Dr. Joyce Ashamalla
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla is the managing partner at Hinsdale Animal Hospital with Kremer Veterinary Service, as well as a partner at CARE Animal Emergency Hospital. She received her BS in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois- Champaign Urbana, where she also completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She is AO certified, USDA-APHIS accredited, and is a member of the CVMA, ISVMA, AVMA.
When it comes to the topic of how to train dogs, there is no shortage of opinions on the best way to go about it. Many thousands of hours are spent each year in this country by dog owners and professional trainers in the effort to teach dogs how to be obedient and behave in a civilized manner.
There are many types of collars on the market today that are designed to help people train dogs and one of the most well-known of these is the prong or choke collar. Some people feel that these types of collars are very effective in dog obedience training, while others believe that they are not a good tool and in fact could be considered cruel. In this blog, we will answer the question "what is a prong collar?" and explore the purpose of a prong collar. We will also discuss whether prong/choke collars for dogs are good or bad and what alternative types of collars are available in the marketplace.
The Purpose Of A Prong Collar
Prong collars (or choke collars) have been used as an obedience training device for many years. They are normally constructed from metal and built in a chain link like fashion. The collar has sharp prongs protruding from it, which rest around the dog’s neck. When the animal handler pulls back on the collar, the sharp ends will tighten around the dog’s neck, causing discomfort in an effort to "correct" bad behavior. The purpose of a prong collar is simple: a dog will eventually associate the discomfort of the collar with a certain behavior and consequently stop doing the action that causes the prong collar to be tightened.
Are Prong Collars Safe?
By their very design, prong collars are meant to use discomfort as a disincentive to a dog to continue a certain behavior. If not used properly, a prong collar can dig into a dog’s neck, causing cuts and discomfort even when the owner is not pulling back. And if used aggressively, they can cause further damage, especially to the dog’s neck, trachea, thyroid gland, lymph nodes, muscles, and spinal column. In fact, some studies suggest that the use of a prong collar actually increases anxiety and fear for some dogs when going for walks. While some feel that these types of collars are effective training tools, pet owners who ask the question "are prong collars safe?" can easily find other options that have a lot less potential for damage.
Alternatives To Prong Collars
There are a number of products on the market that can be very effective alternatives to prong collars as it relates to correcting a dog’s behavior. Here is a list of some of the more popular ones:
- • Gentle Leader Headcollar – This device puts pressure toward the back of the dog’s neck and not on the throat area. There is also a nose loop that helps you control the direction of the dog’s head. When the dog begins to pull, the head is gently turned toward the leash holder’s direction. By doing this, the dog quickly learns that the most comfortable position for them regarding these types of collars is to remain right by its owner’s side. The gentle leader product has been very popular.
- • Chest Harnesses – Instead of going around a dog’s neck, a chest harness fits across the animal’s chest and around the shoulders. The connector for the leash is located in the center of the chest piece. With this device, if the dog pulls, her center of gravity is pulled off to one side, which makes the dog feel unbalanced. The animal quickly learns that pulling will only move their body weight off center, making them feel uncomfortable.
- • Martingale Dog Collar – This collar most resembles a traditional neck collar but when a dog pulls with this kind of device, the weight is distributed evenly, instead of being focused on the front of the neck. In addition, this collar was also developed for dogs with narrow heads, such as Greyhounds.
The debate about whether prong/choke collars for dogs are good or bad will most likely continue for many years to come. Since causing discomfort is the purpose of a prong collar, some trainers swear by their effectiveness. However, there is little debate about the fact that these collars have the potential to hurt dogs and create pain for them. The good news is that there are quite a few alternative types of collars (such as the gentle leader) that can be used to stop a dog from pulling or correct other unwanted behaviors. Every dog is unique and one specific technique may not work on every animal. Therefore, it’s advantageous that we have a variety of products to help us train our beloved dogs. Don’t forget that if you are not having much luck training your dog by yourself, there are many professionals out there that can help you find the method that best works for you and your dog.