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The Collar Grab: A Critical Element in Training

I am often asked why I teach the Collar Grab in both my classes and private lessons. Shelters contain many dogs who exhibit timidity or fear when the collar is grabbed due to absence of training. This sometimes means the dog resists being handled or picked up, groomed, examined, or easily moved to a safe location when necessary. This sometimes means a growl, a snap, or even a bite.

Collar grabbing is a critical element in training that could actually save your dog's life in an emergent situation. Think of a scenario where you need to get your dog out of his crate or bed. He is not feeling well and refuses food so luring with treats won't work. You need to take him outside to relieve himself. If properly desensitized, you can easily grab your dog's collar, leash him, and take him outside. Or how about the need to place him on a grooming table? Grabbing his collar before bath time? Separating two dogs who are starting to play a little rough with each other? Or even the life saving need to protect him from danger. What if your dog gets loose and goes chasing after a cat? You call him back and are able to easily grab the collar protecting him from other animals, traffic, and other dangers. A properly taught RECALL actually ends NOT with your dog just coming to you but with an automatic sit and a collar grab. This easy skill can mean the difference between life or death.

So how do we train this skill? It is simple! Grab some real food treats your dog loves. Reach for and grab the dog's collar and hold it for one second while giving him a treat. Praise him! Release and repeat. Trying grabbing his collar from different angles and increasing to two seconds. If your dog shows any hesitancy or discomfort when you go to reach for his collar, then simply give him the treat at the same time as the collar grab. Only hold the grab for 1 second at first and then you can slowly build duration. Release and repeat until you are eventually able to first grab the collar without presenting a treat first. If you are still struggling another method could be that you give the treat while extending your hand about 5 inches from your dog's collar. Praise him! Then remove your hand. Then try 4 inches. Then back to 5 inches. Then try 3 inches. Then 2 inches and back to 4 inches. The key is to not make it increasingly more difficult to prevent the dog from getting frustrated. Eventually, you want to work toward being able to grab the collar without any signs of discomfort and then praise and treat. Once you have taught the collar grab, then include that as the end of your RECALL cue after the dog performs an automatic sit. Pro tip: You can't train the collar grab skill too much! For the next week, practice this skill at least 3x per day and anytime you give your dog a treat.

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