Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

Contrast Training and Using a Slip Collar

Contrast training and using a slip collar

My training methodology is primarily based on building an incredibly strong bond with your dog, as that is the basis for your success in all other areas of training. I focus on mainly using positive reinforcement – the goal is to shape behaviour through the use of a clicker and food rewards.

Alongside this, we use Contrast Training, which I’ll describe in detail in this blog.

What is Contrast Training?

Contrast Training involves having contrast between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to teach your dog. This means as well as having a reward for when your dog does the right thing, you also have a consequence when your dog does something inappropriate. The contrast between the reward and the consequence helps the dog to learn much more quickly. Consequences are normal and happen every day in the real world to create healthy boundaries, but we need to do it in a way that is appropriate, not harmful and not damaging to our bond with our dog.

How is a slip collar used in Contrast Training?

A slip collar is a simple nylon collar that slips over your head and has a slip action, meaning it can be pulled tight while on your dog. This can be used to give your dog information about the behaviour you want. While flat collars and harnesses are just restraining tools, a slip collar helps you shape your dog’s behaviour when used alongside a marker and food rewards. 

To fit the slip collar to your dog:

  • Make a bend in the rope and push the bend through one of the O rings.
  • Pull the loop until you have made a P shape. The dog’s head can be placed through the loop, with the tail of the P hanging under your dog’s neck so that the slip is loosened when the lead is relaxed.
  • Your lead is clipped to the O ring at the end of the P shape’s tail.
  • When your lead is attached to the slip collar and you’re walking with your dog on your left, it will be like a P shape with the nose of the P facing the ground

Check out this video where I demonstrate how to fit a slip collar and how it works.

How can Contrast Training help you build your bond with your dog?

One of my signature techniques is called Joining Up, which uses contrast training to cultivate a strong bond between you and your dog. When your dog is well ‘joined up’ to you, they are focused on you, stay close to you, look to you for direction, and they move and stop when you do.

A full description of how to do Joining Up can be found in this blog, however in short it involves moving around with your dog on a slip collar and lead. When your dog moves with you, the slip collar is loose and you reinforce this desired behaviour by clicking and rewarding with a treat (as in left hand image). When your dog pulls away from you, the pressure comes on the collar (see right hand image). We have the contrast of pressure on (dog is pulling away, creates slight discomfort) and pressure off (dog is moving with you, it’s comfortable AND you click and reward). This contrast gives your dog valuable information about what you want them to do, helping them learn much more quickly to take their direction from you. 

We usually start a puppy with a limited slip collar (also known as a half slip collar) which has a brake mechanism to limit the level of pressure created. This gradually helps the dog to get familiar with the technique and to ensure misuse of the slip collar doesn’t happen. Small dogs or dogs with sensitive necks can continue with the limited slip collar, bigger and more robust breeds can graduate to the full slip collar after 12 weeks of age.

How is Contrast Training used to correct inappropriate behaviours?

A slip collar can also be used to give a correction for certain inappropriate behaviours when necessary e.g. chasing cats, barking excessively. Corrections should be used minimally and in a way that does not affect your bond with your dog.

Our methods are designed to create ‘apparent natural consequences’. This is when a correction is given immediately at the time of the undesirable behaviour, in a way that mimics how a dog would learn in nature and is ideally not associated to you. For example, if your dog has gotten in the habit of chewing a particular sofa leg, cover it with a paste made of vaseline and cayenne pepper. Next time your dog goes to chew that sofa, the cayenne pepper is going to taste very unpleasant and put your dog off chewing that item. The correction comes immediately at the time of the undesirable behaviour, and the correction appears to come from the sofa itself, not from you.

Or if your puppy is chasing cats, with a long lead and slip collar, you can give a snappy effective check just at the moment the puppy goes to chase the cat, so it’s as if the cat has given the pup a swipe to correct them for chasing. Dont say anything as this is happening, you want to stay totally unassociated. If your dog returns to you after getting that fright, reward with a treat to reinforce your bond.

Our methods are absolutely not about scaring or dominating the dog in any way, but instead about guiding the right behaviour.

How to do an effective check

To give an “effective check” you fit your dog with a slip collar attached to a lead. When they act inappropriately, quickly snap the lead in a firm and swift upwards or sideways motion to very briefly tighten the collar around the dog’s neck, then release. Do not continue pulling on the lead and tightening the collar. This is not about harming the dog, it’s about creating a brief moment of discomfort to interrupt the undesirable behaviour.

A check has been effective if it stops the dog’s behaviour; if you are delivering a check and it’s having no effect, you need to be firmer (or you are not using the right technique). Big strong dogs will need a firmer check for it to be “effective” than smaller or sensitive dogs. A check is ideally applied remotely in most situations, by using a long-lead or retractable lead, so that the correction is not associated with you.

We always contrast a correction like an effective check with positive reinforcement for the RIGHT behaviour (a click with a clicker, followed by a high value food reward).

For example, if your dog barks at the fence line, you give an effective check when your dog is away from you and barking, using no commands. This way, it appears as if the correction has come from whatever is “out there” on the other side of the fence, rather than you, which will help make your dog want to stop barking even when you’re not around. When your dog stops barking, you contrast this correction with a click and high value treat to reward your dog for stopping.

What we don’t recommend

It is important not to mistake our contrast training techniques with the old choke chain methods, which use harsher metal chains to “choke out” a dog with prolonged tightening or tugging. This is absolutely not what our training is about. Our contrast training is primarily focused on using a clicker (or other marker) and food rewards for positive reinforcement to mark appropriate behaviours, with the addition of a modern slip nylon collar to provide contrast, marking inappropriate behaviours to help a dog learn more quickly. 

Advice for young pups, small dogs or sensitive breeds

Young puppies (under 12 weeks) should be introduced to contrast training using a limited slip collar (half slip), which has a brake mechanism to limit the tightening. A limited slip collar is also more appropriate for toy breeds and dogs with a hypersensitive trachea of any age. If you have any concerns or want to establish the best option for your dog, feel free to send us an email or consult your veterinarian. 

Advice for strong pullers

If your dog is a strong puller, a halti head collar may be an appropriate tool to use as an intermediary option while you work on teaching them to walk nicely beside you – you don’t want your dog straining at the end of the slip collar constantly. A halti head collar is not a training tool, but will give you more control so your arms aren’t being ripped out of their sockets while you work on teaching your dog to walk calmly with you.

Learn how to do Contrast Training effectively…

Contrast training allows dogs to learn quickly what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour. It can be used to effectively treat behaviours like pulling on the lead, jumping up, excessive barking and much more.

If you’re ready to train your dog, I’d highly recommend you join one of our Virtual Training Schools. We will guide you through exactly how to teach your dog to be calm, relaxed, sociable and well-behaved in every situation. Getting the right technique is essential to your success, and we’ll show you how to use positive reinforcement along with skilful contrast training when necessary, to achieve amazing results.

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