Standing up for the head collar.

We have all no doubt come across people that just want a quick fix, but others have a very valid reason to choose the head collar.

Iris Maxfield

I’ve read a few trainers posts this last year, that include a mention of head collars, usually just a few words, but their implication, is that a head collar is worn because the handler has not put the time and commitment in to train.

We have all no doubt come across people who just want a quick fix, but others have a very valid reason to choose the head collar.
In the phase of training we are travelling through now, it only takes one person of standing to suggest that all who use head collars are lazy trainers, and just like many people believe, if its written in the news papers, seen on TV or some one got it published in a book, it must be true.

This is in defence of the head collar used appropriately.

Just wearing a head collar is enough to calm some lead reactive dogs, the head collar allows you to gently redirect your dog, so they don’t fixate on triggers, if you can gently redirect before your dog reacts, you stand a better chance of persuading them to move away or do something more appropriate, depending on the given situation.

The head collar helps to encourage turning away, in itself a calming signal to any dog trigger they may have started to fix on.

There are so many different designs, and it is important to find the right make and model to fit the individual comfortably.

Not all designs close around the nose, some are stitched, just like a horses head collar, some are designed like a figure of eight, and on some the lead attachment is higher up near the top of the head.

Don’t just knock the head collar, because you have not had a dog that needed the benefit of wearing one.

If you don’t know all the designs, then the criticism is coming after watching from the next field, so not a clear view.

A flat collar is not so innocent.

The flat collar can also be a second trigger. The throat is very vulnerable, its a place where if attacked, a good bite can cause a a large and fast blood loss, that will weaken and bring down.
Even historic paintings have images of dogs used for guarding livestock, that have broad leather collars with spikes, to protect their throats in case of attack by wolves or bears.

Anyone who’s grabbed a collar of dogs sizing each other up, will have experienced this act as the trigger to fly. No wonder pressure on the collar can be a second trigger to a dog already in a heightened state.

However much we are proactive, careful, grow eyes in the back of our heads, work to keep our reactive dogs under threshold, un triggered and in the space they need, life happens, and we need to manage that in the best way we can.

Dogs have seven cervical vertebrae in the neck, the spinal cord passes through the column in the centre of each vertebrae, this cord carries messages from the brain to the rest of the body, when dogs pull or lunge against a collar, as a triggered dog might, they can cause a lot of damage.

“Eye and ear problems may also be related to pulling on the leash” writes Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM. “My experience is that pulling decreases the energy and lymphatic flow to the head, which leads to ear and eye conditions”

Most people do not know that leashes and collars can cause so many problems.
This link is from Pressure and force on the canine neck when exercising using a collar and leash. Authors A.HunterS.BlakeR. FerroDe Godoy

This is a passage from the link above, from Veterinary and Animal Science.
Volume 8, December 2019, 100082
“Pulling or tugging from the dog or handler onto a narrow collar can cause major trauma to the neck, with research suggesting that just over 2 g of weight can suppress a nerve’s function by up to 50% (Kaufman, 2007). This is particularly relevant when discussing pressure on the neck as the cervical and accessory spinal nerves run under the collar (Goody, 2013). Head collars, in comparison to the neck collar, are designed to put pressure on the back of the neck, as a straight-line force is exerted, and minimal pressure on the neck and nose strap (Ogburn et al., 1998). The resultant effect is for the dog pull back on the head collar, rather than forwards when pulling against the neck restraint, significantly reducing the pressure exerted on these nerves.”

Laryngeal paralysis, By Dr. Becker “In my experience, cervical or neck trauma is the most common reason for acquired laryngeal paralysis, and it can often be traced to an acute leash accident involving the neck. Perhaps a dog was tied outside, took off running, got to the end of the leash or rope and didn’t realise it, and choked.
Just a single episode of severe acute trauma to the neck, even if it happened years ago, can cause laryngeal paralysis”.

The incident may not have even seemed like a big deal at the time. The dog may have coughed for a day or two afterwards. He may have even coughed up some blood, but otherwise seemed fine”

The neck and cervical spinal is one of the most important channels in the body, containing that spinal cord for supply to the whole of the body, it is where the front leg nerves originate from, when these nerves are damaged, it can cause tingling in the paws, because of the irritation dogs will lick or chew their paws.
It is also the channel where the nerves controlling the internal organ function pass through.

A dog that lunges or takes off and hits the end of the lead can get a whiplash effect that can manifest in problems later down the line.
The collar pushes on the throat exactly in the area of the thyroid gland, he thyroid gland governs the metabolism of every cell, it can affect the whole body, this gland gets traumatised every time a dog pulls or lunges against the collar, the thyroid can become inflamed and consequently destroyed, leading to hypothyroidism.

In all honesty, if down the line a dog has thyroid problems, how many of us would think the collar could be guilty?

While harnesses are recommended, its important to ensure a good fit, one that rest on the dogs throat could cause just as much damage, too low on the shoulders can interfere with the dogs action, too close to the armpits can cause rubbing and soreness.

A well fitting harness with front lead attachment, is the type most often recommended for reactive/trigger happy dogs, BUT however proactive and on the ball you are, a dog that is truly triggered, then has a head that can dart in all directions and in seconds can have worked up to blowing a fuse.

A combination of front fastening harness and head collar or collar is more sensible, but which combination will depend on the individual, and their level and speed of triggering.

A few years back a friend was walking her two large well behaved gentle dogs through the village where she lives, when a goat shot out from a drive way across the road in front of her, now who could of predicted that? 
One dog shot back in shock one shot to the side out in the road, she sustained a shoulder injury that has proved a long term issue, it knocked her confidence just knowing if a car had come along at that moment, her dog would have been hit, because of the weak shoulders she now walks them on head collars, this gives her back the confidence to walk them through the village to the off lead walks they love so much.

So there is another reason a head collar my be chosen, she is definitely not a lazy trainer.

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