The dangers of prong collars in dogs is something that needs to be considered. Most devoted dog parents cringe at the sight of the cruel and barbaric prong collars. When we see a prong collar we directly assume the collar is designed for a vicious and out-of-control dog. Dog trainers using positive reinforcement and force-free techniques frown upon the use of prong collars and think that they should be banned. But are prong collars really cruel and inhumane? Without a doubt this question is quite controversial. The answer is also complicated. Namely, whether prong collars are dangerous or not, depends on how they are used.
The Use of Prong Collars in Dogs
The prong collar, also known as pinch collar, is a dog training tool made of a series of metal, fang-shaped, chain links. The chain links are connected with their open ends facing the dog’s neck. Simply explained, the prong collar is similar in design to the martingale. Prong collars are commonly used in beginner obedience classes and when teaching dogs how to properly walk on a leash.
The reason why prong collars are so controversial is mainly due to their other name – pinch collars. Simply put, the term pinch collar is quite controversial because these collars do not actually pinch the dog’s skin as the name implies. In fact, when a correction is given, the collar simply applies pressure around the dog’s neck. The intensity of the correction determines the intensity of the applied pressure.
Therefore, the appearance of the prong collar and its misleading name, have more to do with its controversy than the incidence of poor results and dangers when used correctly. Indeed, if used and fitted properly, prong collars are a good training tool. They can be safe and suitable for humane use. However, if they are not used properly, prong collars can be dangerous.
The Dangers of Using Prong Collars
Generally speaking, the dangers associated with prong collars can be classified in two main categories: the potential for physical injuries, in other words, neck marks, bruises and lacerations, and the potential for emotional injuries, in other words, fearfulness, redirected aggression, disempowerment, depression and deterioration of social relationships.
The main issue with prong collars is that they have metal spikes. When the dog pulls, the spikes can either scratch or puncture the skin around the neck. Over time, due to the prolonged and persistent damage, the skin develops scar tissues. Scar tissue has no sensation feeling and can build up a significant amount of tolerance to the painful pinching of the prong’s spikes.
Therefore, even if the dog pulls harder than usual, it will not be able to feel the pain. This only leads to harder and harder pulling. As a response to the harder pulling, the owner tightens the prong collar. The dog perceives the tightened prong collar as a stranglehold and can eventually become either fearful or even aggressive.
In extremely rare and severe cases, prong collars have been associated with spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis, dislocated neck bones, crushing of the trachea leading to asphyxiation, bruising of the esophagus, crushing of the bones in the larynx, dislocated neck bones, prolapsed eye, brain injuries and damages to the dog's neck skin and tissues.
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If used properly and correctly though, the prong collar can actually protect the dog from mistakes made by inexperienced handlers. It also protects the dog from its own inappropriate behavior such as extreme excitement. The protective feature of the prong collar is due to the fact that this collar distributes the pull evenly, around the neck. Other collar types channel the pulling force directly on the throat and are therefore more likely to cause trachea damage.
How to Properly Use a Prong Collar in Dogs
As with any other training tool and device, the handler must perform a thorough research and truly understand how the item works. Once the handler is well-familiarized with the training tool he can safely put it on his dog.
To ensure safe usage and avoid the potential dangers, the prong collar must be fitted properly. First of all, the prong collar must sit high on the dog’s neck (the appropriate place would be just behind the ears).
Secondly, the prong collar must fit the dog’s neck perfectly – instead of drooping it should be snug to the neck. This implies that all extra links should be removed from the collar. If the collar is drooping, it may hurt the dog by pinching or alternatively it may allow the dog to slip out of the collar and escape. On the flip side, if the prong collar is too tight, its spikes may damage the dog’s skin around the neck.
Thirdly, a dog wearing the prong collar must not be left unsupervised or tied up. Both situations pose hazard. Last but not least, the prong collar should be placed on the dog’s neck 10 to 20 minutes before the training session starts. That way the dog will have enough time to adapt to the collar and get used to wearing it.
It should be well-noted that prong collars are not the ideal choice for timid dogs and dogs that respond well to simple buckle collars. It should also be mentioned that there are different types of prong collars. Some options are safer than the others. For example, when choosing the ideal type of prong collar for your dog make sure the metal spike tips are protected with plastic caps.
This is only a brief guide to proper usage of prong collars. If you want to learn more, fortunately, the internet is packed with helpful videos and instruction guides. In a nutshell, before using a prong collar, learn how to use it properly. In that order, you will avoid all potential issues and minimize the risk of dangers. If necessary, do not hesitate to consult with an experienced dog trainer.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.