Dog Training Collars: The Ins and Outs

The ins and outs of training collars

Chain training collars and others like it have lost much of their former popularity amid the rise of “force-free” methods for controlling and modifying pet behavior (we touched on a related idea in “Train Without Pain: Alternatives to Using a Shock Collar“). They are often seen as cruel, even though a choke chain employed in the correct manner does not harm a dog at all. Unfortunately, the biggest problem is that they are often used improperly.

Assuming a training collar is employed as intended, however, the next question is which type would best suit you and your pet in training situations? In this article, we’ll cover both prong and non-prong chain training collars, as well as a variation known as a martingale collar.

  • Chain Training Collars. These are most appropriate in situations where it is unlikely your little one will rush toward the end of her leash, increasing the risk of something going badly. For dogs who are not accustomed to this type of tool, it is best to limit their use to basic obedience classes or their home environment.

    Broadly speaking, chain training collars should be used when you need to maintain a moderate degree of control over your pet. Perhaps you have a dog that runs to the end of his leash and flails about, almost like a fish out of water. In those circumstances, your little one runs the risk of injuring herself, you or others.

    To prevent this from occurring, this kind of product should be put to good use before things get out of hand. You would rely on a quick yank of the collar to surprise, not choke, your dog, helping to bring her into line, if only for a moment. This gives you (or other trainer) the opportunity to work on keeping her under control over a long period by giving her a treat or other reward.

    Although chain training collars are typically constructed using links made of steel, you can also find other varieties made with nylon, leather or other materials. Arguably, while there is not much difference in the way they are intended to function, some factors to consider include strength and durability, cleaning and maintenance, and overall appearance.

  • Prong Training Collars. This type is designed are for canines who do not respond as desired – or at all – to the chain training variety. No matter how hard you attempt to control their movements, they tend to launch themselves toward the end of the leash after any sort of distraction, leaving them gasping and choking for air. This is especially problematic when it comes to very large or unruly dogs.

    Some might wonder, of course, why you would want to employ what appears to be a more dangerous method of restraint in such circumstances. In reality, the little prongs on the collar are unlikely to cause harm when it is used appropriately. Rather, they serve as a reminder to your dog that she is attached to a leash. The constant, gentle pressure they exert on her neck keeps a small portion of her mind focused on not allowing the collar to tighten any further.

  • Martingale Collars. These are not made out of metal (though they may have parts and attachments that are). They are constructed from the same nylon material that the normal, flat variety is made of, but they feature a neat twist. For dogs with large necks and relatively small heads, they prevent dogs from backing out of them.

    Generally speaking, Martingale collars work in much the same way as chain training collars, but with one key difference. Since they are constructed of flat bands of nylon wrapped more securely around your pet’s neck than a chain, she won’t experience the same surprise “popping” sensation when it is tightened that she would with the other varieties in this category.

    For sighthound dogs, which typically have the sorts of physical features referred to above, these collars do their job wonderfully, though they don’t really work well for over-the-top pullers who need to be fully reined in. They are also a handy tool for those who need a restraint that adjusts on its own – automatically – to catch behind your dog’s ears. That said, they aren’t of much use for heel training.

One thing you must keep in mind, of course, is that these types of collars should never be used when your dog is tied up outside, especially if you are not there keeping a regular eye on her. Unlike with the more ubiquitous flat variety, they can be a choking hazard when your little is left alone and actively scurrying about or getting caught up in any number of distractions.

We would add that using chain training collars on miniature and toy dogs with sensitive tracheas is generally not a good idea. Aside from the fact that these canines should not require this level of control, experience suggests that even the pressure from flat collars can sometimes cause their tracheas to collapse. The same holds true with respect to cats.

Of course, as with anything that can affect your pet’s health and wellbeing in one form or another, you should always consult with a veterinarian (and perhaps a trainer) before starting any training regime.

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