This week my humans introduced me to my first puppy collar. This is what happened.

Day One:

My humans came home and they put this soft piece of material on the ground.  It smelt a bit funny. Because of this I didn’t want to go too close. My humans let me look at this new thing at a distance I felt safe. Then they gave me some chicken just for looking at this thing they call a ‘puppy collar’.

After a bit of time hanging near my humans and getting some more chicken, I felt comfortable enough to walk closer to this puppy collar thing and check it out. I got to have a good sniff, and apart from the weird smell it seemed pretty safe. Then I got more chicken. After a few more sniffs I gave an experimental chew on the plastic clip, but my humans told me that the roo tendon they gave me instead would taste better. They were right.

Later that day, after a sleep, I saw this puppy collar again. This time my humans held the collar out flat in front of me. I got some tasty treats just for looking at the collar. When I chose to go near them and the collar I got more treats.  My human then gave me a gentle scratch on the side of my neck, just under my ear (they know my favourite spot already). When they were doing this, I felt the collar also rubbing against my neck. And I got some more tasty treats.

Day Two:

The next day, this amazing puppy collar came out again. I now know that there should be some treats because this collar is out. My humans came through with the goods, and I got some nice treats for being near the collar and having the collar rub against my neck. They then attached the collar to my neck. I got more treats (this collar is like a magical treat machine?!). The collar felt pretty loose and comfortable and I had a bit of a run around with it for a few minutes. The humans then took it off. Later that day, and over the next few days the collar kept coming out. I’d wear it for a bit longer each time and I’d get some treats. It started getting a bit tighter around my neck, but it is comfortable and I like it like this because it doesn’t dangle and move around my neck. I also like the treats.

I think I like this collar thing.

A note on anthropomorphisation

In our example above, I am indulging in some anthropomorphic ideas. We can never truly know what our dogs are thinking. However, we do know, from observing their behaviour and body language that experiences for our dogs can be either safe, or not safe.

It is our responsibility to introduce new things for our pups in such a way that our pup will be able to experience it as safe.

How to introduce puppy’s first collar or harness

The approach the humans have taken in the example above includes four key aspects:

1.      Consent

Let the dog choose to approach the collar. If they want to back up away from it then let them. Forcing our dogs to be closer to the collar or worse, putting the collar on when the dog isn’t ready will result in the dog being overwhelmed and potentially more apprehensive about the collar. In the example above, even as we are progressing to touching the dog with the collar the dog always has the choice to back away if they want to.

2.      Pair any interaction with the collar with something good.

Using treats as the ‘something good’ is best as you can have lots of repetition. If our dog isn’t eating the treats and appears scared of the collar or harness then this is an indication that they may be quite stressed out. If this is the case, put the collar away and get in touch with us.

From the example above, the pup initially received treats simply when they saw the new collar. Seeing the new collar definitely counts as an interaction. So, to start this great association with the collar we need to give a treat each time the dog sees the new collar.

3.      Baby steps

Think about all the different sensory interactions your puppy will have with their new collar, and if possible try and break them into individual components to make it less scary for your pup. In the example above, the humans put the flat collar on the ground and let the pup sniff it and see it. They did this until the pup was comfortable before they moved to the next step of having the collar touch the puppy near the pup’s neck. If the humans had just clipped the new collar on straight away it’s likely that this would have been too intense for the puppy.

For the example above, there were a few sessions over a few days. How fast or slow you progress with introducing your puppy’s collar is dependent your puppy. If they seem a bit scared of the item, you might take things a bit slower.

4.      Don’t stress out if your pup gets a scare

We can’t reinforce our dog’s emotions if they are fearful. However if we appear to be scared or stressed in our body language and voice because we are trying to comfort the puppy from a scare, then the pup can use our behaviour as a reference point and think that you are also scared of the strange new collar.  If your pup gets a startle or a scare, be a nice mix of relaxed and cheerful in your tone of voice.

What type of collar or harness should I get?

This topic is big enough for another blog. In short:

  • Get something that is going to be comfortable for your puppy. Light and soft material is good with no heavy buckles, clasps or ID tags that are too large.
  • Don’t spend too much money right now as you will need to buy your puppy a bigger harness or collar later.
  • Don’t try and save money by getting a large size collar or harness for your puppy to grow into. If it is bulky and uncomfortable when they wear it, it won’t be a good experience for your pup.
  • Ensure that you can only fit one finger through the gap between the strap of the harness or the collar. If the equipment is too loose, it can catch on things and present a danger. When we first clip the collar or harness on our dog it will be much looser than this so the feeling of restriction isn’t uncomfortable for the dog. As they get more and more comfortable with the collar or harness then the fitting can become tighter.
  • We don’t support any collar or harness that is designed to hurt your dog. Read here for more information about why.