Prong collars aka pinch collars, are collars worn by the dog, that have short, blunted metal prong links. You generally see this collar on dogs where the owner is teaching their dog not to pull on leash. You will however see them used for other purposes as well.
Before I get into the pros and cons, I want to explain how prong collars work. People say all the time that the prong collar does not hurt. They make this determination because the dog is not crying out. Well first of all, many dogs do cry out on a prong collar... because prong collars do hurt and often very much so depending on how the owner is using the collar. Many people will "test" a prong collar on their own arm or hand. This is not a correct test, as a prong collar is supposed to sit on the neck just under the dog's ears and chin to work properly. This skin, tissue, and flesh is MUCH more sensitive than your arm or hand. Even if the dog is not crying out, we can very easily determine the dog is feeling some level of discomfort. We determine this by if the collar works. You see, for the collar to work, it has to bother the dog. No dog is going to stop a behavior unless they are taught either something better, or they stop because they learn it causes discomfort. So simply put, prong collars work because they cause discomfort or pain.
I next expect comments entitled - "But my dog loves his prong collar!" Let me assure you, your dog does not love their prong collar. Your dog loves what the prong collar equals, which is usually a walk, training, car ride, a chance to socialize, etc. They would be just as excited if it were any other tool.
There are many reasons owners choose prong collars to train their dogs. Sometimes it is suggested by a family member or friend. Othertimes it is at the direction of a dog trainer. It is important to make an informed decision before using anything on your pet.
The purpose of the prong collar is that it allows the owners to deliver a correction the moment the dog does something wrong. It also creates an element of discomfort for the dog to pull against it on walks. When the dog lets up, the discomfort stops. There is also the idea that this collar makes it safer for the elderly, sick or owners of very large dogs to be able to handle their dogs safely.
This can sound like a great solution to many dog owners who's dogs pull them down the street gagging and choking. Perhaps this also looks like the solution to a dog that barks at children and other dogs, or maybe just doesn't understand manners. The problem with this is that outside the hands of the most specialized trainers, these collars can cause all sorts of problems.
Can of Worms
Part of the problem with a prong collar is that it is an incomplete tool. It only tells the dog that it is wrong, or nags the dog with discomfort until the dog accidentally realizes it is their behavior that is causing it. Without constant feedback, correction and reward, telling the dog what you want them to do, with very precise timing and no distraction on the part of the owner, the tool is almost useless. On a daily basis I see 5-10 dogs, pulling their owners along, wearing a prong collar, and for most of these dogs, that is their experience for their entire lives. The reasoning behind the prong collar is that is to "teach" the dog to talk on a loose leash and understand manners. Yet most dogs who are "trained" on prong collars, never go back to life without it. They never feel just a flat collar on their neck. They are poked for the rest of their lives.
The other possible effect that I am hired to deal with is aggression and reactivity attributed to being on-leash. I see a significant amount of this in prong collar trained dogs. As a dog is observing its surroundings, it is feeling a level of discomfort from the collar. This discomfort raises stress hormones and places this anxiety and discomfort on whatever is being observed. It's the same as when you feel sick looking at a food that once gave you food poisoning. It is subconscious. For the dog, this builds up and eventually the dog feels so anxious and uncomfortable around dogs, people, children, etc that they lash out at them. Unfortunately this is not a rare occurrence and is becoming an epidemic.
It is important to remember that a prong collar is just a tool. It will not jump off the hook it hangs from on the wall and attack you or your dog. But it is only as good as the person using it. It is not a tool for the general public to try on their dogs. Only in the hands of a highly trained professional is it effective. The simple solution to the debate of prong collar usage, is to ask yourself if there is another tool that will not cause the dog pain or discomfort that would be just as effective in getting the owner the results they want. If so, go that route. If not, you better go sign yourself up for some serious education with a leading prong collar trainer. Failing that, there is a decent chance your dog will spend the rest of their life wearing one, or be seeking professional help for the heartbreaking fallout.
For those looking for my background with this tool - read my intro post about this series:
Tools: Just cause you can doesn't mean you should.
Next week - CLICKERS!