Clinical Tool: Flat Collar

Clinical Tool: Flat Collar

An appropriately fitted flat collar provides a useful canine clinical tool to use with selected therapeutic techniques. Selecting the appropriate collar for each dog needs consideration of their breed, problems or conditions, other clinical tools being utilised and the planned therapy techniques (land based, water based or integrated therapy).

Clinical decisions about selecting therapeutic tools and techniques for the individual dog are important in delivering safe and effective treatment, aimed at improving the dog's movement and functional abilities.

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Flat collars

A flat collar is so much more than just a restraint on a dog's neck or something to attach a tag to. When used with mindful canine Therapeutic Handling, it becomes a useful clinical tool as part of the therapeutic programme, aimed to improve each dog's balance, postures, mobility and functional tasks.

Canine Therapeutic Handling (TH) is responsive to each dog's behaviours in the clinical setting. It's a fusion of Therapeutic Touch, Therapeutic Holds, Therapeutic Lifts, canine Key Points of Control, Terra and Aqua Movement Shaping techniques, Therapeutic Lead work and Body Awareness work which includes sensorimotor techniques.

Canine collar choices

Appropriate collar selection is a fundamental skill in land based canine physiotherapy, canine hydrotherapy, canine movement therapies and manual therapies. This clinical tool can be utilised successfully to support the implementation of the dog's treatment programme, to achieve the individual set goals in response to each dog's specific needs.

The dogs's neck, where a collar is applied, is a canine Key Point of Control (cKPC). The dog can easily be taken out of its natural balanced stance or motion when using direct holds on the collar, tensioning this cKPC indirectly through a lead attached to the collar or when using a slip lead.


The dog's Key Points of Control offer therapists ways to positively connect, control and influence canine patterns of movement.

Inappropriate collar or lead selection and poor use of these clinical tools can result in a poor proprioceptive value for the session as well as compromise the efficacy of the treatment programme.

Avoid taking the dog out of it's natural balance and motion, for example, by the dog pulling and tensioning away from the therapist when on a collar and lead, or, by the therapist over-tensioning the collar, either directly or indirectly through a standard grip hold at the collar or an increased tension of the lead.

Develop therapeutic strategies to optimise the dogs natural balanced stance and motion using core cKPC instead of influencing the dog's neck and head.


Direct tensioning is caused by a restraint hold on the side of the collar. Indirect tensioning is caused by using the lead connecting to the collar with a sudden tension or build up of tension.

Holding the dog in a stand with a grip hold on the collar can easily over-tension and take the dog out of its natural balance by over-engaging the sensitised canine Key Point of Control at the dog's neck.

Build therapeutic knowledge to accurately interpret canine calming signals (feedback / social signalling) and how to therapeutically respond to each dog, to promote their focus, attention and active engagement, following the therapists guidance and directions.

Explore the facts


Keeping up to date and advancing clinical skills is a professional obligation. Each therapist is on their own career journey of learning and needs to plan ahead to optimise their progression. There is always something new to learn, so let's get excited and share some important facts.

Canine neck anatomy review

Canine neck anatomy
Canine neck anatomy

Activity Task: Review your canine neck anatomy and identify the important structures in that region labelled 1 - 10 in the picture above. We have listed the structures below for you to match to the numbers. Consider the impact or effect of tension or pressure caused by a collar and lead on these anatomical structures.

  • Artery
  • Cervical vertebra
  • Lymph nodes
  • Mandibular gland
  • Neck muscles
  • Oesophagus
  • Thyroid gland
  • Trachea
  • Scapula
  • Vein

Canine "check ins"

"Check ins" are a normal part of canine behaviour and is where the dog needs to look and check in with their owner as part of their usual communication. Some dogs will naturally check in more than others in the clinical setting.


Canine "Check ins" with their owners, whilst in the clinical setting, can be optimised by linking where you direct owners to be, as well as encouraging owners to use a neutral and relaxed posture in sitting rather than standing or moving around the room.

The therapist needs to utilise their professional interpersonal and communication skills to explain to each owner the importance of acknowledging their dog when they check in, and at the same time to remain neutral and not handle them. Owners need support in the clinic space on how to remain neutral, using a normal vocal tone and a quiet relaxed posture.

Explain to owners why they need to avoid hugging, patting, stroking, kissing or picking up their dog in the clinic, during the session. This will hugely assist the balanced dynamics of the clinical experience as;

  • A relaxed and neutral owner will help the dog recognise a safe and accepted environment
  • An owner who is neutral on "check ins" empowers the proprioceptive value of the therapeutic touch, as multiple mixed touches from both owner and therapist will dilute the impact of the session
  • An owner using a placating tone or reassuring touch may result in "triggering off" a change of canine behaviour and the dog viewing the therapist's hands as a possible threat

Canine "ownership"

Dogs have ownership over their restraints and belongings and link this behaviour with the familiar scent of their belongings. This is such an invaluable tool to use to help the dog find its balanced, alert, focused and confident self in the clinical setting. These facts can be used to assist the dog by introducing the concepts of Canine Clinic Enrichment along with Therapeutic Handling techniques.


Activity Task: Watch the dogs eye and head move as they follow where you place their own equipment for, example, collar & lead, once you've removed them in clinic. Do this for a number of different breeds and reflect on what you observe.

How to use canine "ownership" as part of Clinic Enrichment

The therapist can use clear scent signalling to the dog at the chosen time in the session to have a positive impact and raise the proprioceptive value of the session.

For example; at the beginning of the session when the dog's own collar, harness or lead is removed and replaced with the clinic's flat collar, and other selected clinical tools, the therapist has important clinical choices to make as to where to place the dog's own restraints, once removed.

One option is they could be passed to the owner to put to one side. Ideally the owner would be positioned in front of the dog, where the dog could focus on their owner, with the therapist positioned at the side of the dog, facing the owner.

Another option is that the dogs restraints could be placed into a container next to the therapist and treatment mat area. The scent of the equipment will spiral up within the container and this can be used as a useful clinical tool which will be discussed in more depth in another clinical tool video.


If the restraints were passed to the owner, the therapist needs to be mindful when they ask the owner to initiate passing the restraints back to the therapist. This movement and action will create a clear signal that it's the end of the session and the dog's behaviours and feedback signals will respond to this information.


Therapists choose the appropriate combination of restraints for each dog. They will base their decision using clinical reasoning of the dog's individual history, signalment, behaviours and specific clinically reasoned needs.

When would a dog not wear a collar?

This is dependant on the breed and role of the dog, some dogs will not wear collars, for example, gundogs, who will wear a slip lead.

In the therapeutic setting there are a number of reasons a dog will not wear collars, for example; a dog with syringohydromyelia, laryngeal paralysis, wobblers or having undergone cervical spine surgery. Clinical decisions on the use of a collar need to be made for brachycephalic breeds and senior dogs.


The therapist may decide not to use a collar for specific clinical reasons and may choose to use a Y-Shaped harness only.

Integrating the ability to select and therapeutically fit the correct flat collar for the individual dog, will optimise the effectiveness of a wide range of therapeutic canine techniques. A general fit of a collar is totally different to a Therapeutic fit where you use Therapeutic Touch and therapeutic holds. A successful therapeutic fit of a collar raises the proprioceptive value of that experience compared to a general fit which has no proprioceptive value.

Clinical Tools 002: Flat Collars fit and check.

Supporting choices with scientific knowledge and facts of functional canine anatomy, canine biomechanics and canine behaviour in the clinic environment will lead to the best treatment outcomes for the dogs in your professional care.

The choice of clinical tools and treatment techniques responds directly to the SMART goal setting clinically reasoned by the therapist. The treatment programme is specific to each canine case to meet their identified needs. These may include sessions of rehabilitation, fitness, conditioning, weight loss or senior dog care.


SMART Goal Setting: Specific - Measurable - Achievable - Relevant - Timely.

Therapists aim to improve each dog's motion and functional abilities required for their specific land based role or roles.

Therapy techniques such as canine Movement Enrichment techniques and canine neuro-sensory techniques have a very high proprioceptive value and are directly relevant to improving canine postures, balance, coordination and motion.

Effective treatment is based on the individual dog's assessment findings and uses a clinically reasoned approach by establishing a prioritised problem list, which leads to evaluating the dog's SMART goal setting. This in turn directs the selection of specific treatment techniques to achieve the goals for the dog in your care.

Therapeutic Holds linked to collar fit

The therapist uses clinical reasoning and critical thinking skills during each session to deliver safe and effective practice. This includes selecting which clinical tools to use, for example, using the combination of a collar and harness, or just using a Y-Shaped harness.

Decisions are ongoing during the treatment session, for example, which canine Therapeutic Handling technique to use and when, how to best enrich the clinical environment and which clinical tools to use and why!

It's all about working with the dog and building a bond of focus and trust between the therapist and their canine client.

Techniques which transform simple everyday canine tasks into a very high value proprioceptive enriched treatment technique have great outcomes and are very relevant to the dog's needs.


Working with the dog therapeutically, in a mindful and focused way, raises the proprioceptive value of common daily canine tasks, when using equipment the dog is familiar with and accepts. This transformation of a task into a treatment technique is achievable for all dogs, when the therapist uses Movement Enrichment techniques.

The best collar "fit" for aquatic therapies is very different to the best "land based fit." Flat collars made of material may shrink slightly when wet, and it is best to use a 3 finger fit for the collar for aquatic therapies, whereas on land a 2 finger fit is the normal fit.

We know the collar fit will be determined by many factors including the dog's age, breed, conformation, underlying conditions and problems, as well as the skill of the therapist.

Collar fit may need to be modified for certain breeds with neck folds, such as German Pointers and Sharpeis. Dogs may "puff up" their neck by altering their muscle tone as a behaviour and this will result in a misfit of the collar, so always check the fit throughout the session along with your checks of the other equipment and restraints utilised.

The therapeutic fit of the flat collar using Therapeutic Handling techniques can also be integrated with another group of canine clinical skills called clinical intention techniques. 

These are a range of skills the therapist can learn to control and layer into their Therapeutic Handling techniques, directly communicating information to the dog to actively participate and follow their guidance. 

Complete the activity task below.

Activity Task: Review the video and observe the movement of the leather collar on the running Rhodesian Ridgeback dog. Observe the walk footfall of the black poodle and the relaxed lead connected to the collar: a connection but not tensioning the neck. Consider the weight of the poodle's jewelled collar compared to a flat collar and how this may influence loading of the limbs. Map out the footfalls of the dog's walk gait pattern (LH-LF-RH-RF) and observe three other breeds and their walk gait pattern and footfalls.

Working with the dog using Therapeutic Handling techniques optimises canine natural balanced movement, resulting in excellent outcomes for the dogs in your care.

Working in natural balanced postures and movements will achieve the best results for each dog as they are relevant and important to their quality of life and daily needs.


Being able to select and therapeutically fit a flat collar is an incredibly useful skill for both land based manual and movement therapies, as well as for canine hydrotherapy. This can be used to optimise the dog's natural balanced stance, postures and motion.

By adding in Therapeutic Handling techniques, the therapist has transformed functional tasks into a very high value proprioceptively enriched treatment strategy, which will improve the quality of the dog's movement and abilities.

Always actively work with your dog and respond to their feedback signals, rather than applying a technique onto the dog.

It's important to find the best fit for each dog and this will depend on a number of factors including the dog's age, breed, size, conformation, morphology, needs and behaviours.

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