These things (pinch collars)? Never useful.

When you have a strong belief about something controversial, and you know you’re unlikely to change someone’s mind, do you keep quiet or speak your mind?

During a visit to a dog rescue, I found myself on the other end of an elaborate defense of pinch collars. “A lot of trainers are starting to realize the benefits of pinch collars,” the dog rescue lady told me.

Really? Because I haven’t heard of a single positive reinforcement trainer defecting to the use of an antiquated pinch collar, saying, “Yeah, my force-free methods have failed and I now realize aversive training is the way to go.” Quite the opposite. My understanding is that the most current research has shown force-free methods to be the preference.

Rob and I were walking beside this woman as a powerful pit bull pulled ahead of her on his leash, demonstrating certainly that it is possible for a collar to constrict against a dog’s neck without causing it pain, but not really making a case for training loose leash walking.

She’s telling us that they have to use pinch collars because a lot of her volunteers aren’t very experienced, so they need to be able to control the dog in case it tries to bolt after a rabbit. She adds that Haltis would cause more damage to the vertebrae than a pinch collar if a dog raced to the end of its leash.

I’m thinking, These aren’t acceptable defenses of a pinch collar. Don’t let inexperienced volunteers walk your dogs. Don’t let a dog bolt to the end of its leash. But I’m also thinking, She’s so sold on this device, what’s the point of telling her I think she’s wrong? It’s not like I’m going to change her mind.

Still, I couldn’t stay quiet. Trying hard not to be overly bitchy, I offered, “With our first German shepherd, we used a pinch collar for more than a year, and it didn’t stop her from pulling. The only thing that solved the problem was a Halti and clicker training.”

I knew I wouldn’t convert her on the spot, but at least she didn’t say, “You’re wrong!” I feel better that I at least put that information out there.

I can’t prove that using a pinch collar made Isis neurotic. What I know is that we had an anxious dog who got progressively worse while we were using aversive training methods. What I know is that everything I tried failed to stop her pulling on the leash, until I tried a Halti and a clicker.

My first misgivings about this rescue came when they sent me an email with a list of helpful videos for socializing puppies. Among them were videos from Leerburg, one of the websites I consulted when trying to figure out what I was doing wrong with Isis’s pinch collar. I don’t object to the information in their video about bringing home a new puppy. I think it’s a good idea to use an X-pen to keep a puppy separate from adult dogs, so the puppy can watch and learn the proper way to behave inside. (Though the crazy dog mom in me can’t imagine not letting the dogs play with toys in the house.)

Another video was labeled “This is what you will end up with if you think just love alone will be enough. Do not be fooled by positive only and harness programs. All dogs need discipline.” It shows how a pinch collar is used to mellow out a rambunctious pit bull. Nice demonstration, but I’ve seen the same exact thing happen with a Halti and a clicker.

The list of videos and ignorant comment about “positive only” programs didn’t deter me from my primary goal of visiting a litter of puppies at this rescue.

If we were going to get another dog (and we're not getting another dog), we'd get a boy. But Rob had a hard time keeping the girl puppies away.

If we were going to get another dog (and we’re not getting another dog), we’d get a boy. Rob can’t help it if he’s a girl puppy magnet.

Once there, in separate conversations, I told both the rescue owner and her trainer that my original intention was to get an older dog, but I found the photos of the puppies hard to resist. The trainer said that with two adult dogs in the house, we’d be better bringing in a puppy. The owner said that with two adult dogs in the house, we’d be better bringing in another adult dog. That’s how we wound up on the walk with the pit pulling on the pinch collar.

This dog would need a strong leader, the rescue owner told me, then asked a series of damning questions about our current dogs. Yes, they sleep on the bed. Yes, they walk slightly in front of us on the leash. “Then your dogs don’t see you as the leader,” she pronounced.

Busted. But allow me to again quote Victoria Stilwell’s book, Train Your Dog Positively:

The irony is that to believe dogs see us as their pack leaders actually requires that we first anthropomorphize dogs by assuming they share our human concern regarding rank and what others think of us.

… the entire concept that we must assert our claim to the throne of pack leader before our dogs is based on a mirage. For the sake of argument, though, let’s say that dogs are completely motivated by a burning desire to become pack leader over their human counterparts. At some point in this theoretical exercise we must necessarily decide to disregard the simple truth – that dogs are well aware that we are not, in fact, dogs.

…It is time, therefore, to finally retire the term pack leader – especially when it refers to humans interacting with dogs. Domestic dogs don’t live in true packs, and even if they did, we, as a different species, wouldn’t be a part of them.

I didn’t expect to leave the dog rescue today with a puppy in hand. We weren’t 100 percent ready to get a third dog at this time anyway. But I really didn’t expect to leave feeling so discouraged and disgruntled. I can’t believe anyone still endorses these training methods.

Even more surprising was that the rescue owner badmouthed force-free training. The most offensive thing she said was that positive reinforcement is a problem because when that training fails, dogs wind up in shelters, and a pit bull in a shelter has only a 1 percent chance of survival. As if the only dogs being given up are those for whom positive reinforcement has failed!

That riled me up on the way home. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say something at the time, but what would I have said? “Have you looked at the percentage of unadoptable dogs that get euthanized after pinch collars and dominance methods resulted in aggressive behavior?”

No, it’s probably better that I said nothing and left on pleasant terms.

How about you? When was the last time you found yourself torn between being polite and being honest about your opinion?

15 thoughts on “These things (pinch collars)? Never useful.

  1. Ha ha! On a daily basis! And I am one to not waste my breath. I eschewed a prong collar because in my area it has such a typical negative connotation and I refuse to promote that stereotype. So I use a Halti. I am not completely happy with it because it pulls on his face and particularly under his eyes. But using it with my voice in positive ways has started turning the tide. I believe he knows it is much more pleasant to stop pulling and acquiesce to my requests in the long run and he does love being praised. We only experience issue when it comes to small – prey, but we are working on that.
    A good read!

    • Thanks! Leo’s not a huge fan of the Halti either. When he was a pup, it rubbed a spot under his eye, and he pawed at it a lot. These days, he does well with an Easy Walk harness, but he was never the puller that Isis was. His early walk misbehavior was jumping up and biting our arms. He tore a few jacket sleeves. …Remembering that makes me wonder why I considered getting another puppy!

  2. Can’t say I have a study to prove it but there is a clear anecdotal difference to me in the patients we see in our animal hospital wearing pinch collars. I try and hold pet’s by their regular collar (if wearing one) or put them in a slip lead (though not ideal).

    I think when so many nervous movements in the vet lead to the “pinch” sensation, it makes them even more scared of being here. We encourage owners to use head and body harnesses as well as better training (Love the Buddy System and Dr. Sophia Yin’s leash training advice)

  3. Hi Kari. Interesting post. I was always again prong collars until I got Titan. The first trainer I went to convinced me to give it a try, and used properly, I find it to be effective. 3 years later and I still use it on Titan. It doesn’t hurt him and he doesn’t pull on it. Put our nylon collar on him and he wants to pull. I also have a slip leash and he wants to pull. Mind you, pulling to get his way of where he wants to go not where I want him to go. A regular collar and the slip leash does pose threat to his neck area. With the prong, he knows it’s his training collar and is on his best behavior. I won’t suggest them to anyone as I know others who have missed used them by yanking back on the them while on the dog. That is misuse. Again, I used to be very against them, but it works for us.

    • I guess it’s not fair of me to say “never useful,” because it’s not my place to tell dog owners not to use what has worked for their dogs.

      It’s also possible I’ve never seen it “used correctly,” which is one of the reasons it bothered me so much that she said they use them because their volunteers are inexperienced.

      Thank you for your comment! 🙂

  4. I definitely agree with you here, Kari. Thanks for this thoughtful post. Our GSD rescue also happens to be strong advocates for the use of prong collars AND electronic shock collars, both of which I find very dismaying. Yeah, it’s easier to control a dog with pain and force, but does that mean that you’ve actually TAUGHT that dog anything, except to be afraid of you? That’s not a sacrifice I’m ever willing to make in my relationship with my dog.

  5. Been there, done that. The GSD rescue I work with also is an advocate of prong collars. I think it’s common for people with these kinds of dogs (Pits, Rotties, Dobes, GSDs, Malis, etc.) to think you “need” to use a prong collar because the dog has the capability of pulling you down. Fortunately, I’ve got a medical excuse so when people say to me you should try a (insert tool of pain here) I can say, sorry I can’t, my dog Panzer has a spinal problem and his neurologist said absolutely NO slip leads, prong collars, choke chains, etc. People pretty much leave you alone after that 😉

  6. Kari-great blog. I am a positive reinforcement trainer, dog walker, pet sitter and I tell my clients up front that I will not use a prong collar on their animals. I have a plethora of Haltis, easy walk harnesses, and other leash/harness items that I’m constantly trying out. I have a couple of dog clients who have owners that insist on the prong collar were surprised when I showed them video of me walking their “problem” dogs using a Halti or Easy Walk. I just got some Monster Dog leashes that go around the waist and hook onto the collar that I’m trying out. I’ll let you know how they are!

    • Thanks! It’s really amazing to me when prong collar advocates act like it’s the “only” way to get a dog to walk properly, especially when they then argue that dogs have such strong necks it doesn’t really hurt them. If it doesn’t hurt them… it doesn’t stop them from pulling!

  7. https://m.facebook.com/notes/stop-the-hysteria-support-the-use-of-prong-collars-in-australia/bust-the-myths-about-prong-collars/256463711047920/

    There are people advocating the use of prong collars, using humane, force free HANDLING techniques. Everytime a trainer that denounces prongs admits they’ve used a prong in the past, was when they were force trainers before the switchover. Think about your opening question
    “When you have a strong belief about something controversial, and you know you’re unlikely to change someone’s mind, do you keep quiet or speak your mind?” We all have to ask ourselves which side of the fence we are actually one. I used to be preachy type, claiming how terrible they were until I had a series of events that showed me otherwise. I can admit now that for me, I used to be the positive trainer unwilling to listen.
    There are many trainers who are closet prong collar users because they are afraid of the $hit they will get from others, and for good reason, although unfortunate. Just my two cents!

    • That’s a good point, and I haven’t seen force-free training used in conjunction with the prong collar. I have seen better results with Haltis and harnesses, although the dogs I’ve worked with have long muzzles. I’ve heard pit bull owners say their dogs won’t wear Haltis, so they think the prong is their only solution. The pit bull I saw that day was pulling ahead, despite the prong collar. It seemed to me, and I admit I’m not a professional, that the dog could have been trained not to pull with a harness, clicker, and treats.

      Thanks for your comment. I’ll check out the link.

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