Are Choke Collars Bad For My Dog?
And do they really work? 🤔
Whether your dog is super eager to smell all the smells, or lunges at every dog who walks by, walking a puller can be a little like flying a kite.
Some trainers say that choke collars can help to get this problem behavior under control, but are they bad for your pup?
The Dodo spoke with Dr. Vanessa Spano, a veterinarian at Behavior Vets in New York City, to find out more.
What is a dog choke collar?
Basically, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a collar that chokes your dog.
“A variety of choke collars exist, but they are often made of either rope or metal links,” Dr. Spano told The Dodo. “The collar is placed around the dog's neck and a handler holds a leash attached to the collar. When the dog pulls, often considered an ‘undesirable behavior,’ the choke collar tightens around his neck.”
The idea is that your dog will end up associating the uncomfortable feeling of being choked with pulling on the leash, and stop pulling.
Why choke collars are bad for your dog
Even though forming those negative associations can be effective, there are better ways to teach your dog how to walk on a loose leash.
“[Choke collars] may work, but that's because they elicit pain and discomfort,” Dr. Spano explained. “If they didn't, they wouldn't work at all.”
Not only is this pretty cruel to your pup, but it doesn’t really help him learn anything — aside from the fact that he’s now afraid to pull on his leash because he doesn’t like being choked.
“The problem here is that, while punishment techniques may teach a dog what NOT to do, they do not teach a dog what TO DO instead,” Dr. Spano said. “Tools like these are Band-Aids. They are not getting to the root of the issue that is leading to the behavioral concern, and, so frequently, the behavioral concern never really ‘resolves.’"
Aside from the psychological effects of increasing your dog’s fear or anxiety, choke collars — obviously — can have physical effects, too.
“They can lead to damage of the cervical vertebrae, or the spine,” Dr. Spano explained. “And most pronounced from choke collars, they absolutely lead to damage to their airways and esophagus.”
What your dog should use instead of a choke collar
Instead of using a choke collar — or any collar, really — consider getting your dog a harness.
“A neck collar, let alone a choke collar, will never allow the handler to attain better control over a dog that's pulling away from them towards a trigger,” Dr. Spano said. “The problem here is that the dog can still pull, despite the handler attempting to hold them back.”
And if you have your big pittie on a collar, there’s a chance he could pull that leash right out of your hand.
“First, we must get to the root as to why your dog is pulling on [his] leash, and here is where I recommend reaching out to an experienced reward-based trainer, your veterinarian and/or a veterinary behaviorist,” Dr. Spano said.
If your dog is pulling because he’s afraid or anxious, start by avoiding things that set him off.
Behaviors that appear aggressive, like barking or lunging at other dogs, are often a form of anxiety, and are best addressed with baby steps and lots of treats for good behavior.
Try walking him during a time of day when there are fewer people — or other dogs — out and about.
Or if you have access to a yard, let your pup get used to walking on a leash there, since he has the place all to himself.
“Then, with an appropriate behavioral consultant, ‘desensitize’ your dog to that which he is fearful of by redirecting him with something positive, such as a treat, toy or praise, at a very far distance from the trigger,” Dr. Spano said.
Showering your dog with treats is always a great way to make him associate something scary with something delicious — which is why positive reinforcement training is so effective!
“If your dog seems to really like to sniff and investigate, offer more mental enrichment in the home, such as through scent-work and nose-work,” Dr. Spano said.
You could also try using other tools, like clicker training or head harnesses, to keep him from pulling. (Though talk with a trainer before trying a head harness since they’re best reserved for extreme cases!)
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