Your dog may love going to the dog park, but he may hate it when you try to take hold of his collar to snap that leash on and leave. If Clifford turns into Cujo the moment you get anywhere near his collar or neck, you know there is a problem -- and it won't get better unless you address the issue.
You Are Not Alone!
If you think you are the only one dealing with biting behavior or other forms of aggression when you touch your dog's collar, rest assured you are not alone. A good 20 percent of dog bites occur when a family member reaches out to take Fido by the collar or scruff of the neck, notes veterinarian and trainer Ian Dunbar in his book Before & After Getting Your Puppy. Now that you know that "collar sensitivity" is quite common, it's time to take action and figure out what triggers this behavior for your particular pup.
How It Happens
If every time you grab that collar something negative happens to him (like being forced to swallow a pill or a trip to the vet), it doesn't take rocket science to understand that your dog will start resenting it. Collar grab after collar grab, Fido becomes more and more hand-shy, starts playing catch-me-if-you-can, or may even react defensively and attempt to bite. At this point, your collar grab has assumed a stigma, which means it has become a predictor of bad things. This issue needs addressed, since you may get hurt, and your dog may take off and put himself in a dangerous situation.
Removing the Stigma
To treat collar sensitivity, you need to do some remedial work. If you dog has a history of biting or trying to bite, work with a dog behavior professional to stay safe. A good place to start is to make collar grabs pleasant by pairing them with high-value treats. When you're at home, practice slightly reaching towards the collar while giving a treat such as liver rewards or small bits of cheese. Gradually build on this behavior by increasing the intensity of touch. Practice several times until you notice your dog is less reactive towards the collar touch. Progress until you can mimic a collar grab without your dog getting upset. If at any time your dog looks uneasy, go back to square one and work at a slower pace. Also, avoid grabbing your dog by the collar to punish him, crate him or take him away from the dog park. If only good things happen when you must grab the collar, he'll realize there's no reason to fear it.
When you offer a treat every time you touch the collar, you create a conditioned emotional response. In other words, you change your dog's emotions towards collar grabs, as they become associated with something good. Therefore, instead of Fido getting defensive and resenting the collar grab, he starts looking forward to it and stares at you drooling for a treat.
By Adrienne Farricelli
About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.