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Pain to Train: The Reality of Choke and Pinch Dog Collars

This article originally appeared on as Pain to Train: The Reality of Choke and Pinch Dog Collars
Today I choked my co-worker into doing what I wanted him to do. Last week, I saw a lady on the bus pinch another lady because she would not stop talking. Both of the above scenarios sound disturbing because they are. Yet, every day in this country, a certain contingency of dog owners are training their dogs by choking, pinching, or shocking them. The reality of choke and pinch dog collars is all too real, especially since I walked into a scenario involving them over the weekend. The Reality If you’ve ever had a puppy or a dog who pulls while attempting to walk them on a leash, you know how frustrating it can be to change that behavior. After all, who among us doesn’t want a dog who comes “ready made” and knows how to walk properly without yanking us down the street? Like all things in life that require nurturing and training, it just doesn’t work that way. Why Do I Care Every week, my spouse and I take our dog for a “Mommy and Me” night of fun. We visit our local PetSmart store as part of our festivities where our dog, Dexter, can get some sniffs and we can seek out some bargains for retail therapy. We generally meet other dog parents and engage in conversation. Imagine our glee when this cutie pie crossed our path at our local store: dog collar As he attempted to come towards my dog and engage in some play, his attempts were quickly thwarted by the contraption on his neck. A pinch collar. My heart sunk and my stomach sickened. One of three scenarios could have played out. Which of the following would you have done?
  1. Say nothing about the collar;
  2. Get angry about the collar and express it to the lady;
  3. Attempt to educate the lady and offer alternatives to the pinch collar;
I chose (C) and the conversation went like this:
“Is your dog a puller?” I mused. “Yes, he is crazy. He pulls all the time. I have his Mom and Dad, and they were pullers, too.” “He is beautiful,” I continued, “and you know, there are some other ways of….”
Off she went. Right in the middle of my sentence. She did not want to hear anything further. At first, I had no idea what just happened. “She doesn’t want to be told of anything else that might help her dog, Carol,” my spouse shared. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish for the lady to have a pinch collar on so I could stop her forward motion just to educate her on the topic. dog collars From Whence I Came I’ve trained two dogs in my lifetime with everything from house training to trick training and how to walk without pulling, the latter of which I did so with positive reinforcement, a mesh harness, time, and patience. Choke and prong collars are designed to punish dogs for pulling by inflicting pain and discomfort. They can cause serious physical and emotional damage and over the years, I’ve met folks at the dog park and veterinary office whose dogs suffered for their usage. “I’ve had dogs all my life and never had to use these collars or any pain inflicting tools,” dog mom Nancy Brisebois says. Upon showing dog mom and pet miniature artist, Lucy Maloney, the photo of pinch collar on our Cocker friend, her reaction is, “Seriously a pinch collar??!! I hate anything causing pain. People need to learn to train a dog with love!” There are those who will say their dog learned from a pinch or choke collar and that their dogs are not scarred emotionally or physically. I am still against their usage: Positive reinforcement is the key to any healthy relationship. Inflicting pain to get one’s way does not make it right. In fact, animals who are exposed to the pain of choke and/or pinch collars are exposed to a gamut of physical injuries. Some of these include, crushing of the trachea, esophageal bruising, asphyxiation, skin and tissue injury, and even brain damage. cute dog The Pros Speak Out I am not an expert dog trainer nor am I a professional veterinarian, so I asked those who are what the deal is with pinch, prong, and choke collars. Andrea Arden of the famed Andrea Arden Dog Training School, is currently on Animal Planet’s hit shows Dogs101, Cats101, Pets101, America’s Cutest Dog and America’s Cutest Cat, and was the trainer for Underdog to Wonderdog and The Pet Department, FX’s Emmy award winning daily show. andrea arden “I am not a fan of tools to teach that are based on inflicting pain”, she shares. “Not only do I not want to cause pain to animals because I adore them, but I also don’t think this is an effective route to learning. When in a state of stress (which would presumably be induced by pain) an animal is less likely to be open to absorbing and retaining information. One need only imagine themselves in a classroom where there was a threat of pain by the teacher to understand why this scenario is not ideal.” Instead, she recommends positive training and gentle tools. By doing so, dogs will not experience negative side effects such as stress, fear, and aggression. Famed dog trainer, Laurie Williams agrees. Williams is a canine education specialist, dog behavior counselor and trainer for over 25 years. She is the owner and Director of Training and Behavior Counseling at Pup ‘N Iron Canine Fitness & Learning Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia. According to Williams, dogs, and all animals for that matter, will repeat or not repeat behaviors for one of two reasons :
  • to be rewarded with something they want or desire; –OR–
  • to avoid something they don’t want.
“The whole purpose of prong, shock collars and even choke chains is to produce a sensation (very often pain) that a dog wishes to avoid,” Williams explains. “That’s the whole purpose of using those tools. If the sensation isn’t unpleasant enough for the dog to want to avoid, it is ineffective.” She prefers to use training methods that prompt a dog to work willing, happily and enthusiastically to earn a reward as opposed to avoiding pain and discomfort. For Williams, that is better for a close, mutually respectful partnership and working relationship. pinch collar Physical Effects “Generally, I am not a fan of pinch, prong, and shock collars for my canine patients,” veterinarianPatrick Mahaney says. “ Unfortunately, they are commonly used inappropriately and can damage a dog’s skin, muscles, joints, vertebrae, intervertebral disks, or other structures in the neck.” Mahaney is a veterinarian and President at California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW). Mahaney is not alone in his assessment. Dr. Laurie Coger, veterinarian and author of Vaccines Explained: The Wholistic Vet’s Guide to Vaccinating Your Dog, has used a variety of collars over the years of training and showing dogs. She sees people using pinch/prong collars to prevent pulling, but all they teach the dog is that pulling on that “special” collar is not worth the price. My least favorite, and the one I see more injuries from, is the invisible fence collar,” Coger says. “Owners often leave this collar on at all times. This can result in pressure sores and secondary infection, as the prongs rub the skin of the neck. Inadvertent shock, as the owner puts the dog in the car without taking the collar off, can also occur if the fence line is crossed. Finally, if a dog has gotten outside the fence, he is often reluctant to come back in. The shock occurs no matter which way he crosses the fence.” Want to see for yourself? Put these words in Google: “pinch collar effects” and then view the images that pop up, but make sure to brace yourself. It isn’t pretty. Dexter by the Snack Bar Victoria Speaks In her book, It’s Me or the Dog, famed dog trainer, Victoria Stilwell, says she HATES choke chains and collars. “The reason why I will not use them is that I have seen too many dogs end up at the vet suffering from collapsed windpipes because their owners did not know how to use the collars properly and jerked too vigorously on them.” For serious pullers, she says, not even the discomfort of a crushed trachea will stop him from pulling. What To Use and Do Instead There are a variety of humane leashes and collars available on the market, but the bottom line is the method by which you train a dog to walk without pulling. Use positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement: * Helps dog learn by succeeding; *Strengthens the bond between pet parents and pet; * Helps dogs understand better without fear, force, or pain; * Can be used with any size or age of dog. Which teacher in school did you learn more from: The one who made you feel good about yourself or the one who threatened you with a paddle or worse? Develop a strong bond with your dog that comes from the heart and does not require pain. Love isn’t supposed to hurt.
Thank you for reading this article.  Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond).
Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook.
Copyright of this article (2015) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.
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