There are several useful tools; each has its place. All are safe if used properly.

 

Question:

Do you know of any health problems related to either prong/pinch collars or head halters?  I am doing some research for our training club.

 

Dr. Nichol:

I’m glad to get this question because there is a great deal of concern and misinformation about training methods and devises like these. The truth is that, yes they are safe, but there is always a way to misuse and mistreat a dog during training. Most often these problems occur through genuine ignorance from a loving owner.

 

In addition to prong collars and head halters, regular leather or woven collars and slip chain choke collars are still widely used. Any and all of the above are legitimate and have their place. For the youngsters like my puppy Peter Rabbit training with a leash and regular collar is still best. Babies need to have the joy of learning instilled first. When they’re under six months there is no place for firm corrections. Choke collars: the old standby. The principle here is simple. When the dog is behaving correctly he or she feels nothing. (This is when you praise.) A quick tug on the leash gives the correction by tightening the collar on the dog’s neck.  It works because it’s uncomfortable. But dog’s are individuals. A very minor correction is all it takes for some. But I’ve seen others where it looks like the owner is trying to pull the dog’s head off and they don’t even notice-literally. Prong collars were invented for these dogs. A prong, or pinch, collar has smooth metal prongs that poke the skin when the collar is tightened. The collar is designed so that there is no way to harm the dog’s neck by “overcorrecting”. They are safe for adult dogs and a godsend for some owners. Even a light flick of the wrist will get the immediate attention of the most unfocused canine trainee. But while they work great on the tough cases they are unnecessary on most dogs.

 

Head halters. My favorite use for this tool is the aggressive dog who needs to be reminded that his owner is his boss. But they work well for most routine training too because they steer the dog by the head rather that by pulling the dog by the neck. Nothing about a head halter causes discomfort. It sounds ideal but for training it may not be the best tool for every dog.

 

So how do we prevent overly harsh use of these gadgets? Take your dog to a class at your local obedience club. Let the instructor be your guide. But for goodness sake have fun. Make sure your dog looks forward to the rewards rather than dreading the corrections. If you and your dog aren’t having a good time you may need to wear the prong collar.