Sunday, May 3, 2009

Outwitted & A Review of E-Collar Alternatives for Dogs

(UPDATE ON THE BANDAGE: It still hasn't passed but Popeye is eating and defecating normally so far.)

If you know Formosan Mountain Dogs, a breed originating in Tawian, then you know how smart they are. I've always figured Popeye has a large part of Formosan in him. I saw that cunning in him firsthand today.

To keep Popeye from licking at his stitches, I have been putting e-collars on him. The hard plastic ones the vets give you are a pain in the butt. There is a chip in the wall where one of our previous foster dogs a few years ago banged her elizabethan collar. (Bernice had had surgery to remove a tumor.)

When Bandit underwent surgery to correct his broken femur bone, we also started him off on a regular e-collar. Bandit was the most easy-going dog I've ever met and completely unfazed by everything (except being left home alone).

The collar drove me crazy though as he would shift around and bang it against his crate left and right in the middle of the night.

I put one on Popeye but he would completely freeze in it. Literally would not move a muscle for many minutes as if he was a deer in a headlight. You can see the one I put on him was too small and that was because I didn't want it banging against anything since I knew that would freak him out even more. He hates it so much he will growl, snap, and even attack the collar (no matter if your hand in in the way) if I try to put it on him.

I would say, as far as doing what it's supposed to do, the regular hard elizabethan collar is probably the best, most reliable product on the market. But if your dog hates it or it drives you crazy, there are alternatives.

The No-Bite Collar is like a cervical brace that wraps around the neck. Lined with a soft fabric on the inside, the outer wall is hard plastic so it is supposed to prevent your dog from bending his neck, which in theory means he can't reach the place he's not supposed be chewing on or licking.

I like the concept of this collar best because it's compact and does not take up additional space. It allows the dog to do eat, drink, and run around without hitting things. I think it's also easier on dogs who don't like their peripheral vision obstructed.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out too well for me with Bandit. I was always afraid of wrapping it too tightly around the neck and possibly choking the dog. Too loose however, and it won't prevent the dog from bending his neck and will therefore be ineffective. Additionally, while the inside is softly lined, the edges of the rectangular-shaped collar is very hard (there is a reinforced hard plastic band along the top and bottom of the collar which sits over the hard plastic outer wall). One time (and the last time I used it) I took the collar off Bandit and noticed that one of the edges had dug into his skin, resulting in a minor open sore and some discharge.

But I assume that if you know how to use the no-bite collar properly (which I obviously don't), then it should be effective.

The Comfy Cone is what I would say is most similar to the regular e-collar. It's basically just like a regular e-collar except that it's made with nylon and a soft foam. That means the shape is conformable rather than rigid, so if the dog bangs it against a wall, there's no loud bang. He could still potentially knock things off a shelf with it, but at least he's not making a ruckus otherwise.

(I would often confine Bandit in the small area behind my desk while I worked on the computer. If I stepped away, however, he always wanted to see me so would stick his head under the desk to watch where I was going.)

The top can also be folded down. This is convenient for things like allowing the dog better access to his food while he's eating, or if you just don't feel the cone needs to be quite so high. The downside to the soft yieldingness of the cone is that Bandit would often manage to fold a part of the collar down on his own, which would thereby give him access to his stitches. One way I got around this (though imperfectly) was to place a smaller hard e-collar on the inside, so that he would be wearing both collars.

Popeye doesn't like this collar either because it also blocks his peripheral vision. The one he is wearing is also too short for him, but again, the next size up is too large and would freak him out more if it hit against something he couldn't see. Popeye also tends to freeze in this collar.

The Pro-Collar is somewhat like one of those swimming lifesaver rings. It is inflated with air. I think the underlying concept is two-fold. 1) it partially prevents the dog from bending his neck. The dog can still bend his neck, just not as completely as he would otherwise without the collar. And 2) it provides a little barrier so that the dog cannot reach certain parts of his body.

I haven't found this collar to be terribly effective, at least not in the way it's supposed to. Maybe if you're trying to block the dog's access to the upper part of his body. But it doesn't prevent access to the back legs or paws, and with enough reach, I'm sure the dog could even reach higher up than that. I do think, however, that using two of these collars, one on top of the other, might be more effective. I haven't tried that but may one day.

The Pro-Collar Popeye is wearing is actually too big for him and will just slide off his neck. But he doesn't seem to mind it too much.

The Soft E-Collar is a large round, flat cushion with a hole in the middle for the dog's neck. There is a foam cushioning on the inside. The outside is something like rain jacket material. Easy to wipe clean but I wouldn't think very comfortable. It would be nice if there was removable fleece cover or something like that. There is a drawstring around the neck to tighten or loosen as needed.

This collar is supposed to allow the dog to mostly bend his neck but provide a barrier to block his access to most of his body. The shorter the dog's neck, the more effective it will be. Popeye's neck is giraffe-like so it doesn't really stop him from licking his stumps.

I tried a larger one on him and I'm sure that would have worked. But I wasn't crazy about the extra weight, and I worried that something so large would get in the way of him laying down comfortably.

(Aside: If you have an escape artist that is able to dig his way under a fence or even squeeze through a gate, putting something like the Pro-Collar or Soft E-Collar on him might block him from getting out as it essentially makes him bigger.)

None of the collars, by themselves, work ideally for Popeye. So what I do is combine the 2 collars that are least intrusive to him, the Pro-Collar and the Soft E-Collar. The double-layering does prevent him from bending his neck too much as well as blocks his access to any part of his body, even paws.

It has fallen off a couple of times when I didn't tighten the top Soft E-collar enough. Popeye doesn't particularly like it when I put the Soft E-collar over his head either (he does the growling, snapping thing) but if I hold a little treat out in front of it, he eagerly sticks his head through it for the treat.

Today, though, I saw him, with a precision and thoughtfulness that I don't really expect from dogs, manage to take the contraption off. First, remembering how it had slid off a a couple of times in the past, I saw him stand up on his front 2 legs and lift his butt way up in the air (almost vertically, Tyler said) to make the collars slide off over his neck. I watched him do this repeatedly until I realized what he was trying to do. (At first I thought he was just overextending himself, not being used to the weightlessness of his stumps.)

So when that didn't work (I told him to knock it off), I watched him lay down on his stomach and paw at it. His paws have been itchy due to the unknown but assumed allergy and he chews and licks at them a lot. He can't get to them with the collars on, so I thought he was trying to rub his paws against the collars to scratch. I saw one paw get caught (or so I thought) under the bottom Pro-Collar. As I walked towards him with the intent to free his paw, I watched as he used his other paw to push both collars off. I don't think the first paw was really stuck--I think he was using it to hold the collar in place so he could push it off with the other paw. If I hadn't seen it for myself, I would have assumed the collars just fell off on their own. But it was very clear that Popeye figured it out and did it very consciously.

That dog is too damn smart.

I decided to give him a break with the collars and just put one of the old mermaid pants on him.


Wild Dingo said...

yup. sounds like formosan rascal-liness to me. I was freaked out when Loki read the trainers teeny weeny finger wiggle to me to give him a "down" command from 200 feet away while the trainer held him. he'd see the trainer cue ME for the command and would down before i gave him the command based on the trainers tiny cue to ME just to make sure he wouldn't receive any correction.only dog in the school to do that. most other dogs are either looking anywhere else or sometimes at their owner, but Loki? he's all like, what's the new game rules and how i can beat them at their own game? it's scary-smart...just like Popeye!

Nancy Bailey said...

Having raised and lived with many a Guatemalan street dog I am always amazed at their survival skills. They are so very, very street smart and how to stay safe.

Popeye sounds like a little Houdini to me and a smart one at that. I love your description of Popeye freezing when you put the collar on him. One of our rescue street dogs, Gaviota, freezes if anything touches her body, other than human. If her leash gets stuck under her leg she will stop walking and freeze.

Pass that bandage Popeye. Time to let go of that little sucker.

Give Foster Mum a little break and be a good boy for a few hours today.


Sugar said...

Yep, little dude has the intelligence of a Formosan combined with the dexterity of a cat. Dangerous combination. I'm telling ya-- get that dog in service training, once he's healed! Or, maybe some agility training? Little dude is one smart, sneaky dog. Adorable and loving, too.

Have you ever seen Sugar hunt snakes or birds? She turns her head and body AWAY from the small creature, and pretends not to see them. Her body is completely relaxed and she has this "I'm innocent" air. But I can see her eyeballs, observing every move, before...WOOSH! She pounces, catching the snake in her paws. Yep, Formosan. Sneaky, smart demon dogs. That's why we love them.