How different control devices can enhance behavioral compliance (Proceedings)


Behavioral issues are the most common complaint among pet owners.

Behavioral issues are the most common complaint among pet owners. Even owners that do not feel their pets have any major behavioral disturbances frequently comment on aspects of their pet's behavior that they wish to improve. Unruly behaviors are particularly problematic for dog owners. Many owners of otherwise well adjusted dogs stop walking their pets or including them in general family outings because the dogs are too difficult to physically control; this is especially true for handicapped or elderly owners.

Owners with pets with behavioral complaints become easily frustrated at often fruitless attempts to control the animal and/or its behavior. Many owners subsequently "give up" on the animal and give it away. Others end up relegated to living in a crate, the garage, or the backyard. This "shrinking world syndrome" frequently intensifies the original behavior problem or triggers the onset of new ones.

Owners are more likely to persist with training and behavior modification steps if they have even early minor success at controlling or improving the pet's behavior. While training can take time, the right adjunct equipment can allow owners to physically control the pet and/or temporarily improve its behavior thus allowing the owner to incorporate the pet back into the family schedule as well as ensure the animal is getting sufficient physical, mental and social stimulation.

There is a wide variety of behavioral management products on the market today. Here we will focus primarily on devices that control the animal physically or that can at least temporarily modify a specific behavior pattern. Photographs and videos, where available, will be presented demonstrating characteristics and use of these products.

Head collars

Head collars have proven to be a revolution for controlling unruly and aggressive animals. Head collars function mechanically similar to halters in other animals although there are various other theories as to their efficacy including reducing agitation through acupressure points or via natural "control" points on the muzzle and nape of the neck. The products most commonly available on the market include: Gentle Leader® (, Halti®, Snoot Loop® (, Black Dog, Newtrix Easyway®, the Canny Collar® and the Comfort Trainer.

Each collar differs slightly from the others. The Newtrix® and the Canny Collar® are both neck attachment types whereas in the other brands the leash attaches under the dog's chin, giving the handler more control over the dog's muzzle and the direction in which the dog's head is oriented. This factor is valuable for working with aggressive dogs. Some dogs are more tolerant of one brand over another and some brands seem to work more effectively on dogs of atypical facial conformations.

Head collars provide control outside the home and also inside the home when used with a drag line.

No-pull harnesses

Harnesses have been available for use for various pets for many years; however, within recent years a number of varieties have been designed specifically to reduce leash pulling. These harnesses can be loosely divided into two categories based on mechanism of action: those that discourage pulling through incremental discomfort and those that appear to work more on the mechanics of the animal's movement and balance.

The first group includes products such as the Sporn, Comfort Control, and the Lupi harness.

The newest, and in the experience of many trainers and behaviorists, more effective harnesses include: Easy Walk, Sen-sation, and Har-Vest.

Cats can also benefit from harness training to increase owner control around other cats (e.g. during counterconditioning exercises) or to increase enrichment options (e.g. supervised walks outside).

Tethers and fencing

Cat fencing is quite useful for increasing behavior options for indoor cats as well as providing owners a means of keeping stray cats away from areas of the house. Mesh type fences are more effective and humane than electronic fencing systems and offer the additional advantage of keeping animals out of the yard as well as in.

Inside the home, tethers allow owners to restrict their dogs' movements without having to crate the animal or bar the animal from the room behind a gate. Unlike gates, tethers can be used in the home. While owners can use leashes to tie dogs, many dogs chew through the leashes or drag lines. Coated cable tethers in a variety of convenient sizes and lengths are available for this particular purpose.

"Calming" devices

Although not control devices in the conventional sense, there are a few products on the market that are designed to help reduce arousal. As such, they indirectly aid owners in controlling their pets as well. These products include various forms of body wraps including the Anxiety Wrap, Face Wrap, and the Calming Cap.

The Anxiety Wrap is a jacket that produces firm swaddling pressure around the animal's body. In many anxious dogs this generates a calming effect. The face wrap applies gentle, firm contact pressure across the dog's muzzle and neck similar to a head collar. This product can be left on dogs even unattended and is an option for dogs that become automatically quiet while wearing head collars. Similarly the Calming Cap, which covers the dogs face to reduce response to visual stimuli, can also reduce arousal triggered by other stimuli in some dogs. The cap can be used alone or in combination with a head collar or no pull harness.

Miscellaneous devices

While not exactly a control device, bark collars can assist some clients in controlling unruly behavior in certain situations. Many dogs distress their owners by their persistent attention-seeking barking. Nuisance barking (e.g. barking at birds, squirrels, etc) is also difficult for many owners to control and/or ignore. Owners that "give in" to such behavior by conferring attention on the animal or allowing it to access the trigger stimulus, merely reinforce such unruly behavior. Judicious use of air propellant or citronella spray bark collars can assist owners in correcting these behaviors early on. These collars are not appropriate for all barking issues (e.g. separation related problems or anxiety disorders), so judgment must be made on a case-by-case basis after an accurate diagnosis has been made. Ideally, bark collars should never be used as a first line intervention with barking, but rather a structured behavior modification plan should be put into place first.

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