There are dogs who hate collars, and then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there are many dogs who love collars and shake in happy anticipation, eager to having them put on. Understanding why dogs hate collars can be helpful so to better comprehend their behavior and the steps needed to help them habituate to wearing collars and harnesses.
A Lack of Habituation
In general, all animals have evolved to be wary of their surrounding and suspicious of any novelties and changes in their environment. This is an adaptive trait which in the wild could have made the difference between life and death.
Just imagine what would happen if African herbivores weren't vigilant when going to take a sip from a river where many predators may be waiting for the perfect occasion to feast on a meal. A lack of vigilance would easily turn costly from a survival standpoint.
Although dogs are domesticated animals nowadays and are fed kibble in shiny bowls, they still retain instincts that inculcate them to being aware of their surroundings and noticing anything that is new or different. It is therefore quite normal for dogs to react to new noises, a strange creature or something as simple as feeling something odd around their neck.
Although such exposures may be perceived as frightening initially, the good news is that, through repeated exposures, the new thing starts to be recognized as being a non-threat, and therefore, that initial startle response should disappear. Soon, your dog should therefore start to categorize such exposure as non-harmful and maybe even safe. This process is known as habituation.
Problems start though when dogs fail to habituate to something and actually end up becoming sensitized. In other words, they get worse rather than better. So rather than getting used to wearing a collar through repeated exposures, they keep on balking and have more and more intense reactions.
In their minds, they are likely convincing themselves more and more that the collar is something that shouldn't be there sitting on their neck and should be immediately removed. If these dogs are able to actually remove their collars, their panic and attempts to remove it are reinforced, creating a pattern that repeats over time.
A Matter of Fear
So what causes some dogs to care less about wearing collars while others dread them?As imagined, fear can play a big role as to why dogs hate collars.
A dog's brain may be wired in such a way as to making them hypervigilant and extra wary of certain things. Research has shown that animals such as dogs are capable of developing fear memories, and a predisposition to certain fears can be passed from one generation to another.
Genetic influences may therefore play a role in how dogs respond to stimuli in their environment and whether they are able to adjust.
A Lack of Early Exposure
Ideally, breeders should expose their puppies to wearing a collar from an early age. Often, this can start from as early as the puppy is still in the litter. Indeed, many breeders let young puppies wear special colored whelping collars for identification purposes (to differentiate puppies who often look-alike). This provides a good start to getting puppies used to wearing collars.
If your breeder hasn't got your dog used to wearing a collar before he's sent to your new home, not all is lost. If you start getting your puppy used to the collar before he reaches the age of 12 weeks of age, you are off to a better start. In fact, during this time puppies are more adept to learning and accepting stimuli around them.
A lack of early exposure to collars and leashes may therefore lead to a puppy who may struggle more in accepting this gear versus a young puppy who is more prone to adapting quickly.
Touch Sensitivity in Dogs
Hyperesthesia, is a term used to depict an excessive sensitivity to stimulation related to the senses such as hearing and touch. An excess sensitivity to touch is professionally referred to as "tactile hyperesthesia."
Affected dogs may cringe, balk and even act defensive upon being touched. This can be due to some underlying medical problem, a simply low threshold for being disturbed (such as when the dog is sleeping or resting) or simply a learned reaction due to some negative experience in the past.
Once again, good breeders will usually get young puppies used to being touched. They will weigh puppies, get their pups used to having their paws and feet handled, pet them and get them used to veterinary visits.
Once adopted and placed in their new homes, puppies should continue being handled by their new owners to keep up the good work.
A Traumatic Experience
Sometimes, something may have happened which caused a dog to become fearful of a collar. For example, perhaps they got their paw stuck in the collar, perhaps they were frightened by the tension of the attached leash, perhaps a shock collar was used in the past.
One negative experience may be all it takes to cause long-lasting fear in some dogs. When this happens, it's referred to as "single-event learning."
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs have their own good reasons for hating to wear collars. These dogs need patience and a graduated, step-by-step approach to allow them to be comfortable wearing the collar. Following are some tips for dogs who hate wearing collars.
- Have your dog see a veterinarian. This is to exclude any potential medical problems that may cause touch-sensitivity and a general reluctance to wearing a collar. Your dog may be in pain or may not see well and balk when hands hover near their faces.
- If your dog is fearful or touch-sensitive, for safety, have a dog behavior professional guide you through. Fearful dogs can bite so use the upmost caution!
- Get young puppies used to wearing a collar from a young age. For more tips on this read: why do puppies hate wearing collars?
- Create positive associations with the collar. Hold the collar behind your back and present it. Give a tasty treat when your dog looks at it or sniffs it, then place the collar once again behind your back, and no more treats. Treats happen only when the collar comes out!
- When you must feed your dog, place the collar next to his bowl. Do this every time your dog enjoys his meal. When the food bowl is put away, so is the collar. Meals happen only in presence of the collar.
- Present the unbuckled collar next and make it briefly touch your dog's neck as you feed a treat at the same time. Touch neck with collar, treat; touch neck with collar, and treat. Rinse and repeat several times. Treats happen only when the collar touches the neck.
- Next, present the unbuckled collar and place it on the back of his neck and continue to provide treats every time it touches the neck. When he has finished eating the treats, remove the collar from the neck area.
- Next, place the collar on the neck and try make the two ends of the collar touch while your dog is eating the treats. You may have to have a helper feed the treats at this point if you can't do this with two hands. Remove the collar when he's done eating. Rinse and repeat making sure always that treats happen contingent upon the collar being on the neck.
- Next, do the same exercise but this time pretend you are buckling the collar while he is busy eating treats. Once done eating treats, remove the collar.
- The next step is to actually buckle the collar, but this time for real, making sure though that it remains loose. Give treats and rinse and repeat various times. Gradually buckle it more and more snug until it's snug enough that you can fit two fingers between the collar and your dog's neck. If your dog is uncomfortable at any time, take a few steps back to making it less snug and work more on creating positive associations at that level.
- Once your dog seems OK wearing the collar, make a big deal of it, tell him how good he looks in it and give lots of praise and tasty treats. Then, remove the collar and act boring again.
- Let your dog wear the collar when great things happen. For example, let him wear it before feeding his meals and remove it right after. Or let him wear it before taking him on a car ride (if he loves it) and remove it after.
- Don't attach your dog's leash to the collar until you have taught your dog to give in to pressure! An unexpected leash tug on the collar may undo all your hard work. Here's a guide for this: how to get your dog used to wearing a leash.
- Remember to remove your dog's collar when he's crated, playing with another dog and left unattended for safety.
- Avoid choke collars, prong collars and shock collars. These types of collars risk causing negative associations.