Dog Collars: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
I recently wrote a horrifying story about a dog who died in a New York doggie day care when he was strangled to death wearing a choke chain, sometimes referred to as a training collar. While Care2 readers were also saddened, angered, and outraged by the incident, I was surprised by how many comments came in from readers saying that choke chains were helpful when worn at the right time and used with proper training. I completely disagree. Choke chains, and any other collars that inflict pain on a dog, can correct a dog’s unwanted behavior in the short term, and they also have huge potential to cause long term damage.
If you wanted your crying child to stop crying, you could hit him and he would probably stop crying, out of fear of being hit again. And if he didn’t stop crying the next time you hit him, you could try hitting him even harder to get him to stop. And the severity of the physical pain you cause might need to increase each time to get the results you originally received with a lighter hit. Whether this took one hit, or successive stronger hits, the emotional damage long term would likely have many repercussions and would be very damaging to building a healthy relationship with your child. Dogs are no different. Like children, dogs will act the way you want to avoid feeling pain, and they will act out in other ways based on what they are learning.
Here’s what your dog may be thinking about his dog walking experience when pain is inflicted via a collar:
“Oh, I get it. When I pull towards something that smells interesting, I feel pain. I better not sniff and pee outside wearing this thing on my neck. Instead, next time I’ll just relieve on that nice soft rug inside the house.”
“Oh, I get it. When I lunge towards another dog that I wanted to greet, I feel pain. He must not be safe and I better protect myself. Instead, I’ll growl and show my teeth so that he’ll stay away.”
“Oh, I get it. When she pulls on the leash, I’m supposed to pull harder, so that I can go where I want to go, instead of where she wants to take me.”
Dog collars that inflict pain by attempting to teach a dog to stop pulling:
- Shock (electric) collars
- Training (choke) collars
- Prong (pinch) collars
Don’t be fooled by slick marketing. Shock collars are now being sold as a “harmless correction stimulus” (see more here). And dogs wearing shock collars are sometimes called “Remote Dogs” because they can walk at a distance from you and you can still control where they go. Choke chains are often called “training” collars that work with the correct timing of the pull. And prong collars are advertised to emulate the feel of a mother carrying her puppy with her mouth. But, the truth is that dogs don’t use their teeth when they carry their pups, they use soft mouths, and they don’t do that past eight weeks of age.
Humane alternatives to the shock, choke, and prong collars:
1. Watch this video on teaching a beginning heel from Patricia McConnell, an ethologist, certified applied animal behaviorist, and dog trainer with a Ph.D. in zoology. She simply rewards the dog when he is in heel position. Not only are there no corrections when he’s not, but nothing is even said. He quickly learns that if he’s not in heel position, he’s missing out on the good stuff. Keep in mind, this is shown outdoors. With a younger pup or a dog needing training, this should first be done indoors with less distraction.
2. Humane replacements for the above dominance based collars include the martingale collar, a head collar (halts pulling, jumping, lunging, and barking – all without choking your pooch), and a variety of humane, no-pull harnesses on the market.
Personally, my dogs wear flat collars and I rarely attach a leash to their collar. Sanchez is recovering from a slipped disc in his neck, so nothing ever gets attached to his collar. Both Sanchez and Gina wear harnesses. While there are many good ones on the market to choose from, my preference is the Sport ComfortFlex harness. It is safe, simple, secure, and humane. The material has some stretch to it so they can retain a full range of motion without any underarm irritation or chafing. It is easy to slip on and comfortable for them to also run in off-leash. (Note: When first introducing a dog to a harness, you want to build a positive association. I recommend giving him a small treat as his head slips through the opening.)
What do your dogs wear for a collar or harness? Have you been fooled by slick marketing from companies making inhumane products? Thanks for sharing your experiences in a comment below.
Author’s note: I am not receiving any compensation for promoting the ComfortFlex harness. It is simply my personal choice at the moment for my own dogs.
Delivering Calm, four paws at a time!
Receive a FREE DOWNLOAD from the Calm your Canine Companion music series when you sign up for the Through a Dogs Ear newsletter and/or Lisas Blog. Simply click here, enter your email address and a link to the free download will be delivered to your inbox for you and your canine household to enjoy.