Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
What Are Prong Collars?
Prong collars, also known as pinch collars, are training tools meant to help stop a dog from pulling and to obtain better control. Unlike a normal collar, they're made of metal interlocking links equipped with blunt prongs meant to tighten as the prongs embed into the dog's skin.
As such, the prong collar is meant to deliver a correction, whether delivered by the handler or as an "auto-correction" derived from the dog's pulling.
Prong collar proponents often advocate their use because their belief is that it carries out a correction similar to what a mother dog will do to her pups. In other words, they believe the prong's effect on the dog's skin mimics when a mother dog opens her mouth to correct an unruly puppy with her teeth.
Mother dogs, first of all, do not use their teeth to apply pressure on both sides of the neck to correct their youngsters. If they did, they would cause considerable harm! Also, unlike a cold, uncomfortable prong collar, a mother is a source of warmth, nourishment and safety for the pups so the comparison doesn't hold up at all.
Also, it's important to note that they are not harmless as thought; they can cause physical and emotional damage as is discussed below.
Damages From Using Prong Collars
Let's start with the good: Prong collar proponents claim that prongs work very well and that their effect is like power steering. I must confess that I have used these collars in the past but would never, ever use them again!
The prongs do work quite well, but there are many drawbacks you need to be aware of both at an emotional and physical level. Let's start with the emotional scars the use of coercive training tools may leave.
First of all, a step back into learning theory may help grasp the mechanisms going on here. It's often forgotten that dogs learn in two ways, through operant conditioning and classical conditioning.
In operant conditioning the dog learns to associate a certain behavior with a consequence, in classical conditioning, a dog learns to associate a certain stimuli with another. So let's apply learning theory to the use of a prong collar.
Prong collars work mainly by inflicting discomfort/pain. If they didn't work that way, they didn't have any other function than encircling a dog's neck.
There are two mechanisms of action: active correction (directly from the owner) or passive correction (indirectly). Active correction takes place when the owner deliberately delivers a correction by yanking the leash when the dog is showing signs of "misbehaving." The yank is contingent upon the dog performing an undesirable behavior.
Passive correction takes place when the dog pulls on the leash, in other words, the dog receives an "auto-correction" since upon pulling, the strain on the leash causes the prong collar to tighten around the neck.
When your dog lunges towards other dogs, you may feel compelled to deliver a correction, or your dog may get an "auto-correction". In this case, your thought is that Rover will associate lunging with the pain and therefore, should stop lunging. But there's more into that.
First of all, depending on the dog's pain threshold/situation (when dogs go through adrenaline surges as it happens during fight or flight, they may have reduced perception of pain/discomfort), this may or may not result in reduced pulling behavior.
Secondly, lunging is simply an outward manifestation of internal turmoil. Correction after correction, your dog will learn to associate the presence of other dogs with the pain of the collar. As Bob Bailey states, "Pavlov is always sitting on your shoulder."
And I truly believe that because as a behavior consultant, I had my fair share of fixing aggression and anxiety that has increased due to corrections rather than decreasing. The fallout for using punishment-based tools is there and well alive.
It's not rocket science. Imagine you're terrified of cats. If a friendly cat goes near you, you may stomp your legs loudly and do a hissing sound to scare him off (which is similar to what a dog is doing when he is often trying to keep the other dog away through lunging and vocalizations).
Now, imagine employing a therapist who slapped you on the face every time you stomped your feet and hissed upon seeing a cat: Do you think that would ultimately remove your fear of cats? Not at all; you may actually have an increase in fear, because not only do you have to worry about the cats but also about being slapped in the face! And of course, you would also definitively change therapist!
Dr. Soraya V. Juarbe-Diaz, DVM, DACVB, CAAB, explains, “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."
How true is that?
Back in time, oddly prong collars were offered as a better option than choke collars, but the truth is that they can also deliver damage and aren't as innocent as thought. Jim Casey, a Mechanical Engineer explains in The Pet Professional Guild how when a dog pulls against a collar he's capable of exerting more force than his own weight, especially if he's running at the end of the leash.
With a flat, regular buckle collar he estimates an 80-pound dog to exert a contact force of approximately 5 pounds per square inch (psi). With a nylon choke collar, we're talking about 32 psi, and drum roll please, an astounding 579 psi when a prong collar is used, which greatly increases the risks of injury to the dog.
This explains why Austria and Switzerland have banned its use and why many dog trainers, behaviorists and veterinarians are concerned about their use. Veterinarian and thyroid expert Dr. Jean Dodds claims that prong collars can easily injure a dog's thyroid as well as the salivary glands and salivary lymph nodes.
|Collar Type||PSI on 80 lb. Dogs|
There Are Better Ways!
One of the things that irritates me the most as a trainer is that half the people who use prong collars don't even have a clue how to fit them correctly and how to use them. I have seen people using prongs report to me that the prong fell apart and came off, then I have seen people yanking them without even teaching the dog what to do to avoid the yank and how to get out of the correction.
Obviously, I am not a proponent of prongs and have abandoned their use several years ago, when I found better ways to control powerful dogs and train them to utilize appropriate behaviors. Prongs, choke and shock collars don't teach, they only correct.
James O’Heare, a professional Animal Behavior Consultant, claims the use of "choke chains, prong collars and other devices prong is "a Band-Aid solution that, again, does not address the actual problem". Their use can result in depression, disempowerment, redirected aggression and deterioration of social relationships to just name a few.
"Were people to understand more about how dogs communicate and how these collars work, they would appreciate that responses other than pain and pressure are more desirable for changing an animal’s behavior" explain M.Ed., C.C.B.C., CPD Angelica Steinker and Niki Tudge, founder and owner of The DogSmith, in an article for the Pet Professional Guild.
I am a big proponent of front-attachment harnesses, such as The Easy-Walk Harness, Sensible Harness and Freedom Harness, but not as a long-term solution.
My ultimate goal is to teach a dog to walk on a loose leash using a buckle collar. If I find at the end of classes, dog owners are still depending on training aids, I know I have failed somewhere or the client hasn't followed through.
Prong collars are yesterday. There are some trainers, not all trainers, who just seem to know only one thing, and that is how to escalate punishment to reach the desired effect.
— Nicholas Dodman
Konrad Lorenz said that science and know-how aren’t enough in dog training; patience is the vital stuff.
According to Dr. Peter Dobias, DMV, "Choke, prong and shock collars can cause disease and possibly lead to cancer. Dogs are also at risk of eye and ear injuries, hypothyroidism, and other life-altering unnecessary injuries! Open your hands with your thumbs touching each other. Place the thumbs at the base of the throat with the fingers pointing back and surrounding the neck. Now, take a deep breath, squeeze and pull back with all your force keeping your thumbs connected. This is how many dogs feel when they are on the leash and they are pulling."
Contrary to popular belief, the skin on a dog's neck isn't as thick as thought. According to San Francisco's SPCA, the skin on a human’s neck is thicker (10 to 15 cells) than the skin on a dog’s neck (3 to 5 cells).
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli
Monica on March 08, 2015:
I have bred 5 litters so far, and must say that I never caught the dam actually biting on the puppy's neck. If the pups where ever too boisterous, she would push them away, sometimes this caused her to roll them over, or give a little warning growl. She does play bite during play, nibbles with her teeth on their fur to clean them and makes growls or barks at times, but no, no neck biting. I guess I am blessed with very patient moms here!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 08, 2015:
Most dogs will move away when their puppies try to suckle, give a growl or just nudge them away. If they use their teeth it's certainly inhibited and not meant to hurt them or to tear into the skin, just like you say. Mother dogs have accurate control of their jaw force and placement of their teeth which is different from a human giving a prong collar correction. They don't use their teeth to punish as we would do with a prong collar; rather, they use their teeth mostly as a means to move the pups away and carry them from place to place since they don't use hands as we do. Most moms will simply just nudge them away with her nose. Sometimes, you may see a mother muzzle grab, but that's not biting, mostly just an inhibited grab again to move the pup away. This is why they won't hurt them. Now, moms that maul their puppies that's a different story..either the puppy has something wrong in the health department otherwise those dogs should not bred in the first place! It's sad to hear you have seen plenty of mother dogs do that.
serena on March 07, 2015:
The mother dog doesn't use her teeth? Oh really? So when the babies are teething and go to suckle on the mommy's teets the mommy will just ask politely for tge babies to stop, huh? Sure, the mom doesn't tear into the babies, but she certainly uses her teeth if it's necessary to make the babies stop trying to suckle... In really bad scenarios, i have seen plenty of mothers maul their own babies... But, most know their own force and some are too young that they don't.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 28, 2014:
" Jim Casey, Mechanical Engineer, explains 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."
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 28, 2014:
Where do you see this information Mike? Are you referring to the PSI? I can give you the source of that info if you want to review it. I don't see where 500 pounds are mentioned other than the PSI. My article is full of factual information, please tell me exactly where the misinformation is so a fair debate can take place. As a trainer, I used the prong correctly a few years ago, and know for a fact that in order to work, there must be some level of discomfort. Why use that when a front-attachment harness can accomplish the same thing? I ditched all my prongs and replaced them with a harness.
mike on April 27, 2014:
Miss information presented here the prong is used to guide the dog Over 500lbs ? Really how did you get that number hang something When used correctly is an excellent tool
An William McNary from Seattle area, Washington on April 02, 2013:
I, too, prefer the front-attachment harness, but I never quite understood just how harmful the prong-collar was. As a dog-walker I'm required to use the collar suggested by the owner, so I've used prong collars a lot. I'll be looking into the best way to use them while avoiding injury. Thank you.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 28, 2013:
Thanks Eiddwen for stopping by. Years ago a local trainer told me to use a prong collar on my Rotts and while it felt like power steering and worked quite well, I felt I had to find a better way. Now, my prong collar makes a nice key holder by the door.
Eiddwen from Wales on February 28, 2013:
I also believe that anything that hurts an animal can only be wron. Thank you for sharing this one. Enjoy your day.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 14, 2013:
Great point! Thanks for stopping by!
Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on February 13, 2013:
Anything that hurts the animal cannot be teaching the right lesson.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 06, 2013:
Thanks for stopping bye GiblinGirl, your insights are always appreciated!
GiblinGirl from New Jersey on February 06, 2013:
Very eye opening. I don't use a prong or choke collar, but I have heard of them. Voted up and useful.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 06, 2013:
Phoebe, I see them sometimes used by people who think it looks cool on their dogs or those who have a physical ailment or feel they have little control and need a quick fix (which I can understand), but I have offered several of my clients a front-attachment harness to give a try to they have been happy since:)
Phoebe Pike on February 05, 2013:
People still use those!? Insane.