Are Prong Collars Safe for My Dog?

Published: 02/04/2021
Prong collars are a hotly debated topic in the dog world. On one hand, they're effective against leash-pulling, but many experts shun their use based on ethical concerns. We'll discuss the good, the bad, and the legality of this training tool and help you decide if they're right for your pup.
What are prong collars?
Prong (or pinch) collars are chain-link metal collars with dull, angled protrusions that sink into the pet's skin when the dog or pet parent applies pressure to the leash. The prong collar sits just below the dog's jaw and isn't supposed to "pinch" unless the pet parent or dog pulls at the leash. This collar has similarities to the choke collar and martingale collar, but neither of these has the protrusions (or teeth) that pinch collars do.
Are prong collars safe for dogs?

There are conflicting reports on the safety and efficacy of prong collars. Michigan State University Extension published an article on the success of using prong collars properly, though many experts suggest this evidence is misguided. When used properly, prong collars aren't damaging to the trachea, though they can damage the neck skin, which is much thinner than humans'.

Another issue is many pet parents do not know how to properly use a prong collar. Improper use of a prong collar can seriously damage your pup's trachea and delicate neck skin. Furthermore, prong collars may be perceived by the dog as punishment and cause emotional and behavioral issues later on.

Are prong collars legal?
Many countries, including Austria and Switzerland, have made it illegal to use prong collars for canines. Prong collars are still legal in the US, but are highly discouraged by institutions like the Humane Society and the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Some activists are pushing for laws banning this training tool, though none have been passed as of yet.
Alternatives to prong and choke collars
  • Flat collar. A flat collar is the standard collar you picture when you think of a dog collar. This type of collar can be made from leather, nylon, or fabric and lays flat against the base of the dog's neck. Flat collars clip closed either with a metal or plastic slide-release buckle. This collar can sometimes cause choking for dogs who pull and may cause discomfort or embedding if put on too tightly. You should be able to comfortably slip two fingers between your pet's neck and the flat collar.
  • Martingale collar. Martingale collars are made of a woven material (usually nylon) and appear similar to a flat collar. These lay under the dog's jaw and have an extra piece of fabric where the leash attaches. This type of collar gives the handler more control than a flat collar and won't choke or put pressure on the dog's trachea. 
  • Head halter: A head halter somewhat resembles the collars put on horses. This type of collar wraps around the throat and muzzle of a dog and allows more control for the handler without putting a strain on the dog's throat. Some dog training experts describe this design as "power-steering" for dog handlers. 
  • Harness: A harness wraps around the dog's chest and back and has a D-ring on the back where you can clip the leash. Harnesses apply no pressure on the neck.
Are prong collars right for my dog?

For years, prong collars were touted as an excellent tool for obedience training and a leash pulling preventative. Now, they're thought of as draconian and inhumane in much of the animal world. Many pet stores even have exchange programs where the pet parent can bring in a prong or choke collar and return them for a regular (aka flat) collar, free of charge.

Sure, prong collars are a quick and easy way to make your dog uncomfortable enough to stop pulling — but experts suggest that this is "learned helplessness" to prevent pain on their part. There are evidence-based methods that work and won't cause your dog pain. Positive reinforcement and obedience classes are fantastic for tackling leash pulling.

The more work you put into your dog, the better they will behave, and pain doesn't have to be a factor. Using prong collars as punishment can have unintended consequences. One study found that punishment-based training has negative behavioral effects like decreased social skills and playfulness, whereas positive training methods increase dogs' desire and aptitude for learning.

If you're still on the fence about prong collars, you should talk to your vet or a dog training professional. Don't know of any dog trainers in your area? Book a one-off dog training session through Wag! today and use the in-app chat feature to ask questions about different collars and how they work.

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