Prong Collars: The Misunderstood Training Tool
By: Valerie Masi, Best Paw Forward
One thing I have learned in my 30-year career is that there is no dog training tool that works for everyone. No one likes to correct their dogs, just like no one likes to correct their kids, however; consequences to our behavior are what keep society in line.
I understand that the prong collar looks like a Middle Ages torture device – and we have all seen the picture of the pit bull with holes in its neck posted on Facebook claiming they were caused from a prong collar. In my experience, I have never seen a prong collar break through the skin of a dog. Likely, that picture is of a dog that grew into the prong collar, like so many poor dogs whose owners don’t pay any attention and leave them tied up. Buckle collars then become embedded in the neck of many dogs.
There haven’t been any true studies done to see what the effects of different collars do to the body of the dog. Dr. Julie Kaufman, specializing in animal chiropractic, did research after reading a study completed by Anders Hallgren of Sweden. In a study of 400 dogs, 252 of the dogs had misaligned spines (all dogs came from good dog owners) and 65% of the 252 also had behavior problems. The study found that 78% of the dogs labeled aggressive or hyperactive had spinal problems. This caused Dr. Kaufman to question how many of these dogs had spinal problems due to leash dynamics. She did her own research to see what the possible roles of collars and leashes play in a dog's well-being. Dr. Kaufman’s research showed that prong collars did not do the damage choke chain and buckle collar had done. With the buckle and choke collars, “you could cause major pressure and trauma to a small area of the neck, if you catch the neck at a critical angle, you could blow a disc, cause nerve damage, or muscle injury or worse.
A recent survey by Premier found 96% of veterinarians report having seen or heard of collar-related injuries or death within the last year – with tracheal collapse being the most common due to buckle or choke collars having consistent pressure placed on the trachea. Deb Hamele, founder and former president of LABMED, has strong warnings regarding choke chain collars and believes prong collars have been given an undeserved bad reputation due to appearance.
Dr. Alix Partnow, a neurologist at VCA Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle, uses prong collars on her dogs. She stated that “when used under supervision and in combination with proper behavioral training, these collars can be quite effective,” meaning less pull, less damage to the neck.
My feeling is all training tools can be dangerous if used incorrectly. Prong collars have saved lives and kept dogs in their homes. I had a client in her 80’s with an Alaskan malamute around 100 pounds. The owner had been taken to the ground several times while walking the dog, and so, her children wanted her to get rid of the dog. By putting the dog on a prong collar, the dog no longer pulled and the woman who weighed the same as her dog was able to keep and walk her dog.
The important thing to know about a prong collar: When put on properly, they apply equal pressure around the neck so the pressure is not focused on the front of the neck on the trachea. The prongs are meant to pinch like a bite. A dog understands that a bite is a correction. When using a prong collar, you get immediate results which cause people to be more consistent and continue their training. Prong collars require less correction, making them a more positive tool.
Myths about prong collars:
Answers to the myths:
Dogs have a different pain threshold than humans. When dogs wrestle and play, they bite and chew on each other and it does not faze them. Teeth are jagged and sharp. I always try everything on myself before I use it on an animal, and when I have pulled a prong collar tight on my arm I cannot get it to break my skin.
I do not believe all prong collars are created equal. There are cheaply-made prong collars that are not rounded at the tip but have a blunt cut with sharp edges. The cheap collars also can stretch out and can unhook without your knowing. I personally use products made by Herm Sprenger.
While doing my research, I was not able to find proof that prong collars are harmful and cruel.