It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.
J. C. Watts
My neighbor two houses over and I have a nodding acquaintance. She happens to own a rather large mastiff mix who I just think is the cat’s meow. He’s big, sweet, and goofy. He does have a small problem with other dogs, though, and is prone to barking at them and lunging. No, I’ve never mentioned to my neighbor that I train dogs – it always strikes me as rude and presumptuous. At this stage in my life, I realize that those who want help will seek it.
And seek it she did. A few weeks ago I looked out my window to see that there was a gentleman in her front yard working with her to train her dog. I was pleased – the dog would no longer be frightened of other dogs (which, as I explain here, is the real reason the dog was reacting so badly).
But then I was horrified.
They were using a prong collar on the dog. And lifting him off the ground with it. I watched out my window as this dog was having pain inflicted upon it merely for the simple act of being afraid of another dog. The trainer had brought another little dog with him as bait, the same thing I do with Orion. Every time the larger dog would show any interest in the bait dog, the larger dog was held aloft by the prong collar. The worst thing was that this dog wasn’t even too terribly dog-reactive. He had a simple question: “Is that other dog a threat?” , and every time he even asked the question, instead of receiving an answer, he was stabbed by the collar all around his neck.
Kinda like my gently placing barbed wire around your neck and then suspending you by it.
I desperately wanted to say or do something, but I realized that wasn’t the time to do it. Anything I could say would like like, at best professional jealousy. At worst, I could come across as an extremist. So I waited a few days.
The next time I saw the dog outside with his owner, I approached the owner and made the usual small talk. Finally I broached the real reason I was there. I asked if she was comfortable using the prong collar, because there were a lot less stressful ways to work with a dog that don’t inflict pain upon them. She gave the me the usual rhetoric that it doesn’t really hurt them. I chose a different tact, asking if she were even strong enough to life the dog off the ground with it. She claimed that she didn’t do that, it wasn’t necessary. I looked down at the dog, who was still wearing that offensive thing. She wasn’t even using it “just to train”. She was keeping it on him 24/7. Meaning every time he would lay his head down, there would be that familiar prick in his neck. Every time he turned his head, that familiar scrape of mettle across his flesh would be felt. I realize at this point anything I said would fall on deaf ears. I wished her luck with her training and left.
To be honest, I don’t have anything personally against prong collars. I think they are an effective tool in working with dogs when used properly. But that’s the problem. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one used properly. They are meant to be tugged and then released in a microsecond, causing a “tap” of a bite all around the dog’s neck, not a “my throat is being ripped open” sensation. I cannot always use them properly. Therefore I will never personally use one
There is no added measure of security with a prong collar: they only tighten so far. You can’t actually incapacitate a very dangerous animal with one, say, if a dog were literally ripping another dog apart, or if a dog had such a high prey drive that it was dragging you across a busy intersection towards a rabbit on the other side of the road. All a prong collar does in those situations is add more stress (and pain!) to an already stressful situation.
For safety’s sake I always use a nylon slip lead. I never leave it on the dog; it stays on the leash at all times. And if you’ve ever trained with me, you know my mantra: if you choke your dog with it, you’re a jerk. That’s not why they’re used. I prefer them for a couple reasons:
- If something horrific happens, say, Fido gets terribly spooked and tries to flee into oncoming traffic, or is aggressive and decides he need to cross that intersection right now, sometimes there’s nothing you can do. Rather than allow him to be killed by a car, I would keep the slip lead as tight as I could make it, forcing him to lose blood and oxygen, and he goes down. He’s hurt really bad, but not dead. Again, this is only in a life or death situation.
- More importantly, the main reason I use slip leads is because I’ve had dogs get out of every form of collar out there, from harnesses to martingales. Some dogs have awkwardly shaped heads and not much stays around their necks (greyhounds, for instance). Other dogs are just Houdinis getting out of everything (pugs, dachshunds and terriers). No matter what, it’s my job to keep my dog safe. That means leashed at all times.
So, next question: how do you use a slip lead correctly? A flick of your wrist. That’s it. For a lot of dogs I work with I merely tap the leash with my finger, causing a tapping sensation on the collar, akin to tapping someone on the shoulder to get their attention. Never constant tension.
The important thing to understand is that Fido has a question that still needs to be answered: “Is that other dog a threat?” Pain from a prong collar certainly does not answer that question. Neither does a tap from a slip lead. The slip lead is utilized the same way tapping someone on the shoulder is: to get them to look at you. Remember, dogs are based upon body language. If you have something to say to them, they have to be looking at you to see your answer. Tap the leash, they look up, and they see your body language: No, Fido, that other dog isn’t a threat. Read here for exactly how to do it.
Back to the prong collar that my poor neighbor dog is wearing. His owner may not even realize how painful it is to him. For every ounce of force she puts on the prong collar, he feels it multiplied by ten on his neck. She’s completely removed from the amount of damage she’s inflicting upon him, sort of like the President pushing the “nuke button”. It’s just the simple pressing of a button to him, but the effects are far beyond that little bit of effort. The input isn’t the same as the output. I do not feel that a human should ever be so far removed from what they are doing to their dog. I know exactly how much force I’m putting into the slip lead because I can feel it on my end. It’s equal from me to him. There’s no barbs on the end of it. I’m not keeping it engaged and tight. More importantly, I’m answering my dog’s questions with body language rather than causing them pain for even asking the question to being with.
Every time I look out that window and see that poor dog trying to relax in the yard while wearing a prong collar, my heart breaks. That’s not about Piloting your dog: that’s about dominating your dog. I don’t ever feel the need to have such power over the pain my dog can feel. I can’t dominate my dog Sparta – she’s 100 lbs. of muscle! All I can do is Pilot her through the questions she may have, and make sure she has enough faith and trust in me to trust my answers to her questions.
No, I will never answer Sparta’s questions with violence. I’m her Pilot because she trusts me. And you can’t force trust with metal prongs.