Dangers Of Using Choke, Prong And Electric Collars

In this post:

  1. What are aversive collars
  2. Common misconceptions
  3. Choke chains
  4. Prong and pincher collars
  5. Shock collars

If you’ve ever been to a dog park or taken a walk around your neighborhood, I’m sure you’ve seen dogs with a chain, choke or shock collar. These instruments may look shocking, but are they actually useful tools? We believe there are better options.

Training tools that cause discomfort were designed based on the misunderstood concept of the “alpha dog”. It was thought that since dogs descended from wolves that owners needed to assert physical dominance over their pets in order to gain their respect and obedience. Due to the work of scientist and wolf researcher David Meech, we now know this theory is incorrect.

In this blog post, we will outline the various kinds of aversive collars to avoid, and outline the numerous negative side effects they can have on your pet.

What are aversive collars?

Aversive collars are used to correct a dog’s behavior through punishment. These collars rely on physical discomfort and oftentimes pain. There are some trainers and owners that believe aversive collars are the best way to deal with “difficult” dogs.

While they may suppress unwanted behavior, they do not teach the dog what that behavior is. At best, they are unpleasant for your dog, and at worst, they may cause your dog to act out aggressively. Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM MS wrote a fantastic article about choke chains and pinch collars. In it, she strongly cautions against using chokers and pinch collars because of the harm that they can cause to your dog and their inability to properly fix unwanted behaviors.

Common Misconceptions

There is a lot of misinformation out in the world that has led to the use of aversion collars. The amazing folks at the San Francisco ASPCA put together a list of common myths that people often fall prey to. Here are some of our favorites:

Myth: Dogs’ skin is so thick they can’t feel the pain.

Fact: Skin on a human’s neck is actually thicker (10-15 cells) than the skin on a dog’s neck (3-5 cells). So if you think wearing a prong collar would hurt, imagine how your dog feels.

Myth: This breed is too tenacious/stubborn/strong to use anything gentler.

Fact: All dogs are different, and breed only plays a small role in each individual dog’s personality and behavior. Socialization and training have more of an influence on a dog’s behavior than a breed does.

Myth: My dog doesn’t mind it.

Fact: How do you know? Does your dog speak English? Are you skilled in reading dog body language? Do you know the difference between a dog who is suppressing normal behaviors, avoiding pain, and shut down, versus one who is happy, engaged, and confident? There’s a good chance that your dog does mind it, but has learned to live with it to avoid more punishment.

Myth: I felt the shock/pinch and it’s not that bad.

Fact: Did you feel it over and over and over again, for hours on end? Did you feel it on your neck? Did you feel it when you weren’t expecting it? How about when you were already scared or stressed? And even if it’s not that bad to you, how can you know how it feels to him?

Our friend Drayton Michaels, CTC, owner of Urban Dawgs Dog Training in Red Banks, New Jersey wrote an amazing piece about the dangers of shock and prong collars. Here are some highlights from that article.

Physical damage from prong collars include:

  • Trachea and windpipe damage
  • Neck alignment and back alignment can be compromised
  • Eyesight damage
  • Lymph node damage
  • Possible choking to death due to prong/choke collar getting caught on something

Behavioral implications of choke and prong collars:

  • Can cause fear of collars in general
  • Apprehension to human hands reaching toward the dog (from having the prong or choke collar put on)
  • Cause negative association to you the handler, the leash, the walk, other dogs, people, and kids
  • Cause general fear of the environment
  • Social Implications of Prong and Choke collars

Efficacy of Dog Training With and Without Remote Electronic Collars vs. a Focus on Positive Reinforcement

From the study “These findings refute the suggestion that training with an E-collar is either more efficient or results in less disobedience, even in the hands of experienced trainers. In many ways, training with positive reinforcement was found to be more effective at addressing the target behavior as well as general obedience training. This method of training also poses fewer risks to dog welfare and the quality of the human-dog relationship. Given these results, we suggest that there is no evidence to indicate that E-collar training is necessary, even for its most widely cited indication.”


Choke Chains and Collars

As the name implies, this collar is made of metal links and is designed to control dogs by tightening around their neck when pulled. It is supposed to sit high up on the dog’s neck just behind their ears.

If your dog is startled and bolts while wearing a choke chain, you will not be able to react in time and they will severely harm themselves. Even if you do your best to pay attention, it is absolutely possible to choke or strangle your dog. According to Peter Dobias’ DVM article, choke collars are also attributed to hypothyroidism, ear and eye issues, foreleg lameness, and neck injuries. It is best for your dog if you avoid using a choke chain. A well-fitted harness and good obedience training should make it unnecessary to resort to this aversive collar.

Prong and Pinch Collars

A prong or pinch collar is very similar to a chain choke collar. The control loop that the leash is attached to is made of chain. The loop is designed to fit around your dog’s neck and is made of a series of fang-shaped metal links, or prongs, with blunted points. When the control loop is pulled, it will tighten and the prongs pinch the skin of your dog’s neck.

Putting a prong collar on your dog will make them appear to be threatening. It implies that they are a mean, dangerous animal that can only be controlled with brute force. People who put them on their pets are playing into the stereotype that having a dog with an aggressive temperament by your side makes you look tough. These stereotypes can be extremely harmful.

In addition to perpetuating harmful stereotypes, prong collars will also cause your dog significant physical harm. They may cause whiplash, fainting, and bruising of the esophagus, or neck tissue. They are even strong enough to cause bone fractures, dislocated neck bones, spinal cord injuries, or crushed tracheas. The extended use of prong collars is even more damaging. Your dog may suffer spinal cord injuries that lead to paralysis, and continued pressure on the neck may lead to brain damage and prolapsed eyes.

Electric and Shock Collars

Shock collars use electric current passing through metal contact points on the collar to give your dog a signal. Shock collars are sold as training devices and to stop barking. They are also used with pet containment (electronic fencing) systems.
People who use shock collars on their animals can administer a shock to a dog at a distance through remote control. An article from Companion Animal Psychology found that most owners did not read instructions before using a shock collar on their dog. This means there is a greater chance for abuse (delivery of shocks as punishment) or misuse (poor timing of shocks). Your dog also may associate the painful shock with people or other experiences, leading to fearful or aggressive behavior.
According to studies, dogs showed high levels of cortisol when just seeing the shock collar – which means that they were stressed out and unhappy. The worst part is that all this pain and discomfort is for nothing – a study showed that dogs who were “trained” using shock collars did worse at recall exercises (come, don’t chase, etc) than dogs who were trained with positive reinforcement.

Final Thoughts:

So as you can see, there is no reason to use pain-based collars on your pet.  If a dog pulls on a leash you must be patient and teach the dog to walk beside you. Using an aversive tool is inhumane because the dog has never been taught what to do and you risk causing extensive damage to the dog’s throat and general health.

Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions