Training Collars
~ ABC Dog School ~
   There isn't much that needs to be said about the choker chain training collar, except that it does the job when used correctly, and can be dangerous in the wrong hands or when left on an unsupervised dog.  A strong or angry handler in combination with a small, or small-necked dog can be a prescription for injury to the trachea, or even the neck, as in the case of a dog with unstable cervical vertebrae.  They do need to be fitted properly, just long enough to go over the head, and not of a real fine link, as these are too severe.
     As for the halter type contraptions, and others of their ilk that people use in order to avoid a training collar, I have no kind words.  These do nothing to bring about a change in the dog's way of thinking.  They force him to do the handler's bidding, therefore denying him the opportunity to make a choice as to how he will behave, and reaping the reward or consequence of that choice, which is the basis for developing a proper relationship with the handler. 
     The electronic, or remote trainer, is not something I use or teach the use of in my classes, simply because most of my students are not interested in that level of training, and are for the most part a bit too squeamish to use one.  In addition, the cost is prohibitive.  If I was seriously involved in obedience competition, I would consider using a remote trainer.  Actually, I do have one that has been gathering dust for years. 
     And now we come to the newly-popular prong collar.  When I first started showing in obedience, this collar was nowhere in sight.  I purchased one for Dutch Boy, just to take him for walks, and I was hooked. Oh, he was Koehler-trained, but those about-turns that were necessary every time we started out, became tiresome, and that dog had a neck of steel.  The turns were so much more effective with the prong.
     I discovered another  advantage of the prong collar one day when using Conner for a demo dog in class.  While I was preoccupied with teaching, he took a notion to make a beeline for one of the dogs.  I was yanked off balance and barely regained control before he reached his destination.  After that, it seemed prudent to use a prong on any of the dogs who might be prone to spasmodic surprises, not because they were not reliably trained, but because they weren't actually trained at all.  I use these dogs in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of what I'm teaching.  The students can see how it works on dogs who are doing what their dogs do. 
      I don't usually put a prong collar on a student's dog the first day.  Most of them would be horrified, and maybe never come back, if they thought they had to use something that looks like a Midievil torture device.  By lesson three or four, if things are still going rough for them, I suggest we try a different collar.  It's like putting power steering on a log wagon.  They are so relieved at the difference that it overcomes their first impression of this wicked-looking thing and they usually end up buying one.   
   I remember one dog that needed a prong collar right away.  He was a huge black Labrador, and he decided to park himself in the down position just about the time his handler was heading out across the training area.  There was nothing she could do to get this dog on his feet.  The prong collar ended that discussion very nicely.  It was a case of getting control in order to teach.  She had to prove she was able to go where she wanted to go, with or without his approval.  Several weeks later, we were able to replace the prong with the chain collar.
     The prong collar is sometimes necessary in my 4-H classes.  Small children arrive with Labradors and other dogs that outweigh them, and we can't have these dogs dragging kids across the fairgrounds, maybe injuring them, attacking other dogs, or getting loose and running into the street. 
     I have small dogs that have sensitive throats, for whatever reason, and any pressure sets them to coughing and gagging.  For these dogs, I use a mini-prong.  It's a much safer collar, as it doesn't cause injury, nor aggravate any previously sustained.  I recently took little Tobie to a Kennel Club meeting with her mini-prong, and no one asked why I thought she needed such a "severe" collar, but I bet they were wondering.  Maybe they knew.  After all, they
are dog people.
     I started out recommending prong collars for Rotts and Labs mostly.  One student called me about classes because her large female Rottweiler had dragged her across the yard on her stomach, with a choker chain, and she had to grab a tree on the way past in order to get stopped.  She had two of these big girls and took them for walks at a local park.  Lots of people walk dogs there.  Imagine her trying to control them with chain collars under the circumstances.
     When I was young, I had horses.  I learned how difficult it was to lead a horse wearing a halter if he had other ideas about where he wanted to go...or how fast.  It became necessary to run the lead strap chain under the chin, or over the nose, in order to avoid a dangerous situation....a horse on the loose.  Bulls, as I understand it, are controlled by a ring inserted through the partition in the nose between the nostrils.  The point I'm trying to make is, that we need an equalizer when the animal we need to control is stronger than we are.  The prong collar is one such equalizer, and should not be seen as cruel or unecessary.
     I was surprised after a hiatus in obedience competition, to show up at a match and see prong collars, not only on the grounds but in the rings!  I was told, long ago, that the AKC forbade them because spectators would make wrong assumptions about obedience training...that dogs obeyed because of cruel training devices.  But, these collars are certainly becoming popular.  Maybe, in spite of their looks, people are realizing that they are safer than chains, and more effective with less effort and less resistance.
     There are those who claim that prong collars make dogs nervous, cause aggression, and generally drive dogs insane.  After many years of using them and selling them to students, I have yet to see any such thing.  A highly dominant dog may object to his handler being in control, but should we remove the collar and let him take charge?  See the essay on legal concerns for the answer!
     Now that the general public has discovered the prong collar and it is available wherever pet supplies are sold, I see a lot of them out and about on the streets of  town.  It is a big improvement over what I used to see...dog owners being dragged hither and yon, and dogs at risk.  These are people who don't think about training classes, neutering, vet care, or even decent food.  A prong collar provides at least some quality of life for dogs who would otherwise be discarded or perpetually confined.
Copyright 2004 Carole J Sulser
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