Why would one want to grab his/her dog’s collar? For safety, re-direction or to build drive to name a few reasons. One of the games we teach in our foundations courses is the Collar Grab Game. It was developed by Susan Garrett and is one of the most valuable skills I have taught my own dogs.
I was a professional pet groomer for 12 years and the thing that concerned me most was the fact that many dogs were unapproachable by humans, including their owner! For logical reasons, many dogs feel threatened by a human reaching for their collar. This behavior may have been inadvertently trained and the owner has no idea how or why it happened or how to undo it. The last thing a pet owner wants is a dog that gets loose and is unable to be caught.
I stress the importance of this game with all of my students from the very beginning. Once a puppy comes into my home the game becomes one of my first tasks in training. I start with a “learn to earn” approach in which my puppy quickly learns that he will earn a reward by performing a behavior. I use my puppy’s meal as reinforcement throughout the day. Roughly 30% of his meal is earned by allowing me or another human to approach him and place a hand on his collar without him bolting. The reward is delivered to his mouth with the opposite hand while still holding the collar. I then let go. I may also reward the puppy for coming to me when I call him off engagement with another person. Again, I hold the collar with one hand while I deliver the treat with the other hand and then let go.
I play this game very often and in a variety of environments so that the rewards become unpredictable and the dog learns that whenever one approaches him and grabs his collar, good things occur!
Once my pup is comfortable with this, I can add intensity to the collar grab and vary the position at which I grab the collar. I will also begin to vary the reinforcement so that I can walk a few steps while holding the collar before I deliver the reward. I may vary the reward itself so that it could be food or a good game of tug. This becomes an important skill if you ever need to redirect your dog or interrupt an undesirable behavior. Eventually, the cue of my hand approaching him will mean that great stuff is about to happen.
By evolving and revisiting your collar grab game throughout your life, your connection with your dog and your ability to recall him will show marked improvement. Enjoy the video!