Your dog may love going to the dog park, but he may hate it when you try to grab hold of his collar to snap that leash on and leave. If Clifford turns into "Chewbacca" and tries to nip you the moment you get anywhere near his collar or neck, you know there is a problem -- and it won't get better unless you start making drastic changes.
You Are Not Alone
If you think you are the only one dealing with biting behavior 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 grab Scruffy by the scruff or collar, notes veterinarian and trainer Ian Dunbar in “Before & After Getting Your Puppy.” Now that you know you are in good company, it's time to take action and figure out what triggers this behavior.
How It Happens
If every time you grab that collar, something negative happens, it's doesn't take rocket science to understand that your dog will start resenting it. Collar grab after collar grab, Scruffy 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.
Change of Heart
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 collar grabs become associated with something good. Therefore, instead of Scruffy getting defensive and resenting the collar grab, he starts looking forward to it and stares at you drooling for a treat. You can almost see your dog saying: "You want to touch my collar? Feel free to do it, because I'm loving it now!"
An Ounce of Prevention
Work to prevent your "collar grabs" from once again attaining a stigma. Avoid grabbing your dog by the collar to punish him, crate him or take him away from the dog park. Make good things happen when you must grab the collar: Give a treat, praise lavishly or engage in a game of play. This way, in case of an emergency, Scruffy will be much more compliant, and you will both stay safe.
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