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Is it time to stop using choke collars for dog training?

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.

Ace wearing a choke collar

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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Thursday 15th of September 2016

My pits neck is so muscular he really doesn't seem to let either the prong or the martigale bother him. I recently switched to the gentle walk harness after having read an article about thyroid issue possibly being caused by pulling on collars. He's like a differant dog. He walkes like such a good boy now. I still keep his martingale on him in case I come across a situation that may require some extra control.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 15th of September 2016

I don't like how hard my pup pulls on any type of collar and I do worry about his neck. But he's so much better behaved and controlled on a prong vs the GL or harness.

Inge Blevens

Monday 17th of November 2014

I think choke collars and prong collars are a lot safer than flat collars. It makes me sad when some one tells me: ' they will never be that mean to their dog and use a coke collar!' While they are crushing their dogs throat trying to hold their dog with a flat collar.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 17th of November 2014

Yes, I think that is sometimes a real concern.


Friday 7th of November 2014

Short answer: Yes.

Couple of thoughts ...

First off, competitive obedience is alive and well. There are more and more trainers every day who train with modern reinforcement methods rather than old-style tools like choke collars. Mary Ray is a good example; she's titled tons of dogs in obedience and does all sorts of activities (HTM, agility) using clicker training. Use of a choke collar is not a prerequisite for a tight, accurate heel position. My dog is trained without a choke collar and he'll practically flip in the air putting himself in heel, then hug my leg with a happy grin on his face. He's been reinforced so often and so generously that heel position is a super-happy place for him. Even when we are out walking in the woods, off lead, with squirrels to chase and things to pee on, he'll often put himself into a close heel and look up hopefully to see if I've noticed what a good dog he is :-).

Second, it's misleading to say the choke collar doesn't cause pain. Used correctly, it shouldn't cause MUCH pain, but that zzzziiiipppp sound that the dog is responding to is a precursor sound for a painful correction that the dog has experienced in the past. That sound on its own, with no history, means nothing to a dog. If you have a smart dog, or a sensitive one, then merely the threat of pain (which is what the zzziiiipppp sound is to a dog) is enough for the dog to adjust his position. The fallout from training with pain/fear is well studied and well documented. When trained with pain/fear methods, dogs have less trust and engagement with their handlers, and are much more likely to do ONLY what is required to avoid punishment. Dogs trained with reinforcement methods are eager to engage, happy in training, and offer over and above what is being asked. All good reasons to keep pain methods out of training.

I've come to accept that R+ methods are not easy for some to learn, and that's ok. It takes a lot of work and practice on the human side to get to even a moderate level of skill, and a LOT of work and practice to become a good trainer. You have to have good reaction times and great observation skills; these aren't easy to acquire. Hence people relying on methods that are 'quicker' (quicker for the human to learn, not quicker in helping the dog acquire skills). Dogs being trained with methods I would never use are at least being trained, which is something.


Thursday 6th of November 2014

When we first started visiting Donna at the shelter, we totally didn't know how to walk a dog but we watched a lot of CM (Haha!) ... Donna of course pulled a lot back then, literally until her whole body is stretching horizontally along the ground. We voiced our concerns to the shelter and were told not to worry because their necks are strong. So every time she pulled, we tugged and kept telling her slow. To this day, I am horribly glad that she was wearing a martingale collar at the shelter instead of a choke chain, although they think of it as a semi-choke chain ... because the truth of the matter is, no matter what we can say about using tools correctly, it only happens in an ideal world... because it is not compulsory over here for dog owners to engage trainers, and for those who do bother, not every trainer is going to be a good one.

Jana Rade

Wednesday 5th of November 2014

Don't like them, wouldn't use them. You're right that any collar can cause damage but I feel that choke collars doubly so.

JD has a plain flat collar but Cookie, because she does like to go nuts over squirrels and things has a harness to keep her neck out of the equation all together.

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 5th of November 2014

The harnesses are definitely growing on me, just because I worry about the potential harm anything around the neck could do, including flat, buckle collars.