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Dog Collars: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

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.

Prong collars are advertised to emulate the feel of a mother carrying her puppy with her mouth. But they can be painful to dogs and lead to more aggression or unwanted behavior.


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.

My dogs (Sanchez and Gina) wearing secure and safe harnesses.


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Lisa Spector

Lisa Spector is a concert pianist, Juilliard graduate, and canine music expert. She is co-founder of Through a Dog's Ear, the first music clinically demonstrated to calm the canine nervous system. Their new high-tech pet gadget, iCalmDog, is the portable solution to canine anxiety. Lisa shares her home and her heart with her two "career change" Labrador Retrievers from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Sanchez and Gina. Follow Lisa's blog here.


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12:54PM PDT on Aug 2, 2014

thanks for sharing :)

7:03AM PDT on Jul 21, 2014

It is illegal in many cities to have your dog off leash and generally comes with a very expensive fine ($500 in our cities, combine that with a lack of pet license, on school grounds or private property and you're looking at a hefty payment). While we live in a city we also live near a nature preserve with many coyotes, if your dog is off leash, he can be attacked or snatched up and carried away within a blink of an eye. A sudden noise to startle that perfectly behaved off leash dog could send it running into traffic, by the most natural fight or flight response. Many dogs get defensive if they encounter another dog not on leash, children feel it's safe to pet them as well...the list goes on and on.

So PLEASE do not encourage off leash dog parenting, it can be dangerous for everyone involved.

4:44PM PDT on Apr 24, 2014

I always take my dog's collar off when he's at home - hey he loves being butt nekkid!

2:15PM PDT on Apr 24, 2014

I hate choke chains! When we rescued our sweet Princess she was left outside with a choke chain on another chain. I swore to her I would never, ever put another chain on her! That was a promise I kept for all the years we shared with her. We found a nylon halter that worked perfectly well.

We had taken her with us and she managed to get out of the car without her halter or lead on. We were a little panicked but the darnedest thing happen..........she didn't WANT to run away! She stayed right by our side the whole time. We've watched this with our newest little rescue - Ginger - too.

We do, of course, make sure they are wearing their halters now and we take their leads with us at all times. It's wonderful to know they prefer to stay by our sides.

1:04PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

These collars are instruments of torture & anyone who sells/buys them should be made to wear them! They should be banned with heavy punishments for anyone who uses/sells them!!

6:30AM PST on Dec 20, 2013

use a harness.

11:23AM PST on Dec 13, 2013

All of these tools are just that. Used correctly they don't cause harm, and are necessary for some large and powerful dogs training. More than likely the human needs more training. Try walking the big dogs at your local shelter and see what you learn. You cannot get an untrained dog a forever home.
And dogs are not children, they are a noble and wonderful companion, don't try to humanize them, that is a great injustice!

6:29AM PST on Dec 8, 2013

Also shock fences are abhorrent. Above the animal welfare issues they are very unreliable. Those still considering them should note if a dog gets a shock it will run one of two ways! Would you risk the 50/50 chance of losing your beloved pet?

6:24AM PST on Dec 8, 2013

I have 3 huskies, a breed known to be difficult to train and wired to pull. They have never known anything but positive reinforcement. When they were very young I started basic clicker training with them all. Once they were used to walking on a basic collar I gradually introduced a headcollar type for a few months to aid 'heel' on walks so I could praise them more. Now when I walk them they are all in a harness and walk very well. My personal feeling is a harness helps prevent as much shock or trauma to the body if a dog suddenly finds something interesting. Note, my huskies all walk very well. My 8 yr old son can even walk one of them. If a husky can be that relaxed and non pull it shows these barbaric collars have no place on the market. Positive training is the best way! Not a painful shortcut for lazy owners. When I got my dogs their physical AND mental wellbeing became
MY responsibility and these collars go against that!!

5:57PM PST on Dec 7, 2013

I want to also note tat I currently have 3 dogs, none of whom have even needed a choke collar, they are all around the 50lb mark, but I grew up with (a show bred and trained) 110lb Boxer (yep, way above breed standards, stood 6 feet tall dancing with my mum, thats why we had him, not the champion breeder) and the choke chain did not hurt him, it was a minor discomfort, he would still pull, but not as badly. If you left him tied with anything other than steel (which sadly we had to do when my mother went to work after my dad left) we would come back to it snapped, guaranteed. Out walking all the choke chain would do is remind he we were there - he could easily have taken off, but didnt because of it. We would NEVER have done ANYTHING that hurt that boy, but we would do anything to keep him safe.
I currently very much want an e-fence with shock collars - we currently need to keep our dogs on run most of the time, but they are the smartest dogs I have ever known, cunning ad wilful too - they can undo pretty much any buckle on a collar, we have to use a slide ring latching carabiner. They know they shouldnt jump, but they do. They would figure out the e-fence in no time, a couple of static shocks worth of keeping them alive - away from the road and the council and off the run, sign me up.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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