Spiked collar use on livestock guardian dogs

It is well understood that in a one on one confrontation a dog in most circumstances is no match for a wolf. The dog is most vulnerable around the neck and throat and this is taken advantage of by the wolf which has a superior bite force, enabled by powerful muscles around its jaw and neck. 

Wolves know they can kill livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) more easily if they split them up, so it is important that dogs work as a team and support each other.

So what can shepherds do to redress this imbalance between dog and wolf? 

Shepherds may apply a spiked collar (also known as a 'wolf collar') if facing these kinds of attacks on a regular basis. But will wearing such a collar negate the advantage the wolf has over the dog? The simple answer is no. 

Attacking the neck and throat is the quickest and easiest way for a wolf to kill a dog, but just because there's a spiked collar present does not deter the wolf. The wolf will simply change it's approach, for example attacking the chest or abdomen. The spiked collar only slows the wolf down, giving more time for the other dogs or shepherd to support it.

Is a spiked collar only used for protection? This is the conventional wisdom but some shepherds report that their dogs learn to use collars with long spikes as a weapon when engaging with wolves. 

So how can a wolf access the vulnerable parts of a dogs throat if it is not wearing a spiked collar? 

Several shepherds that I have interviewed describe a technique used by wolves working in pairs to kill LGDs. One wolf grabs a dog by its ear, pulling it back whilst simultaneously turning the head to expose the throat for a second wolf to attack. 

This could explain why so many shepherds crop their dog's ears, to prevent them being used as levers. They also crop ears because they get torn, infected and painful in hierarchy fights between LGDs in the same pack or with rival dogs from other packs. That said ear cropping is now illegal in Romania and a recent increase in prosecutions is reducing this practice. 

The use of spiked collars often depends on the local predator burden, for example in areas where meadow grazing falls within the territory of an established wolf pack. These collars will also give LGD's more confidence when a confrontation with wolves becomes unavoidable. 

The more dominant dogs within the pack that most frequently head out to confront approaching predators are good candidates for a spiked collar because they are most at risk of injury and death. Some shepherds also apply them to dogs that have passed their peak age and fitness, giving them extra protection and time to deal with a predator confrontation.

There are occasions when spiked collars are not always advisable, especially when new or younger dogs are introduced to the pack. It's better to let them settle in, reducing the risk of avoidable injury during play or chastisement.

An LGD pack deterring a single wolf is more easily managed as strength lies is in their numbers. However, deterring a pack of wolves is something else, more dangerous and complicated. Wolves can sow confusion amongst dogs with multifaceted attacks. For example, a single wolf may approach the sheepfold drawing the dogs away from livestock, giving others the opportunity to enter the flock. A cohesive and experienced pack of LGDs will be aware of such tactics, with some dogs staying close to the sheep whilst other dogs chase away the decoy wolf. In this life and death power struggle involving much intelligence and bravery a spiked collar could make all the difference to an LGDs chances of survival.

Article updated on May 21, 2023