What's Wrong With Our Society? Prong Collars and Misinformation Regarding Dog Training

I recently came across a colleague in the animal sheltering/rescuing field who still subscribes to using prong collars. I had questioned her why she used them, and she said that her and the German Shepherd were getting ready for a walk. I then asked her if she had tried any more humane methods of walking, such as an E-Z Walk Harness or a Gentle Leader.

As soon as my eyes blinked, I was getting bombarded with angry comments from her. I would like to share with my audience, because outdated training methods are common in today's society, and it really breaks my heart that more people aren't educated in positive reinforcement. Our interaction went like this:

My response: “Have you ever tried using an E-Z Walk harness or Gentle Leader? They're much more humane ways of walking. Please see the Pet Professional Guild's website for their position statement on the use of prong collars: http://petprofessionalguild.com/chokeandprongcollarpositionstatement

Her response:

1.) “I don't think you want to debate training with me Sheryl Walker. A gentle leader is a cruel device to use on a dog. How many dogs do you own? How many aggressive dogs have you pulled from the pound? How many of those dogs tried to rip your face off when you approached their kennel at the pound? How many dogs have you pulled from shelters that had the shelter staff terrified to go near them? How many dogs have you fought the courts over to save because they had a bite history? How many dogs have you pulled from shelters or rehabilitated that no other trainers would even consider going near? How many feral dogs have you worked with? How many dog aggressive dogs have you successfully placed into homes with other dogs? How many people aggressive dogs have you successfully rehabilitated and placed in loving homes? I have no need to post my resume because my reputation speaks for itself.”

2.) “and for every graphic artical you post about a prong collar I can post just as many graphic articals about the use of gentle leaders and choke collars. Sheryl Walker It's a training device and any training device can harm you dog if not used properly.”

3.) “Here's a little education for you Sheryl Walker on the use of prong collars and the barbaric use of gentle leaders. Educate yourself on the proper tools to use before you ruin anymore dogs by using the gentle leader. You are also welcome to accompany me to the shetler next time I am pulling a dangerous dog that no one can get near and you are more than welcome to show me how you will use a gentle leader on the dog to fix his issues. The difference between responsible dog ownership and a potential accident is the way we use tools. Tools are there to empower you as the handler and help to be the leader and completely in control of the dog, whether it’s inside or outside your home. Every dog has the potential to be incredible if you use the correct tool. I’ve trained many dogs of all breeds, ages, and sizes, and I am here to tell you with absolute certainty that the prong collar is by far the best tool to use to train a dog. Why? Because it works.

A lot of people have been told to never use a prong collar because it’s cruel. Well guess what? The very people that speak poorly of prongs are the people that have never actually used them. Isn’t that amazing that they’re so unwilling to leave their comfort zone they’d rather sentence the dog to death by labeling it “aggressive” than try something that actually works? That is crueler than anything I can imagine.

So why haven’t they tried it?

I hear these myths often:

It looks barbaric so it must be barbaric.

Haven’t we learned by now that you can never judge anything based on its appearance? The prong collar is made of interlocking blunt links so when you give a swift correction, mimicking the correction a mother dog gives to her puppies. It doesn’t hurt. Dogs mouth each other in play constantly. YOU are the pack leader, just as the mother is to her pups. We need to realize it’s OK to correct a dog. The prong collar works.

I don’t want to make my dog uncomfortable or unhappy.

This one is always amazing to hear because to me, a split second of discomfort when corrected for bad behavior is FAR more comfortable for a dog than to be put away into another room and isolated from its owners due to misbehavior all because the dog didn’t know its boundaries. Isn’t a quick pop of the leash and temporary discomfort worth a day, a week, a month, or even a lifetime of good behavior and living in harmony with you, your dog’s leader? A pop of the leash is a correction, while a lifetime of being separated from people due to bad behavior is punishment.

The prong collar will make my dog become more aggressive/anxious/shy.

I’ve trained thousands of dogs and have never seen a dog become more aggressive, anxious or fearful from a prong collar. I’ve seen them become more balanced and confident because there are no more mixed signals. A dog is happiest when they clearly know their boundaries., and are included in the family because they have consistently great behavior.

Prong collars are just as bad as choke chains.

False. Prong collars are not at all similar to choke chains. Choke chains have unlimited pulling capacity which in careless, abusive hands, can cut off a dog’s air supply entirely and cause severe injury and even death. A prong collar distributes even pressure and a quick pinch. That’s it. Again, this is a correction, not punishment. The dog will respond with a rapid and positive behavior change.

Head collars are the most humane collars.

Head collars are the worst type of training collars I’ve ever seen. Have you noticed dogs walking around with these? They look uncomfortable, right? It’s because they are uncomfortable. The leash is attached to the jaw, which is a highly sensitive area, and a strong pull practically guarantees a cervical injury. Not to mention the fact that these collars must be fitted so tight you cannot even get a finger under them. Have you also noticed that their heads are kept cruelly tilted, and that the narrow noseband turns the poor dog like a wrench?

It’s normal, and even cute to see the dog on a flat buckled collar, taking its owner for a walk.

Leash pulling has unfortunately become a widely accepted behavior in our society where a shocking number of people think it’s cute seeing a dog “taking the owner for a walk.” How do people cringe when they see a photo of a dog with a prong collar on, yet laugh if they see a video of a dog dragging its owner down the street, straining and panting? Do not assume because the dog is making the choice to lunge ahead that it’s not abusive to the dog. A dog pulling you down the street is abusive to you both, and this should never be allowed.

My dog yelps when I correct him/her with the prong collar, which makes me feel guilty for hurting him/her.

Your dog is not hurt, they are simply objecting to the correction. You should also note that if you’re dog needs a correction in the first place, they are in a high, agitated energy state, and when a dog is in that state of mind, sometimes a even clap of your hands can startle them, causing a surprised yelp. Dogs also object when they are left alone, crated, are begging for the food on the table, etc. They need firm, consistent leadership so they can make good decisions. Giving a correction is not hurting the dog. Allowing the dog to misbehave every day of its life is hurting the dog.

Think about this:

Let’s say I walk into your house and your dog lunges toward me to bite my leg. If the dog has a prong collar and leash on, and I give it a quick pop, the dog learns instantly that it is not ok to lunge and bite. Again, just because you were willing to leave your comfort zone and try a different training method, a split second of discomfort for the dog could save you years of frustration and maybe even the death of your dog because other trainers said that your dog was too aggressive to handle. It’s devastating to see so many dogs on death row that wouldn’t be if their trainers had just used a tool that works. I’ll say it again, the prong collar works, and if you say you’ve tried everything to train your dog, yet still haven’t tried the prong collar then you haven’t tried everything.

A lunging and biting dog will not stop lunging and biting if you give the dog treats. A lunging and biting dog all too often gets kicked out of obedience classes. A lunging and biting dog often gets killed.

With a prong collar, the lunging and biting dog learns that there are consequences to bad behavior, such as jeopardizing a person’s safety.

They get another chance.

No dog should ever be given up on and killed.

The prong collar works.

The public needs to be educated that the prong collar is the kindest tool out there, and if you are accused of being cruel to your dog for using one, try and take the time to inform them of the benefits, rather than responding defensively. I know that if we can bring the properly introduced and well handled prong collar into our nation’s shelters, the dogs will have more structured walks, more effective training, and naturally better behavior, making them more adoptable to the public. An effective training tool can literally save millions of lives if people can be educated and in turn, receptive to a different method, that is exactly what our shelters need.”

My response:

Dear (name protected),

You’re right, I don’t want to argue with you. I think arguing is pointless. I am here to educate in scientific/evidence-based best practices in animal training. Please refer to the following sites:

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

Pet Professional Guild

Karen Pryor Academy

Clicker Training

YouTube Emily Larlham (KikoPup) trainer

To answer your questions:

  • I own two dogs.

  • My Ph.D. is in Behavior Analysis and Animal Sheltering and Behavior. You and I do not need to have a competition on how many aggressive dogs we each have pulled from the “pound.” The term “pound” is outdated.

  • Many dogs that I encounter in a shelter/kenneling setting exhibit barrier frustration (snarling, growling, jumping, air snapping, etc.).

  • I have assisted in the rehoming of many dogs where shelter staff were terrified to go near them.

  • I do not have a law degree, and have never been asked to be an expert witness to testify in a court case of a dog with a bite history. Should I ever be in that situation, I have the expertise to be an expert witness and to conduct a thorough behavioral assessment of the dog in question. You and I both know that dogs communicate extremely well. Most dog bites occur because the humans involved are completely unaware of dog body language and set the dog up for failure instead of success.

  • “Rehabilitate” is a tricky word in the sense of dog training and behavior. Explain your definition and I can answer this question more appropriately.

  • Again – define “feral.”

  • I have assisted in rehoming many dog-aggressive dogs in sheltering. Most of these cases, again, are about setting the adopter and dog up for success by educating them about dog body language and positive reinforcement and force-free dog training/behavior modification methods so that the human-animal bond strengthens.

  • Define “people aggressive dogs.” I’d say about 95% of the aggressive cases that I encounter are based out of fear. When I do a functional behavior analysis regarding the fear triggers and the consequences of the fear behaviors, I can easily use behavior modification techniques such as classical conditioning and counter-conditioning to make that dog less stressed and more confident regarding the fear triggers.

  • I would be happy to share my resume with you. My credentials speak for themselves. Please provide your email address.

Regarding graphic articles pertaining to Gentle Leaders, I would be happy to talk to those people who are misusing that tool. Gentle Leaders should NOT be used as an aversive.

I am very aware and educated on the proper use of Gentle Leaders, harnesses, buckle collars, etc. I do not advocate the use of choke chains, prong collars, and shock collars because they can cause detrimental effects on the welfare of the dogs, not to mention it promotes very, very poor human-animal bond. I have had the honor of being a part of the Behavior Clinic at Purdue University, and have witnessed the clinical side effects of uneducated people using aversive methods.

If you provide gas money, I would be happy to accompany you to your local shelter. You’re located in (place protected), right?

“The difference between responsible dog ownership and a potential accident is the way we use tools.” I absolutely 100% agree with you. However, I do not feel that the handler needs to be “empowered to be the leader.” If the desired behaviors are reinforced, those behaviors will continue or increase in frequency (the basic principles of Operant Conditioning, specifically positive reinforcement). A person does not have to decide who’s in “control”. The human-animal bond should be strengthened by utilizing positive reinforcement techniques: reinforcing desired behaviors and finding alternate solutions for undesired behaviors (such as differential reinforcement of other behaviors – in the Behavior Analysis world, this is called DRO).

Aversives, such as the prong collar, focus on the Positive Punishment contingency of Operant Conditioning, which states that an aversive is applied to decrease the frequency of the behavior (e.g., a prong collar is used to tell the dog don’t pull). One of my many examples when I give guest lectures, is if I put a shock collar on your wrist and shocked a person every time they tried to sit down in the “wrong” seat. This type of training provides absolutely no direction, and creates an individual who is afraid of making choices.

Using a prong collar on a dog that’s already labeled as “aggressive” can be extremely dangerous. I recommend that a functional behavior assessment be conducted on those dogs before an aversive is used to try and “correct” the aggressive behaviors (see my statement above regarding the Behavior Clinic at Purdue University).

It’s obvious you subscribe to the “pack leader” mentality. Please see the following links regarding how dangerous this is to the human-animal bond, not to mention it is an extremely outdated way of thinking:

AVSAB Position Statement on the use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals

Dr. Sophia Yin’s view on the Dominance Controversy

De-Bunking the “Alpha Dog” Theory

Dr. Andrew Luescher’s review on Beyond Cesar Millan

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Dr. Sheryl Walker

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