Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Prong collar is not your last resort!

Training aid

A prong collar, also sometimes called a pinch collar, is a training collar used by many people to control their dog. This training aid consists of interlocking metal links each equipped with two blunt prongs that pinch the loose skin around the dog’s neck when the collar is tightened. In order to be used correctly a prong collar needs to be fitted snugly high on the dog’s neck just below the dog’s ears.

The prong collar is a very popular collar among dog owners and some professionals. There is no debate about its effectiveness. It works. But how does it work? 

The purpose of the prong collar is to cause physical discomfort or pain in order to discourage unwanted behaviors such as jumping, pulling and lunging. The use of a prong collar can also cause and worsen serious behavior problems in some dogs causing fear and aggression. By using the prong collar the dog will respond by avoiding the discomfort/pain. In training terms this is called negative reinforcement. A scientific term for a way on how dogs learn.

How do dogs LEARN?

Dogs can learn through Classical and Operant Conditioning.

Classical Conditioning means learning by association. Operant Conditioning is learning by consequence. Both are scientific terms that are unfamiliar to most dog owners but dog owner’s use throughout their relationship with their dog. Within operant conditioning you have 4 possible consequences:

(behavior increases)
(behavior decreases)
Giving the dog a treat when it sits to encourage the dog to sit more frequently
Shocking the dog to decrease barking
Pinching the dog until it sits on command will encourage the dog to sit more frequently
Turning your back discouraging the dog to jump up and decreasing the behavior

A little scientific background cannot hurt to start to understand the difference in methods. A prong collar is considered an aversive training collar and a training aid used within the traditional training methods. Methods used by for instance Cesar Millan. (definition of aversive: tending to avoid or causing avoidance of a noxious or punishing stimulus)

 A question you could consider asking yourself is why would we use a prong collar or even any other aversive training aid such as a the choke chain or the electronic collar if we have other options that do not include discomfort or pain?

 Our other options:

A dog can be trained “effectively” by using positive training methods. The training method is called positive reinforcement and is based on rewarding a dog for desired behaviors. Doesn’t that method sound familiar? It should to those people who have children in school. Positive reinforcement is the same method used in our schools.

A reward is a much more appreciated experience to a dog than punishment is and exactly that is what makes positive reinforcement a powerful training tool that helps shape or change a dog’s behavior.

 Other training collars:

In today’s world we have collars such as the Martingale, Gentle Leader, K9 Bridle, Halti, Sense-ation Harness, Easy Walker Harness just to mention a few. All these options provide a much safer and happier environment for your dog. Afterall, a walk with your dog should be fun and not filled with discomfort and pain. It is a time to bond and build a relationship.

If you do decide to use a prong collar please only use it as a last resort. There are really other options open to you that will allow you to walk your dog without using a tool of discomfort. I am a crossover dog professional and I used to work with the prong collar all the time. Once I was provided the opportunity not only to understand but experience the difference between the collars I would never turn back. I hope my experience will help others to understand that using the prong collar is NOT your last option. Think of it this way.

Would you use it on your own child?

I want to thank my son BJ, who wanted to be part of this article. His suggestion was to provide a visual of a picture that simply looks wrong. If it looks wrong on a human why on earth would we want to put it on our own dog and companion?