In early 2021 our world broke when our dog Liana was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Part of this meant that with diagnostics and surgery, she needed to wear an Elizabethan collar for approximately five weeks.
What is an elizabethan collar?
The Elizabethan collar (AKA cone of shame, e-collar) is a a plastic cone fitted around the dog’s neck. This prevents the dog from licking at wounds or undoing bandages. While there are other pieces of equipment on the market, such as inflatable collars, the Elizabethan collar is the best option for stopping the dog accessing all parts of their body.
Why train your dog to love their Elizabethan collar?
Several years earlier, Liana had minor surgery and needed to wear an Elizabethan collar for her recovery. We’d never previously introduced the e-collar and figured she’d get over it. She didn’t. Unfortunately, because of her distress, having the e-collar on was a significant welfare issue. This meant her surgical sites took longer to heal and required additional vet visits to assist. We were lucky she didn’t get an infection.
From that experience I prioritised helping Liana think that the cone of shame was the best thing in the world. This meant for her next vet experience, having to wear an Elizabethan collar was not on the list of welfare concerns.
Let’s get this straight – wearing a giant cone of plastic on your head is weird. It changes how much you can see, how you can smell and how easily you can move. It even changes how easily you can eat and pick up things with your mouth. With this in mind, we want our training sessions to be short, a minute or two to start off with.
How to train this skill
First, go and grab yourself an Elizabethan collar from your local vet or pet store. They cost between $10-30 depending on size.
Below is a general progression of steps to take. How quickly you move to the next step depends on your dog and how comfortable they are. I would aim to do 3-5 repetitions at each step and then progress if my dog looks relaxed. If your dog is tense, or they snatch the treat out of your hand and then quickly move away from the e-collar, take it back a few steps to a point your dog was relaxed.
- Start with the e-collar behind your back and have some tasty treats ready. Bring the e-collar out to the side of your body and when your dog looks at the e-collar, give them a treat. Put the e-collar back behind your back ready for the next repetition. If you use a ‘marker’ such as “yes” or a clicker, you can mark any time your dog looks at the e-collar.
- Now start to feed your dog closer to the e-collar. Put the e-collar down on the ground and if your dog comes to investigate, give them a tasty treat.
- Pick the e-collar back up and hold it at head height for your dog. Allow them to approach and feed them near the largest part of the cone. Hold the cone in one place. If your dog chooses to move back, don’t follow them.
- Turn the e-collar around so the narrow opening is closest to your dog. At this point, make sure the narrow opening is wide enough that your dog’s head will very easily fit through. Feed near the narrow opening.
- Slowly move where you place your treat so it is moving into the narrow opening. Do this inch by inch. This is a tricky step and you need to watch that your dog looks comfortable. Some dogs will want to follow the treat but they may not be comfortable. For example, they might have their back legs pinned so they are ready to run, but stretch their body forward to get the treat. They might snatch the treat from your hand and move back immediately. If you see this, or other tension from your dog, work at an earlier step where they are comfortable.
- You will soon get to a point where your dog is pushing their head through the narrow opening. Keep the duration short of a few seconds and slowly increase the duration by giving multiple treats. As they get more comfortable, space out how regularly they get a treat.
- After you’ve got at least 10 seconds of your dog wearing the cone, start to get them moving. Start with asking for a simple cue like ‘sit’ or ‘touch’, or you might get them to follow a food lure to stand and take a few steps with you. Build on this by getting them to move around the house with you playing fun games like fetch or tug.
- To maintain this skill, bring out the cone once a week or fortnight for a few minutes and play one of their favourite games while wearing it, or do some basic training while they get lots of tasty treats.
Depending on your dog, you might need to add a few steps in between the ones given above.
Don’t wait for your dog to need a procedure at the vet. If you can prepare your dog to be comfortable wearing an Elizabethan collar, they will be just that little less stressed when they need to wear it.
Want some help?
We love working with dogs to help them be more comfortable for vet and grooming procedures. Let us know if we can help.