AN ASSESSMENT OF CHOKE CHAINS AND PRONG COLLARS
James Turner, MS. MA. MCL, KPA-CTP, CBS, APDT, AVSABP, IAADP
I am often asked about Choke (or slip) collars and Prong Collars. Often, I have someone call me as a Behaviorist to help them with their dog’s unwanted behaviors. Ouse with Fido?” ne of my initial questions is, “What is your dog’s name?” “What kind of collar do you
Often the client will tell me, “A slip collar.” I need you to know I do not work with choke chains or prong collars. I collect them.” “Really! Why not?” So, I have put some of my thoughts and scientific reasons I will not work with these medieval devices of punishment and torture.
Tongue-in-cheek I will tell the husband or wife, “Put a choker or prong collar on your mate for one week and jerk on it when you need hm or her to listen or respond, and if your relationship becomes stronger then I will allow it to be used on your dog.” They usually get the point.
I know Choke and prong collars are still popular with many dog owners and ill-informed dog trainers, as well as pet supply stores. They are generally made of metal chain material which tightens around a dog’s neck when the handler pulls or jerks back on the leash. Aversive trainers will often use choke and prong collars to perform ‘corrections’, essentially causing the dog pain any time he pulls on the leash or misbehaves.
While this type of training may stop the pulling or suppress a certain behavior at that particular moment, it does nothing to address the root of the dog’s issue. Leash corrections that are given on these collars exacerbate behavioral issues such as fear and aggression.
My bottom Line is that Choke, pinch and prong collars should be avoided in all cases. Although traditional trainers disagree with the science regarding this and they tend to point to their “Results?” I will not take the risk of injuring the dog, creating or exacerbating an aggression issue, or damaging the animal/human bond.
I will try to address this by attempting to answer some of the questions I am asked by my prospective clients as to why I feel these are potentially dangerous and damaging.
Why do you feel choke collars or prong collars are not safe?
Even if used without corrections, choke collars can still cause pain, discomfort, and injury to a dog’s neck, head and spinal cord. Here are a few scientifically established facts to consider.
If you feel your dog’s neck with your hands followed by your own neck, you will see how similar they are.
The trachea, esophagus, thyroid gland, lymph nodes, jugular vein, muscles and spinal column are all located in similar places.
The only difference between a dog and a human neck is that under the fur, a dog’s skin layer is only 3-5 cells thick, while the top layer of human skin is denser, 10-15 cells thick.
What kind of injuries can or do choke collars cause?
Most trainers have not studied the anatomy of the animals they work with. This is why a Certified Animal Behaviorist, or a Veterinary Behavioral Technician should be contacted to make sure one’s beloved animal is getting the best effective and safe treatment, which in fact, may require medication therapy as well as behavioral therapy.
The average dog owner does not realize the thyroid gland lies at the base of the neck just below the larynx close to where any collar sits. Just one yank can cause injury to a gland that controls many of the body’s vital functions.
Studies show that the gland gets severely traumatized whenever a dog pulls on the leash and becomes inflamed.
When this happens, it is ‘destroyed’ by the body’s own immune system which tries to remove the inflamed thyroid cells.
The destruction of these cells leads to hypothyroidism, which causes loss of energy, weight gain, skin problems, hair loss, ear infections and organ failure.
Consider this as well. Choke collars also affect other areas of the body including the eyes.
Another study reveals that when force is applied to the neck via a leash and a choke collar, pressure in the eyes is significantly increased.
This type of pressure can cause serious injury to dogs already suffering thin corneas, glaucoma, or eye injuries.
The same study was done with dogs that were wearing harnesses, which had no impact on eye pressure when force was applied.
I often ask clients or traditional trainers, “Do you know how prong collars work?”
Prong collars function similarly to choke collars, except they contain metal spikes on the inside that dig into and ‘pinch’ a dog’s neck if he pulls on the leash. Prong collar advocates believe that the ‘pinch’ action mimics the teeth of a mother dog grabbing a puppy’s neck during a correction.
There is no scientific evidence to back up this claim however, and it’s unlikely that dogs make a connection between the pinch of a collar and a correction given by a mother’s mouth, especially as no canine ‘mother’ is physically present. These trainers also claim this is how Wolves correct their pups. This has been totally debunked. Also, your dog is not a wolf and never will return to its wolf ancestry.
Can you give me some good reasons why prong collars should be avoided?
Dogs walked on prongs are also constantly subjected to pain and discomfort, which creates fear, anxiety and aggression on walks. Dogs that are already reactive on leash can become even more reactive due to frustration from collar discomfort.
A 1992 study of 400 dogs concluded that pulling and jerking on the leash (with any collar) is harmful to a dog’s neck and throat.1
One of the clearest correlations was between cervical (neck) damages and ‘jerk and pull’.
91% of the dogs who had neck injuries had also been exposed to jerking on the lead by the owner or been allowed to pull hard on the lead for long periods of time.
If these collars cause pain, why does my dog still pull?
Dogs cannot or do not tell us when they are in pain. They put up with near strangulation because the drive to pull forward overrides the pain at that moment, but the after effects are serious and long lasting.
Are choke and prong collars humane if used properly?
Even though it is proven that choke and prong collars contribute to neck, back, and spinal injuries as well as other issues in dogs, there are many who still believe that if used correctly, these collars are humane and effective tools that cause no pain or harm. Really? As I said earlier, put them on your mate for one week then come back to me and tell me this. Also, what is “properly.” If one is angry “properly” will be different than “properly: when one is not angry. Properly is relative.
Depending on what your personal definition of humane is, it is hard to argue that if something has the potential to cause such damage it should not be considered humane or safe.
Any device that constricts around a neck, be it the neck of a human or canine, is dangerous and has the potential to do real harm.
Try applying a small amount of pressure to your neck and experience what a dog goes through when force is applied to any collar.
What other options do I have to stop my dog’s pulling?
There are more effective, gentle, and humane alternatives to using a choke or prong collar on your dog.
Find a great force-free, fear-free trainer to help you teach your dog to walk on a loose leash, to sit, to heal, or to leave-it without punishing or instilling fear in the dog.
But mine is a large breed dog.” Size is not an issue. I train horses in the same force-free, fear-free manner and always avoid aversive methods.
Consider a regular harness or a chest-led, no-pull harness such as the Positively No-Pull Harness or a Gentle Leader (similar to a bridal on a horse) to stop pulling without causing your dog pain or fear.
Avoid the “quick fixes” some trainers promise. I can make an animal do anything I want it to do, but I cannot “make” my animal love me. And if I use aversive methods to get the behaviors I want I can get the animal’s obedience, but I can guarantee you will not get its love