On the last article of our series, we are going to take a look at two of the most controversial – and misunderstood – training tools in the canine world. Remember to always look for a professional before initiating any training with your dog.
The Prong Collar (a.k.a Pinch collar)
A prong or pinch collar is typically used with dogs that have a higher threshold and require a level of correction beyond that of a slip collar. Typically made with lightweight metal, the prong collar looks mean, but the prongs on it aren’t actually sharp. Several models are available, including quick release snaps and optional comfort tips.
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The Good: This goes hand in hand with the subject we approached in our last article – the slip collar. We agreed that a slip collar is very safe but has its limitations, and some dogs need a bigger correction. In order to achieve that, it is not recommended to simply just violently jerk the slip collar harder and harder – while that can elicit a response from the dog, we believe it is not safe for the dog’s orthopedic alignment to receive such heavy corrections. That is where the Prong Collar can be of great assistance.
If you examine a prong collar closely, the way in which it engages around the dog’s neck almost resembles a bite – like that of an old dog schooling a puppy. It is not made to puncture the skin or cause any injuries to the animal – in spite of its “medieval torture instrument” looks. The handler is able to employ less momentum when giving a leash correction and be more likely to get a response from the dog with minimal “whiplash” effect to Fido’s neck.
That’s when I go back to my story about my fellow trainer and his “manly” slip collar corrections that led a dog into a seizure-like state. He was probably too focused on showing off his “technique” that he ended up crossing the line of how far one should go before making the wise decision of moving on to the next training tool. In other words, if it was me, I would have switched that particular dog to a prong collar much earlier in the process to get in an effective correction and avoid any potential physical damage. So to sum up, the prong collar is the next tool we usually turn to when the slip collar fails to meet the dog’s correction threshold.
The Bad: A prong collar is constructed in a way that makes it a good training tool, but it is not reliable as a collar itself. With time and wear, the links that hold the prongs can actually come undone while the dog is wearing the collar, and if Fido is not attached to any other collar, Fido’s owner will have a fun day chasing his dog. So that is why we as trainers always recommend using a slip collar along with the prong collar for safety. Both should be engaged to the leash in case the prong collar was to fall off.
The Ugly: Again, the ugly stories we hear about the prong collars most likely come from inadequate use of this tool. Under no circumstances should you leave a prong collar on your dog while he is in the crate or unsupervised, and it should definitely be removed at night. Owners who fail to follow these guidelines often see their dogs have problems such as punctured skin or even the collar getting embedded into the dog’s neck. Some “all positive” PETA-type trainers report horror stories about dogs developing fear and aggression after having received training with a prong collar. I know I am sounding repetitive, but once more I do not believe such cases are based on the proper use of this tool. I have clients whose dogs are as happy as they can be when they see their prong collars because they know they are going out to do something fun. So make your own conclusions.
The Electronic Collar or E-collar (a.k.a Remote trainer, “shock” collar)
Now this is going to be fun. Most people flinch when they just hear someone mention an Electronic Collar (I like calling it e-collar). “I do not want to inflict electric shocks on my dog!” – I heard this one countless times. Well, let me clear up some misconceptions here before we move on.
First, I do not call these devices a SHOCK COLLAR for a reason. They are not designed to shock or electrocute your dog. In fact, you probably already know what an e-collar stimulation feels like. Ever rubbed your feet on a shaggy rug then touched a metal doorknob? How about a workout session with one of those devices that promises to tone your abs by sending electrical stimulation to your muscles? Better yet, your chiropractor has probably had you mess with one of those machines that zap the pain away from your back!
Chances are you did not die or get traumatized by any of those experiences. Likewise, an e-collar delivers a controlled static stimulus that can be turned up or down through a remote control. It never fails to get a dog’s attention – because if you are just like me, you will most often jump up when feeling that static discharge after touching a doorknob. It also got your attention.
So, let’s end this once for all – an e-collar (not a SHOCK collar) delivers harmless static-like stimulation to your dog that can be controlled through a remote and do not have enough amperage to cause any damage – actually nowhere near it. When I went to dog trainer school, we had to pay our instructor a fine every time we called this device a “shock” collar, because it is an inaccurate term to describe it.
The Good: An e-collar is the next tool of choice for dogs who do not respond to the prong collar. Sometimes I have clients that simply do not like all the work of messing with prong collars and choose the e-collar as a more practical and efficient way to proceed with training. There are several different methods employed in training dogs with an e-collar, and I am sure a lot of them work in different levels, but we prefer to use it the same way we would use a leash and collar correction – but tapping the remote instead. Now you no longer need a leash to issue a correction – and therefore you can issue corrections at a distance, which makes the transition to having your dog off-leash really easy.
The Bad: Like any electronic device, it has batteries that need to be charged every now and then. It is a device that needs to be monitored from time to time, because it can malfunction and deliver inconsistent corrections or need battery replacements. There are a lot of different brands and manufacturers out there, so ask a trainer which one is best for your dog.
The Ugly: You probably know what I am going to say here, but I am going to repeat it anyways. Like any tool, it should not be left on while the dog is unsupervised. The owner also needs to be careful to make sure the two prongs that are in contact with Fido’s skin are not causing any irritation. It is recommended that the e-collar be moved around from time to time, otherwise wearing it always on the same spot can cause nasty irritations and puncture the skin (in extreme cases).
Honestly, anyone planning to use an e-collar on their dog (and anyone terrified by it) should actually receive the same intro I had to receive as a novice trainer. Hold the e-collar in your hand, or over your thigh, and try a few different levels of stimulation on your own skin. Every dog owner I put through this process ends up with a “it’s not so bad” face afterwards. Go ahead and try it.
In closing, I hope this series of articles has given you a better understanding of all the dog training tools there are out there. Not every one of them is the best for your dog – some tools such as the Haltie have a great, easy-to-sell, politically “correct” image, but it does not necessarily bring any benefits to permanently improve the relationship you have with your dog.
Please consult a professional dog trainer to find out which tool is most appropriate for your dog.