Part checks and martingales cause a lot of fuss in the training industry.
Okay, so Indie is a fluffy soul with a lot of loose skin around his neck – something really bred into him and lots of other big dogs! He walks beautifully on a harness, but I would rather he walked on a collar – because he walks well enough that he could do so. Then we unlock the issue that the flat collars (the belt-like collar) must be tight enough to not slip over his head, which means we have to kind of squish his excess neck skin around it.
There was an obvious solution to this.
Use a martingale or a partial check.
As a force free trainer – I’m not meant to use these types of collars, because they are in the aversive category… I spent a long time trying to think around the problem. Other solutions. Genuinely? I was at a loss. So as I went round and round, I kept coming back to these as the potential solution.
The other thing is that a harness is a very solid option! And it’s an option I love. But for Indie, I don’t want him in a harness all the time. The Flat collar was considered, yes, but he looks choked in it. So I kept coming back to these shrinking collars, because they didn’t make him look choked.
Now, Indie is a sensitive soul. He doesn’t get on with aversives. If I even raise my voice he gets skittish (not for any reason! Just that I so rarely raise my voice…). It’s why I’ve ended up with the training methodology I have. So, my hesitation came in so many levels. Yet, I couldn’t see why they wouldn’t work, if they were applied correctly…I want to share that with you today. Let’s investigate the question;
Do Martingales & Part Check Collars need the chop?
Well, hehe that goes with the picture, that’s not really the question. Can Martingales & Part Checks be a part of the positive future of dog training? Could I ethically believe that question enough to allow him to wear one?
What is a Martingale collar?
A martingale is a flat collar, with part replaced by a chain (or strip of material) that cinches to a limited circumference. Usually these are leather or nylon with a metal chain. The noise associated with the chain can be a problem too, the noise can be considered part of the ‘aversive’ nature of these collars as the noise is sharp. They are designed to be work at the top of the neck, just behind the ears for ‘maximum effect’.
What is a Partial Check Collar?
This is similar principle, but usually these are fabric, they pull from one side of the collar to the other, it’s a single direction and it lacks the chain, so it is ‘quieter’ and it means that the sound can’t become a source of aversion. They work on the same principle though, they should sit behind the ears and a ‘correction’ applied by applying pressure on the lead to create discomfort around the neck and bend the dog to your will… (I’m having such a hard time explaining this without bias!)
How do they work in the Aversive context?
They are meant to ‘fix’ a dog’s pulling on a lead, or undesirable behaviour. This is done by cinching the collar tighter by the dog’s own pull on a lead, or a jerk from the owner, restricting the collar and causing discomfort and imposing on their ability to breathe, in order to get the desired result of stopping the dog from pulling, or performing the dogs own act. This is known as a ‘correction’ by balanced trainers (Can you hear my eye roll? I hope so!).
They’re meant to give power back to the owner. Having seen a number of these in operation in this way, it really doesn’t do much. If the dog wants to pull? They’re going to pull – which then can do more damage. Sure a correction can work if you really make it, but why use a correction on a collar like this, in that manner, when you can train positively to better effect?
How are Martingales and part checks different to Choke chains or Slip leads?
Choke chains are chain loops, that can tighten indefinitely… where as the martingale & part checks are limited in restriction. To my knowledge, there is no way a choke chain can be used in a positive way. Choke chains are definitely aversive.
Slip leads can come with a stopper – which makes them similar – but let’s discuss these for now…
Is that the only way the Martingales & Part checks can be used?
I don’t think so. No.
Now, before all of my positive training friends panic… keep reading.
To me, it depends on the sizing of the Martingale or Part check collar. It’s entirely dependant on the way it is used. You cannot use it as a ‘check’ or a punishment – why would you? Your dog doesn’t need to be yanked around or bent to your will. They can learn positively. Very few dogs (And by that, I’ve yet to meet one) cannot be trained in a positive mindset.
Why do they need to be different to a flat collar that extends slightly? So, let’s talk about Flat collars.
What about flat collars?
Let’s discuss flat collars for a moment. Flat collars are not considered aversives – they can be rubbish for a dogs trachea if the dog cannot walk properly on them – but they are not labelled as an aversive. Even when the collar is being misused… curious, huh? So flat collars aren’t aversive and part checks are…? hmm. Now, I agree that flat collars aren’t aversives (when used correctly) – but that little addendum made me wonder if there was an avenue for the martingale or part check.
So, if a Part check or Martingale’s minimum size is the size of a fitting flat collar – is there any reason they should be considered any differently to a flat collar?
So let’s compare them. If the smallest circumference on part checks and martingale collars shrink down to the size of an appropriately fitted flat collar – are they an aversive any longer? Could they simply (in Indie’s case) fit both a fluffy, jowl-y neck without being any different to a flat collar? I was starting to think that that was a possibility.
And so began the Research!
I love researching this stuff. I reached out to a number of ‘northern dog’ (think malamutes, huskies, akitas, shepherds etc etc) owners – most of them said that they do use some form of partial check, or martingale. Because, similarly to Indie and I, they have big ol’ coats and necks! Which makes ‘ordinary’ collars impractical.
I then reached out to a couple of other positive trainers, discussed it with them and they were hesitant. Understandably so. They’re labelled aversive and consequently not a tool we should be using. My heart went no, but my scientific-y brain went – well why?
Naturally, being a person who challenges boundaries and someone who doesn’t accept a status quo just because I did a thought experiment. Do they need to be an aversive? If they are worn to the point where they do not constrict around the throat, and simply cinch to become the equivalent of a properly fitted flat collar – are they still an aversive?
By categorisation yes, but definitively, no.
If the definition of aversive is an object that causes pain or discomfort to achieve a goal – and the new fitting of a martingale or part check doesn’t cause discomfort or pain (at least no more than an accepted flat collar) then they’re no longer an aversive. Like almost every tool in the world, whether that’s a soup spoon, or a flat collar they have the potential to be aversive, but the part check and martingale also fit and flex and provide better comfort than their flat comparatives.
Are the tools being misused? Or do they have a better purpose?
I think they were created with the intention as they are currently being used, but I do believe they can have a less scary purpose. A purpose where they aren’t used to ‘correct’ but a purpose where they comfortably fit dogs who struggle to wear flat collars, whether that’s a malamute, a mastiff, a german shepherd, or a bulldog! They can fill a gap that is not currently filled for our looser skinned and fluffy devils! Why should we keep them on harnesses if they don’t need them?
How do you use them positively?
The video above is me and Indie, it’s showing you how his fits and how it can be properly fitted. To ensure this, there are two ways to do this:
1 – make sure they don’t slip over your dogs head when ‘tightened’
2 – make sure they close to a comfortable size.
Simple, right? The second of these is the most important, you need to make sure that at their smallest point they are not too tight, which would mean that when you cinch the collar, there should be space enough to fit two fingers between the collar and your dogs neck.
This will mean that the is no associated discomfort beyond that which a flat collar can provide if your dog doesn’t walk well.
NB: You do also have to check with a martingale particularly that your dog doesn’t perceive the noise as aversive! For example? Indie walks beautifully on the part check collar, but not on the martingale. The noise of the chain puts him on edge it would seem! So after a nice introduction to the collar (whichever you may use!) check for unusual behaviour.
Aversive or not?
My vote is not – with a caveat when used properly. They are a tool to be used and we can repurpose it. Indie, in the picture above, is pictured in the Bully Billows Ramsay Range – which is a wonderful collar – and it’s a part check. I feel comfortable in him wearing it, and so does he – and trust me! I would know! It’s been fitted properly and he’s happy and relaxed in it, and it’s never been used in a negative way. It fits him properly and there’s no way a trainer can call it an aversive – and neither can I.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t advise these in 90% of situations, and I don’t think they’re right for all owners or all dogs. However, I do think they have a use in modern training! Why not? It’s literally just a mental block positive trainers have, but it is our job as trainers to teach and educate other dog owners in the proper training methods and that does include the proper use of equipment. So why rule these out? Don’t! Teach, educate and use all the tools in your toolbox where appropriate and there is no better solution. Let’s not reinvent the wheel, but let’s move these collars out of the dark ages.
What do you think? Do you use a martingale or part check? In what way do you use it? Do you see them as an aversive? Or just a collar that needs a rebrand? I think they definitely do need that at least! A new name and a new start – what about you?
I’m curious to hear from you all, email me or comment on social media and let me know your thoughts!