Do you use a choke, prong, or shock collar with your dog? Or has a trainer or other dog professional advised you to use one? Maybe you have a large, strong dog who pulls on leash or a dog with very serious behavior problems, and you feel like one of these tools is your only option for keeping your dog under control. While choke, prong, and shock collars can sometimes work to stop your dog’s problem behaviors, they do so by causing your dog pain or discomfort and also carry risks of serious physical injury and lasting psychological trauma.

The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists stands against training methods that cause short or long lasting pain, discomfort or fear. Aversive training methods can be dangerous to people as well as animals and pose a threat to animal welfare by inhibiting learning, increasing behaviors related to fear and distress, and causing direct injury.

Position Statement of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

Choke, Prong, and Shock Collars Cause Physical Harm

The entire idea behind these collars is to cause your dog pain and/or discomfort when they misbehave. Proponents will tell you that it is just temporary and minimal and won’t cause your dog any kind of serious or lasting harm, but the data say otherwise.

Choke and Prong Collar Injuries

Choke and prong collars are designed to make pulling painful for your dog, and have the potential to cause serious physical injury to your dog. Your dog’s neck contains their trachea, esophagus, thyroid gland, lymph nodes, jugular vein, and spinal column. ANY collar worn around their neck, even a flat collar, has the potential to injury one of these areas, especially a collar that tightens around their neck, like a choke or prong collar does. Injuries associated with choke and prong include:

  • Neck injuries – These can include bruising, whiplash, headaches, crushed trachea, damage to larynx, and fractured vertebrae.
  • Damage to the thyroid gland – This gland is located at the base of the neck, just below the larynx. The thyroid gland sustains trauma when the collar tightens. Long-term, this can lead to hypothyroidism.
  • Vagus nerve injuries – This nerve originates at the neck level and controls, the heart, lungs, stomach, and the intestinal tract. Like the thyroid, the tightening of the collar can damage it.
  • Eye and ear issues – Pulling or yanking on a neck collar decreases the blood and lymphatic flow to the head which can lead to eye and ear issues. It also significantly increases the pressure in a dog’s eyes which can cause serious injury to dogs already suffering thin corneas, glaucoma, or eye injuries.
  • Paw licking and forelimb lameness – Pulling on yanking on the neck impinges the nerves supplying the front legs which can cause abnormal sensations, or “pins and needles”, in the feet. Dogs may appear lame or lick their feet excessively in response to this feeling.
  • Skin punctures – The skin on a dog’s neck is only 3–5 cells thick (human skin is 10–15 cells think for comparison). The prongs on a prong collar can break the dog’s skin if enough pressure is applied.

Shock Collar Injuries

Shock collars go by a variety of other names, such as electric collars, stim collars, e-collars. They are designed to deliver an uncomfortable or painful electrical stimulation to the dog’s neck in an attempt to deter unwanted behavior. They include collars that are activated by a handheld remote, bark control collars that deliver an automatic shock when the dog barks, and pet containment systems where the dog is shocked if they try to cross an “invisible” underground fence line.

Injuries associated with electric collars include:

  • Nerve damage – The shock from the collar can damage the nerves in a dog’s neck, which can cause paralysis or loss of feeling in the affected area.
  • Pressure necrosis (pressure sores) – The pressure of the electrodes of the collar against the dog’s neck can damage the dog’s skin and cause sores over time.
  • Electrical burns – There’s some controversy over whether it’s actually possible for electric collars to cause burns, but there are many anecdotal reports from veterinarians, trainers, and dog owners of burns on dog’s necks from shock collars. However, whether these are actual “burns” or some other type of injury to the skin, there is no question that the electric collars are causing the harm.

Punishment-Based Training Causes Stress and Inhibit Learning

When dogs are trained using punishment, such as choke, prong, or shock collar corrections, studies show that they display more stress-related behaviors as well as higher levels of the stress-related hormone, cortisol, in comparison with dogs trained with rewards. Aside from the obvious fact that we should not want our dogs to be in a state of stress for their own well-being, stress makes it harder for your dog to learn what you are trying to teach them. Instead of being focused on learning what they should do, your dog is preoccupied with worrying about when the next painful correction might come. Your dog now also has no motivation to improve the quality of his training response. Dogs trained with punishment are more likely to only do the least amount required of them to avoid a correction.

Aversive Training Methods Can Have Unintended Consequences

An “aversive” is something the dog finds unpleasant that is used to discourage an undesired behavior. Dogs, like all animals, want to avoid pain, discomfort, and distress, so dogs will often actively work to try and avoid being choked, pronged, or shocked. The problem is dogs aren’t always capable of making the correct association between the aversive and the reason they’re experiencing it. For example, a dog who is shocked for jumping on guests, may associate being shocked with people coming into their home rather than jumping. Or a dog who receives a choke or prong collar correction when they pull to greet another dog may associate the pain with the other dog rather than the pulling. In both these cases, the unintended consequence is a dangerous increase in fear of and possibly aggression toward humans or other dogs.

Aversive training methods have also been shown to have a detrimental effect on the dog’s relationship with their owner. Dogs trained with aversive methods are more likely to have an insecure attachment to their owners than dogs trained with rewards. Regularly inflicting pain or discomfort on your dog also habituates you to disregarding your dog’s stress and suffering, making you less sensitive to your dog’s needs and decreasing your bond to your dog.

“To use shock as an effective dog training method, you will need: A thorough understanding of canine behavior. A thorough understanding of learning theory. Impeccable timing. And if you have those three things, you don’t need a shock collar.”

Dr. Ian Dunbar, DVM

Reward-Based Training is Safe, Humane, and More Effective

Hopefully, the above has convinced you that using a choke, prong, or shock collar is not safe for your dog. But you may still be wondering how to effectively train your dog without one or what alternatives are available. The good news is that numerous studies have shown that positive, rewards-based training is actually more effective than aversive training methods, plus it’s a lot more fun for both you and your dog. You can use positive training to teach your dog everything from basic cues, like sit, stay, and come, to walking politely on a leash, to stopping unwanted behaviors like barking or jumping on people, to even resolving serious issues like aggression, fears, and reactivity.

Choose Ready Pet Go for Positive Pet Care in Maryland and DC

Ready Pet Go is committed to helping pets live happier, better lives together with their owners. As such, we take a firm stance against the use of choke chains, prong collars, shock collars, and any other training methods or tools that cause pain, discomfort, fear, or harm. We encourage good manners using positive reinforcement with all the dogs we care for. We’re also happy to refer clients to a local, positive trainer when needed. To learn more about our dog walking or dog sitting services, contact us today or call us at 240-221-5335.