I read an article this morning that really raised my hackles.
This is the link to it here: Choke, prong and shock collars: Why they don’t belong on our dogs: http://www.goodpetparent.com/2015/07/17/choke-prong-shock-collars/?utm_content=buffer6ed68&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
I have had it up to here (raises hand to forehead). Right off the bat it is a completely one sided and an incomplete argument. Naturally we have all been seeing more and more of this. The training world has taken a turn toward more positive methods, which is so incredibly great; to have a cooperative working relationship with our dogs is unlike anything else, but the very people who despise the use of the tools listed in the title of that article are also the same people ignoring the damaging effects of the tools they do like (i.e gentle leaders, easy walk harness etc) and any and all evidence, research or studies done that proves it, is ignored or explained away.
So here I am, wanting to shed some light on a very controversial subject so that you are provided enough information to think critically and make an educated decision on your own.
First and foremost any tool used to stop or decrease a behavior fall under the training quadrant, Positive Punishment. The positive means: to add something (think math terms + plus sign) and punishment means: to decrease. That means if you are using ANY of the tools mentioned in the article above (e-collar, prong collar, choke chain, head halter, easy walk harness) you are applying positive punishment and like it or not, you are not using strict positive reinforcement or “force free” techniques.
I am going to take a break here and say, I am not saying that using a tool to decrease your dogs unwanted behavior is a bad thing, not at all, but I want it to be clear that they are all in the same category and are to some degree… force. At some point in the training of your dog you may need to use a tool so that you can limit your dogs ability to rehearse unwanted behaviors and that is perfectly okay, but you need to choose the tool that is best for you and your dog and not be concerned with someone else’s standard, but please, find a trainer that can help you choose the best tool for you, your dog and your situation and can help guide you in it’s use, so you can make as few mistakes as possible.
Okay, moving along. The author of the article mentions many damaging effects that can come from the use of choke chains, prong collars and electronic collars. Some behavioral, such as going into “learned helplessness” or making negative associations between the correction from the device to the stimuli in the environment (i.e people, dogs etc). These are very real possibilities that should be taken into account when considering the use of these devices, however, with the help of a skilled trainer the instances of confusion or learned helplessness would be very rare.
The other ill effects of using the devices are all medical and are all things that come from the improper use of the devices. These injuries absolutely would not happen if the devices are used correctly. Can we say the same about the last two devices mentioned in the article, harness and head halters? Let’s take a look.
Several times in the article above, the author quotes the late, great, Dr. Sophia Yin. Here is one in reference to head halters (Gentle Leaders, Halties etc.)
“If this were a person, flailing on the end of a leash attached to an apparatus on his head, he’d surely have a neck injury. But anyone who has seen a dog that goes to town playing tug-o-war knows that a dog’s neck is built differently.
Because of this neck strength, few cases of injury due to head collars have been proven or medically documented (I actually haven’t seen any). Not to say injury could not happen. However, veterinary documented injuries caused or exacerbated by choke chain corrections and electronic collars are easy to find.”
Anyone who is a proponent of the use of prong collars states the very same argument about neck strength that Sophia Yin states here in reference to head halters. The neck is so strong the dog can not actually cause harm to himself. The injuries she mentions, caused by prong, electronic and choke collars, are all because of someone who used it totally improperly or purposefully used it to abuse the animal. The injuries you can find on the internet caused by those tools are not done through proper use of the tools.
The article also has a list of things not to do when using a head halter. Don’t you think that if someone used one improperly then, you would actually find that dogs do get injured? Naturally, but apparently even the correct use of head halters can indeed cause injury, see Dr. Sophia Yin also has this to say on the subject of head halters:
“Most likely if dogs are pulling on their head collar a lot or running to the end, they may need massage or chiropractic care just the way people who work or study at a desk all day need back adjustments periodically.”
Both quotes are taken from the same article, you can read it here: http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/are-head-collars-on-dogs-dangerous-or-safe, and are a bit contradictory.
Even the title of the article: Are Head Collars on Dogs Dangerous or Safe? It’s All About Technique, suggests that she, indeed,does feel that they could be dangerous, if it’s all about technique.
In addition I have spoken to many veterinarians that do not like the use of head halters because they are indeed seeing a higher instance of dogs getting whiplash from either thrashing wildly at the end of the leash or because an owner gave a leash correction while the dog had a head halter on. So just because Sophia Yin hasn’t seen medically documented cases, doesn’t mean other veterinarians haven’t. And, in reference to her statement about the need for chiropractic care, just the way people who work or study at a desk all day, human doctors are fed up with us sitting all day. The damage done to our bodies due to long periods of sitting is monumental and evidence is showing…irreversible.
Here are some links to back that statement: http://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20150127sitting.html
With all that said then, if our dogs are having the same damage done to them from wearing head halters as we get from sitting, we could actually be doing an enormous amount of and possibly irreversible damage to our dogs’ bodies. Just because you can not see the damage does not mean that it is not there.
Here is where I am going to add my own two cents, have you ever seen a dog flail at the end of a head halter? I have and it is pretty unnerving, it can be hard to watch.
Take a look: https://youtu.be/WDy-qnfcJ9M
Yes, you can find hundreds of videos of people using a gentle leader correctly and dogs loving them but the same could be said for prong and electronic collars so I ask you…what’s the difference? If the dog featured in this video hates the gentle leader and it is obviously causing him stress, why not choose a different tool that the dog will respond to that may not cause this much stress? What really gets my goat though, is the people in the world that would choose to ignore this dogs’ stress and put him thru a desensitization process to help him adjust to the collar but then ignore that you can do the same for other devices. Taking a once previously disliked item and turning it into something the dog enjoys. Again, what’s the difference?
The author of the article is also in heavy favor of the easy walk or front clip harnesses. Going on to list a whole slew of benefits and ignoring the risks involved in using one. It upsets me because I don’t know whether or not she blatantly ignored facts or if she is truly ignorant to them and I can’t decide which is worse.
Just like the head halters trainers and veterinarians are beginning to call into question the safety of the front clip harnesses. don’t take my word on it.
As research comes out I am sure we will see and hear more about these injuries. What I find most interesting though is, simply having the harness on can cause damage to the dog, no leash needs to be on or pressure even needs to be applied for damage to be done, the same can not be said about prong, choke or electronic collars.
The author of the article quotes Dr. Sophia Yin one last time at the end of the article, after completely ignoring and never discussing a single con from using harnesses or head halters.
“So why do I avoid the choke chain? Besides the fact that my philosophy of training is to focus on rewarding the dog’s good behaviors and removing rewards for unwanted ones until the dog forms good habits, there are many medical and safety reasons too.”
After reading all of the evidence that shows head halters and front clip harnesses can actually be very dangerous in regards to medical and safety, don’t you think that last quote is a bit ridiculous and misleading? If we are going to parade the injuries and bodily damages done to dogs from using a group of devices, then we need to do the same for all.
Damage is undoubtedly a possibility, regardless of what device you choose to use. Our goal should not be to hate, fear or ban any individual tool; we should be weighing the pros and cons of each tool, while considering the behavioral benefits of each tool. We should be a) pairing the correct tool with an individual dog, family and situation and b) working hard to get owners interested in training enough to not need the dependence of a tool at all. Tools can make great training aids and can even be a necessary evil in the training process to ensure dogs do not rehearse unwanted behaviors but nothing can replace solid training.
On a final note, the learner, in this case the dogs, choose what is aversive and what is rewarding, we just need to learn to remove our emotion from the subject and listen to our dogs.