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Many dogs will need to wear a cone around their head at some point during their lives due to surgery or injury. Often referred to as “the cone of shame,” the Elizabethan collar protects your dog’s wound by preventing him from licking, chewing, or gnawing at it. Healing wounds are often itchy and stitches from surgeries, such as spaying or neutering, can be sore and uncomfortable. A dog may reopen wounds or cause additional injury if he has access to the itchy or irritated spot. That’s why a cone can help the area in question heal without interference from your dog.
It sounds like a simple solution, but there’s a catch: dogs aren’t fond of cones being around their neck and head. They will work to get that cone off one way or another. Therefore it’s essential that you train your dog to keep the cone on. It takes some patience, but with consistency and care, you can help keep that cone on your dog and help him to heal faster!
While some dogs manage just fine wearing a cone, others have more difficulty with the size, shape, and weight of it. Larger, taller dogs may be able to maneuver around the house with little to no trouble, but smaller or shorter dogs can experience additional issues because of their proximity to the ground. Not only can cones prevent your dog from worrying at wounds, but they can also prevent your dog from moving freely in his environment.
There are unique challenges involved with teaching your dog to accept a cone and keep it on, but it can be done. Keep in mind that the cone may initially frustrate or confuse your dog, so be patient and calm when training your pup to become a “conehead.”
First, you need to get a cone for your dog. Your veterinarian may offer selections to choose from, but you can also order a cone online or visit your local pet store to pick one out. Not all cones are created equal. There are traditional plastic cones, pillow-cones, soft fabric cones, nylon and fiber cones, and even decorated cones. Find one that suits your dog’s size and temperament, and remember to take his daily environment into account when making your selection.
Aside from the cone, have a positive attitude, a lot of patience, and a handful of treats. With a few days of consistent practice, your dog will own his cone in no time at all.
The Treat-in-Cone Method
Show your dog the cone
Let your dog investigate the cone before you attempt to put it on him. Every time he touches or sniffs the cone, give him a treat.
Set the lure
Using a treat, guide your dog's face through the cone hole. Once his head is there, give him a treat. Practice this step five times a session.
Put the cone on
Lure your dog's head through the cone again with a treat. Once his head is in place, treat him while you adjust and affix the cone around his neck. Make sure the cone is neither too loose nor too tight. Practice this step five times a session.
Create a positive environment
Your dog may fight the cone, or shake and whip his head about. Teach him that wearing the cone and keeping it on will get him a reward. Start over a short session with the cone in place and give your dog a small treat every few seconds. He will begin to associate the cone with yummy treats.
Repeat these steps as needed
Make sure your sessions are short so that your dog doesn't get too annoyed by the cone. With practice, your dog will quickly come to think of the cone as a tool to receive treats.
The Back Up Method
Provide a distraction from the cone
Use the time your dog is in the cone to redirect his attention by teaching him a new command that will help him navigate around the house without taking the cone off his head. With this method, we will use the "back up" command.
Step toward your dog
Take one step in your dog's direction from directly in front of him. When your dog takes a step back or moves his back leg, praise him and give him a treat.
Repeat these steps in brief sessions
Practice the first two stages of this training program in short, five to ten minutes sessions a few times a day.
Provide a command cue
Once your dog is responding to the first few steps, begin to include a cue for the 'back up' command. Something like "back" or "move back" will do.
Expand the behavior
As your dog masters taking one or two steps back at your command, begin to challenge him by adding more steps. This training will help take his mind off the cone and help him to navigate safely around the house at your command.
The Plan Ahead Method
Practice with the collar
At least a week before planned surgery, select a cone and slowly introduce it to your dog.
Create a positive association
Use the 'Treat-in-Cone' method to encourage your dog to place his head in the cone opening and let it be fastened around his neck.
Guide him around the house
Be a seeing-eye guide for your dog and help lead him around the house with the cone on his head. Let him get accustomed to how the cone changes his ability to move, especially in tight quarters.
Practice walking with the head up
To prevent your dog from dragging or hitting his cone against he ground, use a treat to help guide him walk with his head up.
Repeat these steps up to the surgery
Give your dog as much time as you can with the cone on pre-operation. By practicing ahead of time, your dog is more likely to be comfortable with the cone and less likely to try to get it off during recovery. Additionally, the cone won't come as a shock to the dog after an already disorienting surgical experience.
By Erin Cain
Published: 12/15/2017, edited: 01/08/2021