Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
What Is Dog Collar Sensitivity?
Does your dog growl, snap, or bite when you touch the collar or try to attach the leash? If so, your dog may be suffering from a case of dog collar sensitivity.
Don't worry—you are not alone. There are countless dogs with this issue and countless owners dealing with it. Indeed, according to Dog Star Daily, a good 20% of dog bites occur when an owner is attempting to grab a dog by the scruff or collar. Why does this happen?
Most dogs are introduced to the collar from a very young age. Puppies get accustomed to the sensation of wearing a collar and get desensitized to its presence in a matter of days. After a matter of days, the puppy hardly notices the collar any more.
But not all dogs are trained to wear collars as puppies. If your puppy is struggling with the collar or leash, or you have an adult dog that has never worn them, you may find it helpful to read my article How to Get a Dog Used to a Collar and Leash.
Even if a dog is used to wearing a collar, your dog may start disliking this thing around his neck if you begin using it in the wrong way and mishandling it. One of the number one reasons for this is an owner who repeatedly grabs the collar, while the number two reason is likely grabbing the leash. For instance, as a general rule of thumb, try your best to do the following.
How to Properly Handle a Dog's Collar
- Avoiding grabbing your dog by the collar unless in an emergency situation.
- Avoid grabbing your dog by the collar to crate him.
- Avoid grabbing your dog by the collar to correct him.
- Avoid grabbing your dog by the collar to snap the leash on and leave the dog park.
- Avoid grabbing your dog by the collar to do anything your dog in general finds unpleasant.
So what should you do if you need to grab Rover by the collar? There are alternative things you can do to prevent collar sensitivity.
How to Grab a Dog's Collar to Prevent Collar Sensitivity
- If you must crate your dog, do not grab him by the collar. Instead, toss a treat inside the crate or tell your dog to "crate up" and give a treat/stuffed Kong as a reward.
- If you need to get your dog to give him a bath, trim his nails or engage in any other activity your dog finds unpleasant, call him to you, snap the leash on, and play a game or give him a reward. Then after some time, give him a bath/trim nails. You want to break up the association that collar grab=unpleasant activity. However, make a mental note of working on making these activities more pleasant for your dog.
- If you must leave the dog park, do not grab the collar and snap the leash on and leave. Rather, call your dog, snap the leash on, give a treat, play a game together, or walk in the park before heading home.
- If you must stop your dog from getting ahold of something, don't grab by the collar. Instead, train your dog the "leave it" command.
The main point is to stop grabbing the collar, and to make sure that if the leash needs to be snapped on, only positive consequences take place. If your dog is already affected by collar sensitivity and nips at your hands when try to grab the collar or snap the leash on, the following program may be helpful to you.
How to Handle Collar Sensitivity
If your dog attempts to bite you when you are snapping on the leash or when you are grabbing him by the collar, you need to make safety your top priority. Use a muzzle if need be to protect your hands. Your next step is then to habituate your dog to the sensation of being touched by the neck area and counter-condition him to actually enjoy and look forward to it instead of dreading it. Here is a sample of a program to treat collar sensitivity in dogs.
How to Deal With Biting When Snapping on the Leash
- When mealtime comes, place the leash next to the food bowl. When your dog finishes the meal take away the food bowl and the leash. Do this for all meal times.
- Introduce a muzzle for safety sake.Invest in a basket muzzle so you can still slip treats and so that your dog can still pant effectively. The ASPCA offers a guide on how to introduce a muzzle for the first time. Once your dog is accustomed to wearing the muzzle, you can start the behavior modification program below by desensitizing and counterconditioning her to having the leash snapped on. Go very slowly and make session brief. If at any time she growls or attempts to bite, go a few steps back and start all over.
- Equip yourself with very-high-value soft treats in small bite sizes.
- Grab the leash and sit down. If your dog comes by, let your dog see the leash and hand a treat or toss it her way. Put the leash away and give no more treats.
- Get the leash again and have her sniff it again. Give a treat. Take the leash away and no more treats.
- Get the leash and open it, making the clipping noise and give a treat. Do not attach it to the collar yet. Clipping noise, treat, clipping noise, treat, clipping noise treat. She should look up at you when she hears the clipping noise and wait for the treat after some repetitions.
- Now very slightly touch her neck with the leash. Just a very brief contact and drop a treat. Touch neck with leash, treat, touch neck with leash, treat. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Make the snapping noise near her neck but don't attach the leash to the collar yet. Snapping noise near the collar, treat, snapping noise near the collar, treat, repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Prepare a stuffed Kong or another long-lasting toy you can stuff with goodies. Now attach the leash to the collar and if you went gradually she should be accepting of it without biting. The moment the leash snaps on the collar give the stuffed Kong. Let her finish it. Unsnap the leash as you drop a treat and no more treats. (Repeat several times until she reliably stops trying to bite and she looks forward to having the leash snapped on because she has associated it with food.)
- When mealtime comes, snap on leash, remove the muzzle and put the food bowl down. When she is done, remove the muzzle as you drop a few treats on the floor and no more treats.
The purpose of this is getting your dog used to the leash being snapped on gradually and systematically (desensitization) and changing her emotional response about it (counterconditioning). She should no longer think, "Oh, here comes my owner with leash, I better snap and defend myself." She will think, "Cool! My owner is coming with the leash, that means loads of treats!"
How to Deal With Biting When Grabbing the Collar
In classes, I dedicate a few sessions each week in getting a dog used to being touched by the collar. I do this because a time may come when your dog may need to be grabbed by the collar to save its life. A swift collar grab may save your dog from getting too close to another aggressive dog, from eating something harmful on the ground or from running towards a road full of traffic.
Countless dogs are sensitive to being restrained by the collar and many will swerve if you even attempt to touch the collar. In classes, I make wonderful things happen when the collar is touched. I do not make owners grab the collar though as this is only for emergency situations. Here is an example of what we do, of course, equip yourself with a muzzle to protect yourself.
- Equip yourself with high-value treats.
- Call your dog and slightly touch the collar.
- Make a treat fall from your hand as you touch it.
- The moment your dog is done eating the treat, remove your hand.
- Repeat several times, until upon touching the collar your dog looks at you for treats.
- Add a few criteria: put your fingers under the collar, give treat, then from a distance, call your dog and when he arrives, touch the collar, and give treat.
While many dogs swerve when you try to touch the collar, in my classes the dogs actually want the collar to be touched! This makes it tremendously helpful in case of an emergency. I also make it a big rule to never touch the collar and make something negative happen. Never scold your dog, never correct your dog. If you grab your dog's collar in case of an emergency, praise and play a game to thank your dog for being cooperative!
Getting Your Dog Used to a Muzzle With the Clicker
Getting Your Dog Used to a Muzzle Without a Clicker
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 24, 2019:
Luke, let me know what you have tried so far and I can help with some troubleshooting. Often behavior modification takes time to work, so results won't happen over night. Dog trainers use the term "snap the leash" all the time. Just Google it in google books and you'll see a plethora of trainers saying just that.
Luke Mills on December 21, 2019:
Interesting article but can’t say it’s helped with my issues. Also how many times do you have to use the phrase “snap the leash?!” Who even says that?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 11, 2019:
Lauren, good to hear your training is working. I like your idea of using your closed fist to hide the treat from view.
Lauren Sampson on November 02, 2019:
I did days of lure reward training in her favorite comfy spot in the house with just putting the leash on and off over and over. Using a closed fist so she can't tell if there will be a treat there or not. The interest and sniffing of the closed hand is enough time to get the collar on and off without nipping now. And the marker word at the end makes the process doable without a treat now. I say her name, treat and show her the fist, then say leash on, and give treat while snapping it on and leash off again.
Khara on September 20, 2018:
My dog only seems to do this when taking him off the tie out. Never when putting on or taking off the leash or putting on the tie out. He is a shelter dog, so I'm not sure what his prior experience was. I'm guessing we should just stop using the tie out for the time being. He is new here--we adopted him about a week ago. Other than that he has a great tempermant, so I don't understand.
Lauren C on December 08, 2016:
Now I understand more there are a few dogs at my job that hate being grabbed by the collar or seeing a leash they go nuts I risk getting bitten but I usually use a restraint slip leash to help I think I'm considering training them to make my job easier.