Dog Choke Collars and Prong Collars: Health Concerns

Dog Choker and Prong Collars: Health Concerns in Dog Training Equipment

Dog training is a strong basis for a dog's healthy socialization, behavior and obedience that will save you from dog's various behavior problems. As dog training and daily activity is released with the help of various dog training equipment daily, a people involved should know and understand the potential problems that may occur for the reason of the tools they use. It touches mostly upon dog collars and leads that are intended to restrict dog's actions, cause pain or pressure if a dog behaves incorrectly. These are choke chains and prong collars. The Pet Professional Guild, the Association of Force Free Dog Training and Pet Care Professionals (PPG), does not support the use of dog chokers and dog prong collars and, rather, recommends the use of flat buckle collars, head halters, dog harnesses and other types of control equipment that are safer for the dog and the handler.

There are many examples of injuries to dogs caused by the use of dog choke or prong collars: soft tissue damage, eye problems, strangulation (in some cases leading to death), tracheal or esophageal damage and neurological problems. Many vets have treated such injuries and are aware of resulting deaths.

Distinguished veterinarians world-wide are calling for professional dog trainers to commit to eliminating choke and prong collars from their training programs, as more research accumulates on the hazards of choke and prong collars and more data is compiled documenting the damage these types of collars can cause. The founder and president of the PPG, Niki Tudge, states dog training should be conducted in a way that encourages animals to enjoy training.

Dr. Jean Dodds, respected veterinarian and thyroid expert, is against dog prong or choke collars as they can easily injure the delicate butterfly-shaped thyroid gland, that sits just below the larynx and in front of the trachea, and the salivary glands and salivary lymph nodes on the side of the face underneath both ears.

Recognized veterinarian, VMD, PhD, Diplomate ACVB Dr. Karen Overall, offers the following guidance from her client handout:

Dog Choker Collars

Dog trainers often use a choker collar as part of a training program. Choker collars are usually either made from chain, leather or a rolled, braided nylon. When used correctly, choker collars are actually one of the best examples of true negative reinforcement: when the dog pulls, the collar tightens and either the sound or smallest amounts of pressure indicates that dog has engaged in an undesirable behavior; when the dog stops that pressure is released (and in the case of a chain the sound of slippage occurs) and the dog is unimpeded. It is the release from the negative stimulus (the tightening of the collar) that is the reward.

Unfortunately, choke collars are seldom used in the described manner. Most dogs placed on chokers, choke. When they are allowed to pull on the collar and permitted to sustain the pull these dogs learn to override the choker. In doing so they are also at risk for laryngeal damage, esophageal damage, and ocular damage (change in the blood vessels in the eye). The dog that pulls harder has no choice: dogs will always push against pressure which means they all pull harder.

Dog choker collars are an idea of the past. Caring dog handlers and trainers with ever increasing frequency, choose a head collar or a no-pull harness for their dog. Used correctly these are safer, easier to use, and help to teach the dog better behaviors. This is the winning solution that could, and perhaps should, change the idea of the choker.

Dog prong or pinch collars

Prong collars are posed to the same criticism as chokers, and, furthermore, they can cause incredible damage to the dog's neck since they can become imbedded in the skin if the dog learns to over-ride them. Most dogs learn to over-ride these collars and people who use them often voluntarily comment that they need to use some degree of pain to control their animals under some circumstances. These collars, if sharpened as is often the case, are intended to employ pain to force the dog to obey.
If left unsharpened, prong dog collars are intended to provide more uniform pressure than a choke collar. However, prong collars were intended to be a safer improvement over choke collars, unfortunately, that's not how it has worked.
For aggressive dogs, this the uniform pressure response especially if accompanied by pain can worsen their aggression, and for dominantly aggressive dogs, this response can not only worsen their aggression, but endanger the client.
A head collar is the better, safer and more humane choice for every situation which clients claim control is provided by a prong collar, although it requires some investment of time to use correctly. Some dog handlers use prong or spike collars because they make the dog look tough. But this does not resolve the problem of behavior and danger they pose in front of their dogs.

Jim Casey, mechanical engineer, explains from a strictly mechanical perspective, that, A dog can pull against its leash/collar with more force than its own weight and can exert even more force if it gets a running start before it reaches the end of its leash. Considering a typical flat collar, an 80 pound dog can cause a contact force of approximately 5 pounds per square inch (psi) to be exerted on its neck. This force increases to 32 psi if a typical nylon choke collar is used and to an incredible 579 psi per prong if a typical prong collar is used. This represents over 100 times the force exerted on the dog's neck compared to a typical flat collar greatly increasing the possibility of damage or injury to the dog. For this very reason, many countries with a progressive approach to pet safety and health, such as Austria and Switzerland, have already banned prong collars."

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Behavioral and Psychological Effects

Choke and prong collars, in addition to possible physical damage, may cause more extensive behavioral problems than simply leash pulling.

According to Dr. Soraya V. Juarbe-Diaz, DVM, DACVB, CAAB, Using punishment to stop behaviors is not new. Notice I say stop rather than teach I can stop any behavior, but I am more interested in teaching my students, animal or human, to choose the behavior I want them to perform because they can trust me, because I do not hurt them and they are safe with me, and because the outcome is something they enjoy. Mistakes are inherent in any type of learning: if I continually frighten or hurt my students when they get something wrong, eventually they will be afraid to try anything new and will not want to learn from me any longer.

What most surprises me about the use of collars that choke (i.e. tighten around the neck so it is painful to swallow, difficult to breathe and could damage the tissue underlying the collar) is that people think it is OK to use them in animals, whereas they would recoil in horror if teachers in schools were to use them in human pupils. We use force, pain and fear to train animals because we can get away with it, in spite of sufficient scientific data in both humans and dogs that such methods are damaging and produce short term cessation of behaviors at the expense of durable learning and the desire to learn more in the future. You can go with so-called tradition or you can follow the ever expanding body of evidence in canine cognition that supports teaching methods that encourage a calm, unafraid and enthusiastic canine companion.

Professional Animal Behavior Consultant James O'Heare states, Choke chains, prong collars and other devices like it are intended to cause pain or discomfort. They operate on the principle of making the dog experience pain when they perform some unacceptable behavior. Any kind of training operating on this principle suffers from various pitfalls. One such problem is that it simply fails to address the fact that the behavior is being performed for a reason (reinforcement) and without addressing that reinforcement you simply have pain competing with pleasure, which rarely solves the problem. Even if pain does win out over pleasure in this case, you merely temporarily suppress the problem it is a Band-Aid solution that, again, does not address the actual problem (why the dog performs that behavior to begin with).
Another problem with training techniques and tools that operate on this principle are that punishment generates a number of robust and resilient side effects such as depression, disempowerment, redirected aggression, deterioration of social relationships etc. Better all the way around is to use a flat buckle collar or better yet a body harness and choose training techniques that operate on addressing the actual cause of the problem behavior. In other words, dogs do what works to get them what they want. Identify what they get out of the behavior and make that available where possible only for some other more acceptable behavior. Does the dog want to sniff a fire hydrant? Fine, they can have that, as long as they walk with a slack leash instead of pulling for instance. It's all about the reinforcers. Find out what they are and control them and you can train the dog without jeopardizing your relationship with them and their mental health.

Jean Donaldson, bestselling author and dog behaviorist, puts it like this: Choke and prong collars, when they work, do so to the degree that they hurt. With the advent of modern methods and tools they are irrelevant.

Why are dog harnesses better than collars?
We encourage all the dog handlers and dog training professionals to choose modern, scientifically based dog training ways and means, especially the latest generation of no-pull harnesses which have no risks posed by traditional collars, choke or prong collars, and offer far more safety, comfort and other benefits. Let's work together to eliminate dangerous and cruel training tools from our training programs, individuals, organizations and associations. Each contribution to use safe dog training tools can help to ensure our pets enjoy a positive environment better suited to prevent behavior problems and ensure the overall well-being of our pets.

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