Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

If you were making a shopping list for the supplies you would need when a new puppy  is coming into your life, what items would you include? Well, there would be food, a feeding dish and water bowl, for sure. Quite likely you would want a brush or a comb, perhaps some other grooming tools and probably a toy of some sort. However, it's almost certain that everyone would also include a collar and a lead on that list.

It turns out that collars and leads have been a part of the life for a canine companion for a great many years. Ancient Egyptian paintings and sculptures illustrate the use of dog collars. A wall painting in Pompeii shows a dog wearing a collar decorated with metal studs and a mosaic illustrates a chained dog wearing a plainer one. The Bayeaux tapestry, created in the Middle Ages as a record of the Norman invasion of England, shows a hunting scene with huntsmen accompanied by leashed hounds. Some early leather or iron, lined with leather, collars have long ( 7 cm.), fearsome-looking spikes.
They were designed to protect the dog when bear or wolf hunting. Thank goodness we do not have need for that kind of collar today.

Everyone has seen collars, I suspect, whose main purpose is for decoration or identification. Collars with that purpose are often associated with Hollywood starlets and their tiny lap dogs who have collars studded with diamonds and other gems that weigh more than the dog does. However, decorative collars have also been around for a long time. German and Austrian collars dating from baroque times are particularly good examples of such collars. They were usually made from leather with applied brass ornaments. Sometimes they had the owner's name inscribed on them.

These days the main purpose for fitting your dog with a collar and a lead, of course, is for restraint. It's important that a dog go out for walks and exercise regularly. The question, though, that quickly arises is what is the best kind of collar to achieve that goal. After all, dogs pull heavy sleds across the frozen tundra in harnesses that fit around their neck and shoulders. Don't you think it would be quite simple for a dog, wearing a regular collar, to pull its owner across the park or down the sidewalk, if that was really where it wanted to go? No, for many dogs, especially excitable or exuberant ones, regular collars do not provide very good restraint.

Enter the Headcollar. There are various models available. The Gentle Leader, Promise Halter or Halti are three of the most popular. They have been on the market now for a number of years. They are recommended by most dog trainers and veterinary behaviourists. They work on the same principle as the leads that are used for cows, horses and other large animals. They work just as well with dogs. Their effect can be magical, turning a walk with your dog from a zig zagging stop-and-start all over your neighbourhood into a peaceful, controlled stroll in the park. They are much more effective, in my opinion, than choke chains or prong collars and certainly seem much more humane.

In my experience, the biggest problem with headcollars is that some people mistake them as a muzzle. Dog owners do not want other people to think their friendly, lovable mutt needs a muzzle. Therefore, many owners are reluctant to use them. Granted, some dogs initially resent the feeling of something around their face. However, with proper habituating it usually can be overcome. Headcollars are available in various sizes and a proper fit is important for them to be comfortable and work as they should. Caution must be exercised if using headcollars for certain brachiocephalic or short-nosed breeds to ensure they do not complicate breathing issues.

There certainly is no reason not to make your dog complete, if that's your thinking, by choosing a nice, attractive collar for it to wear. Tags and identifying pieces can be attached - although collars and tags are being replaced as a most effective identification by microchipping. However, the best way to ensure enjoyable walks with your dog is to plan to use a headcollar. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at