The Prong Collar Debate: A Trainer’s Opinion

Walking a dog that pulls on leash is not only frustrating but it can also be dangerous so it is common for concerned pet parents to look for simple solutions with many turning to what many might consider controversial training equipment like prong collars and choke chains.

These types of collars, which are controversial because they use pain and discomfort to discourage dogs from pulling on leash, are still widely popular amongst many dog owners and are often even recommended by professional dog trainers to quell the problem of a pulling dog.

Why? Because prong collars do indeed stop dogs from pulling.

That said, prong collars have become widely villainized in recent years in spite of their success. Many positive reinforcement trainers, animal rights activists, and amateur dog enthusiasts have come together to petition for a ban on using aversive training equipment on dogs, including the use of prong collars.

As a reward-based training company here in Pasadena, we at My Dog Spot certainly have our opinions about the use of aversive training equipment, but should prong collars, choke chains and shock collars be banned altogether?

Join us as we take an objective look at the pros and cons of aversive training versus reward based training and discover how prong collars work, why they are still recommended by some trainers, and what science has to say about their overall effectiveness and safety for our four-legged friends.

 

Are Prong Collars Inhumane?

Sometimes called a poke or pinch collar, a prong collar is a type of dog collar that has metal prongs or plastic spikes on one side. The collar is worn like a standard dog collar except that the spikes are meant to sit directly on your dog’s neck.

Prong collars are designed to tighten when your dog pulls against you during walks which causes pressure on your dog’s neck and pushes the prongs into your dog’s skin. This results in discomfort and sometimes even pain depending on the strength of your dog’s pull.

The discomfort caused by a prong collar is enough to stop a dog from pulling quite quickly, leading the owner to feel satisfied with their dog’s “good behavior” on outings while wearing it.

But is this pain and discomfort caused by the collar humane and safe? Well, this is where the controversy arises.

The question of prong collars being humane, in many people’s opinions, is not really a question at all. Is causing intentional pain and discomfort to a dog humane? Probably not. But since prong collars do seem to work and work quickly many owners and trainers continue to use them.

It’s easy to want to judge a dog owner who places a scary looking device around their dog’s throat especially if you are pro positive reinforcement and don’t believe in aversive training.

But for some, choosing to use a prong collar may simply be choosing the lesser of two evils. For example a dog owner with a strong and anxious dog may feel it is safer for everyone (the dog included) to wear a prong collar on walks as opposed to risk not being able to control the dog and have the dog become aggressive towards another person or pet.

When used in this circumstance the use of a prong collar is perhaps the safest option for them. It is, after all, a better alternative to not walking and exercising the dog at all. Furthermore, the use of the prong collar means that the dog is more protected from potentially being euthanized due to biting out of fear or exhibiting leash anxiety that can lead to aggression.

See how the water can get murky? So now let’s ask another important question. Are prong collars safe?

 

Are Prong Collars Safe?

The water is less murky here, as we have science backing recent studies to explain the potential dangers behind the use of prong collars and choke chains.

With that being said, the definition of safety can fall into different categories:

  • Are prong collars physically safe for dogs?
  • Are prong collars mentally and emotionally safe for dogs?

The answer to both questions above, according to a number of scientific studies, is a resounding no.

According to a study posted in 1992 to the Animal Behavior Consultants Newsletter, studies suggested that the use of prong collars, choke chains and shock collars are physically dangerous to dogs.

Prong collars work by putting pressure on a dog’s throat which can lead to severe injuries of their thyroid glands and trachea. This can lead to other serious health problems down the road like hypothyroidism, weight gain, ear infections, hair loss, skin issues and even organ failure.

Other injuries caused by prong collars include eye injuries, thinned corneas, and glaucoma due to the increased pressure on the dog’s eyes from being choked.

But what about the emotional toll prong collars and choke chains take on dogs?

Recent studies have confirmed that the use of prong collars, choke chains and shock collars are emotionally damaging to our canine counterparts and are not only therefore a danger to them, but also to us.

In fact, dogs who are already reactive on walks and who already suffer from leash anxiety were found to become more anxious and agitated upon prolonged exposure to uncomfortable and painful prong and choke collars, with the collars leading to greater stress in dogs and therefore leading to a higher risk for potential aggression and bites on owners.

Furthermore, studies also found that prong collars and choke chains while initially effective in stopping dogs from pulling on leash, may actually be ineffective in the long run.

This is because a prong collar uses momentary pain to stop unwanted behavior. It doesn’t teach a dog which types of good behaviors the owner wants from him. What’s even more alarming is that anything present in the dog’s environment while he is wearing a prong or choke collar has the potential to take on a negative association. This could include children, other dogs, and strangers. These negative associations can lead to more fear and anxiety in the dog which can ultimately lead to the dog pulling and lunging harder at what he now perceives as negative triggers despite being in pain.

 

If Prong Collars Are Potentially Dangerous And Even Ineffective, Why Do Some Trainers Still Recommend Them For Dogs Who Pull On Leash?

Some trainers firmly believe in the efficacy of prong collars if and when used properly. Proper placement of the prong collar according to these trainers is up behind the ears along the jawline. The purpose of this, according to Leerburg Training, is not to cause pain, but when applied with a quick correction should take the breath away from a dog just enough to stop unwanted behavior. The question arises, can these trainers really expect every day dog owners (most with very little knowledge of canine anatomy or psychology) to know how to use this equipment “properly”?

 

Aversive Training Vs. Positive Reinforcement Training – The Science Behind Your Dog’s Behavior

It wasn’t too long ago when many experts believed in the Alpha Dog Theory and used this as the foundation for dog training. The theory suggested that domesticated dogs behaved with a pack-like mentality and that in order to have a dog obey you, you must establish dominance in the home.

Establishing dominance often meant having a firm hand with your dog. This usually required the use of discomfort, pain, and punishment during training sessions to elicit submissive behaviors from a dog. Luckily, this theory has since been debunked and is now considered by many to be an outdated method of dog training.

According to a study done by the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, aversive training methods using punishment and pain were actually found to harm dogs not only physically, but mentally as well. And while these types of training techniques may work initially, they can have long term and even permanent effects on a dog’s overall mental health.

Furthermore, this same study suggests that training your dog using aversive training methods and equipment such as prong collars has even been found to jeopardize the human-dog bond by breaking trust and creating avenues for more fearful and sometimes even aggressive behavior in dogs.

So, what do you do if you want to effectively teach your dog to stop pulling on leash? Try using positive reinforcement and reward based training that focuses on rewarding the behavior you do want from your dog rather than the behavior that you don’t want.

 

The Most Effective Tool To Stop Your Dog From Pulling On Leash Is Not A Prong Collar At All

At My Dog Spot, we recommend using harnesses that help reduce a dog’s instinct to pull and harnesses that promote a healthy relationship and the ability for your dog to learn how you want him to behave on his walks.

The harnesses we recommend are all harm-free, reward-based, and backed by positive reinforcement experts who understand the psychology of dogs and why they behave the way they do.

Some of our favorite dog harnesses to help stop dogs from pulling on their leashes include:

 

Each of the above harnesses are available for purchase on our website and can be ordered in your dog’s particular size. That said, keep in mind that not every harness is right for every dog.

If you’re unsure of which harness would be right for your dog, don’t hesitate to reach out to My Dog Spot’s founder and dog trainer Lily Reiche to get her professional opinion.

 

Other Expert Tips You Can Use To Stop Your Dog From Pulling On Leash

Using the above equipment to get your dog to stop pulling on leash will certainly help, but it may not solve the problem entirely.

When dealing with a dog who is a heavy puller, you may need to undergo some leash training with your dog to help him relax during walks so the experience can be more enjoyable for the both of you.

In order to help your dog stop pulling on walks, you must first try and understand why he is pulling in the first place.

Most dogs pull heavily on leash for four common reasons:

The easy fix to your dog’s pulling problem would be if he is simply wearing the wrong equipment. Many dogs have a natural instinct to pull against a harness that is putting pressure on their chest or back. This is why front clip harnesses and Halti harnesses work so well. They reduce the pressure on the dog’s chest and instead guide him back to you when he tries to pull ahead. However, if your dog is pulling due to being overstimulated, under-exercised, or due to anxiety then you will need to implement additional training into your routine walks.

And if you feel you would like more extensive help with your dog, feel free to reach out to us. My Dog Spot currently offers virtual training courses where you can learn how to manage your dog both inside and outside of your home using positive reinforcement techniques.

 

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COVID-19

IS IT SAFE TO STILL HAVE MY DOG WALKED?

 

Yes, it is still safe and we would recommend trying to keep your dog on its regular schedule as much as possible. This will reduce any anxiety and stress that your dog may begin to feel during this period of isolation.

Safety and cleanliness have always been a top priority at My Dog Spot.

 

It is our ongoing policy to wash hands and use sanitizer between each visit. In addition to these ordinary precautions our walkers will now wear a new pair of sanitary gloves for each appointment.  

 

At pick up and drop off, we will use our own leashes to walk or transport your pups so that your leashes are not handled by anyone other than you and when returning your dog, we will make sure that your dog has been wiped down from head to tail including all four paws.

For more information on your pet and COVID-19 read our current blog: A Pet Parent's Guide to Managing COVID-19 and Social Isolation

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