Why prong collars are harmful to dogs

Prong collars are a painful and unethical training collar some owners put on their dogs in an attempt to stop them from pulling on the lead. Sadly, they can cause serious harm to dogs and are a very ineffective training method.

Prong collars are often perceived to be a quick fix to help control dogs and are often marketed by the product sellers as safe and quite gentle. Sadly, this isn't the case.

Shock collars are similar but use an electric shock instead of prongs.

What are prong collars and are they cruel?

Prong collarProng collars are collars for dogs that are designed to cause pain or discomfort to the animal to reduce or stop them from pulling on their lead.

Prong collars are based on the principle of applying something painful or frightening to stop undesirable behaviour. When a dog pulls on the lead, the metal prongs of the collar close and prong the sensitive skin around the neck causing pain as well as potential injury and infection from puncture wounds and nerve damage.

Research has shown that aversive training techniques, like prong collars, can cause pain and distress and can compromise dog welfare. We also know that painful and distressing training techniques have long term effects on the mental wellbeing and overall happiness of dogs.

Do prong collars work?

Aside from being painful and distressing, prong collars (and other aversive training techniques) do nothing to actually teach positive dog behaviour.

In fact, they're likely to cause confusion and the pain that a dog experiences when wearing one might become associated with something unrelated to the environment.

Prong collars can cause new behavioural problems

For instance, if a dog is pinched by the prongs at the same time as being approached by a child, they might link the child with the pain they feel from the prongs. This can then cause the dog to view children as something to be worried about - leading to behavioural problems that didn't exist in the first place.

Dogs work really hard to please us and to fit in. Whilst excessive lead pulling can be very frustrating to manage, it's important to remember that your dog isn't trying to upset you.

Many won't realise that their dog no longer pulling on the lead may have come at a cost and won't recognise that what is supposed to be a really pleasurable and rewarding experience for the dog can be quite the opposite.

Ethical alternatives to prong collars

Loose lead walking is a skill that takes time, patience and consistency but it's well worth the hard work when you're able to take enjoyable walks with your dog. Spending the time training your dog using ethical, reward-based methods not only helps them to learn essential life skills, but also builds trust and strengthens the bond between you both.

You can safely use a well-fitting and comfortable harness to help control your dog. You can also teach them, using food, to walk nicely by your side.

Learning should be fun for dogs and humans alike but if you find that you're struggling then you could contact one of the many dog trainers across the country who will be able to help you and your dog without subjecting them to techniques that can cause pain or fear.

Are prong collars legal in the UK?

Prong collars are not illegal unfortunately and although those who sell them state that they're 'quite gentle training tools' we believe the opposite to be true and we want to see them banned.

Do vets recommend prong collars?

Lorella Notari, our veterinary clinical head of behaviour behaviourist and European specialist says:

Prong collars are detrimental to the health of dogs because they can cause pain as well as severe traumatic lesions to the skin, neck muscles and bones, trachea and even the thyroid.

The repeated pressure of traumatic collars like choke collars and prong collars can cause severe inflammation of the soft tissues (skin and muscle), and in extreme cases can also cause cervical spine injuries.

Prong collars and choke collars can make a dog cough and even cause tracheal collapse as well as injure the thyroid glands. I have dealt with more than one case where lesions (caused by prong collars) were only discovered when the poor dogs developed severe infections - ulcers and pus that just couldn't be ignored.

Sadly, the initial small skin lesions due to the pins' pressure were hidden by the fur and overlooked.

It's not only the physical injuries caused by prong collars that we must be worried about. Being in pain when walking creates fear, distress and anxiety and those negative feelings can trigger negatively motivated behaviours in dogs with high levels of arousal, including aggression.

The bottom line is that using prong collars in dogs causes physical and mental suffering and so as a vet I could never recommend their use for training.

Shock collars

Shock collars (also known as electronic training collars or e-collars) are dog collars that emit an electronic pulse to stop unwanted behaviour. In order for the shock to suppress the unwanted behaviour, it needs to be sufficiently unpleasant to the animal. There's evidence which shows that the application of an electric shock can cause both physiological problems as well as short term and long term behavioural issues associated with pain, fear and stress.

It's also difficult to predict the level of shock needed for a dog, as the severity will be affected by temperament, previous experiences, amount used, where on the neck it shocks, the thickness of hair and the level of moisture on the skin.

Shock collars are still legal in parts of the UK

Shock collars have been illegal to use on dogs and cats in Wales for more than a decade, under the Animal Welfare (Electronic Collars) (Wales) Regulations 2010. Sadly this isn't the case in England, where they're legally allowed to be used without restriction. The UK Government announced in 2018 that they were planning to ban the use (but not sale) of shock collars in England. Disappointingly, there's been no update on this since, and we're lobbying the Government to match the legislation in Wales.

Safely training your dog

Find out how to ethically and safely train your dog so that it's a positive experience for both you and your dog.

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