Proper Use of a Prong Collar?

If you watch the television programs based on the lives of celebrity dog trainers, you might be led to believe that the use of a prong collar, electronic collar, or choke chain is a good idea.  After all, if a large, aggressive, and otherwise un-trainable dog can be rehabilitated via a prong collar, why shouldn’t you use one on your pet?  The reasons why a prong collar is a bad idea are described here.

What is a Prong Collar?

A prong collar (sometimes called a spike or pinch collar) is a metal training tool that encircles your dog’s neck, like a collar.  It is worn high on the dog’s neck, behind the ears, and is comprised of multiple metal prongs that will pinch the dog when pressure is applied to the leash.

Should You Use a Prong Collar?

Prong collars are most commonly used to keep a dog from pulling on the leash or to keep aggression (commonly the result of fear or lack of socialization) at bay.  Dog trainers who advocate the use of prong collars tout this solution as natural, because in a dog pack the more dominant dog will issue a “correction” (often a nip near the neck or face) when a subordinate animal behaves inappropriately.  

However, there is a vast difference in the pain experienced during a canine correction and during a painful prong collar correction.  The “punishment” issued by a dog is more of a threat than an infliction of pain, while a prong collar is used by humans specifically because it inflicts pain.

Disadvantages of using a Prong Collar

There are numerous disadvantages to using a prong collar when disciplining your dog, and only a few are described here.

Pain

First and foremost, prong collars inflict pain on your dog, and not in a trivial way.  Dogs frequently yelp in agony in response to a prong collar correction.

Injury

The skin on a dog’s neck is very thin and sensitive.  Every year, dogs are treated for puncture wounds and abrasions related to improper prong collar use.  More serious injuries, such as esophageal collapse, can also occur.

Aggression

A common use of the prong collar is to correct a dog whenever signs of dominance or aggression are observed.  However, when dogs experience pain, especially when they are already in a heightened state of arousal, they are more likely to lash out at another animal or human thanks to an associative pain response.  Inflicting pain on an already provoked dog could result in disaster.

Collar Conditioning

Collar conditioning occurs when your dog only behaves well in the presence of an aversive technique.  This phenomenon often occurs with the use of electronic and prong collars, begging the question is the dog trained or conditioned?

Fear vs. Good Decisions

A dog that is trained using aversive methods is frequently in a state of high alert, because it is never certain when a correction will be administered. This causes stress for the dog, and he or she will behave out of fear.  On the other hand, when positive reinforcement is used the dog will make good decisions in order to earn a reward; not because it is afraid of experiencing pain.