Why I Use “Agitation” Collars

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I have to explain this term, and these collars enough that I thought I’d just make a post.

This post could be called “evolution of an idea”. But…. who would click that?

It’s interesting to watch ideas develop. And…. It’s funny how shit goes full circle.

When I was a kid….. Pits were on big ass collars. I didn’t know why. Hell…. I don’t think anyone “knew” why. But…. That was the gig.  As I rebelled against everything I saw back then, I was looking for a different collar. Not consciously mind you…. But now I see it.

So…. Saw my first dog training book in the library. Koehler Method Of Dog Training. Now…. I, in no way, follow this method. But…. It did put me on my new trip of chain collar. The first trainer I ever met was Koehler based. And….. My mentor Chad Mackin was originally a KMODT based guy. So there was even more social equity. But….. I always felt conflicted about the training method. But there I was…. Chain slips on my dogs.

In between that library book and Chad…. I hooked up with a trainer that was into bite work. There was more wrong with this guy than right. But a broken clock is right twice a day, and you’re a fool if you don’t learn the lesson in front of you so…. I definitely got a couple of important things from him. 1- learned about the concepts of bite work and specifically agitation. 2- He had a saying that has stuck in my brain. “If the dog is trained, you shouldn’t need more that a flat buckle collar”. That stuck. And.. Is important.

Agitation collars are wide ass, flat collars that are designed to ALLOW the dog to pull into them. They don’t “cause” agitation. They allow it. And that’s an important distinction. They allow it because the collar IS NOT AVERSIVE ENOUGH to dissuade them. The reason people use prongs and chokes is to cause the dog to not want to push into them. That’s why they used them as a kid. Dogs were tied out a lot. And they didn’t want them to hurt themselves. So…. wide collars. Dogs would blow up at shit on leash and the old dogmen didn’t want to “squash” their drive. So… wide collars. They were using agitation strategy just like the protection world.

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So…. Why in the fuck would I use them on aggressive dogs that are pulling into collars.

I treat all dogs like gamers. Like…. Pain is not a viable strategy. The dogs I prefer are actually like that. And the dogs that aren’t….. Well…. I forgive them, and afford them the same respect. I mean, it’s not their fault they’re curs. Not gonna literally punish them for it. Those collars offer no discomfort. Or…. as little as could be had when disagreeing with the leash. It truly becomes about the meaning of the signal. And…. Not the quality of the signal.

I want to TRAIN them what the collar means. Teach them to respond.

Yeah…. How?

Couple of ways….. 1- Red Light/Green Light. A leash training game that developed from the idea of long line work in the Koehler method. That’s where the idea started. But…. As anyone familiar with it that, and has seen me train can tell you…. It’s so different now it isn’t really related. It’s a training game that teaches the dog tolerance for the leash, and sensitivity to collar signaling. 2- (less used but still valuable) Counter conditioning collar input. Mark McCabe does a version of this. Michael Ellis has a whole video on it. But…. Grisha Stewart was doing it way before he put that out.

Anyway…. regardless of how…. The idea is to TEACH them to respond to the collars information. Not to MAKE them respond to it’s quality. When you do that it doesn’t matter what you use.

That said…. DURING the training process….. What you use does matter. A lot of the dogs I get are very disagreeable to the idea of collar and leash. They test it. And….. when I used chain slips I got some raw necks. And truth be told…. I got some extra resistance. The good dogs (game ones) lean into that shit. It makes them fight harder. And yeah….. You can break through sooner or later. But…. Not my gig. I want a different way.

As you can see in a post from 2013…. I was already going in this direction. There’s even some anti flat collar rhetoric in it cause old notions are don’t shake loose easily. But….. The little seed of the idea can be found in there. The wide flat comfy collars I started making. You can see the evolution of the idea if you look.

That idea…. Coupled with the line about trained dogs only needing flats…. has finally gelled into training in agitation collars. Big wide flat buckle collars. As little aversion as I can find in a collar. If they’re listening it’s cause the training worked. That’s it.

Now….. to be transparent. And to save you time of investigating for inconsistencies…..

If a dog is near feral, or will really try to shake out of a collar in earnest. I will put them on a super wide martingale. Or…. a back up slip. Just for safety. But as soon as they’re past it. Flats.

If a dog may be actually committed to violence to my person I will put them in the same martingale. But as soon as they’re past it. Flats.

If I am socializing dogs and I have ANY doubt about potential violence I will still put them in a cord slip (with a quick release). They can be close to naked…. But…. I have a seat belt still.

And….. I’m lazy. So….. my own trained personal dogs….. Around the gym, or loose in the woods, or whatever. They will still get cord slips or martingales. But honestly just because slipping them on is faster. And…. it truly doesn’t matter what they wear. But….. when we demo. Or train…. Or in the sport I’m designing….. It’s flats all the way. Big wide agitation collars. No one can say it’s the collar causing the work!

Funny….. how 4 decades later……. I’m back where I started. Game Pits in wide collars.

Different behaviors entirely. But…. same equipment.

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Life is funny.

 

PS- before anyone asks about the pressure & release technique…. I totally still use it. It’s a super important technique. Essential leash handling skill. Chad Mackin is the fucking man. And gave me my understanding of leash handling! But that, for me, is how I communicate with a dog at a “tipping point”. Not, how I train foundation. I know…. I know, I made the argument that a flat collar was bad for it. But it was because I was scared of the backslip. Now…. My foundation work is such that if they are in a flat. It’s not an issue. If there’s any fear of a slip….. in the wide ass martingale or back up slip they go.

 

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