This piece is aimed not only at the UK veterinary profession, but also our colleagues in the USA. One would assume that predominantly liberal cities in the west-coast of America would have a strong concern for animal welfare. However, at least twice daily I have recently observed dogs wearing prong collars. Most of the dogs wearing these collars lagged behind their owners when walking, or looked extremely on-edge and tense.
This observed higher prevalence of prong collars in the US may be due to owner ignorance or the desire for a quick fix. However, veterinary staff need to communicate and educate owners about the welfare consequences and damage that prong collars can inflict. Owners may be unaware of appropriate, positive training methods, or the implications of using aversives.
I have tried a prong collar around my neck, and as expected, slight pressure induces pain. There are case reports of traumatic injury and tracheal damage caused by training collars (Pauli et al. 2006, Grohmann et al. 2013), which is unsurprising due to their similarity to a medieval torture device.
Prong collars are designed to inhibit pulling and unwanted behaviours by causing pain when the dog or owner pulls on the lead. Causing unnecessary pain and suffering in animals is an offence in the UK under the Animal Welfare Act (2006); however, the US Animal Welfare Act is a lot less stringent.
Aversive training methods have shown no greater efficacy over positive reinforcement. Although aversive methods may work, they can cause fear and anxiety in dogs; compromising animal welfare and the human-dog bond. Furthermore, the underlying cause for the behaviour is not addressed, and use of punishment can worsen behaviour problems (Ziv 2017, Guilherme Fernandes et al. 2017).
When the dog pulls or performs an undesirable behaviour, repeated use of a prong collar may cause the dog to react with escalating aggression in an attempt to stop the pain, posing a safety risk to other dogs and people (Casey et al. 2013).
If a client enters your practice wearing a prong collar, ask what they want to achieve by using the collar, and discuss alternatives such as use of harnesses and positive training methods. Direct to a certified behaviourist if they are having problems with their dog.
Most clients would much rather have a happy, mannerly dog that enjoys walks, rather than have an anxious, obedient, robot-dog.
Casey RA, Loftus B, Bolster C, Richards GJ and Blackwell EJ 2013 Inter-dog aggression in a UK owner survey: prevalence, co-occurrence in different contexts and risk factors. Veterinary Record 172: 127–127.
Grohmann K, Dickomeit MJ, Schmidt MJ and Kramer M 2013 Severe brain damage after punitive training technique with a choke chain collar in a German shepherd dog. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 8: 180–184.
Guilherme Fernandes J, Olsson IAS and Vieira de Castro AC 2017 Do aversive-based training methods actually compromise dog welfare?: A literature review. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 196: 1–12.
Pauli AM, Bentley E, Diehl KA and Miller PE 2006 Effects of the Application of Neck Pressure by a Collar or Harness on Intraocular Pressure in Dogs. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 42: 207–211.
Ziv G 2017 The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs—A review. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 19: 50–60.