Dr. Alix Partnow, a neurologist at VCA Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle, with her two dogs, in prong collars. Photo by VSC
Dr. Alix Partnow, a neurologist at VCA Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle, and Grisha Stewart, a Seattle dog trainer and author, answer this week’s questions.
Question: Prong collars, sometimes known as pinch collars, are made of metal interlocking links, each with two blunt prongs that pinch the dog’s skin when the collar is tightened. Under what circumstances should prong collars be used?
Partnow: To start off, I will say that there is no official professional stance among veterinarians regarding prong collars specifically.
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As a dog owner, I will say that I use prong collars on my two large-breed dogs, a German shepherd and a pointer-mix. When the prong collars are on my dogs, they rarely pull on the lead; however, without the feel of the collar they are much more likely to be straining their necks against their soft collars.
As with other training devices, when used under supervision and in combination with proper behavioral training, these collars can be quite effective. However, these collars should not be left on an unattended animal (such as one tethered in the yard) or to train by negative reinforcement/inflicting pain.
Stewart: Never, because of the possible fallout. For example, some dogs can become aggressive on leash because they make an association of other dogs with pain — every time they see another dog, their neck feels like it has been bitten.
There are always other tools. Front-attachment harnesses, such as the Freedom harness and the Xtradog harness, have a ring at the dog’s chest and another at the shoulders for the leash, so physics is on your side. When the leash tightens, the dog usually turns, pivoting around the leash clip.
These harnesses can be quite effective and are my go-to tool for dogs that are hard to control in a flat collar or regular rear-attachment harness.