Everyone has an opinion about usually everything that is. Moreso, you will find a vast spectrum of opinions on anything related to dogs and their training. Almost unanimously folks seem to be bothered when they see a dog wearing a prong collar. Others actually use them mainly because they think it makes their dogs look cool–as if it is some great beast that they have tamed. Ridiculous! What people on both sides of this argument fail to understand is their purpose, and only see problems with prong collars.
Plain and simple, it is a training tool. Period.
Know your tools
Just like any good craftsman, you need to know your tools. In dog training we have many fine tools. Sometimes too many! Some are just plain ridiculous. Each tool has specific purposes to achieve specific goals. A leash, for example, serves really three purposes. One, it lets a dog know that you are in control. Well…it is supposed to, but if you don’t know that about the most basic tool you’re not going to get that point across to your pup. The next purpose for a leash is for training. Applying slight pressure, in conjunction with whatever collar you use, along with voice commands helps the dog learn what you want the dog to do in response to a command.
Training is about communication
And the first part of communication is helping the dog learn your language. The tools are merely a means to help him learn.
It should get to a point where your dog simply responds to your voice, which brings us to the third purpose for a leash–safety back up. I am a firm believer in leash laws. We have seen even highly-trained service dogs become overwhelmed and, for example, run across a field of soccer players to steal the ball! When a dog does not respond to your voice, the leash keeps him and reminds him of his place.
Not every tool is fit for every dog or purpose. Mia, my Pit Bull, is a great example here. She is a really soft dog in most instances. Don’t get me wrong! She can be bull-headed, as Pits can be. But she does not need the same tools as, say, Hanani does. Most times just shaking the leash on a flat collar gets Mia’s attention when she does not respond to my voice. Since Hanani is a much harder dog, highly driven and so young, she needs a different type of tool.
For many months I did use a prong collar on Hanani. Never would I consider it on Mia. Using the wrong tool on a dog can ruin a good dog–especially one so soft. Hanani, on the other hand, particularly between 13 and 26 months, needed to be met with something as “hard” as she.
The prong collar was suitable for most of the training with Hanani. Often, I would leave the prong collar on her, yet hook the leash only to the dominant dog collar. The prong was there to remind her, but she was excelling to the point where the actual use of it was not necessary. When it did become necessary, all it took was a slight pressure and she responded immediately. It became our regular tool to use on walks, training, outings, always with a dominant dog collar as a back-up (or primary).
The purpose of any tool used in training dogs is to help them understand the commands and behaviors expected of them the quickest, safest and most clear way possible. For Hanani, that was the prong. Fitted and used correctly, this tool helped my pup excel in all areas of training and obedience.
At least that was the case for a while.
Problem with Prongs
The first, worst and most prevalent problem with prong collars is the people using them on their dogs. As I mentioned before, there are usually two extremes. People that abhor them and think they’re “so cruel.” And there are folks that actually think the prongs make their dog (and by proxy, themselves) “look cool.” There are a variety of just as nutty in between.
A prong collar work as a stimulus, applying a different sort of pressure, evenly around the neck of the dog so as to refocus her attention. These tools are *not* intended to pinch, prick or strangle the dog, as I have seen some do. They are *not* fashion statements. They are tools to be used with respect of the sentient creature you are attempting to train. When fitted and used properly, these tools can be the most invaluable in your closet.
Fitting the collar is rather simple. It should fit high on the neck without room to slide down, yet loose enough to have some give. Snug, but not tight. Check out the photo here (borrowed from Leerburg) and have a read of Ed Frawley’s informative article with video, How to Fit a Prong Collar.
Please note how the collar is just behind the ears and under the jaw. There are pressure points that only take a tickle most times to get the dog’s attention.
That said, notice also the size of the prongs. The collar should lay almost flat on the neck, *not* protruding like a halo (like in the photo of the Doberman below). If that happens, you need a collar with smaller prongs.
Another ridiculous thing I have witnessed with folks and prong collars is that they leave these collars on their dogs 24/7. All day, every day and night the dog is accustomed to those prongs tickling his neck. I have one thing to say to that… REALLY? And you expect the tool to be effective?
Dogs are amazing creatures that can adjust and become comfortable with almost anything. When it comes to the tools we use to train (or control) them, you do *not* want them to be comfortable. We do want them to respond to its intended use! A certain amount of uncomfortable stimulus is needed to get the dog’s attention. If he becomes comfortable with it, what’s the point of it? Much like choke chain collars (which I do not like, I’ll explain in another post), the sound of the chain gets the dog’s attention. If you leave it on all the time and/or are yanking on it constantly, the dog gets used to it…becomes immune, if you will.
If we want our tools to be effective we need to use them responsibly.
Why I no longer use prong
While dealing with Hanani’s fear-reactive issues, I found that using a prong on her was entirely counter-productive. That, although the prong worked fabulously in her earlier training, it did more to stimulate and stress her–on top of dealing with the stress of being fearful. She began to transfer her fear onto me and actually tried to bite me when working her with another trainer and her dog.
Since I use the Leerburg dominant dog collar as my primary and back-up anyway, I removed the prong collar from the equation. Results? She calms and listens much better!
So, though I am not opposed to using a prong collar, while we get Hanani ready for her CGC it is best for her to have as little adverse stimuli as possible 😉
The Bottom Line
The moral of this tail… Oops, I mean tale… is to be informed on the various tools and their intended purposes. Know your dog–your specific dog, as well as breed characteristics. This is the only way to use good tools wisely and the outcome will be more rewarding as your pup grows into a healthy, happy, obedient companion for life!