While I can’t say I was anything less than shocked to see a clear ban on certain tools in this city. To say the least it scares me.
A long time ago I never would have used a prong collar, they were scary looking and meant to cause harm right? Not my aim as a trainer. I often avoided mentors who used them and refused to acknowledge anyone would ever need one. Seeing them in pet stores made me cringe and watching owners use them made me snarl.
Now my view is different but I’m not against a law - just not this one.
Ten years ago I pulled a 6-month-old GSD from a shelter.
She was not your average dog. Her confidence was outstanding, she feared nothing. Her ability to work as a team was priceless and I loved every single second with her.
Normally dogs take up to two weeks to show their true personality this girl had no issue showing me what she was all about two days after moving in.
Quickly it was apparent she was one of the very few dogs who was very assertive - she thought everything was hers and did not want to give up her resources.
I hate using the word ‘dominant’ but I will say this dog wanted to be the leader. Her major issues included food aggression, resource guarding- water bowls, beds spaces etc.
She has been never exposed to anything besides her backyard and not socialized with other dogs. But she was so pretty - seemed like a good idea at the time.
Training started right away!
We hand fed, we hiked, we went everywhere! She flourished well and became a great dog with minor issues. As always the commitment for long-term must be there and it took years to fix her, this is no exaggeration.
As a trainer, my issues with her were limited - what my problem was: The inexperienced person living with me was unable to walk her without dragging.
The lack of time to spend working with the dog became an excuse. ‘She is too much with the other dogs to walk’ ‘She gets everyone out of control’. With me, this never occurred so we needed to try some other options.
First came the Gentle Leader
I spent 4 weeks conditioning her and to this day she will put it on without a problem but walking her looks terribly sad. She clearly didn’t want to wear it.
So we stopped walking her with this tool and went back to the baby steps, 3 more weeks- I even put the tool next to her bowl, played with it close to use and used steak when it was on along with a variety of other conditioning methods.
Finally, I decided this was not the tool for her.
What about the Choke Collar
My second choice normally at the time would have been a choke collar but my significant other had nowhere near the skill to use this properly, along with many clients, so this was automatically out of the question.
So out came the anti-pull harness!
Did it work? Somewhat. My issue here as we were very close to competing in obedience and when she pulled the harness would pull her back to me sideways.
Within days I started to see she would almost always turn ready for this correction and this would cause me surely plenty of point loss in my level of competitive obedience.
It was then I called my mentor, and he suggested the Prong Collar.
All I could think of was the heavy collar and the pain it would cause. To my surprise that weekend during class he pulled it out, it was a very small lightweight prong. We put it on correctly went over the rules and we started conditioning her. It was quickly apparent this was going to work.
Never were we creating pain to this dog, she never cried, she never looked sad. Her happiness boosted and she was able to join pack walks when I wasn’t able to walk her myself. Without this tool, she would have lacked exercise and time spent with the people she loved - imagine how hard this would have been on her and her other owner.
She was never sad to put it on, never showed stress signals during her time with this tool. This dog now got to have her regular exercise daily and not lose out on the fun of having a life!
After 4 and half months, we got her back down to martingale. She’s now an old gal, but by 4 she was a multi-titled working dog and a therapy dog for children - pretty impressive feat for a girl who was going to be euthanized.
The picture I’m trying to paint here is this:
I do not believe prongs should be readily available to the general public. I even feel stronger about choke collars as the level of handling must be amazing to use correctly.
There are dogs I have trained that their owners would have surrendered without some help of this tool. Should I judge them they weren’t able to have perfect handling right from the start? Should I still suggest an anti-pull harness after a client was drug into a lake by her large dog resulting in bruised ribs? What about a Halti that rubbed all the skin off my Tosa Inu client whose owner could not condition him to it?
There are clients who simply are set on this tool and deserve the education on its use and how to do it safely without hurting the dog. Most of these dogs now wear a martingale collar without issue but needed immediate help to save them.
There are dogs that owners would have surrendered or euthanized without a tool that could help them manage their dog the way they wanted to.
When all is said and done
A prong collar is never my ‘go to’ tool but if a client wishes to use it I believe we need to be educated on how to properly use this tool effectively and safely on the dog, otherwise this person may not seek professional help and attempt on their own!