Not all dogs like wearing a collar. Maybe they’ve never worn one, they have a negative association with the collar, or they might even have some level of discomfort based on the collar material. Some dogs might tolerate wearing a collar but react nervously to being led by the collar or having their collar touched.
However, there are times when you might need to lead your dog by the collar to keep them safe. Plus, collars are helpful for canine identification. So it’s key to work with your dog to help them feel comfortable wearing a collar. Please note that if your dog hates wearing a collar, only place the collar on them to work on leash walks and then take it off until they are accustomed to it.
Always use caution when training a dog who's sensitive to touch to keep both yourself and the dog safe. Make sure you are never at face level with your dog while working on this training; this can be intimidating for the dog and can also put you at risk of getting bitten. It’s important to establish a trusting relationship with your dog and be sure to read their body language to assure you are not pushing them too far.
How to get your dog comfortable with a collar
Don't worry if you're starting from scratch because your dog is not comfortable even wearing a collar. Most dogs are likely to progress past this quickly as you build a positive association with the collar. Here's how:
- To begin, grab some high-value treats that your dog really enjoys.
- Place the collar on the ground and mark this by saying "yes” (you can also use a click from a clicker) anytime your dog looks at or touches the collar. Then, give them a treat.
- Once the dog is readily touching the collar on the ground, pick it up and hold it — one hand on each end — and repeat step 2. When holding the collar, keep it at a level below their chin. Do not push the collar into your dog's face; hold it still and allow them to approach.
Continue this process of building a positive association with the collar until your dog allows you to put it on them as they remain relaxed. Only keep the collar on for a short time at first and offer treats, so it continues to be a positive experience. Back up a step in the process at the first sign of the dog becoming nervous.
How to get your dog to like having their collar touched
The following exercise can improve a dog’s unpleasant association with their collar being touched. Make the training sessions into a game that excites the dog. Follow these steps:
- Put high-value treats in a pouch worn around your waist so that your hands are free.
- Take your dog to an area where you can use food rewards without interference from other dogs.
- Begin by giving several small treats to the dog without touching their collar.
- Touch the dog’s head with one hand. While you are still touching their head, give them a treat with your other hand. Repeat until the dog shows a clearly happy response when you touch their head.
- Touch under the dog’s chin with one hand. While you are still touching their chin, give them a treat with your other hand. Continue touching and treating, 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 they’re comfortable with.
- Once the dog is comfortable with being rubbed under the collar, start to move the collar while you are rubbing and treating.
- When you are able to handle the collar, put a short (2-foot) trail of treats on the floor and hold the dog’s collar as they move to eat the treats. Gradually extend the length of the treat trail, and 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, and let your dog get a good rest between sessions. You are gradually building your dog’s confidence with collars.
Leading a dog by the collar
Do not lead the dog by the collar until you have built a relationship and made touching the collar a positive experience. Why? There’s a difference between being able to hold the dog’s collar and being able to lead them 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 by the collar for walks and given a food reward after they’ve exited the house. Soon, no food reward will be necessary, though a treat 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 their comfort with collar handling.