip collars made of chain or nylon
When the metal variety of this collar, commonly called a "choke chain," is placed in the hands of someone who does not use proper technique it can cause discomfort or even severe injury to a dog. Used properly the collar should remain slack 99 percent of the time with any correction consisting of a properly-timed pop and instant release of no more velocity than is required to get a dog's attention. Because most people do not know how to use this collar correctly, they will pull back on the leash, constricting the collar around the dog's neck, and the dog will react instinctively in opposition-reflex to relieve the pressure against his trachea.
The more the owner pulls, the more the dog pulls the other way. Hence, choke chain.
Over the years I have witnessed heavy-handed trainers use these collars to choke-out or hang recalcitrant or aggressive dogs almost to the point of passing out, and it goes without saying that these monsters have no business handling dogs in the first place.
But these collars do have their place in dog training. I use a fine jewelry-link slip chain on Gilligan for training because it is the only collar that will not tangle or tear his ruff and because his desirable but narrow Collie head allows other collars to slide over it.
The nylon variety of slip collar may be indicated for use when training dogs with long, delicate ears that can be nicked by a chain, and also for dogs with sensitive skin, those allergic to metal collars and single-coated breeds to avoid hair breakage. The drawbacks of the nylon slip-collar are that the cheaper ones snag easily, and nylon doesn't release as quickly as chain so it requires proficient handler technique.
Finally, a discussion of slip-collars would not be complete without mentioning that they must be the correct size for the dog, and there is a right and a wrong way to put them on. If the collar is put on correctly, the ring with the leash attached will travel counter-clockwise over the top of the dog's neck (as you face him) and will release as soon as there is no tension. Incorrectly put on, it will lock up when tightened and not release. When using this collar, there should be no more than three inches of excess chain when tension is applied, and it is extremely important that a slip collar is never left on a dog when it is unsupervised, allowed to play with other dogs or alone in a car. If the collar becomes hung-up on something, the dog may panic and strangle itself. And NEVER attach the dog's tags and use them as everyday collars. Their use is for training only!
Next week: Prong collars, head-halters and why using a body harness actually encourages your dog to pull.
Kern Canine Activities will host a NADAC (North American Dog Agility Council) Trial Nov. 17 and 18 at the Kern County Fairgrounds on South P Street. Hours are 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There's no admission fee if entering at Gate 28.
-- 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.