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Training Collars

side banner with different Malamutes on itWhen training the family dog there are several different types of training collars,walking harnesses, and leashes to choose from. It is important to match your dogs temperament and size with the appropriate training aids, and also consider that a Malamute is NOT a shepherd, rottie, golden. A puppy's every-day collar should be a flat buckle nylon collar (designed for everyday wear) or buckle rolled leather collar since both are better for the coat. We like and use the "limited slip" collars - they are similar to a buckle collar, but can tighten slightly so they cannot be slid out of. There are several manufacturers and all have a different style.  We get ours from Black Ice sledding equipment and they have a large "O" ring for easily attaching a leash or guy-line with gloves on - a plus with a dog that has heavy coat like a Malamute.

Inside the house use a 4 foot leash to help teach doggie manners. It's something that can be grabbed quickly to make a correction, but won't get in the way. Sometimes it helps to clip it to your belt so that you are always nearby when training. If your puppy's size, strength and energy level becomes unmanageable you may need to experiment with a different training collar or walking harness to improve obedience and behavior. However, no collar is a substitute for training and mutual respect!  Some useful training aids to help with obedience are:

Gentle Leader or Halti Collar - This collar consists of a snug fitting neck piece, and a loose fitting nose loop. This collar controls the dog's head movements. It puts control back into the hands of the owner. The collar requires guidance rather than jerking or pulling on the strong neck muscles padded with coat - which is not very effective with Malamutes. The Halti Collar is similar looking and acts like a halter for a horse. The leash connects under the chin and no jerking or snapping is necessary. The halti collar is designed to control the canines head also. Where the head goes, the body follows! Using the correct size is important since dogs can escape these collars if not fitted properly. Put it on tightly the first few times since some dogs will fight the collar at first - but most stop as soon as they realize they will get to go for walks if they cooperate! Recently a very interesting article was brought to my attention regarding these collars which I find very interesting.  Using ANY collar requires some training and my concern is many Malamute owners may improperly use the head halters in an attempt to solve all manner of dog behavior problems. It worked wonderfully with Shadow, but has not been so successful with Hoover who one day just decided to fight it continually.  His attitude changed and it got to the point we made no progress at all.  If you really need it for a dog that pulls, try it and give it a chance to work.  But be aware of the issues involved.  This article by Susan Clothier is very informative in that regard.  This collar is allowed in our contract because I feel it works for many dogs that need extra control - and the potential for misuse is not nearly as great as the prong or electronic collars mainly because you will likely give it up if your dog continues to fight it for too long,so the potential for damage is much lower.

Incorrect way to put on a chokerCorrect way to put on a choker

Check Chain, Choke Collar, P-Collar - These collars are made of metal or nylon. They come in various sizes. The collar should form a right-facing P when you slip it over your canines head. These collars require a quick snap and release of the leash to work correctly and cannot be overused with a Malamute. They are best used on a young dog, since once the dog grows up, a snap of a choke collar is only a suggestion since with their strong necks, it is barely felt. Also, care must be taken to not drag or "choke" the dog since these collars can damage the windpipe if used improperly, especially on a young puppy. The collar should be tightened momentarily only when a correction is given.prong or pinch collar - has metal prongs that stick into the dogs neck to control it The collar size should be 2 - 4 inches longer than the diameter of the dogs neck. The collar must fit correctly to work correctly, and takes some practice to use effectively. Timing is everything with this type of collar, but if not overused and the jerk and release is done properly, can be an effective training tool. Don't leave this collar on the dog continually however, first there is a danger of strangulation if caught, second it wears away and breaks the neck fur on a Malamute. I have seen rescue dogs that wore a chain collars with bare, bald infected necks due to the rubbing of the collar.

Pinch or prong collars. We don't recommend them and even though I have seen articles praising them, they seem draconian to me (my personal opinion).  The main reason I feel they aren't good for Malamutes is when dogs pull on leash to approach another dog or person (normal behavior) and they feel pain from the collar, they connect the pain with the other dog or person and that can make them want to keep other dogs away by behaving aggressively.  Anything used properly can be a good thing, and we know people that have had success with them, but we also know Malamutes that have become resentful and aggressive because of them - Shadow is our personal experience with this.  Malamutes are trained quicker with positive reinforcement and creativity. Prong collars are also difficult to fit and use properly and this is probably the reason more people mess their dogs up than help. I would say for most people - avoid them - particularly with a dog that has tendencies to be dominant or aggressive. It's like playing with fire - whereas it may help, it can also create big problems. There are other opinions and the "pros" to this kind of collar are illustrated here although this person is relating their experience to other breeds and not necessarily Malamutes who can be quite different than a "normal" dog. We forbid use of the prong or electronic collars for our puppies and dogs.

The same goes for electronic collars that emit a mild shock as a correction. Malamutes have a high pain threshold and they are not that effective with most Malamutes. I've heard of them working, but often discovered later they shaved the dogs neck to get decent contact and set the shock higher than usual. The potential for misuse and hence, aggression is high so it's much better to use another method if possible. Whereas some have had great success, they are usually excellent trainers and would have been successful anyway, without an electronic collar. (Electronic collar training is the theory behind invisible electronic fencing.)

For leashes, leather is easiest on the hands if the dog decides to pull, and 4 ft. has more control than 6 ft. though most obedience classes use a 6 ft. lead for training. For super control, get a "traffic" lead which is just a loop that attaches to the collar (about 8-10 inches long).  I prefer the narrow kind of 6' leash (about 1/4"- 5/8" wide) because it's easier to fold up in your hand to shorten when necessary.

Whatever you use, keep your attitude positive and use lots of treats and playtime as rewards! Positive reinforcement is always the best training method with a Malamute regardless of the collar you choose to use.

The best book I've found about positive reinforcement methods is Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog

Also, for safety, never leave ANY training collar on a dog when unsupervised as it presents a choking hazard if caught on something. It is also a good habit to take off collars when dogs are in crates (though this can be inconvenient and there's probably a bigger risk if you forget to put it back on).  Be aware dogs have strangled from just playing wearing collars (one dog's mouth becomes entangled in the other's collar) so be aware and supervising  when multiple dogs play together.  Collars are a good tool that comes with some risk, use them properly.