Just walk into any store that carries pet supplies and you will most likely see a wall full of different leashes, collars, and harness. What is the right equipment to use when training your Husky? In these articles I take the guess work out of it and I discuss the good, the bad, and the terrible when it comes to training equipment for your Husky. In today’s installment, I discuss how to evaluate training equipment and specifically, the many different kinds of training collars and how they work.
Where To Begin?
It is easy to become overwhelmed at all the choices of equipment. Asking people what they use on their Husky only seems to make the problem worse because one size really does not fit all when it comes to training equipment. While a piece of equipment may work wonderfully for one dog, it may not be liked or tolerated by another dog. Equipment must be matched to the needs of each dog and to the job it needs to do for the owner.
The Right Tool For The Job
To help you get started picking the right equipment for you and your dog, you must determine what you need the equipment to do for you:
- Do you want to use it when you are walking or running with your dog?
- Do you want it to help reduce pulling?
- Do you want it to protect your Husky while he pulls an object?
- Do you want the equipment to make it easier to control the dog’s movements?
- The most important question that needs to be answered is what kind of equipment are you comfortable using? If you cannot manage the dog long enough to get the equipment on the dog or if you cannot use the equipment in the way that is intended to be used then it will not be of any service to you or your dog.
Your Dog’s Needs
Before choosing a piece of equipment you also have to take the needs of your dog into consideration.
- What is the level of my dog’s training? If your dog still has not mastered Loose Leash Walking then any kind of collar that goes around the neck is not recommended as there can be significant trauma to the trachea caused by the pressure created by the pulling action of the dog.
- What is the comfort level of my dog with each of these pieces of equipment? If your dog cannot stand the feel of a nose or head halter then going with an appropriate walking harness is a much better option for your dog. If putting a walking harness on your dog causes your dog to pull forward like a freight train, then a nose or head halter is a much better option for your dog.
Learn About The Equipment
Before you can benefit from using a new piece of equipment, you and your dog may require some special training to make sure that you are using the equipment properly and safely. Make sure that you consult a qualified professional who can not only show you how to use the equipment but can also direct you to a different piece of equipment that may be better suited to your dog’s needs. Never guess when it comes to the safety and well being of your dog.
Outdated Training Ideas
Nothing creates a hotter debate than bringing up the topic of aversive equipment versus force free equipment. Rather than arguing the point of how well aversive collars do or don’t work, I simply would like to state that at one time these were standard equipment for dog training but now we have different tools at our disposal.
These days we have the option of using force free training equipment with our dogs. Why choose to continue using an aversive method to train when a gentle non-aversive method works just as well, if not better? I would urge everyone to think long and hard about what kind of equipment you are choosing to use with your dog and the lasting effects that its use has on your dog.
The Learning Curve For You and Your Dog
Far too many people believe that once they get that “magic” piece of equipment all of their training and behaviour problems will suddenly vanish. Sadly, there is no truth to this. These are tools to assist you while you train your dogs. They will not train your dog for you.
Tools will not replace obedience training or disciplined training regimes but they can help you while you train your dog. The right tool for the job can make a world of difference to you because the dog will not be fighting against the equipment. The right tool allows you to work in unison with your dog. To keep using the wrong tool only teaches your dog to do exactly what you do not want him to do …. to pull against the lead. The longer he is allowed to do this, the more it becomes a learned behaviour, and the harder it is to break him of the habit.
But you cannot suddenly change equipment, especially to something very foreign like a head halter, and place it on your dog and expect him to be okay with it. Most likely he will fight against anything that feels odd or unnatural to him. It really does not matter what new piece of equipment you are using on your dog, you need to introduce him to it slowly and gradually.
Some dogs may resist only slightly at the new equipment while some dogs may throw themselves to the ground, refuse to walk, or scrabble to swipe the offending piece of equipment off of them. Support the needs of your dog. Go as slowly as your dog needs to go.
As an example, here are the steps that you should use when gradually introducing your dog to using a head halter or nose halter:
- At first you allow your dog to get used to the feeling of the nose loop. While holding a treat in one hand, pass the loop over his nose while allowing his nose and mouth to reach the treat. Allow him to take the treat and then remove the nose loop. Repeat this procedure until the dog is comfortable with the loop being passed over his nose. Do not try to fasten the halter onto the head at this point. Also do not feed the treats when the halter is removed, only while the halter is on the head. Keep repeating this cycle allowing the dog to wear the halter for longer and longer periods of time each time feeding treats while the halter is being worn.
- When the dog is comfortable with the feeling of the nose loop and halter, you can begin working to fasten the halter. Again start for very short periods of time and then each time remove the halter. Work your way up to longer periods of time. Only feed treats while the equipment is being worn and never after it is removed. This way the dog equates the treat only with wearing the equipment.
- Then continue this pattern again for clipping the leash to the head halter. The dog needs to be desensitized to the feeling of being lead by the nose or the head. Work slowly in progressive steps before you ever think about heading out the door with the dog. Start with sessions that are 2 or 3 minutes long if your dog is very resistant and aim to increase sessions for up to 15 to 30 minutes. Make sure that you do not jerk the halter to correct your dog if he pulls as this can easily hurt the neck and spine. All movements and corrections must be done gently.
You can follow this same pattern for desensitizing your dog to any piece of new equipment that you are thinking of using. Only feed treats while your dog is wearing the equipment. Keep each set of sessions very short and work your way up to longer period of tolerance.
If your dog still refuses to wear the equipment even after careful and determined desensitization, then you may have to try a different kind of restraint system on your dog. There is no point in making both of your lives miserable because of a piece of equipment. Be flexible and support your dog’s needs.
THE EQUIPMENT LIST
Every type of equipment has its strengths and weaknesses. Before making an equipment selection, it helps to be able to do a side by side comparison of the equipment so that you can make a good informed choice.
There are several options for dog collars. There are Rolled or Flat Buckle collars, Martingales, Choke Chains, and Prong or Pinch collars.
Flat Buckle Collars
Made from leather or webbed canvas and have either a prong and hole style buckle or they have a snap together quick release clip. They come in varying sizes and widths. The correct width of the collar to use on your dog should be as wide as at least of two of the dog vertebrae in his neck.
For Huskies over 20 kilos (44 lbs) a flat collar should be an inch wide. For large Huskies or small Malamutes over 30 kilos (66 lbs) you need a flat collar to be at least 1.5 inches wide.
Large Malamutes should wear flat collars at least 2 inches wide. As a general rule you should be able to easily fit two to three fingers between your dog’s neck and the collar. Snow Dogs require sturdily built collars with heavy duty buckles or clasps. Light duty closures will break causing your Snow Dog to be able to break free of his collar.
Rolled Leather Collars
Similar to flat buckle collars except the back of the collar is not flat. Instead, the back of the collar is a tightly rolled round piece of leather. These collars are designed to use with longer haired dogs. The rolled design helps to prevent breakage of the fur at the back of the neck by giving minimum contact between the collar and the fur.
Flat collars that are split by the addition of a chain loop. The collar attaches to a leash via the metal ring at the end of the chain loop. The loop of chain is designed to tighten up the collar when your dog pulls which means that your dog cannot pull out of the collar as easily as with the flat buckle collar.
These collars must be adjusted so that even at their very tightest setting, the dog is not being choked. These collars were originally designed to use with greyhounds, whippets, and other sight hounds because in these dogs the neck is larger than the head causing them to easily slip out of regular flat collars. These collars gained popularity as a more humane option to using a standard choke chain.
Choke Chains, Slip Chains, or Correction Collars
These collars formed out of a length chain with rings at either end. When the chain is feed through one of the loops it forms a circle that is worn around the dog’s neck. By design these collars were intended to correct unwanted behaviour by applying a quick sharp jerk and an immediate release, called a leash pop or snap, when a dog displayed unwanted behaviours. Many times trainers, when working with larger dogs, would deliver huge collar snaps by running in the opposite direction to the dog to create an even larger jerking action.
The school of thought behind this collar design was that once the dog understood that a strong correction would be delivered if he misbehaved or did not comply with a given cue, that lighter and lighter corrections would eventually be needed. Many people also believed that the clinking sound of the chain during the correction would also serve to teach the dog to modify its behaviour.
To use this collar correctly required people to know that there was a right way and a wrong way to this collar. If the chain fed the wrong way the collar stayed tight and never loosened off when the pressure was released. Also, using the wrong length of chain would cause the sliding and “popping” action of the chain to be impeded. The chances of causing physical and emotional injury to a dog using this kind of collar is very high.
Pinch or Prong Collars
These were used by trainers as a kind of “power steering” for dogs as these collars needed less force and strength to use than a traditional choke chain collar. The Prong collar has a series of large chain links that have long blunt prongs spaced out on the inner part of the collar. This collar has another chain loop like the Martingale collar that is attached to the leash. When the leash is drawn tight to “give a correction” the collar tightens around the dog’s neck pushing the prongs into the neck and providing a pinch or a bite.
Some prong collars have plastic tips that can be placed at the end of the prongs to prevent some of the injuries that can happen when these collars are used irresponsibly by some people. It is possible for a dog to back out and slip out of this collar. It is also possible for the links of the collar to break causing the dog to become free of the collar.
We don’t use this collar in our training and we do not recommend you try it. It can cause damage to the dog when used incorrectly and it’s easy to use incorrectly.
Flat buckle collars are usually reasonably priced, convenient and easy to use, and the metal D ring on the collar allows you to display your dog’s identification and licence tags. These collars can be comfortably worn all the time by your dog. A collar will provide you with a certain amount of control while you are walking your dog on leash. Some of these collars can provide you with momentary compliance from your dog but compliance is not necessarily lasting in the long term.
Dogs can easily slip out of some flat collars simply by backing out of them. These webbed flat collars can also easily become caught in the teeth of another dog during play or a fight causing a choking hazard. Dogs can also become caught up and choked by their collars while they are being crated. Please read my article, Collar Safety For Your Husky for more information about this issue.
For safety reasons Choke Chains should not be left on unsupervised dogs as they can very easily become caught on an obstacle and due to its very design, the collar tighten around the dogs neck. The more the dog panics and pulls to free itself the more the collar tightens until the dog strangles to death.
Veterinary science has discovered that collars worn around the neck of a dog that pulls on the leash can generate force causing a rise in pressure in the eyes worsening eye diseases like glaucoma and any conditions where the pressure in the eye is a factor. Dogs with eye conditions should wear harnesses to keep unnecessary pressure from building up in the eye.
Canine Chiropractors have discovered that dogs that do not walk well on leash or that are just learning to be leash trained can suffer spinal injuries caused by the jerking action of the leash used with any neck collar. Also, there is evidence to support the constant pressure and trauma by neck collars to the front of the neck can cause problems and possible damage to the thyroid gland.
If your dog has not yet mastered Loose Leash Walking then a harness or a nose halter may be a safer option for your dog than a neck collar. Young puppies have a tendency to suddenly run or bolt so to prevent injury they too should also wear a harness while they are being taught to Loose Leash Walk.
Aversive Collars And Their Pain Factor
There tends to be less question about whether or not neck collars can cause physical trauma to a dog. This kind of physical damage is pretty easy to spot. But what about any emotional damage caused in relation to pain delivered by Aversive Collars?
Emotional trauma, like fear may be more difficult to spot because it can often be disguised as many other types of behavioural issues. Any astute behaviourist or Canine behaviour Specialist can tell you that very often the root causes for canine aggression lie in fear. When a dog does not know how else to handle or process the fear it feels, it can very easily resort to fearful aggression.
The use of Aversive Collars can be the cause for serious behaviour issues such as fear and aggression. And even if they don’t cause the problem they can often exacerbate these existing behaviour problems in dogs. Applying aggression against an aggressive dog often only serves to create more aggression.
In the cases of fear, when using an Aversive Dog Collar, there is a danger that the dog begins to associate the pain delivered by the collar with the sight of the trigger. For example, when another dog shows up the collar tightens, and delivers pain. The dog now associates pain with the sight of another dog. Now dog becomes anxious and fearful every time it now sees another dog.
The other common problem with using Aversive Collars is if dogs get excited when they see a trigger then adding the stimulus of pain only serves to fuel and increase their arousal level. In these cases the use of the Aversive Collar actually creates more arousal and it takes none of the arousal away.
There many options for training collars to use with your Husky. Make a good informed choice always support the needs of your Snow Dog.
In the next instalmment of this article, I discuss and compare Halter, Harnesses and Leashes for training your Husky.
As always we welcome your question, comments, and stories regarding this topic. When we share our stories and our wisdom we may be helping someone who is struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.