on dog training collars

Our Kuvasz, Sasha, is doing great. Big, beautiful puppy. Well ok… a 95# dog isn’t a puppy. 🙂

We took a lengthy hiatus from taking her on walks. She still got a lot of exercise playing with the kids, no worries there. But walks just didn’t happen for whatever reason. The main issue? Given her highly protective nature, it’s difficult to go walking at most times of the day. If too many other people are out, especially walking their own dogs, it just makes it difficult to get a successful walk in. Then it got hot, and between the hot pavement and too many lawns with burrs in the yard, walks just were not going to happen.

But a few weeks ago I started taking her on walks again. I’m up very early in the morning, so early morning walks are workable. Plus if I can get a good brisk walk in, that’s some amount of exercise for me… not huge by any means, but better than nothing and every bit counts right now. Yes, I’m trying to work this into my exercise strategy… like walk a bit as a warm-up, put her back inside, then drag the tire sled. We’ll see. I digress.

Plus, recently Sasha started to get a little too big for her britches, so doing some more rigorous training exercises helps her remember her place in the pecking order. Nothing bad, but again she’s got an alpha temperament and needs to remember that *I* am alpha, then comes the rest of the family, the cats, and so that puts her somewhere around lambda or maybe upsilon. 😉  So going on walks is good for that, especially since the walks aren’t just putting her on a leash and wandering around. No, there’s lots of commands, lots of leash control, lots of working on her self-restraint. BTW, she loves these Cloud Star Chewy Tricky Trainers Cheddar flavor. Excellent training treat.

In training, the collar is important. Not just so we can keep hold and control over her, but to provide Sasha with feedback. When we first got her, we took her to the Triple Crown Dog Academy. There they recommended we use their Pro-Training Collar (used to be called the StarMark, but I guess they recently changed the name). This was a tremendous help in Sasha’s early stages because we had to deal with a lot of her rehoming issues. She had to (re)learn her proper place in the pecking order. She had to learn what was appropriate and what was not. At the time, Triple Crown’s techniques were precisely what we needed — they were the “emergency” first aid to help get Sasha back where she should be. But long term, we needed someone who better understood and could take the time to work with her breed, her temperament, and her issues to best provide what we needed to operate in our environment and home.

The trainer we found and worked with (and I’ve covered elsewhere on my blog) was fantastic. If not for her we never would have made so much progress with Sasha, and Sasha wouldn’t be the happy pup she is. We are grateful for what we learned.

Certainly tho, the trainer didn’t like the Pro-Training Collar. Instead, she wanted us to get a martingale collar, pure nylon as one with a chain would just bind up in Sasha’s long fur. Of course, we did as she requested, but we always had reserve. The main reason? Choking. Sure they appear more humane than the “star” or a prong/pinch collar, but I’ve been around the block enough to know that appearances/cosmetics don’t correlate to utility or humaneness. I hated how we might have to snap the leash for reinforcement, and hearing Sasha gag and choke. Or we’d take her on a walk and she’d go a little too far and get gagged and cough. I just didn’t see that as being better. Think about it… what does the collar do? It constricts. Put your hands around someone’s neck… now sharply constrict and tell me that’s pleasant. Well sure, it’s supposed to be unpleasant, but let’s compare. Instead of using the flats of your hands around the neck, curl your fingers so just your fingertips are against the neck; now constrict your fingers. To me, that’s preferable. First, since the force is now directed to a few small points instead of flattened out across the entire length, the specific pain is sharper and more acute. But because of that, you need less total force to get your point across. Furthermore, now there’s no constricting against the windpipe. To me, that’s the big thing. I live in fear of crushing or collapsing her windpipe or causing some other damage to it — that’s going to be fatal, and it’s totally preventable.

And yes, I’ve put both collars on myself. I’ve felt them. I know what’s happening and what it feels like. I’d rather get the StarMark collar because well… I guess I don’t like the feeling of strangulation.

It doesn’t really matter to me the philosophy behind the “prong” collar. Some say it’s replicating the bite from a mother dog or the alpha dog to remind the other dog of their place. Some say it’s merely because it’s an uncomfortable or undesirable sensation that they just will learn to avoid. Even read this article from AKC advocating the prong collar. But whatever the reason, I just always thought the “star” collar was better: it was less problematic, and more effective.

Here’s the real testimony.

When I started walking Sasha again, of course I used the martingale. The one we have is about 1″ wide and pure nylon. It acts as her normal everyday collar… we never take it off, no reason to. I would use it, walk her, but management could be challenging at times. This is not atypical. She listens, the commands register, but sometimes her genetic programming takes over and she’s like “Yes, Dad, I hear you, but this thing is a threat and I need to let it know I mean business — stay away!”  Sometimes I have to work the collar hard, but it doesn’t matter. Basically it winds up choking the dog and being a massive tug-of-war. It only serves to hurt the dog, and it’s not providing the necessary feedback. What good is that?

So about a week ago I pulled the StarMark collar back out. Instantly I saw a difference. Sure she got a few reminders at first, but after that wow… she knew. Whereas all of my “walks” were little more than going up and down our road, working on commands, keeping her “at my side” and working on basic leash stuff again… suddenly I was able to go around the block. In fact, this morning we did two laps around the block with almost no stopping nor correction, loose leash. It was fantastic.

Note that I don’t leave the collar on all the time. It’s only used when we go on walks or need to ensure proper reception of feedback. We’ll keep her martingale collar as her normal collar with her tags and everything, and we’ll still use that in a pinch if we need it.

I will say, a prong is not a panacea and is only a tool. Like any tool, it can be misused and abused. There’s no question some people do not know how to use such a collar in proper context. And I would also say that not every dog needs such a collar. So again, it’s all about proper tool selection, proper tool use. I cannot make a blanket statement of “use this collar” because it just depends upon each dog and each situation. But I can say at least for me and my dog and my situation? Oh yes.

13 thoughts on “on dog training collars

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I saw much less choking and much more response from a prong type collar than a martingale. Unfortunately my mastiff has outgrown his Starmark collar and we had to go with a Sprenger collar. Not a fan of it, not because of it’s function but more because of it’s appearance. People see a metal collar on a dog and get freaked out by it unlike the blue plastic of the StarMark.

    • You can get additional links for the StarMark to make it bigger. We had to do that with Sasha.

      You can also get covers and such for other collars to make them a little less aggressive looking.

  2. Two comments today:

    Number one: The purpose of the martingale collar is as a “No-Slip” collar. It is not meant to be a punitive collar. If Sasha is choking when the collar tightens then it’s too tight. It’s meant for dogs who will turn around and try to pull their head out of the collar. It should be tight enough that when they try to pull out, they can’t, but not so tight that it chokes them when they pull forwards.

    I have 5 dogs. All of them use martingale collars, and none have any trouble breathing if they pull.

    Number two: My concerns with the starmark collar are not of cruelty, but if she does pull hard collars of that design have been shown to cause injury to the dogs trachea. Imagine your walking her at heal and in a moment of condition white she spots a bird or squirrel. She takes off to catch her prey, and suddenly she reaches the end of your arm and leash at full gallop. The prongs will press into her throat and present a real risk of fracturing her trachea.

    I know how difficult it can be to keep a willful dog under control on leash, but with the same determination I see you apply to other pursuits you can teach her to walk on leash even with distractions.

    • Well that’s one problem with the martingale collars: they were designed for one purpose, then got repurposed to another. While that can sometimes work out, it’s not always optimal. I mean, I could drive a nail with a shoe, but a hammer is better. Shotguns got repurposed for things like personal defense when their main purpose was shooting small flying things (birds); while not bad in that role, purpose-built tools are better (see AR-15, or better M4gery).

      The reality is anything around a neck brings risk of harm in some manner. I can say with certainty for my dog that the star works better both in terms of not “hurting” and in behavior management. I guess you’d just have to see what I mean and see her in person. I’ve used the martingale for many many months (over a year?) and I know the responses and how things work out.

      We may have to agree to disagree here. 🙂

  3. I prefer martingales over true chokes, but I have to agree with the poster above, that the point of the martingale is to keep the dog from slipping out, not as a control collar. Though I disagree on the collar fit, thats EXACTLY how it should be fit, if it doesn’t pull that snug then she could slip it. And personally I worry more about throat damage with a flat collar than a prong, just keep the leash shorter with the prong so the dog doesn’t have the room to get up to speed before hitting the collar. And very very few dogs will deliberetly lean into a prong so hard as to do themselves damage.

    Sprenger prong collar covers here: http://www.activedogs.com/product.php?id=830 personally I love my Sprenger, but then Apollo’s ruff is thick enough (even in fully shed out summer coat) that the metal collar doesn’t show up well, people just don’t notice it. The Sprenger is WAY better quality than the prongs sold at the petstore chains, and not that much more expensive if you shop around.

    We put Apollo’s tags on a rolled leather collar just loose enough that he could slip it if it got caught on something, and put either the martingale or the prong on him when we need a leash.

      • Welcome! I’d consider it if Apollo’s fur wasn’t so thick, but honestly people are surprised when I tell them what collar he’s wearing, you just can’t see it under the fluff!

    • She doesn’t get to the end of the leash… that’s kinda the point of the leash work. She’s by my side, the leash is loose, right hand holding the end of the leash (around my belly button) and the left hand then working the “slack” of the leash. If she gets just a bit away, my left hand is able to manage things before she can get much of any momentum. Granted could she? I’m sure she could and things could happen… we’ll just have to let it ride.

      In the end, I have to trust what I know about MY dog and HER particular needs. I don’t expect this to be right for everyone and every situation; I certainly don’t see it as a blanket solution. I also want to ensure it’s used right and with prudence.

  4. “She doesn’t get to the end of the leash… that’s kinda the point of the leash work. She’s by my side, the leash is loose, right hand holding the end of the leash (around my belly button) and the left hand then working the “slack” of the leash. If she gets just a bit away, my left hand is able to manage things before she can get much of any momentum. Granted could she? I’m sure she could and things could happen… we’ll just have to let it ride.”

    Exactly the point. When working with a prong collar, of any kind, you have to manage the leash so as to manage the dog and keep them from hitting the end of the leash that way. No, the prong’s not for all dogs, but for some dogs, used correctly its exactly whats needed.

  5. Yup. We got a LOT of good training from the 2 trainers we used. Kuvasz, and Sasha in particular, just have some different needs.

    Witness:

    and then…

    (especially the first segment)

    Not us, not our dog, but I watch these and it’s just like my pup on many levels.

    • Very cool videos!

      “purpose bred dogs have a high distraction level”

      Is that what its called in polite society? Usually we call it “that g*d-d*mned cat from across the street is in our yard again!!”

      We use a verbal “Yes!!” marker instead of a clicker, but otherwise…At least Sasha will accept treats in public. Apollo is SO NOT FOOD DRIVEN (or toy driven or squeaker driven or….). At home, in the house, where it “safe” he’ll respond very nicely for treats, in public…forget it. I can wave pepperoni in front of his nose with no response. Thankfully he’s a generally friendly dog, as long as the person’s not acting aggressively, who we managed to stuff a reasonably amount of manners into before the protection drive really hit. It means we have to put extra work into any additional training, to get it solid before we expose it to the general public, but I wouldn’t trade him for the world!

      • We’re not into the clicker because then we need to rely upon this gadget… what if we don’t have it? what if it broke? We use “good girl”. It works fine.

        Sasha is only so food driven. I mean, she certainly loves food and treats, but it’s not highest thing on importance for her. If there’s a threat or some such thing, food doesn’t matter.

        I wouldn’t trade her for the world either. She’s got her baggage and issues, but we all do. She’s everything we wanted, and a whole bunch more. Never thought I could love a dog so much. I’m still not a dog person, but I’m totally a Sasha person. 🙂

  6. A prong collar (pinch collar) is just another training tool that helps you get the desired result, which is a dog that walks nicely on the leash. There are plenty of other training tools that accomplish the same thing – head halters, front-clip harnesses, choke chains, e-collars, flat buckle collars, martingales, regular harnesses.

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