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Training a Fearful Dog to Wear a Collar

Does your fearful dog refuse to go out on walks? Maybe they hate their collar, harness, or leash.  Or maybe the outdoor world terrifies them. Over the next several weeks we’ll be tackling these problems with a series of training videos. This week, I discussed how to train dogs to wear a collar.

Fearful dogs often can come to love walks, but every piece of the process needs to be carefully and slowly trained. A few key points from this week’s video include: 

Don’t force the collar onto your dog

Take your time when training your fearful dog to wear a collar. It doesn’t make sense to work slowly and carefully during training sessions, but force the collar onto your dog when you need it in “real life.”   

Until your dog is trained to wear their collar, avoid situations in which you need to put it on. Don’t walk them, let them into a fenced backyard to eliminate or provide an indoor potty area, and use a slip lead if you really have to leash them for short periods. 

Train slowly using positive reinforcement

For most dogs this means training with food or toys.  Food is a bit more convenient for collar training.  

Training at your dog’s pace can be difficult when you have a fearful dog.  Red flags to watch for that signal you should back off and work on easier training steps include:

  • Your dog pulling their head back from the collar;
  • Shifting their weight away from your hands or the collar;
  • Getting up and moving away. 

If you see any of these signs, immediately decrease the difficulty of the training. You’ll find an example of this in the video below. 

Train the harness and leash separately

Training your dog to wear their collar is just the beginning. You’ll need to train your dog to be comfortable having a harness put on, and to walk on a leash.  For a fearful dog who might never have been walked on a leash before, these are not small challenges.  Very fearful dogs might need months of training to get to the point of happily going for a short leashed walk.  Enjoy the journey with them!  There’s no rushing the process. If you are stuck, however, reach out for help finding a good positive reinforcement trainer. 

If you try these tips and have success, or trouble, we want to hear from you.  Join our Facebook group and post your questions or comments there, or comment below!

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