Guys, the basic slip or “choke collar” is one of my favorite dog training tools.
I’ve been thinking about how I will train my next dog, and what tools I’ll use for teaching a formal “heel.”
I love the structure of AKC-style obedience – the dog walking at a close heel, completing tight turns, watching the handler.
I worry this kind of training will become a lost art – things like the handler knowing to lead off with her left foot when she wants the dog to follow, her right when she wants him to stay. Or knowing her dog will obey “down” or “stay” or “come” when off leash using only a hand signal.
You don’t need a choke collar to achieve these things, of course, but most trainers who advocate for no-pull harnesses and Gentle Leaders are more focused on basic manners than competitive obedience.
This is totally fine. It’s what the average dog owner wants – a fairly well-behaved dog, or at least a manageable one.
I go way beyond that when I’m training my dog, and that’s probably why I can see the benefits to all types of collars (like shock and prong) when others can’t.
I’ll probably always have a chain collar on hand for obedience training, but I like using other tools like the no-pull harness for casual walks when I want to “check out” a bit but still discourage pulling.
As you might expect, I can’t even write about choke or prong collars without receiving a nasty email from someone. Most of these dog lovers seem to have good intentions, and I can tell they care deeply for dogs. A few seem out of touch with reality.
Frankly, I don’t really care what type of collar anyone uses, which is why I’ve recommended all of them. I love seeing dog owners out and about walking and training their dogs. If a choke collar helps them do that, then great.
Myths about choke collars
There are some myths out there about choke collars. I thought I’d address them briefly, although I think most of you are fully aware of these myths.
“Choke collars work because they cause pain.”
This one makes me sad.
If any type of collar is causing a dog pain or fear, then it’s not being used properly or is not a good fit for that particular dog.
I’ve worked with plenty of “extreme pullers” that do pull against choke collars, prong collars or Gentle Leaders so hard that I am concerned for their safety. For those dogs, a no-pull harness is best because it takes the pressure off the dog’s neck and face.
With a choke collar, the slight tug is mostly to get the dog’s attention, much like saying, “Hey there, this way!” but with consistency and better timing.
Meghan Finnegan maintains the blog K9 of Mine, and she stressed how important it is for dog owners to learn how to use a choke collar properly.
“If the dog is dragging the owner on the choke collar while huffing and puffing, something is definitely not right,” she said. “Using a choke collar incorrectly can be very damaging for a dog.”
If the collar is worn correctly – high on the dog’s neck, right behind his ears – all you need is the slightest tug. It should absolutely not cause pain or fear. If it does, then a martingale (limited slip collar) is a much better option.
I tracked down a dog trainer who is an advocate of choke collars to get a couple of her thoughts.
Alexandra Allred is the author of the book “Dogs’ Most Wanted” and has trained dogs for 30 years.
“Every now and then I have the owner who sincerely believes that the chain is painful, torture, unfair, brutal,” she said. “No. The chain is so good because it offers cues to the pup.”
“With the ‘zzzzip’ sound behind the ear, the dogs self check,” she said. “Oh, you wanted me to heel? Yes. Yes. I see. Well, why didn’t you say so?”
This is exactly what works well for my dog Ace, and it’s why some of the martingale collars you see have a little chain portion on them. The dogs respond really well to that sound, just as they might respond to a sound like me clicking my tongue to get their attention.
I like to use a choke collar and highly valued jerky treats so it’s a little tug to get the dog’s attention, followed by a yummy treat as the reward.
“The choke collar could damage a dog’s throat.”
There is truth to this argument, but only if you’re going to be fair and question all collars in general. Of course, a dog could be injured from pulling on the leash or being jerked around by the neck. Just a couple of examples could include spinal-cord injuries, stress on the thyroid gland or damage to the trachea.
These are real concerns, and nearly all dogs pull at some point, even if it’s to get a good sniff or to greet a buddy. While my own dog does not seem to have any physical problems related to wearing a flat collar that I am aware of, it is something to think about.
Note that this concern has nothing to do with choke collars, but collars in general. My dog currently wears a flat, buckle collar 99 percent of the time, and he does pull at times – he’s a dog, after all.
There is, unfortunately, a lot of fear mongering surrounding choke collars, which is not helpful.
“Maybe you’ve heard stories about dogs passing out, sometimes even dying, when wearing a choke collar,” Finnegan said. “These instances can potentially occur when a dog is allowed to roam off leash wearing a choke collar.”
She would like to remind people that choke collars are not intended to be worn all day but only during training and on-leash walking.
“Dangerous situations occur when dogs wear choke collars off-leash, as the looped segments of the collar can get stuck on another dog during play time or snagged on something around the home,” she said.
What do you think about choke collars?
Let me know in the comments.
For me, what it comes down to is each dog owner must make the best decision for his or her dog. Many of us depend on tools to manage and train our dogs, and what works best for my dog may not necessarily be the best option for everyone else.
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