Training collars are available in many different styles, each with a specific purpose. Some collars are initially less appealing than others; however, your choice of collar is based upon your dog's abilities, your past training experience, and the collar you're currently using. From gentlest to severest, your choices include flat buckle collars; expandable clip collars, head collars, martingale collars, nylon and metal choke collars, prong collars, and shock collars.
Buckles and Clips
Most people consider the buckle or clip collar their dog's everyday collar. The collar is usually 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide. Buckle collars have sturdy metal buckles and are almost indestructible. Clip collars are expandable (with a four- to six-inch range) with a plastic clip that fastens the collar shut. Convenient and inexpensive, this collar can grow with a puppy. It has two drawbacks. When the collar is at its tightest adjustment, there is a loop of collar that could catch on a crate, a branch, or another object and strangle the dog. Also, some of the plastic clips are so flimsy that if your shepherd is really straining against it, the clip could break, letting the dog loose.
Buckle and clip collars are recommended for training young puppies. They are gentle, and if training is started at home, when a puppy is only eight weeks old, this collar gives you all the control you need.
When the head collar was first used, it was a favorite among owners whose dogs often took them for walks. Specifically, owners of large breed, strong dogs that had never been trained to walk nicely (or dogs that had been adopted and hadn't had any training) benefited significantly from the head collar.
This collar is designed so that wherever the dog's head goes, his body follows. When the shepherd pulls hard, he finds himself facing you. Of course, this is not his intention. He learns quickly that if he wants to go forward, he cannot pull.
Collars come in several different materials. Nylon webbing, which can be flat or rolled (like a rope), is the least expensive material and can be washed. Decorative cotton fabrics can cover flat, nylon collars. These can be washed, too, but after some time the cotton wears thin. Leather collars are flat or rolled. They're durable and don't rub off the shepherd's coat; however, they are usually the most expensive.
The head collar is comfortable for the dog and does not restrain his mouth in any way. He can eat and drink with the head collar on — as well as bite. This collar does resemble a muzzle, so be prepared to have strangers ask if your dog is “dangerous.” If you are considering using the head collar, be sure to find a trainer who is experienced in fitting and training with this collar.
A martingale collar is a two-piece collar. The first piece is one to two inches wide and wraps almost all the way around the neck. A short length of chain or a strip of nylon loops through both ends of the neck collar piece and then attaches to a ring, forming a triangle. When the dog pulls against the collar, the chain tightens the collar around the dog's neck.
Another name for the martingale collar is a hound or greyhound collar. Sight hounds (those that hunt by sight with great speed) typically have very narrow, streamlined heads and wider necks, making it easy for them to slip out of a buckle or clip collar.
This collar doesn't choke the dog because the neck section is wide. The purpose of the collar is just to prevent the dog from backing up out of the collar. For example, if a dog puts on the brakes and you continue walking, attempting to drag your shepherd with you, the dog could slip out of the collar. If you pull hard enough, and if the collar is just loose enough, you can actually pull a fixed collar (buckle or clip) off the shepherd's head.
Also called training collars, choke collars are made either of rolled nylon or chain links. These collars consist of one long piece with a metal ring at both ends. The collar is pushed through one of the rings to form a loop that tightens when the other ring is pulled. This collar can choke a dog and is never recommended as an everyday collar.
Training collars are very useful for teaching your dog different commands and skills; however, these collars require a high level of training experience — timing is crucial — and self-control and should never be used except under the strict supervision of an experienced trainer.
A prong collar is constructed similarly to a martingale collar. However, the neck section that goes under the throat consists of metal links with prongs that sink into the dog's coat. The collar is fitted snugly so there is no slack; it cannot be “popped” or suddenly tightened. Though the collar looks painful, the prongs are rounded and only dig into the dog's neck if he pulls hard against the collar. If he walks nicely, the collar causes no pain at all.
The electronic collar is frequently used in field training with hunting dogs to instantly punish a dog's incorrect behavior from great distances — often 500 yards or more. The collar can be set at a range of shock levels, from a mild buzz to a fairly significant jolt. The handler holds the controls, and the dog wears the collar.
The problem with a shock collar is that the handler may not be able to anticipate the dog's reaction to the jolts. Usually this method proves effective relatively quickly, but an inexperienced handler could overdo the jolts and cause significant pain to the dog, making him fearful and jittery. Also, a dog that gets sick of being shocked could turn against the handler if he figures out the system.
With the advent of positive, reward-based reinforcement training, the need for a shock collar is almost nonexistent. The shock collar, like choke and prong collars, is often misused by owners. Using these training tools incorrectly could have serious repercussions for both the dog and the owner.