Dog Collar Sensitivity

Black schnauzer wearing a green collar

Dogs who are anxious when led by collar

Some dogs are sensitive to their collars being touched and react anxiously to being led by the collar. However, there are times when you may need to lead her by the collar, to keep her safe. Please use caution at all times when training your dog to be comfortable with anything that she may be anxious about. It’s important to establish a trusting relationship with your dog; once you have that, you will be able to make good progress with training.

How to approach a fearful dog

Reconditioning a dog's negative reaction to collar being touched

You can use the following exercise to change a dog’s unpleasant association to her collar being touched into a more comfortable association. Make the training sessions into a game that the dog gets excited about and loves to play. Follow these steps:

  1. Equip yourself with food rewards that you know the dog will work for. Put the rewards in a pouch worn around your waist so that your hands are free.
  2. Take her to an area where you can use food rewards without interference from other dogs.
  3. Begin by giving several small rewards to the dog without touching her collar.
  4. Then, touch the dog’s head with one hand and, while you are still touching her head, give her a reward with your other hand. Repeat until she shows a clearly happy response when you touch her head.
  5. Touch under her chin with one hand and, while you are still touching her chin, reward with the other hand. Continue touching and rewarding, gradually moving closer to the collar area, until you are rubbing under the collar. If at any point the dog shows signs of avoidance or anxiety, go back to touching a spot she’s comfortable with.
  6. Once the dog is comfortable with being rubbed under the collar, start to move the collar while you are rubbing and rewarding.
  7. When you are able to handle the collar, put a short (two-foot) trail of treats on the floor and hold the dog’s collar as she moves to pick them up. Gradually extend the length of the treat trail until you are moving across the room, then extend the distance between each treat in the trail.

Limit the sessions to no more than three minutes each, with a total of three or four sessions per day. Remember, make it a game that your dog loves to play. Let her get a good rest between sessions.

Work on touching collar first before leading dog by collar

Do not lead the dog by the collar until you have built a relationship and done the steps above to change the association from something undesirable to a wanted reward. Why? There’s a difference between being able to hold the dog’s collar and being able to lead her by the collar. Some dogs are much more sensitive to the latter, so you should work on simply holding the dog’s collar first.

After the work is done, the dog can be led out by the collar for walks, and given a food reward after she has exited the house. Soon, no food reward will be necessary, although a cookie upon returning from a walk is always welcome!

Once progress has been made with one handler, start introducing different handlers in different locations to help the dog generalize her comfort with collar handling.

Staying safe around dogs