How To Make The “Cone of Shame” More Comfortable For Your Dog
October 30th, 2019. Last Updated May 17th, 2020
Table of Contents
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links for various pet products. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
The past flurry of days has been wild. Yuna went through lump removal surgery on her head, and as a result, she got her first taste of the Elizabethan Collar.
Or, the “Cone of Shame,” as some say.
While surgery is definitely no fun, the post-surgery experience can be even more grueling for a dog.
Because following any surgery, you are likely under strict orders to keep your dog in one of these cones as part of the recovery process.
Meanwhile, your dog doesn’t even know why they’re being forced to wear this strange new contraption!
Especially if it’s your pet’s first time (and your first time dealing with this situation), you’ll want to know how to make the “Cone of Shame” more comfortable for them poor little pup.post
Purpose Of The Cone
We’re talking all about the Elizabethan Collar today, or E-collar for short. Or honestly, just cone. You know what we mean.
However gawky and unsophisticated you may think the cone looks, it does do its job very effectively. Namely, that job is to prevent your dog from scratching at, licking, or otherwise injuring surgical sites or wounds.
And it’s designed to do so such that your dog could be at home, completely unsupervised, and still not be able to reach the affected area (disclaimer: this is not an excuse to leave your dog unsupervised for long periods of time).
That’s it. The cone is there as a barrier preventing your fur kid from ripping away at a sensitive area.
Chances are, you spent a lot of money getting that surgery done. So don’t you want your dog to heal as quickly as possible, without more accidents along the way? Of course!
So really… I view the cone as a gift and a curse. On the one hand it keeps your dog safe and offers the best path toward recovery. But it’ll also make life a tad more difficult.
How The Cone Affects Your Dog
What effects can you expect the cone to have on your dog?
Think about what it’d be like to have a cone around your head. First off, it’d mess a bit with your vision and hearing.
Cones aren’t designed to limit a dog’s peripheral vision, but the outer frame of the cone and the natural weight of it can also cause many dogs to lower their heads while wearing them. Almost like they’re hunchbacks.
Your dog will no longer be able to burrow their heads into places they previously could. This primarily means bushes, and spots under or between furniture.
As a result, you may notice your dog getting more reluctant to use the bathroom because they can’t fully sniff anything out.
They’ll be limited on how far “inward” their head can go. For this reason, eating and drinking out of bowls will become decidedly harder.
Staying Disciplined - Know When To Keep The Cone On
Given all of the above impairments, it’s easy to pity our furry friends. Especially when they begin whimpering and pawing at the cone.
But as a responsible dog owner, you can’t give in here!
Remember: nobody likes the cone… but it has a purpose. It’s to keep them safe, so the best course of action is always to keep the cone on as long as possible despite protest.
Now, of course there is some nuance to all that. We’ll discuss times where you can possibly take the cone off, as well as what to do if your pet just can’t seem to get accustomed to the cone.
But when in doubt, keep the cone on. Every single moment you can’t fully devote to your dog, you leave the cone on. This includes during walks, eating, grooming…
Can My Dog Sleep With A Cone On?
What about sleeping? This was one of the first questions I wondered about.
The answer is yes, they absolutely can and should!
In fact, sleep is probably the most mandatory time for you to leave the cone on, because you’ll be catching some zzz’s yourself.
It may get tough if your dog sleeps in a crate. I’d recommend having their bed outside of the crate so they don’t get stuck inside with the cone on.
If you’re afraid of your dog getting all over the furniture at night, consider using a playpen to keep them confined.
It’s possible your dog will be very uncomfortable and refuse to sleep the first few nights. You may want to consider an inflatable collar or soft e-collar–but more on that later.
How To Make The Dog Cone More Comfortable For Your Dog - 10 Tips
I’ve experienced a lot firsthand working with Yuna and her cone. Let’s jump right in to our 10 tips for making the “Cone of Shame” more comfortable for your dog.
1. Ease Your Dog Into It, If Possible
If you know in advance your dog is going to need a cone, use this to your advantage!
A dog who suddenly has to wear a cone after a surgery is less likely to take it well versus another who was eased into it.
This is true for introducing any foreign object to your dog.
Ideally, a couple weeks prior to your dog’s surgery, get a cone from your vet.
At first, just place the cone in front of your dog and reward his curiosity. Just as with training a neutral or positive association with any object, you begin by offering treats whenever your dog willingly interacts with the cone.
Slowly work your way towards getting the cone on your dog, and then having them wear it for longer and longer periods of time. This article contains a nice breakdown of how you might want to define your baby steps.
2. Ensure A Good Fit
An Elizabethan Collar is, after all, a collar. So don’t get lazy when properly fitting one onto your dog!
For a normal collar, you may have heard of the two-finger rule: essentially, you should be able to fit two fingers between the collar and your dog’s neck, but have difficulty rotating those fingers. That ensures a good fit.
A similar guideline exists for E-collars. You should be able to fit two fingers between the cone.
The length of the E-collar matters too. Ideally, the cone should extend a little past the tip of the nose of your dog. This is especially important if surgery was done on the head.
3. Use Positive Reinforcement (For Walking, Pottying, Eating, etc.)
Get yourself a treat pouch from Paw Lifestyles. It’s time to carry it around with you everywhere.
Your dog may have trouble with many simple actions such as walking, pottying, or eating. Having treats will help them positively associate these experiences in the cone.
As we mentioned earlier, many dogs lower their heads when walking in cones. If they go too low, the bottom of the cone can often get caught in the ground.
Or, as was the case for Yuna, she had loads of trouble getting up onto the sidewalk. This can be dangerous, so try to use positive reinforcement techniques to encourage your dog’s head up as they walk.
Pottying can also be a challenge. Yuna was unable to sniff out her spots thoroughly, and as a result, gave up pottying 95% of the time. Even in the neighborhood right outside our apartment, which she had walked through hundreds of times.
If you’ve taught the cue word “potty” to your dog already, you’re good to go here. Since Yuna was already potty-trained I never felt the need to teach her that term. It came back to bite us in situations like these.
In any case, try saying “potty” and offering a nice chunk of treat right after an accomplishment.
4. Be Encouraging, And Give It Time
Dogs just need time. The first day, Yuna whined a ton and couldn’t get comfortable on her own bed. It took a long walk outside just to get her to potty one time.
A week in, she was acting energetic and happy again, despite having the cone on (we do have periods where the cone is off though–see tip 6 below).
Yuna does tend to be a more docile, passive dog. As a result, I felt as if she took every bump and scrape she experienced with the cone as a “punishment” of what she had done.
It was as if she treated bumping into something with the cone as her own fault.
This further discouraged her from trying to lift her head up to get onto the sidewalk, for example, because she felt she was doing something wrong bumping into it.
In these situations, you can only be as encouraging as you can. Having some treats out and using your “happy voice” will tell your dog that accidentally banging their head on the sidewalk isn’t a bad thing.
5. Continue With Your Pet’s Usual Routine
This is a big one. So the cone has flipped your dog’s world inside out… fine. Let’s try and make that the only variable.
Establishing a routine for your dog is generally a good idea. It helps them settle in faster to a new environment.
So for any dog already on a routine, keep that going!
This primarily means continue feeding and taking walks at the same times. If, of course, your dog’s post-surgery instructions allow for that.
If not, stick to as many old routine things as you can. The fewer things that are out of sorts for your dog, the more likely they can start living harmoniously with the cone too.
6. Know When The Cone Can Be Taken Off
This tip is the most important one to get right, in my opinion.
Once again, let’s review the purpose of the cone–it’s to keep your dog away from an affected area… while you are not supervising them.
So… theoretically, if you are able to supervise them, you should be able to take off the cone… right?
I would say yes, but only under a specific definition of “supervise”: you must be able to stop your dog from getting at the surgical site in a moment’s notice. Literally, a moment’s notice.
“Watching over” your dog while you are chopping onions, for example, doesn’t make the list here.
You must have both eyes and both hands ready to stop your dog from any tampering as soon as they attempt it.
For us, this meant the cone could be taken off during walks, provided that I strictly kept Yuna away from bushes and other dogs (and, that it wasn’t raining in Seattle).
This meant the cone could be taken off during her meals, when I literally sit next to Yuna as she ate it.
This meant the cone could be taken off while she was cuddling with me watching TV.
And this meant the cone could be taken off during grooming, when I had to give Yuna a thorough brushing.
Any other time doesn’t qualify as “cone-off” time.
7. Make Adjustments In The House
Help your pooch better maneuver your house by making adjustments!
Yuna likes to sleep under my desk sometimes, despite her own comfy bed being right next to mine. But with the cone on, my desk chair became an impossible obstacle for her to get around.
I made sure to move it out of the way so that Yuna had the option of sleeping there if she wanted to.
You may have to make similar adjustments to your house! If there’s an area that’s just too narrow to get through, make some rearrangements.
8. Keep The Cone Clean
Sometimes I just look over at Yuna and she’s licking the heck out of the cone. Yuck.
Dogs can get their slobber and fur all over the cone, making it dirty pretty fast.
Not only can this get pretty nasty, but it can also lead to infections.
For cleaning, you can simply use a damp cloth on both sides of the cone with a bit of common hand soap or bar soap. Be sure to rinse it off thoroughly and then dry it completely with a towel before putting it back on your dog.
Yes, this is while taking the cone off… so continue to keep a watchful eye on your dog as you are cleaning!
9. Elevate Bowls With A Sturdy Bowl Stand
To better help your dog with eating, consider elevating their bowls, and using a sturdy, non-slide bowl stand.
I remember the first few times Yuna drank water, I had to quickly rush over to her bowl and hold it steady. Otherwise, when she finished drinking and lifted her head, she would always catch the bottom of the cone on a part of the bowl and flip the whole thing over.
An easy fix if we had used an elevated bowl stand.
Yuna has since gotten smarter at this, and no longer flips over her bowls. But I still regret the first few spills. Get that bowl stand!
10. Look For Alternatives If All Else Fails
You may have gone through tips 1 through 9 and still, nothing is clicking for your dog.
They continually whine, refuse to sleep at night, and just can’t seem to get used to this darned contraption.
Most pets will get used to the cone after about 24 hours. If you’re past that and your dog is still clearly struggling, that’s okay. We’re not trying to put our dogs through hell here!
If your dog really can’t get used to the cone, there are a few alternatives out there.
A soft E-collar is like its name suggests. They are usually padded with nylon to be more comfortable for your dog to rest against.
We highly recommend The Original Comfy Cone. It comes with removable plastic stays on the main cone structure to adjust rigidness.
One of our favorite features is that the Comfy Cone can be folded back during eating and drinking. Moreover, the cone uses velcro closures so it’s much easier to take off than your traditional cone.
An inflatable E-collar is another possibility. They kinda look like travel pillows.
Probably the best traits of inflatable E-collars are that they’re easy to store, and they do not block your dog’s vision.
We recommend checking out BENCMATE’s Protective Inflatable Collar for dogs. It’s one of the more durable and bite-resistant products of its kind.
If you decide to get one, pay extra attention to sizing. Inflatable E-collars are less adjustable than other types of cones. An improperly fitted one will likely fail to keep your dog safe.
I’d check with your vet first about your situation before pulling the trigger on anything. It’s best you have their stamp of approval before moving off the traditional cone.
It’s never easy to have your dog go through a big surgery and face weeks of recovery in a cone.
To anyone who is currently going through this with their dog, we wish you all the best. We’ve been there, and at the time of this post, are still currently fighting as well.
Hopefully our tips taught you how to make the “Cone of Shame” more comfortable for your dog . The cone was also a first for Yuna and me, but these tips really eased her transition. So we’re sharing them for all dog owners out there!