Halters and collars and gentle leaders, oh my! There are so many positive training equipment options out there right now, it can make your head spin, and the selection grows each and every day.
The enhanced selection that you can now find in big box pet stores and online stores alike is a very positive thing… and a positive step in the right direction towards exposing dog owners to less aversive equipment options, and thus less aversive training methods.
But I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but we’re sort of in a recession. (Okay, not technically, but we all feel like we’re broke… so there.) And some of the recommended items of dog training and management equipment, like Freedom harnesses and Sense-ation harnesses, can sometimes be expensive, not to mention the amount of money that could be spent on training treats can rack up at an accelerated rate.
A quick Google search of the term “choke chain” reveals an average cost of about $7, and a search for “pinch collar” shows an average price ranging from $15-20. I do believe that sometimes the low cost of equipment like this and perceived simplicity of use could very well be the main driver for purchasing vs. training the technique or methodology involved.
Which is a huge shame. In an ideal world, all you would need is some treats, a clicker and a flat collar and a leash. In an ideal world, all puppies would learn to loose leash walk with their owner beginning at 8-weeks old, and for every day of their life with 100% consistency thereafter. And in an ideal world, every puppy would be well-socialized and we wouldn’t have to deal with reactivity, fear or aggression in our dogs. But I digress…
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and there is a true need for commercial equipment to help us manage our dogs’ behavior, like pulling on-lead, on the way to teaching new and better behavior. But even the most well-intended, velvet-lined equipment isn’t all fluff and roses for our dogs, and most of them are engineered to work against our dogs’ natural behaviors, like walking at their own pace, for the benefit and convenience of humans.
So what makes an anti-pull harness any better than a choke chain then? A choke chain might be cheaper and more readily available than a Freedom Harness, let’s say – whose Deluxe No-Pull Training Package retails at around $40. But I’ve never heard of a dog being accidentally strangled by harness in the cargo area of a car. And a pinch collar might be a fairly easy concept to understand and implement, but I’ve never heard of a small child having to visit the ER because his hand was punctured by a dog’s Gentle Leader.
These examples are safety issues (preventable by supervision) and don’t even address the effect on the dog’s mental state and consequent behavior when they are used as corrective tools. I can’t pretend to understand a dog’s emotional state when it’s yanked away by the throat from investigating another dog or greeting a neighborhood child, for example. But there are lots of scientific-based articles that discuss the adverse behavioral effects of punishment, like this statement from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
And this article by veterinarian, Dr. Peter Tobias, discusses some of the physical reactions and medical issues that might be experienced by dogs on collars, including ear, eye, neck issues and even hypothyroidism especially in larger breeds that tend to pull on-lead more mightily than other breeds.
I think it’s interesting that through the majority of the article, Dr. Tobias mentions “collars” in somewhat of a general sense, perhaps indicating that all dog collars might hold some general facet of discomfort and damage. Keep in mind that a dog can choke and injure themselves by pulling on a flat buckle collar, just as humans can injure their dogs on choke chains and pinch collars via harsh corrections. And ultimately, the doctor recommends using a properly designed and fitted harness for walking.
Whereas hypothyroidism can account for hair loss, lethargy and other physical symptoms, this Whole Dog Journal article discusses the study work done on the link between hypothyroidism and dog behavior. Behaviorist, Dr. Nicolas Dodds, suggests there are three main groups of abnormal behavior that can be attributed to hypothyroidism: aggression, extreme shyness, and seizure-like activity.
And lastly, in the words of dog behavior expert, Suzanne Clothier, “NO training equipment can substitute for a strong, mutually respectful relationship. Pulling on lead is NOT respectful, and points to underlying problems in the relationship which need resolution. Halters or any other piece of equipment might be important crutches to lean on while resolving the real problem – pulling is just a symptom of that real problem.”
On the way to repairing your relationship with your dog through proper healthcare, exercise, nutrition and positive training, there’s no sense in risking the physical or behavioral health of your dog if alternative equipment is available, though. With the plethora of modern equipment on the marketplace, there are many more alternative options than ever before!
This blog wasn’t intended to be a diatribe for or against anyone or anything. It actually started out as a short article on the versatility of a carabiner in tandem with various dog equipment! (Oh well, maybe next month.) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that if I had to choose between a choke chain and a pinch collar, I’d much rather see a dog in a pinch collar. In many ways, I think they are the safer alternative of the two.
As one of my positive training counterparts had once put it, you can teach all dogs in a positive manner, no matter what the equipment… even a pinch collar. Then at the end of the day, you just have a really well-behaved dog with “fancy jewelry” around their neck.
Is your head spinning yet? Wear a flat collar, don’t wear a collar at all, it doesn’t matter what equipment your dog wears…. Well, which is it?!I think the takeaway should be simple. We all love and cherish our dogs. We spend a ton of money on quality natural foods, interactive toys, plush dog beds, fancy sweater-coats, doggie daycare, boarding, grooming and on and on … so that our dogs can have deservedly fantastic and comfortable lives.
Please don’t make your decision solely based on the cost of equipment. The extra money is a really small investment in the grand scheme of dog ownership. Make your decision based on safety – of both human and dog – and an educated and informed opinion of what you think will work best for you (read this article on Equipment for your Dog ).
The principles of basic economics would state that the more the demand goes up for alternative training equipment, the more cost-effective it should become over time, and I certainly look forward to that day. But until that day, when it comes to your dogs’ safety, health and your relationship together, what might another 20 bucks be worth to you?