It seems like dogs would enjoy the freedom of being without their collar–so why do they sometimes growl when you remove it? If your pet has been sweating and/or is in a warm climate, removing the dog collar could allow them to cool off quicker.

What could be the downside of taking off your dog’s collar? Why might your dog react in a strange way, by growling? Here we’ll look at the reasons behind growling on collar removal–and what you, as a loving dog guardian, can do about it. 

Why does my dog growl when I take his collar or harness off? 

It might be more about the neck than the collar. There may be a physical or psychological discomfort that comes with touching the dog’s neck. If you’ve ever walked up behind a family member and touched their neck, or had someone touch yours unexpectedly, you know the feeling.

You might twitch your shoulders or have an instinct to protect your neck. It may itch or tickle when the neck is touched. Since we tend to approach our dogs from above and behind, such a neck touch is often unexpected, causing (at least) an instinctive shoulder-raise or wince. 

Game time excitement

Your dog may think it’s all a game! If he thinks you’re playing when you reach to remove his collar, he may be play-growling. Although dogs tend to play-growl more with other dogs, they sometimes do so with people. Think about when you’re each pulling the opposite end of a dog toy, your dog might shake his head and growl in play. It’s all part of the fun!

Game over disappointment

Collar off means fun time is over! If you’re removing a leash and/or harness, it likely means your walk is over–and maybe your dog doesn’t want it to end quite yet. S/he is disappointed or frustrated that the fun has come to an end. To make the collar removal a positive event, give a small treat each time you take it off. Even though the walk is over, life’s not so bad with a nice treat.

Pain or fear

The collar may be irritating or putting excess pressure on the neck. If the collar is too tight, it may hurt when you touch it to unbuckle your dog’s collar. (Even if the collar is not too tight, it will temporarily feel tighter when you try taking it off.) If the skin under the collar is sensitive or irritated, this may also cause an uncomfortable growl from your loyal best friend.

Your dog may have a less obvious injury, such as a pulled muscle in the shoulder or neck area, which could also make the area tender to your touch. Your dog may have scratched his neck when reaching to itch the neck or ear, for example. If your dog is a rescue, it may have been mistreated or neglected, causing it to fear your reaching for the collar. Have your dog checked by your vet if you’re concerned about physical or emotional pet health. 

Social discomfort

Maybe your dog just doesn’t like to be touched.  If it wasn’t socialized as a youngster, or was not touched often by a previous owner. Take a light touch and make sure your puppy knows he’s safe. See if he likes having his neck rubbed for a few seconds after the collar comes off. This may relax your dog in the moment.

You can slowly build up tolerance to touch by repeating this regularly and making it pleasant. Praise or soothe your dog while touching, rubbing or petting his neck. Son s/he will realize it does feel pretty good to have a neck rub!

Dominance confusion

Your dog may not be quite sure who is the leader of the pack in your household. S/he may take it as a sign of dominance that you are reaching over them and removing the collar. Your dog may need a bit more training to understand that you are in charge. Generally, this will calm any anxiety or confusion they may be feeling. 

Loss of security

Your dog may be so accustomed to wearing the collar, that it may feel weird to have it come off. It may cause your dog’s neck to feel vulnerable or exposed when he is not used to that feeling. It may be your dog’s security collar–a security blanket in compact form.

Joy of freedom

Your dog may just be expressing that he or she is excited that the collar is coming off. Barking and a slight growl could be your dog’s way of showing excitement and anticipation of something great that’s about to happen.

What to do about my dog growling when I take his collar off? 

You can get your dog to cooperate with harness or collar removal by taking a few preparatory steps. Make sure your dog knows you’re approaching him and reaching out to touch him (or her). This may not take away all anxiety about harness removal, but it will certainly help.

Be gentle when touching sensitive areas like the neck when removing a dog’s collar, or the ribs and chest for a harness. Soothe your pet with positive talk while removing his harness. Give a treat when the collar/harness is off, and your dog will soon see the collar coming off as a good thing! Check for injuries, especially if the growling is new or sudden behavior.

Watch for excessive paw-licking. Dog collars can compress nerves in the neck area that can make the feet tingle from lack of circulation. Dogs may lick their feet to quiet the tingling sensation. You might need to switch to a different type of collar or use a dog harness instead. 

Should I let my dog leave its collar on?

Healthwise, some owners feel it’s best to take off the collar now and then, but many dog owners leave the collar on almost continuously with no ill effects. Some only remove it when it’s bath time or they may wait until it’s time for a new collar.

Removing the collar after a vigorous walk may help prevent skin irritation from dirt or sweat, or friction irritation as the collar rubs against fur or skin. Removing the collar can reduce the chance of fur loss in the dog’s neck area.

Which is best, a dog collar or harness?

Experts disagree on whether a collar or harness is best for dogs. For breeds with breathing issues, a harness may work better, for dogwalking especially. A collar can damage the neck or throat if your dog pulls hard on his leash. A harness spreads the pressure of the dog pulling on the leash over a larger area, which can reduce any harm to your pet.

You may be able to more easily control your pet with a good harness, without fear of damaging his or her windpipe. An improperly fitting harness, on the other hand, can restrict a dog’s walking gait, throw them off balance, or put excessive pressure on the chest and/or shoulders.

Observe your dog closely while on walks and when removing harnesses or collars. This way, you can more easily see if the harness/collar (and/or its removal) is causing discomfort, excessive restriction, anxiety, or injury to your dog.

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.