Random Acts of Cruelty

prong collarIn the same way that fast food has provided us with the opportunity to over consume sugars, fats and chemical additives that may be contributing to, if not outright causing, many of the diseases prevalent in the western world, the “balanced” field of dog training has provided us with the opportunities and excuses to be cruel to our dogs, the implications of which are ignored or denied. That a collar not only designed to “choke” with no effort made to disguise its purpose by calling it something else, or that a prong collar, with it’s medieval look is even purchased by someone lacking a fetish for such devices, are examples of how we have become inured to the actual pain we cause or distress we create in our dogs. Euphemistically called a pinch collar–pinching being what we do to chubby babies so how bad can it be–in plastic or metal it is designed to inflict pain.

Pet owners are responsible for their dogs, and in the same way a parent is responsible for feeding their children, need to be accountable for the choices they make in how they train their dogs. As with the consequences of bad diets and its impact on health, someone else is often burdened with paying the price when this does not occur. Our health care system becomes swamped with people suffering from lifestyle diseases, illnesses that would likely not have occurred if the person had not consumed too much fat and sugar in their lifetime. Shelters and rescue groups are overwhelmed by the number of homeless dogs, many healthy and behaviorally sound, but many others who are not. Yet even the sound are often subjected to the cruelties of shock, choke and prong for infractions such as barking at things, for not having been sufficiently motivated to come when called, for growling at people or animals they feel threatened by, for choosing the wrong surface to sleep on, for taking a step off their owner’s property, and the list goes on.

In some cases pet owners might only be faulted for being uneducated and unwitting consumers. The manufacturers of dog training equipment built to “work” because they are aversive to dogs rarely state this fact up front and honestly. The word humane in their packaging and marketing literature is seen as often as the word natural is in the grocery store. Trainers who advocate the use of these devices, even when they themselves use them in ways that are as minimally aversive as is possible, contribute to the ease with which owners of a new dog will leave the pet shop with a shock collar more often than a treat pouch. Our inability to see the progression of behavior problems and their relationship to the use of aversives means that it is the dog who bears the burden of responsibility for behavior change, not the human driving it.

Breeders and rescue groups placing dogs genetically predisposed to: being wary of strangers, sensitive to movement, inclined to bark, follow their nose unrelentingly, kill small animals, etc., are not freed from their responsibility in the puzzle of fitting dogs into pet homes. As either actual experts in dog behavior, or because they have set themselves up as such, they are responsible for making sure square pegs are not going to be battered (choked, pinched, shocked) into round holes. The challenge of addressing animal abuse takes a concerted effort on the part of all of us who care. We can start by stopping the legitimization of inflicting pain and minimizing the actuality of that pain. Or at least we should be straight about the fact we are doing it.

Yes we eat too much sugar and fat because it tastes good, makes us feel good (while we’re eating it anyway), and provides us with some nutritional value. And yes, we find it hard to stop doing it, and though the risks of heart disease and diabetes are increased by our habits, we still find it difficult to change them. We will deal with the consequences of our behavior down the road.

Yes we use pain (both physical and emotional) and threat of it to train our dogs. It often provides us with a quick end to problem behaviors and we don’t know how else to do it. That there may be consequences to our use of pain and coercion to train, we often don’t make that association and use pain to address those additional problems as well. Our dogs will deal with the consequences of our behavior down the road and our training habits may contribute to the shortening of their lives.

Before you put a device or your hands on a dog to correct their behavior, stop and think. As trainers are reminded over and over again by the expert trainer and educator Bob Bailey, “You are bigger and you are smarter.”  It’s time we started acting like it.

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26 comments so far

  1. Kay Liestman on

    Very well said, Debbie. It’s so frustrating that some people never forget to change the batteries in shock collars but always forget to buy treats. Thank you for what you do for all dogs.

  2. Kari Shemwell on

    This post is a bit one-sided and a classic case of using only evidence (and I use the word evidence lightly) that supports your claim to make your argument, meanwhile ignoring all facts that dispute your claim. You label anyone who uses a prong collar as someone who is willing to use pain to punish a dog for any little transgression. This is simply not true. Prong collars are usually used (as with myself) to walk a dog, specifically a dog who pulls. Many people have dogs who pull ceaselessly, regardless of treat training or any other type of correction. If allowed to pull endlessly, the dog seriously damages and sometimes collapses their wind pipe. With a prong collar, they don’t pull. It isn’t a torture device. I’ve put the thing on myself to be sure. Also, the prong collar naturally mimics the feeling of an alpha dog’s teeth on the dogs neck, a normal correction that is understood by dogs because it is instinctive. Not only are you speaking the dog’s language when you use a prong collar in this manner, but you are reassuring a fearful dog that you are the boss. Naturalyl submissive and/or fearful dogs become more comfortable and secure when they can follow an alpha dog. They become aggressive and fearful when there is no clear leader and the feel forced to take that role themselves. I’ve been trying to deal with my fearful dog for 7 years, and nothing has been better than the prong collar. My girl now walks with confidence, ignores outside stimuli, and actually enjoys herself rather than tucking her tail, cowering, and pulling like a stock horse. Believe me, she is not a “battered dog.” You won’t find a happier pup who is treated with more love and treats. But, you can’t confuse dog-human communication with human-human communication. Prong collars aren’t a cruel device. Just like anything, they can be used cruelly. I could dump boiling soup on your lap, but I don’t think you’d write a post about soup being cruel.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Prong collars “work” because they cause pain. If someone uses one then they are willing to use pain to train a dog. Not sure how to get around that one, your soup attempt notwithstanding (or sensical). There will be no end of excuses people will come up with to justify using aversives. You might want to do your own research into dogs and the myth that they have “alphas” or pack leaders. That one has been disproved by field study and research for decades now. The information is out there, that you have chosen either to ignore it or not stay up to date is your choice. It’s another piece of misinformation used to make excuses for bullying and hurting dogs. One day there will be regulations applied to the field of dog training and standard operating procedures will be created to establish guidelines for how we can get behaviors from dogs. It is possible to train using techniques that are both effective and humane. I am committed to the combination. If you are not, that’s your choice. I’m not dumping hot soup on anybody, even if I want them to get out of my chair.

      • Lori on

        Well said Debbie. The very reason prong collars work is they hurt. Period. Everything else is just excuses. Soup is not meant to be cruel- it is designed to nourish. The sole intent of a prong collar is to cause pain or discomfort. Period.

      • fearfuldogs on

        Thanks Lori!

      • DZ Dogs on

        I agree with most of your points except the part about pack leaders…I do believe that their needs to be a pack leader or “alpha” (as you put it) in charge of the situation.
        For all the articles “disproving” it, their are that many articles and trainers also backing the theory. I’m not supporting pain tactics though, by pack leader I mean that your dog knows you’re “in charge” the “mama” so to speak. When I say not to jump – I expect my dogs not to jump. When I say sit – I expect them to sit. “No bark” = “no bark”. “You don’t get to meet that dog he’s not friendly” = walk past the other dog calmly, no straining, pulling, or whining. Etc…this is what being a pack leader is.

        I am personally not a fan of prong collars, people use them because their dog pulls and I think this is lazy training.
        I have two dogs both of which are powerful breeds, one American Staffordshire Terrier, one American Pit Bull Terrier. Both of them pulled when we first adopted them, but through positive and some negative reinforcement they no longer pull, can do a perfect off-leash “heel”, and recall instantly when off leash playing.
        It took lots of patience, practice, and respect that was not gained through pain or fear.
        A prong collar works by discouraging pulling through the use of pain – why would you do this to an animal that you love?

        Training tools of any sort should be used as a stepping stone, not a crutch. If you need treats, prong collar, harness, choke collar, shock collar, etc…to walk your dog then you are doing it wrong.

        @Kari Shemwell It’s a personal choice – ok fine.
        Lets say you choose to use a prong collar, please learn how you should properly use it, your ultimate goal however should be to walk your dog safely without it. Using a prong collar for the rest of forever with your dog is not a completed training or success in any way.

      • fearfuldogs on

        That there are many trainers who continue to believe that dogs need pack leaders despite the research in the field providing evidence that they don’t is one of the problems with the industry, it’s unregulated and people can “believe” and do anything they like. It’s a problem. Trainers don’t need to be good leaders, they need to be good trainers. By understanding the fundamentals of how animals learn skilled trainers can train dolphins, whales, elephants and parrots without needing to be their pack leader. We can do the same with dogs.

        When used “properly” a prong collar hurts, that WHY it works. It provides both positive punishment and negative reinforcement to end pulling. If it is your personal preference to use pain to train a dog that is of course your choice. Unfortunately dogs don’t have a say in the matter.

      • DZ Dogs on

        Like I said, I don’t agree with the use of prong collars, “why would you do that to an animal that you love?”.

        As far as pack leadership goes – I don’t mean it in a negative and domineering way as some people do when they use the term. Elephants and parrots #1 are not pack animals but even in their herds and flocks their is someone in charge.

        When I use the phrase, “pack leader” you may choose to call it “trainer”. I am in charge of the animal and the situation, I am not pushy, I do not use pain to teach, I use habits, treats (you may use a clicker), and behavior/body language to get an animal to follow certain commands or behaviors. I like to teach using “luring” techniques so that the dog has to use his brain and learn the desired behavior.

        I don’t focus on “trick” training but rather wanted vs. unwanted behaviors.
        My dogs trust me – this is something I value and do not want to abuse in any way.

        Through leadership, time, and training my dogs respect and follow my directions. Looking at it in the way a parent would teach a child – pain and dominance invokes fear, I don’t agree with dog trainers who use techniques such as these. However patience in combination with a calm and assertive attitude and a dog learns to trust and follow you. Dogs follow a good trainers leadership – for example: if you are spastic and stressed, no amount of luring or treats will get a dog to trust you.

      • Jenny H on

        I am very happy to live in a society which band ‘prong’ (aka Pinch) collars. New South Wales, Australia 🙂

    • Steve on

      Meanwhile, clients of +R trainers are paying for results that just never come to fruition. At least half of our clients have spent hundreds of dollars on such “wishful thinking” trainers who “dance” with dogs. Eventually, they realize that they need to abandon the shaman and check into the hospital if they want things to get better.

      • fearfuldogs on

        You are right in that there are incompetent trainers across the board employing any number of different protocols or methods. At the very least pet owners should be made aware of how their dog will learn when they do something right or do something wrong, and they should be informed that animals of all kinds are routinely trained using food, and not prong or shock collars. They should be able to make an informed choice on the matter. That someone is unskilled using food as a reinforcer to get or maintain behavior, does not negate that it is regularly accomplished by professional trainers around the world. I think it’s fair to say that there are R+ trainers who do not have the mechanical skills in place nor the understanding of the laws of behavior to achieve their goals. But the same can be said for trainers who routinely use aversive methods.

    • Jenny H on

      Kari, my dogs pulled like Bl**dy Traction Engines on check chains.
      it took me a while when I first went to flat leather collars to teach my dogs to not pull. Much much easier on the shoulders, back and patience 😉

  3. Lara Elizabeth on

    I was pointed toward a prong collar by a Big Box Pet Store with my first dog, a Chow/GSD mix who was a strong puller, before I knew any better. As she got older I switched her to a simple slip lead. I have two new rescue dogs and am dedicated to training them using force-free methods. I have gone as far as personally boycotting companies that sell prong and shock collars as training options and posted a blog campaign about that decision: http://myrubicondays.blogspot.com/2014/04/be-change-for-animals-making-decision.html

    “Balanced” trainers like to emphasize these tools being humane and effective in “capable hands” but even if that were true, most often they are not in capable hands. They are seen as quick fix, an easy button for almost any behavioral problem for people who don’t want to take the time to follow a relationship-based protocol or simply, like my younger self, just haven’t educated themselves.

    Thank you for this post – I’ll be sharing it.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for commenting Lara, and sharing, I appreciate it!

  4. Meredith on

    Debbie, I’m curious if you have any suggestions regarding how to transition people away from prongs especially when they are walking shelter dogs. It would be great if we had the time to train all the dogs who come through the shelter I volunteer at but we often have them for a day or two before they move on to foster homes. A lot of our walking volunteers are older and many of our dogs tend to be rambunctious youngsters or large adult dogs. I was thinking maybe doing a fundraiser for no-pull harnesses for the shelter, since we really don’t have any of them. as an option. Some of our older walkers just can’t let go of wanting the prong to keep the dog from overwhelming them, and I’d like to see if we can find a way to move them away from the use of these without making the volunteers feel unwelcome.
    Thanks in advance–Meredith

    • fearfuldogs on

      Many shelters have switched to front clip harnesses. I understand why people stick with prong collars for their own safety, but there are alternatives. I think your idea for a fundraiser is a good one. Try contacting one of the harness companies and see if you can set up an account to buy product at wholesale prices. Sending a shelter dog home with one of their harnesses is great PR.

  5. Nicole H. on

    I understand how most people could say that prong collars and choke chains etc are only used for the purpose of hurting dogs, however it’s a very narrow minded way of thinking. If you are a truely well rounded trainer you should be able to use something like that in a way that causes the least amount of pain to the animal, if that’s what the parent chooses. But just shunning them as always being horrible isn’t helping matters. We as trainers have a duty to educate people however we can on all the options out there for training whether we agree with them or not.
    That being said I have indeed myself used a prong collar on one of my dogs however it was used to teach body control for a very specific and fine tuned exersice within her competition obiedience training. She did not increase her fear level as she is a naturally stressed and anxious dog.
    In closing my point is that even though you may not agree, it’s a training aide that is used and does have its place. Instead of immediately judging based on one side if the spectrum of how people use it educate yourself and the people around you.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Dog training is an unregulated industry with no set of standard operating procedures. These collars may have a place in the work that you do, but they have no place in mine. To assume that I have not been trained in or understand the use of aversives is incorrect.

    • Jenny H on

      Nicole, I don’t doubt at all that such devices as check chains, martingales, and prong collars can be used without a problem and can work well with certain dogs.
      But have you SEEN the way that ordinary dog owners use these devices, that they can buy off the shelf/hook at any supermarket of pet shop, on their dogs?
      It is akin to saying that every looney in the world should be able to tote a gun, because for some people they can be used sensibly.
      We do NT need those devices as dogs can be well and reliably trained without them — even by weak old women and children 😉

      Me, I’m a weak old woman with arthritic wrists, and have the immense good fortune to live in a Country where gun ownership is strictly and severely limited.

  6. Rod on

    When I switched from a prong collar to a front-connected harness, it wasn’t because I knew any better. My dog came from a rescue group with the prong collar on and I was told it would not harm him. I would have kept on using it except my dog was willing to suddenly pull hard with it on anyway when he smelled something too interesting to resist. He ignored the pain. And I also thought the collar might permanently hurt him with a sudden lunge. Plus with all of that gear, it scared my family and made him look like he had a behavior issues. I don’t know if this is a solution for every dog, but the front-connected harness stopped the pulling right away and enables me to redirect my dog as needed. The advice to use the front-connected harness on my dog came from staff at PetSmart, so they deserve applause for helping to point me in the right direction. 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      We have choices regarding which tools to use, it’s great that you found someone to help you sort through them.

  7. Kristie Miller on

    Hi Debbie. Only just found this blog, but last night I read “does my dog need prozac?” and just wanted to say I really enjoyed it. I bought it for a friend who has an anxious dog, but I was interested to read it nonetheless. We have a dog and she’s largely happy go lucky now, though she did have quite bad separation anxiety when she young and it took us about 6 months to work with her through that. (fortunately she was very young and had had tons of good socialisation so our job was really made much easier than for many people facing this problem). So glad that someone is thinking hard about these issues. Sunny is very luck to have found you!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Kristie! I’m glad you enjoyed the book and have found a way to stay in touch through this blog.

  8. Jenny H on

    I used to use a “Check Chain” for training my dogs. I nevr even thought f it as a ‘choke collar’ because that would have been an entirely wrong use of the device.We also called them slip collars.
    But now I won’t use them, and neither will I use the ‘limited slip” (aka Martingale) since although it s an improvement on the slip collar itself, still works on the same principle.
    I discovered, quite my accident, that a slip collar actually cases pulling. I presume, from Rod’s post that prong collars also cause pulling?
    I feel certain that this is because the ‘correct’ use of such collars requires the handler to tighten the collar as a “correction” (aka aversive to try to elicit the wanted behaviour). However, all the dog really learns is that it s OK to have a tight collar, and if you keep it tight, your wretched handler/trainer can NOT jerk you around 🙂
    I now train off-lead. If I am required to have a lead on my dog, I do not use it but let it hang slack.


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