Weaning Yourself and Your Dog from Compulsion Dog Training Collars
I was recently approached by a former client (I would still be her dogs’ trainer if I lived close enough! I really miss her pack of dogs!) to help some of her rescue friends find an alternative to some of the training collars they have been taught to use.
I don’t like training collars, except the gentle leader, because not only do most rely on compulsion and punishment they are rarely used for “training” like they were intended or as their name implies.
A training collar if utilized should be just that; only used to train or teach a dog something.
BUT, how many times do you see a 4 or 9 year old dog still using a prong collar?
One of the biggest problems is that dog owners have been taught to utilize these collars but instead of just teaching their dogs, they rely on these products constantly to get their dogs to comply with certain behaviors. AND, the dog knows when the collar is and is not on!
Even though many of these people have been taught by a dog trainer HOW to use these items they are never taught how to wean their dog off of them or how to teach them a different way!
Did I mention I don’t like these collars? I want to make SURE that everyone knows I NEVER recommend them! After all, we are a “hands off” dog training system and nothing is more “hands on” than choke chains and prong collars! So don't send hate mail!!
But, I acknowledge that lots of people use them. And, since you are most likely alone in your home reading this, you can admit to yourself that you just might be one of them! I bet a very large percentage of my readers are currently using these products simply because they don’t know what else to do and their dogs are desensitized to anything else!
I use to not allow the dogs in my classes to wear any training collar except a Gentle Leader, then one day I drove past one of my clients who's dog was sporting a prong collar. It was a small community so I pulled over to inquire what was going on. She was horrified and embarrassed but admitted she didn't know how else to get her dog to listen. She didn't want to publicly admit she used the collar in my class and knew I wouldn't allow it, so she just did her weekly homework with her dog in his usual prong collar.
It was at this moment I realized sometimes the only way I can truly help people change is by teaching them to wean themselves off these compulsion methods they think they need. Whereas I never wanted her to use the collar again, I had to teach her how not to need it. The last thing I wanted was for people to be too ashamed to ask for real help, or to go home and yank and pull their dogs into submission.
So it was then I came up with my program. I promise my clients I can teach them how to never use a prong or choke chain again, and if I can do that for them they give me the collar they once used. It is an exchange of knowledge and positive reinforcement for the negative compulsion collar and the methods.
Why Do People Use Them?
Because they are easy!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a lot of time and training to put on a prong collar and see a difference in a pulling dog.
And, unlike the Gentle Leader and other like head halters most dogs don’t throw a huge temper tantrum when these collars are put on. Most dogs don’t even whimper or cry, but immediately they recognize that pulling is uncomfortable and not pulling makes the discomfort disappear.
Why Do Trainers Recommend Them?
Because they are LAZY! Make no excuses! There are better ways to teach your dog to respect his leash or not pull, but these methods take brain power, work, timing, and consistency.
Part of me wouldn’t be as irritated if these trainers at least taught their students how to quit using these tools, but again this would take time, work, and consistency.
Almost nothing is as nauseating to me as seeing a big, geriatric dog that has to deal with the pain and irritation of lugging around a pinch collar!
Don’t Judge or Blame!
I know this is a hard one, but most owners don’t want to inflict pain or hurt their dogs despite the ugliness of the collar most people hardly use it.
While it is true that in my career I have seen some truly malicious and cruel “corrections” given to dogs in prong collars, most owners have no desire to be barbaric. And, those sadistic owners can usually not be reasoned with or educated. I have to hope that someday they will be caught and prosecuted for their abuse.
Most people just get stuck in a rut or the collar was effective on their “last dog” so they default to using one on this dog.
Some people think that “certain breeds” require these types of collars but I disagree! Dogs should be trained with your MIND not your body! How do people think dogs respond to clients in wheelchairs? Rottweiler, Mastiff, Weimaraner, Chihuahua or Shih Tzu it is all the same to me!
How to Make a Change?
Most of these owners would like to change. No one wants the looks or snippy comments when they see a prong collar but most people don’t know how to change. You may want to utilize a buckle collar, but you don’t want your arm dislocated or broken on your next walk either! Don’t laugh it happens!
You must teach your dog the “Game” of positive reinforcement! You have to teach your dog that he is in control of his environment, to some degree, you control what he has to do to get the reward but he feels like he is in control.
You need to build a foundation of fun and games. Up until now you have been controlling your dog physically and a pinch collar cannot compare to a buckle collar when it comes to control, so you must teach your dog that there is a reason to listen to you and do what you want.
Don’t over use treats, but learn how to use them !
If your dog likes toys and playing with balls or chasing things and hunting, teach him to work using his normal doggy play drive.
This type of training does take a bit longer, but the foundation is so much more stable than regular compulsion. I never have to worry about forgetting my dog’s collar because they have been taught not to pull in order to be rewarded with the things they want and their necks are not desensitized.
Dogs that rely on compulsion have become a bit desensitized around their neck. What would get the attention of a normal dog or puppy no longer phases a dog use to a prong collar. This makes using a leash and normal buckle collar almost impossible. Your relationship is based on corrections and physical control.
So teaching your dog the foundation to positive reinforcement, how to play with you and giving him reasons to listen are crucial! Also, taking toys, treats, and games with you when you take your dog out will also be vital for a time.
The next is to slowly wean yourself and your dog from his training collar. I would rather tell you to throw the collar away and start over, and in my opinion that would be the best way. But, I realize that most of you won’t do that since it would take too long and you don 't know where to start. So, I will tell you to do the next best thing.
Like a smoker who promises to quit, make a pact with your dog and pick out a date that you will throw the collar away or at least never use it again and then start to work toward your goal.
Some of the Tricks I Have Used Over the Years?
Dogs are great about associating objects that are totally unrelated. For some dogs if you pair the old collar with a certain bandana for a period of time the dog will start to associate the bandana with the collar, enabling you to trick your dog into thinking the collar is on later, once you have stopped using it. You can simply apply the bandana and the dog will undoubtedly stop pulling.
Next get a leash with two clips, or using a long leash feed a round key chain or “O” ring around the handle of your leash and feed onto the ring a clip. This double clip allows you to clip one to his buckle collar and one to his former training collar.
This will help you to teach him what his normal buckle collar feels like when there is pressure on it and how to learn to respect it. He needs to learn what is normal and not rely on the pinch or strangulation he is use to! This does not mean to use the buckle collar to issue “corrections” you should be motivating him not correcting him!
The key is to do your very best to not use the training collar anymore! If you are going to get drug into traffic or your dog is going to pull you down you still have the option of using the collar you are use to, but don’t use it as a constant crutch!
You should have a tool belt full of treats, toys and fun so your dog should be motivated to pay attention to you versus his normal boredom and pulling to fulfill his own needs. You should now be the focus of his awareness!
If you are willing to put in some time, get animated, have some fun together and make a pact with your dog I think you will be much happier with the results and the lack of stares and comments and I KNOW your dog will be happier!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.