Puppy Reactions to Collars
Let's face it: dogs wear collars primarily because they are part of our society, and as responsible owners, we are expected to have our pups under control when out and about. In the olden days, collars weren't as fashionable as today. On top of being used for control, collars also play an important role for identification purposes. Should the puppy get lost, ID tags up the chances for the pup being returned to the owner.
Introducing a puppy to a collar may seem like a no-brainer, but turns out, it takes quite some time for a pup to adjust to the sensation of having this foreign item encircle their neck.
Of course, every pup is different, and therefore, may react to wearing a collar in a different way, but a dislike for collars is pretty much a universal feeling for these youngsters.
Some dogs react by rebelling to the feel, while others just shut down. In general though, by the end of the day, most pups get accustomed to the feel of the collar, but some may take a day or two.
Why Do Puppies Hate Collars?
Most puppies hate collars with a passion once they feel them. They readily recognize they have a foreign body encircling their necks and react strongly so to try to remove it.
Just like a horse wearing a saddle for the first time, puppies will react to the feeling of a collar and will try anything to get it off. Common reactions are whining, backing away, bucking, rolling on the ground, rubbing against surfaces and scratching at the collar.
These reactions, if we think about it, are natural and adaptive. It is normal to react when we detect something that shouldn't be on our bodies.
Some puppies though may develop sheer panic in response to the collar. These puppies benefit from a gradual, step-by-step approach using baby steps during the introductory phase.
How to Get a Puppy Used To a Collar
A good way to minimize reactions to the collar is by choosing collars that are lightweight and comfortable. It helps to initially have it on a bit loosen, but not so much the puppy can grasp it with his mouth. Avoid putting on tags until your puppy gets better used to wearing the collar. Don't put the leash on right away, give your pup a few days to get used to wearing the collar.
Another good way to get a puppy used to a collar is to distract him while wearing it. The more your pup is distracted (and engages in pleasant activities that keep the pup's brain focused), the less attention he will pay to the collar. There are several ways to distract your puppy and crate positive associations.
- Provide your puppy with a toy he has never had before. I like to use a long piece of rabbit fur that the puppies can tug to their heart's content.
- Take your puppy outside in a safely fenced area. The distractions of the great outdoors can help distract your puppy and be less inclined to paying attention to the collar.
- Have a play date with another puppy when your pup gets used to the collar. Make sure you use a breakaway collar so that the collar will snap off in case one pup gets his mouth stuck in the other puppy's' collar.
- If your puppy has completed his vaccinations and the vet gave your the OK to take your puppy on walks, put the collar on for the walks and then take it off upon your return. If your puppy loves walks, he'll soon come to look forward to wearing his collar as it has become a predictor of this pleasant activity.
- Put the collar on your puppy right before mealtime and keep it on during the meal. Then, remove it the moment your puppy is done eating. With time, the collar will become a predictor that food is coming! Just like a bib for babies!
- If your puppy gets very upset, take baby steps. Put on the collar, feed several treats in a row, then take the collar off, hide it behind your back and no more treats. Repeat several times, gradually increasing the time the puppy keeps it on.
- The above exercise can be further split in further steps. You can use a clicker and click and treat for looking at the collar, then sniffing the collar, then for having the collar placed on the neck unbuckled, then for placing the collar around the neck unbuckled, and then finally buckled, ending with a jackpot of treats.
- Some pups may react less strongly to wearing a harness versus a collar.
- Be patient. It takes time for puppies to get used to wearing a collar. However, with time, they'll get used to the feeling and care less about it.
- Once your puppy gets used to wearing the collar, your next step is acclimatizing your puppy to collar grabs and teaching him to give in to pressure, which paves the path towards introducing the leash the first time.
- Don't forget to acclimatize your pup to collar grabs! Touch the collar and give a treat, then grab the collar with your whole hand around it and give a treat, then grab the collar and let your pup walk one step and give a treat, and then practice grabbing the collar and letting your pup walk a few steps towards his meal. Let go and have him enjoy his meal.
- If at any time during these exercises your dog appears uncomfortable, split the exercise into smaller steps or go back a step to find his comfort zone and restart from there.
- Last but not least, puppies often are bothered by the ID tags once attached to the collar. There are ways though to minimize the jingling such as using an elastic band to attach them to one another or investing in a dog tag silencer.