The epic debate! Are prong collars cruel torture devices, or are they an excellent training tool? More importantly, are they dangerous? It may not be what you think. Let's talk about prong collars and if they should ever be used or not.
First of all, we should look at what is the purpose and function of a prong collar. A prong collar's purpose is to give a physical correction by simulating the correction that one dog would give to another. The way it functions is by gripping when the leash is check-pulled in a correction.
Is physical correction necessary? I would say that depends totally on the dog. I know people who have competed at a national level in obedience who have never used a physical correction. And I know many, many more people who do use physical correction and compete at a national level as well. But the people who don't use physical correction must cherry pick their dogs based on pliability. They're also people who have been in the serious, competitive training world for a while. Their success comes from lots of experience and the fact that they cherry pick very specific dogs to work with. Those are both things most owners do not have on their side.
If you're a current pet owner, you have what you have. And most dogs cannot learn control and manners without some form of physical correction. Add into the fold that most trainers don't have the level of skill necessary to train a dog without it, even if their dog was cherry picked to be biddable without correction. This leads us back to the answer to the question "should you ever use a prong collar" with that answer being "probably."
There are exceptions though. For instance, some dogs are what are known as "handler soft." It takes very mild correction to get a point across to them. Such a dog may be too sensitive for a prong collar and a fur saver may be the better option. Over-correction is one of the worst things you can do in training, and a correction from a prong collar, even a very light one, may be too much for very handler soft dogs. Corrections must be tailored to the individual and only be enough to get the unwanted behavior to stop, or to regain engagement with the dog.
Are prong collars dangerous? Yes, they are. All collars are dangerous. All have a strangulation risk. A dog left unattended for any period of time should have its collar removed. Thousands of dogs have died wearing regular flat collars that got snagged on things around the house or in their crate. A prong collar, like every collar, carries this same risk. But as far as normal use goes, it's the safest collar to use when giving a correction. A flat collar requires a lot of force to deliver an effective correction. Fur savers can damage the esophagus if too hard of a correction is necessary to get engagement or to stop a behavior. The prong collar requires less force to be effective and is therefore safer for dogs who pull and dogs who require firm correction.
How should a prong collar be used? Prong collars should fit snug and high on the neck, just behind the ears, and never loose or around the base or middle of the neck. Proper fitment is as simple as adding or removing links until the desired snugness is achieved.
To deliver a correction, simply remove the slack from the line quickly. Don't pull on the leash. Make the motion a quick tug and release. You can give a negative marker word such as "no," or immediately issue a command to do something else. For instance, if your dog is pulling to get to another dog, you can give a correction and then immediately give the command to "heel." Or you can say "no," give an effective correction and keep moving. Or you can do both. "No," correction, "heel." I find the simple "no" to only be effective if the dog is already fairly well trained and already knows what it should be doing, but simply lost engagement with you, their handler. With a dog who is only beginning training, giving them a command after the correction helps to prevent confusion about what they should be doing vs focusing on what they shouldn't have been doing to get the correction in the first place. Knowing something is not okay to do and knowing what one should've been doing are two very different things.
Remember, training must be balanced. Never forget to reward good behavior as well as correcting negative behavior, or you'll have a dog that doesn't enjoy training very much. The backbone, foundation, and the bulk of your training should be positive and reward based. Corrections are only to get stubborn behaviors in check when the stimuli of doing an unwanted behavior causes a dog to lose engagement with, and ignore its handler.
Also remember that you can only correct a dog for two things. One is losing engagement and ignoring commands that they know. And two is when they do behaviors that you never want the dog to do again. For instance if you have a dog that lunges towards cyclists, and you never want them to do that again, then and there is the time to issue a correction.
As far as which prong collars to get, there's really only one choice. Herm Sprenger. Herm Sprenger makes the highest quality collars in the world and they are durable and will last a lifetime.
Remember, always remove your prong collars after training. They are not meant to be left on the dog. No collar is, but the snug fit of a prong collar means it must come off after training. It's not a flat collar or a piece of jewelry. It is strictly for training. That said, even a flat collar should come off if you're going to bed or leaving a dog unsupervised.
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