Prong collars: Are they useful or do they pose a danger?

When training a dog in obedience should 4-H youth use a prong (pinch) collar? What is the proper way to use this type of a collar? These are common questions among 4-H dog project leaders.

In 4-H, dog training programs encourage positive training techniques. The use of treats (or bait), excessive amount of praise, favorite toys and rewards are common practice. Often, we may start with one tool when training but work toward ending with tools to abide by the American Kennel Club (AKC) or United Kennel Club (UKC) standards.

One piece of equipment that is an example of a tool a trainer may start with is the prong collar. The prong collar is a series of chain links connected to each other with the open ends facing the dog’s neck. The prong collar is commonly used in beginner obedience or when teaching a dog to walk on a leash. This collar, also known as a “pinch collar,” is sometimes controversial. I believe that calling it a pinch collar causes some of this controversy and is misleading due to the fact that it doesn’t actually pinch the dog in the way most people think of pinching. It applies pressure all the way around the dog’s neck when a correction is given. Many people who are not supporters of this collar tend to be more concerned about the appearance of the collar or its misleading name rather than having experienced poor results when it is used correctly.

When used properly, the prong collar can actually protect the dog from trachea damage caused by an inexperienced handler or by the dog itself when it pulls on the collar excessively due to excitement or bad behavior. The prong collar distributes the pull all the way around the neck instead of directly on the throat. When using a prong collar, you should use mild corrections or use the collar as a self-correcting collar. For example if you are in the heeling position and halt but the dog continues forward, the collar will tighten and self-correct the dog. This usually results in the dog stopping in the halt position. In this situation no additional correction is needed – not even a pull on the leash.

The prong collar needs to be fitted properly to ensure you do not hurt the dog. It should be placed high on the dog’s neck just behind the ears and all the extra links should be removed so that it is snug to the neck, not drooping. A drooping collar can cause the dogs neck to actually get pinched and hurt the dog. It could also cause the dog to slip out of the collar which could hurt him/her as it is pulled over its head.

While wearing the collar, the dog should never be left unattended or tied up. Handlers should place the collar on the dog 10-20 minutes before they start training for that session. Prong collars should not be used on dogs that are timid or on those that are responsive to a simple choke collar. Please watch these videos, “How to use a prong collar – Part one” and “How to use a prong collar – Part two” to learn more about how to use the collar properly.

As with all training tools handlers should do their research and truly understand how to use the device properly before putting it on their dog.

This article is intended to help you understand what a prong collar is and not intended to serve as a manual or definitive answer to dog training. Readers are encouraged to gather further information prior to making a decision to use this type of collar on their own dog.

Always treat your animals with the love and respect they deserve and use caution whenever training to keep things positive and fun for the dog. If you choose to use a prong collars it should be a short term training tool and not used in the show ring.

4-H members should use them under the direction of a leader with experience using this collar and should always pair its use with positive reinforcement of the desired behavior from the dog.

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