Training Tidbits: Collar Grab
It may not sound like much of a "trick," the collar grab, but getting your pet used to being handled, and especially having their collar grabbed, is an important behavior. The ability to handle your pet safely can prevent bites and scratches, and can make it easier if you need to leash up your pet, hold them for an exam, or just get their attention.
What Is a Collar Grab?
This is as easy as it sounds! A collar grab is simply grabbing your pet's collar (gently). You should be able to do this in order to hook on a leash, steer your pet toward something, or hold onto them for handling.
How Do I Train It?
Start with getting a high-value treat your pet enjoys. For dogs, this can be smelly liver treats, hot dogs, or pieces of lunch meat. For a cat, the smellier, the better! Tuna, salmon, and warmed up chicken are all favorites.
Once you have a treat ready, begin by placing it in front of your pet's nose. When they show interest, gently reach out and grab their collar, before praising and feeding them the treat. Keep repeating and praising each time you handle your pet around their neck or grab onto their collar.
You always want to keep collar grabbing POSITIVE. What does that mean? It means that you shouldn't grab your pet's collar to punish them. Doing so creates a fearful experience, and may make your pet head shy, or worse, cause them to lash out in fear if they suspect something bad is about to happen. By keeping collar grabbing fun and positive with praise or treats, your pet will associate your reaching out with something good, and will more readily accept the handling.
My Pet Is Aggressive/Head Shy, What Do I Do?
If you have an adopted pet that wasn't handled much as a puppy or kitten, or just is a little head shy, you may have to take training a few steps back. Instead of starting right at grabbing your pet's collar, begin by petting them where they are comfortable each time you offer a treat. For a very fearful pet, this may be on the shoulders or back, and gradually moved toward their head or neck. Once they are comfortable, moving a step ahead to gently handling their ears, petting their face, or petting around their collar can help them get comfortable.
Next, you can start sticking a finger under the collar, or gently reaching for it -- still giving a treat and praise each time. Once your pet is relaxed and comfortable with handling, you can then start to phase out the treat.
If at any time your pet becomes nervous, or fearful, take a break. Once your pet has calmed down, it is best to return to the previous step they were comfortable with, and work up from there. If your pet is very fearful or attempts to bite, working with a trainer or behaviorist is a good option. They may want to work with you using a muzzle for safety, or work through other positive training techniques to reduce fear first before moving onto handling.
Being able to grab your pet's collar is important -- you never know when you may need to hold them or stop them in a dangerous situation, and it is useful for everyday care. Practice with your pet daily for a fun, and rewarding, experience for you both!