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Choke, Prong and Shock Collars: Effective Tool or Unnecessary Risk?

Dog collars used in combination with appropriate behavioral modification techniques can be efficacious; however, overuse and inappropriate use are common.

The use of these collars is controversial and many consider them unnecessary, dangerous, and inhumane. Three of the most popular and potentially unsafe dog collars on the market are the choke collar, prong collar, and shock collar.

Choke Collars for Dogs

Choke collars are made of metal links that tighten around a dog’s neck. They are most commonly used by owners teaching dogs to heel or not pull while walking. The dogs must offer a good behavior (not pulling on the leash) in order to avoid the collar tightening.

Potential Danger

  • No way to control the amount of force placed on the dog’s neck
  • Potential strangulation
  • Injuries to the trachea or esophagus
  • Muscle and nerve damage to the neck and spine

Appropriate Use

  • Place the collar high on the dog’s neck, directly behind the ears.
  • Never leave the collar on the dog when not training.
  • Teach and reward the desired behavior.

Prong Collars for Dog Training

Made of chain and lined with tooth-like metallic extensions with blunted ends that sit against the dog’s neck, prong collars are made to pinch the skin when pulled.

Potential Danger

  • Superficial to severe lesions and injury similar to those seen with the choke collar

Appropriate Use

  • Prong collars must be appropriately sized to avoid placing force on the trachea.
  • The collar should sit high on the dog’s neck, directly behind the ears.
  • Only use the collar when the dog is under the direct supervision of a caregiver or trainer.
  • Teach and reward the desired behavior.

Choke and prong collars are most commonly used to teach a dog to walk appropriately on a leash and to heel.

Almost all strangulations and injuries that result from these collars are not from owners pulling too hard, but from the collar getting hung up on something and the dog is unable to free itself.

Most animal behaviorists would recommend solid obedience training or trying alternative non-aversive collars and leashes before relying on a choke collar. Examples of alternative solutions include:

  • Head or chest harness
  • Gentle leader
  • Martingale collars, originally designed for narrow-headed dogs such as Greyhounds, can help with dogs skilled at slipping out of traditional collars

Shock Collars for Dogs

Shock collars deliver a “shock” to an animal via electric current. Most collars can create sensations ranging from mild tingling to a painful shock. The method is to startle the dog into stopping the undesirable behavior.

There are two primary types of shock collars: those that shock the dog remotely in response to a stimulus (most bark colors are an example of this) and those that are triggered by a handheld unit. Dogs avoid the shock by not doing the undesired behavior.

Potential Danger

  • Irritation and inflammation to the skin
  • Discomfort and pain
  • Increased anxiety, fear, aggression, stress, and avoidance behavior

Appropriate Use

  • Ensure proper fit and maintenance. Inconsistent signaling will reduce the effectiveness of the collar and increase the risk of harm to the dog.  (In the picture above the dog’s collar is too loose, resulting in the collar being too low on the neck.)
  • Limit the amount of time the dog wears the collar and keep the skin underneath the collar clean and dry to avoid inflammation.
  • Only use collars that give dogs a warning (tone or vibration) before administering a shock.
  • Teach the dog appropriate, alternative behavior.
  • Reward spontaneous good behaviors.
  • Start at the lowest shock frequency – animals that are hurt and scared are not as amenable to being trained.

Shock collars are commonly used with electronic fencing. This method can be effective. Exceptions include highly motivated animals, such as males pursuing a female in heat, that are often willing to experience a shock in exchange for getting outside the perimeter.

Once outside the perimeter, dogs are often unwilling to get a second shock in order to renter the property. Additionally, other animals or people remain able to enter the dog’s territory and the dog has no non-painful means of escape.

Shock collars are often utilized as a barking deterrent. Alternative collars to reduce barking include spray, ultrasonic, or vibrating collars.

Spray collars release unpleasant bursts of air or citronella but are ineffective for many dogs, especially those that emit high-pitched barks. Other dogs barking next to the collar may also trigger the spray.

Ultrasonic collars release high-pitched tones, and vibration collars cause vibrations in response to barking. None of these collars, however, addresses the potential causes of excessive barking such as territorial behavior, anxiety, fear, and other forms of stress.

Remote use of electronic shock for training is very controversial. The most common use of this method is to avoid chasing behavior and increase recall.

It is absolutely essential that the shock occurs simultaneously with the undesirable behavior, and that appropriate behavior is taught in place of the unwanted behavior.

There is a high chance of overuse and abuse with this method, often unintentional. It additionally carries an increased risk of the dog associating the shock with people or experiences and developing fearful or aggressive behavior.

Additional Considerations on Collars for Dogs

  • Dogs using shock collars have shown higher cortisol levels, indicating increased stress levels.
  • Unwanted behaviors may result, including avoidance behavior, aggression, and other manifestations of increased fear and anxiety.
  • Many consider shock collars to be inhumane, and they are banned in several countries.

None of these collars eliminate the need to work with the dog to teach appropriate, alternative behaviors. Like people, different dogs will respond to different techniques.

If considering the use of an aversive collar, consulting a qualified professional trainer is highly encouraged.

Deciding which collar to use is up to the owner. We hope this info has given you everything you need to make an informed decision for you and your pup!

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