by: James Turner MCL, KPA-CTP, SVBT

 Two Years past I was contracted to reorganize and restructure an animal shelter here in Indiana. It was a huge task that required my working with a 10 member board. With the nature of the issues I had to have the board covenant with me that I was in charge, my decisions would not be rescinded, and with the workers a new policy manual would be written. I terminated some people, some people quit, and all forms of aversive techniques were eliminated. All employees were trained in force-free techniques. If an employee could not make the change that person was let go. One of the actions I took was to clear the office wall of all collars that were not fabric. There must have been 50 pounds of choke chains and prong collars. I was told that it was a waste of money. I replied, “I fully agree with you, but the money was wasted, not in their discard, but in their purchase.” Nothing more was said and the new policy prohibited aversive collars. The local newspaper had a front page story, “LOCAL SHELTER GOES FORCE-FREE.”

Choke Chains, Slip Collars, Pinch Collars? What’s the problem? When I have a referral call me one of my questions is, “What kind of collar do you have on your dog?” Many of them tell me, “A Slip Collar, or Choke Chain.” My friend and colleague, Deb Dolak told me, “Sometimes a client will ask if they can use a choke or prong collar.  My response is, ‘Only if you are willing to wear one and let me correct you when you make a mistake during the training session.’  That usually gets the point across.” One shelter worker said, “Choke chains are okay to use on dogs. The choke chain is not used for punishment, it just stops the behavior.” WHAT? In dog training lingo if it stops the behavior or weakens a behavior due to a stimulus, that stimulus is a punisher. So her statement showed a basic ignorance of the subject. A client told me a shelter worker said, “Choker collars are fine on dogs.” My retort was, “That is because she hasn’t worn one!” People don’t wear choker collars. Then I had a bit of insight.

With this insight my mind took me back to the days of the old west. If a cowboy committed a crime, stealing a horse, or borrowing someone’s cow without permission he was taken out under a tree branch, sat on a horse, and had a slip collar (or a pinch collar if you prefer) put over his head and around his neck. Someone would slap the horse which would run out from under the convicted, the slip collar tightened and, well, the end seldom had a good outcome. Now, if the slip collar was not properly fitted and placed just right on the thief’s neck the collar would bind causing prolonged agony. The poor man’s larynx would crush, his ocular nerves were damaged, his trachea was injured, and his neck was broken. Now, if this collar as properly fitted all of these injuries still occurred, but it was all over faster. I think this would qualify as punishment as it certainly stopped the behavior. In the process it stopped any good behavior as well. The law makers determined this to be cruel and inhumane treatment and in 1972 this use of punishment with a slip collar (noose) was banned in the U. S. By the way,did you know that for the same reasons, choke chains are banned in Quebec, and Amazon has stopped listing them in the UK?  Yep, that’s true.

Men and women still wear collars. We call them necklaces. They are collars properly fitted, some loose some snug. But I never see “slip necklaces” where another person has control of the one wearing it. If I came home with a slip collar for my wife to wear… Well, we won’t go there. I’ll just say there wouldn’t be much affection demonstrated. We like necklaces as long as they are comfortable to wear. I like my dogs to wear a nice looking necklace (collar) that is comfortable, yet functional.

I hope you will Google the anatomy of a dog’s neck. The position of a choke chain is directly behind the ears (just like the hanging noose). This pinch collar/choke chain or prong collar pinches all of these nerves and muscles. There are dozens of potential and certain physical injuries that a choke chain or a prong collar can and will cause. This is not to mention the emotional damage choke chains or prong collars cause. Because this is an animal, and animals have to be controlled and/or dominated these are okay to use. I suggest these are not okay to use. They cause physical damage, often irreparable. They cause emotional damage that requires the specialized involvement of a force-free behaviorist. And, these medieval instruments of torture cause serious damage to the human-animal bond. Calling these the lesser reference of “slip collar” does not change the terrible impact of that “snap” one is instructed to use in the dog’s “training?.”

The unintended consequences of using a choke chain (i.e. slip collars, pinch collars) and/or prong collars are well documented in numerous veterinary journals.

Here I list the most common.

  1. Tracheal damage
  2. Sprained necks
  3. Asphyxiation
  4. Spinal cord injuries/paralysis
  5. Bruising of larynx
  6. Esophagus damage
  7. Thyroid gland damage
  8. Vertebrae damage
  9. Whiplash
  10.  Prolapsed eyes
  11.  Dislocated neck bones
  12.  Brain damage
  13.  Fainting
  14.  Skin and tissue bruising
  15.  Organ failure
  16.  Sharp headaches

Any of these medical conditions can lead to aggressive behaviors that usually results in more punishing use of the choke chain or prong collar. With these possible consequences are the psychological effects. Dogs are extremely intelligent. One jerk, snap, or pop of the chain, causing pain, will never be forgotten by the dog. When you get the collar and leash out the dog will cringe or run the other direction. I have had clients whose dog snaps at their hand when they put the choke chain on to go for a walk. If the dog is on a walk and sees another dog it is natural for him to pull toward the dog. The handler “snaps” the chain to correct the dog. Fido feels the pain of the snap and attributes the pain to what he is looking, the other dog or a child. Now Fido becomes aggressive to other dogs or children. If Fido attributes the pain to his handler he may become aggressive to the handler.

Traditional trainers will argue against everything I am writing. But this information is not mine. I didn’t imagine these to be facts. This information, again, can be found in any number of journals. Do the research yourself. Don’t just trust me or some other pop star in the animal behavioral world. If you do your own research I can guarantee you will come out very close to my conclusions. Punishment never has a positive result with your wonderful dog. Punishment shuts down the dogs learning. The really negative result is that punishment breaks the human/animal bond. You want your dog to respect, trust and love you. Punishment will damage that. You want your dog to trust you. Punishment will destroy that. Can those be regained? Yes. But you must stop the punishment NOW. Reinforce the behaviors you want and ignore the behaviors you don’t want. Then get in touch with a force-free trainer or behaviorist. Be careful. A trainer may say he/she is a positive trainer. That may mean he/she uses positive methods mixed with aversive methods. Most “positive” trainers are really “balanced” trainers.

I was called to help with a dog that was out of control. The dog was afraid of its own shadow. What happened was that this “positive” trainer took a wonderful little Sheltie and in just a couple of months the dog was so reactive that it would wake up at night, every night, crying as if in severe pain. Its daily training included the use of a choker chain. The once sweet little Sheltie was now physically and psychologically damaged.

I don’t believe owners intentionally hurt their dog. They don’t know better. They read books by trainers who wrote in the 60s or 70s. These “traditional” trainers are still around. They “stop” behaviors, but at what price for the dog and the owner. It often costs an owner hundreds of dollars to restore their damaged pet. Or, and sadly, the pet gets placed in a shelter and/or euthanized, not because of what the dogs is doing, but because of what has been done to the dog. Now the dog suffers the consequences of a trainer’s malpractice.


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