Whole Dog Journal's Blog September 12, 2018

Zero Tolerance for Choke Chains?

Posted at 03:30PM - Comments: (54)

Last week, I was in Newport, Rhode Island, for my stepdaughter’s wedding. Beautiful town, nice weather, and my family and I were there a few days early, so we could help with little chores and get in some sightseeing, too.

My sister and I went for a walk among the mansions (“cottages,” they are called there) and along the way I saw a couple walking with an enormous Great Dane. As we got close, I could see that the dog was wearing a service dog vest with a handle on the back, and that the woman was using the dog for help with balance.

choke chain collar

© Elizabeth Cummings | Dreamstime.com

I asked if I could take the dog’s picture, and explained, as I always do, that I edit a dog magazine and love to take photos of any dog I come across, if allowed. The people smiled and agreed; they also said that lots of people ask to take the dog’s picture, because she’s so big and bold-looking. The dog, indeed, was boldly colored (with a Harlequin coat) but also, she was much more strongly built than many Danes I have seen. She was not just tall, but also had very thick leg bones and was as bulky as a Mastiff. When I remarked on this, the people explained that they had imported her from Russia, especially for her job as a service dog.

I posted a picture of the woman and her dog on WDJ’s Instagram account (@dogsofwholedogjournal) with the caption #servicedogsrock. And didn’t think about it again until a day or two later, when I saw that a couple of people had commented critically about the collar that the dog had been wearing: a choke chain.

I deleted the post, rather than have a debate start there. But I have been sort of fuming about this for days.

I did notice that the dog had been wearing a choke chain when I took the picture. I take pains to avoid using pictures of dogs who are wearing choke chains, pinch collars, or shock collars in Whole Dog Journal. I firmly believe that dogs can be trained without these tools, and I want to show our readers well-behaved, well-trained dogs wearing flat collars in the magazine. I want our models to, for the lack of a better word, “model” the kind of training that we promote.

I probably wouldn’t have posted the picture of just any dog wearing a choke chain on Instagram. But for me, the value of the service this dog was providing to the woman, and the obvious good relationship between them, outweighed the potentially negative note sent by the collar. I was super impressed by the team. Here was a woman who was able to walk on uneven streets in a gorgeous, historic place, enjoying the same experience as me, by virtue of the fact that her service dog was there for support and balance. As someone whose mental and emotional health is strongly tied to the walks I take with my dogs, I was moved nearly to tears by witnessing the partnership that allowed the woman to do exactly what I was doing.

Yes, the dog was wearing a choke chain, and the leash was attached to the chain – but the dog was walking quietly and calmly with a loose leash. I’m not sure the chain collar was needed, but I also could see that it might make the woman feel that she had a bit more control over the dog if needed. If the dog did grow animated or pull, it was clear that – probably with or without the chain collar – the woman would not be able to prevent the dog from pulling away. The woman was slender, and the dog was enormous. I’m sure the dog outweighed her handler by a good bit.

But as much as I want to promote training without pain or physical force – and that is the only reason choke chains work, folks; they inflict pain – I do not want to participate in passing knee-jerk judgments on people for their choice of training equipment. Especially people who are physically vulnerable! Tiny people, older people, people who have had strokes or have Multiple Sclerosis, or some other challenge; do we really need to take these people to task because they aren’t handling their dogs with the kindest equipment possible? I was upset that anyone felt the need to do that. Was this photo the place to have this conversation?

Am I being too sensitive? Should service dog handlers not get a free pass on judgment, just because they are disabled? Should I be more concerned about the dog’s wellbeing; should service dogs deserve even more protection from potentially painful gear?

I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Collars, Harnesses, Leashes: What's Safe?

Leashes, Collars, Harnesses: Best Gear for Positive Training

The Safest Types of Dog Collars (and the Most Dangerous)

Dog Collars or Harnesses: Which is Better?

Comments (54)

I'd like to add that my working service dog is a cattle dog mix. She has a high energy level and a very high prey drive. She LOVES to chase; and chasing wildlife was something I needed to teach her not to do when she is in harness. Using a clicker and a high rate of reinforcement with treats that she loves and games of fetch, which she also loves, she will call off and/or focus on me to the exclusion of all distractions. This is the level of training I require in a service dog and it is achievable (although it takes a lot of work) using purely positive methods. As long as a dog is not reactive/aggressive, nor fearful or anxious in public settings, I can teach any dog to do the work required whether it's service dog work, agility, obedience, etc. Positive training works but you must be willing to work at it. Changes don't happen overnight.

Posted by: maygrelle | October 7, 2018 7:41 PM    Report this comment

I am a 61-year-old woman with progressive neurological disease. I use a rollator for mobility; I also have a service dog. People seem to be under the impression that just because a dog is acquired to be a service dog that s/he must become one regardless of the level of training or how that is achieved. Even the best service dog schools have a high drop-out rate. I have trained 4 dogs in the hopes of getting one that would serve as my service dog. The first three had neither the temperament nor the desire (as it turned out) for public access work. One of those lived with me until she died at age 16.5 having never worked outside the home; 2 others still reside with me and are able to work at home but not outside the home. I finally, on the 4th dog, have my fully trained service dog. I would not work a dog who needs a choke or prong collar. A) I am firmly in the purely positive training camp; B) I think that we who use service dogs owe it to the public to present a dog who is well-trained enough that a choke or prong is never needed. After all, we are putting a public face to these dogs C) My dog and are partners; if I hurt my partner, then she has every right to hurt me; I won't do that to any dog.

Posted by: maygrelle | October 7, 2018 7:33 PM    Report this comment

I am not a fan of "choke" type chains. Yes, many people use them because they don't want to bother to properly teach/train their dogs.

However, I did use a prong collar on my 90 lb Doberman years ago. As most Dobies are, he was exceptionally smart and learned every quickly and had no problem with anything he was taught.

However, I would regularly take him a few blocks to a local park with a walkway/track around it where I would run the perimeter 3 times to get in 3 miles. The park was filled with beautiful trees and course that meant there are also squirrels.
Rama would trot nicely alongside me as I was in my zone. However, a few times as I was in midair in my stride, I felt myself being jerked quickly forward, just barely able not falling on my face. I was in my zone he was in his "squirrel" zone. After a couple of times of experiencing this, with scolding no helping, I decided on the prong collar. I could not afford to be injured.

I put the prong collar on with his leash connected. The next time it happened, I quickly snapped it as he lunged. It got Rama's attention fast. After the second correction on another run, he never lunged again - as long as he felt the prong collar on his neck. At those 2 times, I had no reason to keep the leash attached to it, as he I didn't need to correct him. Over time, I didn't have to have it on him at all. He was used to not reacting and if he looked to interested, I would give him a verbal command and he would calm down.

But I have had mainly highly trainable dogs so that make it a lot easier. There are some dogs that may be more challenging to train or persuade to listen to you. Especially many hunting type dogs.

Posted by: Serena | September 20, 2018 10:14 PM    Report this comment

I prefer a prong collar over a choke chain; it is much safer for their neck and it gives you more control.
I cringe when I watch dog shows where they use these very thin, and thus sharp, chokers on dogs that are doing their best. Some even have breathing problems as they are hoisted up so their front feet barely touch the floor. How humane is that? Yet at AKC events we can't use prong collars?

Posted by: Wolfy | September 16, 2018 4:42 PM    Report this comment

Nancy, thanks for all you do to provide a platform for wonderful, holistic canine care information. I also appreciate your willingness to keep communication lines open with your readers.
One of these years I’ll make it to Newport in order to experience the annual Folk Fest and Jazz Fest, pups included!

Posted by: Houndz6 | September 15, 2018 7:46 PM    Report this comment

I followed this link and read the comments with real interest. We have a cockapoo of eleven months after losing our first cockapoo (and first dog) on the road under the wheels of a bus. I wasn't there but my daughter was and is still suffering PTS now. She ran a long way off a common where she was regularly walked onto a busy road. She was so loved and we miss her still.

So we got another cockapoo that we absolutely adore. She is really boisterous, extremely naughty, loveable and loving to three very small grandchildren. BUT we have had huge problems training her. Puppy classes - tick, one-on-one training, tick, doggie boot camp - tick. And in each case we have carried on the training at home and out and about and to no avail. She is only 22 pounds but once she is out she is so excited by anything and everything she can practically pull me over. At the doggie boot camp a cord collar similar to the Martingale was used, and I was extremely uneasy. It may have been painful and uncomfortable but it didn't improve things one bit. I am so determined to keep this little girl safe but reading what others have resorted to I can completely understand and do not judge. And any constructive ideas most welcome!

Posted by: Irene75359 | September 15, 2018 12:09 PM    Report this comment

None of you seem to have considered the possibility that the chain collar gives the dog more input as to the current equilibrium state of his/her owner. Someone with balance difficulties often cannot correct their balance BECAUSE THEY CANNOT TELL WHEN THEY ARE OUT OF BALANCE. That dog must be able to receive constant updates on the positioning of his human, and must also be able to anticipate the correct response to the angle and direction of each out-of-balance incident. It's not like a guide dog for the blind or mobility assistance dog, which evaluate the environment or command cues. Diabetic and seizure dogs react to olfactory or other cues. A balance dog's ONLY input is the vertical status of the human. Visually, you can often see when someone is about to fall, but think about it - suddenly you realize he or she is going down. But a balance dog has to respond BEFORE that point. And when walking in a position to be available as a mobile handrail, it is IMPOSSIBLE for the dog to visually observe his human's status. That means his only input is that collar. Standard collar would not be felt until the woman pulls as she starts to fall - too late! A martingale would get smaller all around, with no directional input. A slip lead is too smooth to provide much input. A chain choke-type collar has a link texture, so the dog would hear AND feel any deviation in tautness. Additionally, particularly on a short, flat coat like Dane, rotational movement around the dogs neck would give info such as if the woman was tipping left or right. So get off your "OH THAT'S SO CRUEL!" or "A well-trained dog shouldn't need an awful CHOKE-TO-DEATH chain!" high horse. Try to understand what the dog needs to do for the human, and what information it needs to do it. It's like band width for your internet - a standard collar is dial-up, a slip lead is a phone jack, and a chain collar is DSL. You can connect to the web with any of them, but which gives you more info more quickly?

Posted by: BoxDogMomma | September 14, 2018 10:14 PM    Report this comment

After attending a puppy kindergarten as a visitor and seeing an adorable 4 mo GSD hung by the trainer for urinating, I got biased against choke chains. My puppy went to a very real world positive first training club where we were given pros and cons of every option here. We ended up using a harness, Golden Retrievers love to chase anything and the harness really helped.

I think everyone is doing the best that they can, and Nancy, people with disabilities get to be educated just like the rest of us. Don’t hesitate to strike up that conversation, they may well have no idea of the damage to the trachea.
As far as prong collars, they are pretty humane vs a choke chain (did I mention that Class was at a big box store and I complained to the store and regional managers? Well I did. Now they only contract with positive trainers. The poor puppy though)....

I hope we can learn from each other here. That is what Whole Dog Journal has Meant to me for a loooong time. Wag more, bark less.

Posted by: lclass003 | September 14, 2018 9:59 PM    Report this comment

After the devastation of watching my beautiful 5 year old Belgian Tervuren girl bolt, get hit by a truck and die in my arms I now believe in safety as a primary goal when I have my 2 dogs out on leashes anywhere. She was obedience trained(all positive) & AKC titled but it all happened in seconds. My dogs are now on harnesses or pinch collars for safety, if their prey drive causes them to take off after a rabbit,deer, car etc, I must be able to control. It’s truly a matter of life & Death.

Posted by: CMS | September 14, 2018 12:02 PM    Report this comment

You'd be interested to know what I think? I don't think so. You are interested in knowing if I think like you do. I DO NOT! Stop shaming people that you don't know. You don't know the issues between the dog and handler that you shame for using TOOLS! Any tool can become an issue if not used appropriately. Until you have had that dog that does NOT respond to obedience commands (trust me, I have tried) do not judge. I show my dogs in conformation and they wear show leads (which are "choke" chains - totally incorrectly named btw). They do not get choked. Apparently you do NOT know how to use one properly. Tools are what we make of them. I really get sick of this holier than thou attitude about tools that can be used without pain. And yes - I have tried them on myself to ensure I knew what they felt like. I expect more from you WDJ. You dropped the ball on this one.

Posted by: Keepurrs | September 14, 2018 8:58 AM    Report this comment

Someone mentioned that they had no need of a chain collar, because they used a slip lead... many sport dog competitors (agility etc.) use slip leads - which are really no different - other than material.

Is a distinction being made?

Posted by: k9mom | September 14, 2018 8:40 AM    Report this comment

I don't want to get into the debate of what tools should/should not be used to train pet dogs. However, I would like to point out that dogs used for the blind use "choke chains" as well as their harnesses. My daughter (in her late 20s) is visually impaired and has a guide dog. They use a handle (so the dog can guide the human) and a leash with a chain (just in case it's needed for correction). The leash and chain are slack, but it can be used like a safety break if needed. The dog and handler spend many hours in training together with professional trainers and they are taught how to make a correction if it's ever needed. There is a big difference between our pet dogs and service dogs: People with guide dogs can NEVER be unexpectedly pulled - that would totally negate their service! In the many years they have been together, I think I've seen my daughter make 3 corrections with the collar. Very rare - but there if needed. (To the person who says that when they see a choke chain they know it's not a real service dog - please understand that in your view, dogs for the blind don't aren't valid.)

Posted by: C%26C | September 14, 2018 7:02 AM    Report this comment

I have to say I've seen just as many dogs abused or injured by someone mis-using a flat collar, head collar, flex lead, some harnesses, etc. as I have pinch collars, slip collars, e-collars, etc. Most equipment does not abuse an animal, the person holding the leash/remote controls what it does to the dog! An uneducated, uncaring human is the problem, not the equipment. Each dog and guardian is an individual case. Training, physical ability, relationship all play a part in training.
I always try to use the "softest"
equipment that works for each team. For example, sometimes a properly fitted Martingale collar is perfect compromise. The safety and welfare of the dog is very important to me; they do not have a choice.

Posted by: Pups n Ponys | September 14, 2018 2:55 AM    Report this comment

I have the privilege of having a certified service dog (hearing) who is also certified as a therapy dog. In years of training for these roles, I have never seen one of our dogs in either program permitted to wear a choke collar.

The service dog training in particular was lengthy and vigorous and the approach was that a service dog should be well mannered and practically “bombproof”. If they required a prong or choke collar, they were not service dog material and could be a danger to their person. And of course, one was not allowed to test for the Public Access Test with either of those collars.

As someone with a disability myself, I hear that this dog was not only helpful to the woman but that it appeared a bond existed and I am glad for them. But why the choke collar? People with more severe disabilities than this woman appeared to have—those completely dependent on their dog’s training—-do not use a choke collar. I believe that if the dog has been properly trained, size should not matter.

Using a painful device is never a good option. But painful device aside, I do not agree with your position from a service dog training perspective. And I believe that the assistance dog world would frown upon the need for this control.

Posted by: DLF | September 13, 2018 11:02 PM    Report this comment

Although I have moved away from choke/check chains completely, 20 years ago it was the norm to use them. I learned how to use them correctly and efficiently. But would I judge someone on the street for their choice of collar? No. I don't know their background, I don't know their level of experience. Some people feel a lot more comfortable walking their dog knowing that they have a particular type of collar on; it's a security blanket for the owner. If the dog is walking calmly on a loose leash but wearing a check chain, meh, so be it. If I see someone yanking their dog around on a check chain or see it straining and choking itself, then I would strike up a conversation about other methods of training. Oftentimes it's just ignorance - they don't know a better way to achieve what they want. I'd rather educate than judge.

Posted by: SaraM | September 13, 2018 10:11 PM    Report this comment

Of course TRAINING collars should be acceptable. No, they are not Choke collars. That's not how they work. You give them a pop and release, not steady pressure. This article is too much like your article on prong/pinch collars. Yes, they are acceptable too. Why spend months training a dog to do something that could be accomplished in a few days with the proper equipment. Why not give the average owner a chance to succeed? These collars are training aids, not instruments of torture. Honest to gosh, sometimes WDJ sounds more like an Animal Rights document than a helpful dog magazine.

Posted by: Paisleydals | September 13, 2018 9:33 PM    Report this comment

I'm really happy to hear your thoughts on this. I participate in several dog groups and discussion of aversive collars inevitably leads to ugly arguments. I believe that if ASKED, it is always best to advise positive training. I believe that when we see true animal abuse it is always best to intervene. But...I do NOT believe we have a right to judge or intervene every time we see a dog, who is otherwise well behaved, healthy and well loved, wearing an aversive collar. This is not a religion. This is not animal abuse. This is NONE OF OUR BUSINESS!

Posted by: LabMomMD | September 13, 2018 8:51 PM    Report this comment

There is a reason choke chains are banned in many countries in Europe, and the comments here demonstrate why. Most people are woefully ignorant of how dogs are truly corrected on a choke chain. It is not a "tinkle" or "jingle". What is the name of the collar? It is choke. The dog is choked the first time the behavior is identified into unconsiosness. Afterwards, when the dog hears the collar jingle, he does not repeat the behavior. Thus the name. I, in 30 years of dog training have only seen a choke chain collar used as named. It is very effective. Germany banned them as cruel after necropsies showed how dog's necks are destroyed after improper use or nagging. Dont use these collars. Look up videos on You tube of the European studies done of choke collars. Pinch collars dont do this kind of damage. If your dog is coughing, choking, damage is being done. Oh, and the obedience person saying choke collars were going in the ring, in 30 years, I've only been allowed flat collars. Again, AKC, etc won't allow choke chains.

Posted by: RushReagan | September 13, 2018 7:32 PM    Report this comment

I would propose we stop focusing on the tool and instead consider how the tool is being used. A collar is a tool. It is a piece of equipment that assists us when working with our dogs. A hammer is a tool. It is a piece of equipment that is used to build something. Both of these items when used correctly, cause no harm. Both of these tools when used incorrectly are capable of causing significant damage.

I have two GSDs who are both rescues. One is super human social but quite dog reactive. The other is extremely wary of people but is dog friendly (with proper introductions). They are amazing dogs but each has their quirks that needs attention, work, and management. They each wear a prong collar when out on a walk and are under verbal command. They walk on a loose leash, at my side, and the collar is not engaged. I would rather see a dog walking in this manner, wearing this equipment than being walked on a flat collar, taut leash and 6 feet out in front of the handler. I could achieve the same walk with either of them on a flat collar BUT if I encountered one of the situations which causes them difficulty (ie - my 85 lb dog reactive guy coming across the out of control dog at the end of a 15 ft retractable leash weaving right and left out in front of it's owner), I would create much more pain trying to control him with that flat collar than I would with a quick light engagement of the prong.

That being said, I have seen the prong collar used as a quick fix way too often and too many people use it without properly educating themselves on appropriate fit, appropriate use, etc. It is fit improperly, the dog is straining against it while walking way in front on the owner, etc. The issue here isn't the tool.....it is the way the tool is being used.

Posted by: dogluvr | September 13, 2018 6:12 PM    Report this comment

It concerns me greatly that so many of the comments here speak positively of the use of pronged collars and other such dangerous and abusive devices.

As someone with over 50 years of working with dogs of a wide variety of breeds, including training police dogs in obedience, pursuit and restraint work, I know that there is no need to subject any dog to violent training methods or apparatus.

Not only do such methods put the animal at highly increased risk of injury, they are also coercive and punitive methods that can also severely harm the animal's mental well-being.

Punitive methods and training aids are completely unnecessary and research has shown that they are also much less effective than positive, praise & reward based training. Yes such methods and equipment can stop a dog from doing something you don't want it to do but it will do so through the inculcation of fear in the animal. Your dog won't learn to do as you ask because it wants to please you but rather because it is frightened of the penalty it will receive if it doesn't obey.

If you are someone who thinks that such a dog/handler relationship is o.k. then you should not be caring for or training animals. Creating fear has no place in developing appropriate or desired responses in animals. No one who really cares for their animals would use such methods.

Posted by: nonsibicunctis | September 13, 2018 5:50 PM    Report this comment

First, let me thank you for your article on this topic and also say that although I was taught to use a chain for training police and other dogs in obedience, etc. I am now a staunch and convinced advocate for non-violent & praise based training methods that scientific studies show to be far more effective than negative, penalty based training.

I have only one problem with your article but it is a significant one and contained both in the title and the article itself. Many of the comments on the article also, unfortunately, echo your error and are evidence that it is a common misnomer. What is it? It is the designation of "Choke" chain or "Choker" chain.

Why is this a significant problem? It is significant because correctly, the chain is a "Check" chain, not a "choke" chain. A check chain should only be used by a handler who understands its correct use and is skilled in providing the immediate on/off, snap check that reinforces a command when necessary.

A skilled handler will never "choke" their dog with the check chain, nor will they ever leave the chain on the dog when it is unsupervised, for the obvious reason that it would put the dog at risk of catching the chain on something and choking or hanging itself.

Many people who use the check chain without properly understand its correct application also fail to understand that there is a right and wrong way to put it around the dog's neck. Put on the wrong way and the chain will progressively tighten and choke the dog.

The check chain can only operate as it should if it is placed on the dog's neck to suit the side of the handler on which the dog will walk. The chain should always be placed around the dog's neck in such a way that it is a straight extension of the lead across the top of the dog's neck with the looped chain hanging down from the side closest to the handler.

Dog's neck Lead

Posted by: nonsibicunctis | September 13, 2018 5:37 PM    Report this comment

The comments on your initial photo prove that Whole Dog Journal's mission, to promote force-free training, has been a success and that your readers have taken onboard WDJ's underlying philosophy that our dogs are entitled to kindness and consideration while they enrich our lives with their presence.

Posted by: ClaireF | September 13, 2018 5:07 PM    Report this comment

On choke chains and prong collars:
I have two dogs, one is a VERY large aussie shepherd (think German size only more squarely built.) He is well trained but tends to forget himself in the presence of geese. (This dog has a weird obsession with them.) He's otherwise well trained, polite and pays attention to my balance problems. I use a choke chain on him, but we walk with a loose leash. The chain allows me to give it quick snap when needed to draw his attention away from feathered fiends (we live close to a river and they are always around) and remind him to go back to work.

Dog number two is a rottie/elephant cross. (OK, not an elephant, maybe a mack truck?) He's been through obedience school twice and had two private trainers both of whom have excellent reputations. He simply doesn't get it. He's not totally stupid, and he really wants to please, but he just has a very short attention span. I normally let my husband walk him, but when I have to, I use a prong collar because nothing else will stop him from charging off after squirrels, marmots etc. He strains against and it doesn't pierce his skin so I question how much it actually hurts. (I know it isn't doing any damage.)
I think such collars are tools and have a place when used wisely.

Posted by: Dianna | September 13, 2018 4:25 PM    Report this comment

I DO feel that you should take a stand against the use of ANY equipment or practices that inflict pain. When I adopted Sara the rescue made me sign an agreement that I would sign her up for positive obedience training immediately. Since I really did not know what I was doing I was greatful to go to classes that taught me how to create a positive happy environment with a dog who feels safe because I know how to be a strong and positive leader for her. Her trainer told us in no uncertain terms that choke chains, prong collars, shock collars and the like were NOT PERMITTED to be used and are cruel and inhumane. I do believe that is the case. I am aware that some people don’t have control of their dogs and therefore they are placing themselves and others in danger without for example a prong collar but there must be another way or perhaps that is not the right dog for them. I don’t know the answer I just know that in my guts anything that inflicts pain disrupts the trust in a relationship between canine and human and without trust there is no relationship. The tools are a betrayal.
Thank You.

Posted by: Sara's Mom | September 13, 2018 4:13 PM    Report this comment

There is a time and a place for choke chains. I work with golden retriever rescue and there are times I HAVE to use a choke chain on some dogs as they'd pull me to the ground and run off...it's for their safety as well as my own. After the dog settles down and gets some manners, the correction collars will be removed, but some dogs are just out of control with nylon collars and harnesses. On that note, I see average everyday folks with their dogs on prong collars and choke chains and wonder why? But like telling people how to raise their kids is somewhat like telling folks on how to handle their dogs, it's usually not heard with the good intentions.

Posted by: Margaret Mc | September 13, 2018 3:51 PM    Report this comment

I love my dogs more than almost anything. They are like my perpetual toddlers and I treat them like little children: I adore them, lavish love on them, make sure they have the best food (some say they eat better than most humans!), and are happy and healthy. One sleeps on the bed with my husband and me. That said, our dogs are sporting dogs and strong enough to take down a deer if they chose. (The breed was used historically to hunt large game like deer, elk, bears and boar, for the record.) For their safety and mine, and so I can control them, we use prong collars. In fact, the breed rescue we work with uses choke chain collars. It's a matter of safety for all of the precious dogs who come under the rescue's care and the volunteers. BTW, one of our dogs now uses a martingale collar; the younger and more headstrong dog must have a prong collar. When it's the matter of the safety of the dogs and their handlers (volunteers or family), and no other means will work, prong and choke collars are effective and not cruel. It is crueler to have a dog slip his leash and run into traffic to be hurt or killed, or be forever lost.

Posted by: Three Dog Mom | September 13, 2018 3:48 PM    Report this comment

As with many dog subjects, "the use of" depends upon the dog, the handler and the circumstance. To take a companion dog (especially one that's reactive) on a pleasure walk around the neighborhood, yanking and cranking him back from distraction is cruel. And is what gives training collars a bad rep. Yet you watch most professional handlers with their working dog (as in providing protection, rescue & detection services) and that dog is under control with a slip chain. Both to protect the dog (from escape, hazards) and from people (posing a threat). But these handlers have put in all the foundational steps first. Because the most important thing about training (whatever the goal) is building a bond between the dog and handler (trust). Then a type of collar becomes just a way to communicate with the dog. There are also different dog temperaments (no relation to size). "Hard" or "soft" dogs. At one extreme, a hard dog won't be distracted from its prey drive (without the handler first shaping it's behavior). At the other extreme, a soft dog will collapse under stress at the sound of a sneeze! Some large breeds have such thick coats and neck muscles, they'll only feel a chain collar. Sometimes an e-collar is needed to initiate the ground rules for a "runner" so it will obey a return command. Then all that dog has to do is wear the collar, without being shocked again. But doing that foundation can save the dog's life. It's necessary for an owner to learn how their own dog processes what's necessary. Which is always a balance between what the dog wants, against how much they want to please. Modern (professional) trainers, even for protection services, teach FIRST the concept of "focus" which means the dog learns to concentrate on the handler beyond all else. It's the most difficult kind of training, which takes plenty of reinforcement. It's about "conditioning" through all kinds of distractions, until the dog learns that the handler is the most important "reward" in his world. Usually confirmed through play with a favorite toy, and sometimes just praise. But these kinds of dogs are selected through breeding, and reading the temperament potential when the dog is a pup. It's becomes the responsibility of every owner to understand their own dog's personality, cohabitation requirements, and your goals. And to get professional advice and support from experienced trainers who can help you achieve your result.

Posted by: Pacificsun | September 13, 2018 3:38 PM    Report this comment

I just wanted to say I’m appreciative of the authors thoughtfulness and I enjoyed reading and thinking about it. Thank you.

Posted by: Tlee | September 13, 2018 3:21 PM    Report this comment

I walk dogs at the shelter. We use a harness, leash and a slip leash. No prong or chain collars needed. If a dog were to back out of the collar (or the harness) the slip leash will keep them from getting away. Simple and safe.

Posted by: PNWDogMom4 | September 13, 2018 3:14 PM    Report this comment

I think we are generally way too quick to judge and critique, and way to slow to reconsider our immediate reaction to many things we see. For some dogs and some owners a choke collar, or even a prong collar, or even, egads, and e collar, all of which I have an immediate negative reaction to, might allow a dog to have a long and happy life with a loving family. All of them might do damage. Then again, a force free owner, who doesn't use aversive techniques, might end up not taking seriously behaviors that could ultimately lead to conflicts that end with a dead dog or injured humans. It's good to work for the ideal, and also to remember that we don't know the whole situation, and life is complicated.

The world would be a better place with less reaction, more understanding, more humility.

Posted by: wollfie | September 13, 2018 3:09 PM    Report this comment

Here's a thought. If the purpose of the photo was to demonstrate a service dog, why not just photoshop out the choke collar? Problem solved and point still made.

Posted by: KATHY HALL | September 13, 2018 2:39 PM    Report this comment

I use choke chains on my basset hounds when we go for walks around the neighborhood. I don't use them to make corrections or choke my dogs, but so they don't slip out of their collars when we're walking along the edge of the road. They are well-behaved and do not need a choke collar to walk nicely, but their walks consist of a lot of serious sniffing and they have unintentionally backed out of Martingale collars in the past. For all other purposes, I use Martingale collars on them - but I don't want to risk them backing out of a Martingale when there are cars around.

Posted by: TessaB | September 13, 2018 2:32 PM    Report this comment

Above may be speaking of two different types of collars. A chain training collar has a stop, like a flat training collar. A choke chain has no stop. A prong collar has a stop- only contracts to the stop.
The choke chain can and will choke if used improperly.
I do not support aversive training techniques. Using Grisha Stewart’s BAT training skills takes time, the results however, for even highly reactive dogs are remarkable.
I ask myself are the prong and shock collars, even properly used, for the confidence of the handler.

Posted by: Bouvgirl | September 13, 2018 2:23 PM    Report this comment

I have a dog that is a mix of many Nations. She weighs about 30 lbs and it's more stubborn than any per I've ever had. She is also fiercely protective of me. I have finally given up and use a choke chain on her outside. She has slipped out of every other collar I've ever had on her. She knows the back up and out, the roll and pull, etc. The few harnesses she didn't pull out of, she just ate through a strap and she's free. She is incredibly smart so she knows pull hurts and relax doesn't. Unfortunately, she doesn't get the difference between a 6 ft grown man and a 3 ft male child. She is ready to attack to protect me and for all her size, she is still scary. It's not lack of socialization. We have a multigenerational human home with 3 very different size and breed dogs, 3 kitties, a couple snakes and a spider. I felt bad getting the choke chain but it's the only thing that has worked.

Posted by: MamaBeth | September 13, 2018 1:53 PM    Report this comment

Chain Training Collar ...........it is not a choke chain...........when the term choke chain is used that is my first clue of someone with no personal experience regarding technique when using "Chain Training Collar". The intent with this type of collar is make a snapping sound ....signaling to the dog a correction.
Your leash is loose and so is the collar ...except when you flip your leash causing the chain to create a snapping sound for your correction.
Yes there are those humans that "choke" the dog with this collar -- shame shame ....and there are those that use the prong incorrectly.... and there are those that use "other" collars incorrectly. It does not mean the collars are bad... it means the Humans have not done their homework and learned the "do's and don'ts" of the collars they have chosen for use with their dogs ......as far as the service dog you took a picture of .....when you think about some of the reactions you have received ...its sad .....here we have a great team and well behaved dog and they are being negatively judged because of the collar the dog wears..........as far as the collar being used........so what !!! As you can tell I use a Chain Training Collar....my service dog is 2.5 years old and well behaved .....but from the very beginning this is the collar he has worn and I have no intention of changing . Different stokes for different folks......just no matter what collar you opt to use......learn to use it correctly...please. No one wants an animal to experience unnecessary pain.

Posted by: Diane Hess | September 13, 2018 1:39 PM    Report this comment

I strongly believe that service dogs should have MORE protection against coercive training methods, and painful equipment! The point of these dogs is that they work with a person as a team - and one member of the team should not be fearful that they will be punished or controlled with pain. When I see a service dog with prong, or choke chains, I have to assume this is not really a service animal at all - it is just some thoughtless person that thinks it is okay to take their unreliable pet (thus the punishing devices) out in the world pretending it is a service animal.

Posted by: pkinpa | September 13, 2018 1:38 PM    Report this comment

Judgement has no place here or anywhere. Neither does justification for the use of harsh pain inducing training tools. If we can't offer help to anyone using these tools, then we should keep our mouths shut. It's so easy for us to judge someone else but we are not in their shoes.

The trouble is that most service dog trainers use choke chains and prong collars on their pups in training, so many don't know how to behave without them. They weren't trained to be responsive without the feeling of pain. Bottom line they have not been trained properly for the long haul and released too soon. The guardians of these dogs are doing what they were told and they don't know there is a different more humane way.

If we are knowledgable enough to have a conversation with someone using a choke chain on a service dog, then perhaps we can offer them help and better still, offer a trainer who can help them.

As advocated for the disabled community and for dogs is what is most needed.

Thanks Nancy for being humble and for bringing the conversation to the forefront, because it's clear, more education is needed.

Posted by: Jbreitner | September 13, 2018 1:24 PM    Report this comment

I would like to tell you about a lady who has a Labrador retriever, age 4 yrs., who is wearing a prong collar and also a shock collar. ( Because she cannot control her labrador Ret. ) She walks her dog, tens miles a day, very briskly, I cannot even walk with this lady, because of how very fast she walks. She is a senior 65 yrs. No handicaps. I just feel so sorry for that dog. Now I also have a lab. ret. age 22mos. who has issues but I was told by my Vet. Behaviorist that some high energy dogs cannot wear shock collars, etc. It is more work involved by teaching your dog to walk. In short I cannot, look at this woman's dog without getting angry that she won't try another avenue to help her dog to walk without 2 collars. TY>


Posted by: Carol Nestor | September 13, 2018 1:20 PM    Report this comment

I am a competitive Obedience and Rally instructor, handler, and judge. My well-trained teammates enter the ring wearing a chain collar - and the leash comes off, and stays at the gate til our routines are completed. Each dog has been worked for THOUSANDS of hours, in order to perform properly on a loose lead, or completely without one - as a trainer, we work together for upwards of 15 hours per week, perfecting this skill. Starting with an 8 week old, purpose-bred puppy obtained from a breeder who planned out that litter years in advance, the pup starts learning its job almost as soon as I bring it home. //That being said, handlers walking through the door of our training school with zero experience training, and a pup that has no idea about house manners, desperately need help in communication with one another and understanding the expectations of its new human household. My goal as an instructor, is to help both parts of the team; we will experiment with many different Leash plus somethings, til we find a tool that works best for that dog and that handler, at that very moment. My other goals are preventing injuries to either party, building fun understanding, start the building blocks of the dog and handler relationship, and do my absolute best job in keeping that pup from being returned to its breeder or shelter, where its chances of finding a forever home plummet near zero. // One phrase heard a lot is "punish the deed, not the breed." It's not the breed or mix of a dog that is bad - it's what that dog's owner has done to set up the dog's unacceptably poor behavior. Likewise, a chain collar, martingale collar, pinch, flat buckle, slip lead, limited slip, chest harness, Halti, and many other items are not good or bad - it is how that tool is used by a person, that is positive or negative, and that can change with circumstances. I personally know of as many dogs that died of asphyxiation wearing a martingale, as wearing a choke collar, and wearing a slip chain collar (6 of each, all 18 were awful, avoidable tragedies for the owners.) I also personally know owners who ended up with knee, neck, shoulder, or back surgery when pulled over by a goofy, untrained dog.//. It's not the tool...it's how the tool is used. My teammates understand immediately when the slip chain collar goes on, it's competition day, what we've spent so much effort and time training towards - and when we're done, we "change clothes" to a different collar. That understanding didn't happen overnight, or at the end of a 6 week class - but we started as rookies, and worked, worked, and worked together til we achieved my goals for each teammate. I've been blessed with the luxury of time for training, fantastic instructors, a great place to work close to home that we can afford, and lots of more experienced dog handling friends who can help when I need a solution I haven't solved for each new problem. // A chain slip collar is just a tool, like a hammer. That hammer might be for shoeing a horse, framing a door, or accidentally smashing a thumb. The collar just might be the right tool that works for the specific dog and handler team.

Posted by: mamafirebird | September 13, 2018 12:54 PM    Report this comment

Nancy, I'm fairly sure that most of the comments I'm seeing here aren't going to make you happy. They certainly don't make me happy, and the one from Ricki is particularly heartbreaking. This post seems to have opened a Pandora's box of justifications for using cruel devices on dogs. I wish that you had posted your photo at the same you dealt proactively with the reactions you must have known you'd get from those of us who think it's never OK to use a shock, prong, or choke collar on a dog. Do I think that it's possible that even I might someday encounter an exception to the word, 'never', I wrote above? Yes, maybe so. But the dog/owner team in your photo wouldn't be even close to such an exception. As Rona mentioned, a trained service dog will be loose-leash walk trained, and as you mentioned, probably no kind of collar would allow this particular woman to hold onto this particular dog if he/she wished to be elsewhere quickly, so what's the point?

To answer the questions you posed to us: '...do we really need to take these people to task because they aren’t handling their dogs with the kindest equipment possible? I was upset that anyone felt the need to do that. Was this photo the place to have this conversation?

Am I being too sensitive? Should service dog handlers not get a free pass on judgment, just because they are disabled? Should I be more concerned about the dog’s wellbeing; should service dogs deserve even more protection from potentially painful gear?'

My answers: I'd take the woman's trainer to task more readily than I'd take on the woman herself, but in general, every one of us deserves to hear the truth so that we can make informed decisions, and if I were in that woman's shoes and didn't know better, I would be grateful if someone, 'took me to task'. Next: Why NOT have the conversation on that photo or on the thread under any other photo? We can't try to control other people's reactions to what we post on social media, even if we dislike said reactions quite a lot. In this case, the conversation is important, and the more people who see it the better, and it's one of the last conversations I'd want to censor or shut down. To continue, I can't say whether or not you're being too sensitive; that's up to you. But people with service dogs definitely should not get a free pass when it comes to the use of aversive equipment, and my feeling is that, if anything, service dogs are earning the right to have even greater protection from aversive equipment (although all dogs should have the right unconditionally).

Posted by: cellopets | September 13, 2018 12:45 PM    Report this comment

Pictures say a thousand words, and I am sure if I would have seen the particular picture, I would have commented too. Negatively.

As a force free proponent, we are either on the side of teaching, or on the side of punishing. You can't have it both ways. And NOW, more than ever, do we need to stand up together, against punishment. With the recent statement from IAABC, embracing LIMA, its imperative that the Force Free Teaching world stand up. There is alot brewing in the training world right now, and we need to pick sides.

I wouldn't have published the picture. You could have delighted in all the things you talked about within your own being. Service dogs especially, are here solely for their humans. It is imperative that they are taught, and handled with the utmost kindness and respect. Posting that picture, makes us believe that you condone said collar on a dog. And I know, that is not the image you want to portray. I am a fan, and I have subscribed to the journal for more years than I even know. Because of your position on being Force Free. If that ever changes, and you feel that even a little bit of punishing, intimidation, fear or pain is necessary in teaching dogs how to navigate OUR world, I will have to say goodbye.
Thank you for all you do to promote kindness. For our dog's sake.

Posted by: eisens1 | September 13, 2018 12:37 PM    Report this comment

I appreciate your blog post and that you noticed that the team seemed to have a good working relationship. I'm not sure I agree with your statement that the only reason choke chains work is by causing pain. I don't use them currently, but in the past I was able to get the dog's attention by keeping the leash loose and make a "check" sound on the collar. I didn't have to ever "choke" the dog. And, as you point, out, she most likely couldn't have choked the dog anyway given her size. I think sound (soft sound - not a piercing sound like an air horn) is an underrated training tool.

Posted by: redhills | September 13, 2018 12:36 PM    Report this comment

I haven't read through all the comments so maybe this has already been addressed. But did anyone think about that fact that maybe this woman, since she needed a service dog, could not unbuckle or attach a leash to a flat collar and the choke collar was easier to slip on and off the dog? I know there are Martingale collars she could have used instead, but I am wondering if maybe that might be a reason for her use of the choke collar.

Posted by: echosmom | September 13, 2018 12:32 PM    Report this comment

I am a disabled wheelchair user who has a very high spirited Labradoodle with a squirrel addiction. He weighs 85lbs. I started using a plastic prong collar on him after he dragged me across a parking lot and launched me into the grass. He really loves to chase squirrels!!! And until he finishes his training I must be able to keep Both of us safe. I only need to apply lite pressure to remind him his attention should be on me. I never thought of myself as an aggressive trainer, so when I made the decision it was a well thought out one.

Posted by: Wrango16 | September 13, 2018 12:17 PM    Report this comment

Well, the discussion is choke chains, not prong collars, so that's a different subject. Although I will say that, CORRECTLY USED, a prong collar has its place, but as the first commenter said, it should be weaned off as soon as the dog is trained. They are not supposed to be used as a way to yank on a large or disobedient dog. The prongs are a reminder and should barely touch the skin. As for choke chains, I'm not crazy about them either. But again, it depends on the circumstances. The likelihood that it would help the woman in the article to maneuver or hold back her Great Dane is pretty slim, but if it makes her feel better and the leash is loose, as Nancy emphasized that it was, then who are we to make a blanket judgment of all choke chain users? I agree with Nancy, the fact that this woman was able to enjoy a walk is wonderful, just as it is for the dog. Commenting from a distance, with no direct experience or observation is unfair.

Posted by: GiftofGalway | September 13, 2018 12:07 PM    Report this comment

By the way: show me a way to cure wildlife chasing with a clicker and treats or toys.

Posted by: Wolfy | September 13, 2018 11:57 AM    Report this comment

I have a GSD who started chasing wildlife. That could get her or the chased animal killed. Nothing could deter her: she was clicker trained and very obedient except when it came to trail walks. Nothing worked as the chase was the biggest reward. I had the choice: living a life on leash in the outdoors or 'critter training' with an Ecollar. I chose the last and it has worked great. I studied it carefully and talked to several trainers. After two weeks: cured and we are back on the trails, moving freely. You have to keep an open mind in choosing your training tools and methods. Educate yourself about the dog you have in front of you, before choosing the material.

Posted by: Wolfy | September 13, 2018 11:56 AM    Report this comment

I too am against choke collars until I had to babysit my kids hyperactive black lab puppy. He is adorable, but a spoiled brat with no training. I'm 65 with a bad back and fibromyalgia.
Not fragile but careful. I have 2 small dogs that are the love's of my life and are totally obedient. They don't even wear collars, but after walking this barrel of monkeys and being dragged down the road, and tumbling head over heels too many times to count I decided to get a choke collar. I made this choice because the dog was a danger to me, himself, and all the people, cars, bikers, etc., he was chasing. He would slip his collar and take off. They live on a very big piece of property and sometimes it would take a half hour to get him back.

The collar was put to good use the day I purchased it. During his morning walk the garbage men showed up and he was off and running, or so he thought. The choke collar worked! It broke my heart to hear him cough but after 5 minutes he realized his efforts were futile. He calmed down and we continued our walk. When the kids came back they couldn't believe the change in him. He was calmer, more obedient, and easy to walk. 5 minutes of discipline saved not only broken body parts on my end, but also saved him from hurting other people or being hit by a car. He's a loving, sweet dog and meant no harm to anyone but people don't know that when they see a 60lb dog hurtling toward them at break neck speed.

I think people must weigh the benefits of a choke collar and determine if this is a good option, not only for them but more importantly, for the dog. But, this is just one woman's opinion!

Posted by: rizzo | September 13, 2018 11:54 AM    Report this comment

I normally would've been horrified if someone told me to use a prong collar on my pup, but by the time she was a year old, I had tried every type of collar, harness, leash on her. After having face-planted twice with her (she's an Aussie and was 30 pounds at the time), I went to a trainer who taught me how to put it on correctly and how to use it. Within 6 months I had my wild child off the prong, on to a martingale, and passing her CGC. I now believe it works, but weaned off when ready.

Posted by: Fmccune | September 13, 2018 11:22 AM    Report this comment

I normally would've been horrified if someone told me to use a prong collar on my pup, but by the time she was a year old, I had tried every type of collar, harness, leash on her. After having face-planted twice with her (she's an Aussie and was 30 pounds at the time), I went to a trainer who taught me how to put it on correctly and how to use it. Within 6 months I had my wild child off the prong, on to a martingale, and passing her CGC. I now believe it works, but weaned off when ready.

Posted by: Fmccune | September 13, 2018 11:22 AM    Report this comment

I have been thinking about this very question. I help walk a pair of Great Pyrenees who are rescues, both neutered males. The 110 pound 2 year old came not liking strangers, is becoming very reactive, and twice has charged people with me attached via an excellent two-point harness which nonetheless failed to stop him. The first time I went down and hung on, the second time I was able to use the kennel post as a stop for his charge. I proposed a Halti head collar but the owner will not hear of it, having it confused with a Gentle Leader. So, thinking back to a well trained 105 pound malamute cross I knew, I suggested a choke collar. So far no agreement, so I have not walked the dog in several days since I do not want to be responsible for someone getting hurt, nor do I want to have a broken bone. I think a choke collar has a place in the repertoire as a safety measure, for a very strong and reactive dog, since I also think all dogs need walks for mental and physical health. The owner will be taking the dog to a trainer so I hope he will provide some advice.

Posted by: MaryK | September 13, 2018 11:13 AM    Report this comment

If this was truly a trained service dog then the type of gear shouldn't matter to the handler because the dog would be TRAINED not to pull or be reactive on leash. So why would she ever need a choke collar? As a trainer, when I have clients who feel intimidated by their dog's size or strength while the dog (and the client) are learning, I recommend they use a gentle leader with their martingale collar. It gives more control than a choke chain without inflicting pain. When I see someone with a "service" animal and they need to use restrictive gear to control their dog, I know that dog is not truly a trained service animal. So this is a different discussion than seeing people who's dogs are not service animals resorting to pain inflicting gear (which I still do not approve of and discourage my clients from using).

Posted by: rona@sbcglobal.net | September 13, 2018 11:08 AM    Report this comment

I have a dog that suffers from extreme fear and fear-aggression issues. I've been through three trainers and seen a behavioral vet. While my dog has made some progress in the past two years (she was adopted at age 4), I have found a pinch collar the only thing that keeps her leash aggression in check. Other dog owners judge her for being aggressive or judge me for using a pinch collar, but people have no idea what it's like unless it's your dog. What other dog owners don't seem to understand is my dog is not your dog. It is extremely stressful having a dog with severe behavioral or mental issues, and we're all doing the best we can.

Posted by: Ricki | September 13, 2018 10:19 AM    Report this comment

I have a (now) two-year-old Jack Russell (the second Jack I've owned). After MANY training sessions from the age of 8 weeks with SEVERAL trainers, the one who succeeded was the one who introduced me to the prong collar. Prior to that, I could not walk her, even after various loose leashing training lessons with multiple trainers. I do not train otherwise using the prong collar, but I do use it to this day when walking her. She rarely needs correction. Without that collar on, she will pull.

Three weeks ago, we adopted a gorgeous 3-yr-old Treeing Walker Coonhound, weighing 76 pounds. She is a sweet, loving, calm dog who has not had much formal training, but walks pretty well on leash. I weigh 105 pounds. I was cautioned by her previous owner that while she usually is fine, if she spots a squirrel or deer, she will bolt. There is NO WAY I can feel comfortable walking a dog that would/could yank me off my feet. I use a prong collar on her now as well, and to be truthful, I don't think I have the strength to make a "correction" that would mean much to her if she were focused on a critter. But she knows it's there, and I know that it would at least get her attention on me if in such a situation.

I do not use the prong collar for any other training. For sure, you must be properly educated as to its use. Prior to needing it for my Jack Russell, I too would have thought it cruel. It is NOT cruel, when used properly.

Posted by: Ritzie | September 13, 2018 10:17 AM    Report this comment

New to Whole Dog Journal? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In