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Hi All,

I recognize that the rules of this site clearly state that any training method intended to inflict fear, intimidation, or pain onto a dog should not be endorsed. I am not seeking endorsement for any of these tactics--that is terrible. Instead, as a first time, learning, and loving dog owner, I am looking for second opinions that I would very much appreciate.

My girlfriend and I adopted a puppy from our local shelter at about 8 weeks. Our vet's best guess is that he is an APBT and lab mix, and at his last checkup at 13 weeks, he is a solid and stocky 20 pounds.

The pup has transitioned well into our home and I am really proud of his improvement. We haven't had any bathroom accidents including nighttime in 2 weeks, and he is learning what is OK to chew and what isn't. He is starting to "get" his name and basic commands including sit, down, watch, leave it, drop it, take it. He walks fairly well on leash as well.

What our pup doesn't do so well is contain his excitement when we come across people or other dogs on our walks. He is so thrilled to see them that he will pull on leash (flat buckle collar) to the point of choking himself (you know, that terrible "ack ack" sound!). For weeks we have tried everything from going to the commands (sit/stay), to briefly redirecting with enthusiasm or food and nonfood rewards, but nothing seems to phase him. Please note that I DO NOT yank and pull on the leash to keep him back. When we come across people and dogs, I try to keep slack in the leash so that he doesn't feel any added tension from me. But as soon as he sees them--BAM--he's pulling pulling pulling while I either hold the leash in a static position at my side, or enthusiastically run to the side and try to redirect him with his favorite treat.

As a first time dog owner, I'm very naive but do my best to research extensively from varying sources in order to learn. From what I've read, it's great that he's so pumped to meet everyone--we want him to be excited to see people and dogs, right? He's becoming super socialized at an early age which is terrific. Many sources say this high energy is just a "puppy thing", too.

Still, the behavior is concerning to me because I love the little guy and he is clearly putting himself at risk for injury by pulling so hard to get to people. I would love to just let him go as we do when he sees our neighbor's dog who we know is a safe playmate. But when we see large aggressive males, or people who don't look interested in meeting him, it is just not safe or appropriate to release him.

We started seeing a trainer in town who we really like. His group trains dogs for K-9 work, protection, and obedience competitions, but they also do obedience classes. His methods have been humane, thoughtful, based on scientific evidence, and he is clearly an advocate for raising stable and intelligent dogs. He's been great with our pup and we REALLY like him. We have started marker training this week as well, and have quickly seen a significant improvement in our pup's focus, engagement, and drive to learn and produce rewards.

I presented our leash-pulling issue to our trainer, who suggested a prong collar. He warned that many people view the prong collar as inhumane, but that the mechanism provides a small "pinch" that the dog likely does not interpret as pain--he likened it to a mother using her mouth on the pup's neck. Our trainer fitted the collar properly high on the neck behind the ears and taught us when and how to properly use it. It is not a quick-release collar, which I know can be dangerous. It's one of the solid Sprenger ones. Our trainer said that he normally wouldn't use a prong collar on a 13 week old puppy, but that our pup is so robust that it is appropriate in our case (e.g., when he put the collar on the pup for the first time and tried it, our pup didn't respond in any way--he said that most puppies his age would lay down and cry immediately). We agreed to go ahead and give it a try.

So, we have been using it for several days now, and it's true, we have seen an improvement; our pup does not bolt after the runner or biker going by, or walks with me to greet a doggy friend instead of bolting at it. What makes me happy is that the collar does not seem to elicit any sort of pain response--he's never yelped, whined, or cried. He'll occasionally just sit down and scratch at it, but that's it. A little itch--if that is what he is truly feeling--does seem more humane than choking himself with the normal flat collar.

Still, I am struggling with the idea of the prong. When so many people have such strong feelings about it, I can't help but second guess the method. As I said, we have recently introduced marker training, and he is doing so well with that. He is more focused and seems happier as he is better engaged during our time out of the house. But I can't decipher if that improvement is from the introduction of the prong collar, the introduction of marker training, or perhaps a combination of both. I wonder if he would continue to do well if we tossed the prong collar, remained diligent with marker training, and then introduced one of the front-attaching harnesses to aid in those times when he wants to bolt to greet someone.

I realize that there are other threads about prong/choke collars, and I have read them--but I would really appreciate advice for our particular situation. I also recognize that this subject can elicit strong feelings for some people on either end of the spectrum. Please note that this is NOT an invitation for distasteful mud slinging or personal attacks on people who may post. Neither is it an invitation to condemn our trainer, who I am confident is a kind, competent, and experienced professional. Lastly, I am not asking for members to violate site rules and endorse methods of training that are not in accordance of the site. My girlfriend and I simply need constructive insight from others with more experience than us in this realm.

Thanks!
 

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A prong collar is a tool. Plain and simple. Used incorrectly it CAN be in-humane, however when its used correctly with the right temperment of dog it can be a good tool for the arsenal. And that is true of ANY training tool, no matter how humane it's deemed.

I'm not entirely thrilled with the use of it on such a young pup. I routinely work with mastiffs, who are as big or bigger, at that age, and its usually possible to find another solution, didferent techniques or a no pull harness or the like.

Having said that you ARE working directly with a trainer, who is (I assume) supervising your work with the pup closely. This is a good thing.

I guess overall I'm neutral about your use of a prong in this situation. Ideally your trainer sould be working with you with the goal of phasing out the prong and eventually working the pup back to proper behavior on a flat collar.
 

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I have never been a fan of prong collars, especially on puppies. Being that young the muscles surrounding the trachea leaving a lot of important things eligible to be damaged.

A lot of times I think the prong collars are trainers cop outs. There are a lot of other training devices out there that would work, but they will take work.

If you are truely not comfortable with using it I would speak with your trainer and ask for other suggestions. No use in using something that makes you uncomfortable.
 

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So your trainer says that the prong collar causes a pinch, not pain but also says that most puppies that age would immediately lay down and cry. But no pain. Right.

They are just a tool, though one that works based on aversion. Personally, I would never use one, nor recommend one - and have been known to go off on rants about them in classes.

There is only one traditional trainer in my club who would put a prong on a dog that young and, well, they've had several complaints about harshness. Most will only suggest chain collars over 6 months.
 

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I have never been a fan of prong collars, especially on puppies. Being that young the muscles surrounding the trachea leaving a lot of important things eligible to be damaged.
A flat or choke collar will do even more damage when the pup pulls on through them like this pup is described as doing. At least with a prong the pup ISN'T pulling though it, resulting in much less overall pressure on the neck.

If you run across a dog who pulls through the prong then obviously its not the right tool for that dog.

And if you're worried about what it feels like put it on yourself.
 

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I would never use a prong collar on a pup, that's just my personal view.

I believe that it can cause frustration and or cause the dog to fear another dog. When your pup is on leash every time he pulls to go meet a person or dog he is being corrected, it's up in the air whether he'll come to view people/dogs as the source of his discomfort, or if he'll associate it with pulling to greet them.

It does not teach him what to do, and some dogs learn to behave only when the prong collar is on, if it's off they know they are free to pull as much as they want. It's a bandaide not a fix and if the dog is not doing the behavior there is not way to teach him to not do it. In other words you still need to eventually take it off and teach him a proper greeting. IMHO it's easier to teach a pup that then a full grown dog that you are fighting to control.

What you really need to do is work on loose leash walking, and teach him that pulling to greet does not get him what he wants. To do that recruit some friends, or just go on a slightly busy street, and walk toward people/dogs, as soon as he starts to pull say something like opps or lets go (or whatever you want) and turn and walk a couple steps in the opposite direction, once he's walking beside you turn back around and walk toward the person, as soon as he pulls turn back around. Rinse and repeat. You'll need to practice, practice, practice, but he will learn that pulling gets him to go in the other direction, keeping a loose leash gets him to go toward the person..
 
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A flat or choke collar will do even more damage when the pup pulls on through them like this pup is described as doing. At least with a prong the pup ISN'T pulling though it, resulting in much less overall pressure on the neck.

If you run across a dog who pulls through the prong then obviously its not the right tool for that dog.

And if you're worried about what it feels like put it on yourself.
I've never tried a prong but have tried a choke chain on Shadow. Yeah I used that term for it on purpose, Shadow would cheerfully choke himself on it if he spotted something he wanted to get to. I'd been shown how to use it properly by an obedience trainer, and it worked great as long as a cat, squirrel, dog, interesting person didn't appear on the walk, if one did he'd pull till he was gasping for air, deaf to all the commands he normally obeyed, and oblivious to the pain and discomfort he must have been in, I'd have to drag his choking self in the opposite direction till he gave up and stopped pulling to go back. I ditched the choke chain within a week. Knowing Shadow, and his ability to fixate, I think he'd probably have done the same thing on a prong collar.

Moral of the story is, know your dog and know when a training tool is doing more harm then good.
 
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I've never tried a prong but have tried a choke chain on Shadow. Yeah I used that term for it on purpose, Shadow would cheerfully choke himself on it if he spotted something he wanted to get to. I'd been shown how to use it properly by an obedience trainer, and it worked great as long as a cat, squirrel, dog, interesting person didn't appear on the walk, if one did he'd pull till he was gasping for air, deaf to all the commands he normally obeyed, and oblivious to the pain and discomfort he must have been in, I'd have to drag his choking self in the opposite direction till he gave up and stopped pulling to go back. I ditched the choke chain within a week. Knowing Shadow, and his ability to fixate, I think he'd probably have done the same thing on a prong collar.

Moral of the story is, know your dog and know when a training tool is doing more harm then good.

Exactly
 

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What's wrong with a harness? No damage, no pain, no risk to the dog.

It's not easy to train loose leash walking to an adult dog, let alone a fiesty, flighty puppy. It takes time. Look up "silky leash", buy a harness to protect your puppy's trachea, spine and esophagus and get to work!
 

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Wow, this is why I love this forum--so many great responses already.

To the folks suggesting loose-leashing walking--we have been working on loose-leash walking since Day 1 (or, at least, my Rookie interpretation of what loose-leash walking is!). Here is what we do: I have a 6' leash. If my pup ever tries to go ahead I let him go the length of the leash, and if he reaches it, I stop. I don't pull or yank, I just stop right there and hold the leash to my side. My pup has learned that when that happens he needs to sit. At that point I'll walk ahead, and when I decide it's time to go, I release him with "OK". He waits and releases on command almost every time. However, many times he will just do it all over again, and we end up stopping going, stopping going, etc. 5-10 times in a row. I presume this is just puppy being puppy? And am I doing this correctly?

When we're not out on a structured walk, we'll often go to large open area and I'll arbitrarily change directions, go several steps, change directions. I keep a loose leash the whole time, and communicate with him "This way, this way!". If he follows, I mark and reward. If he resists, I hold light pressure on the leash in my direction and continue enthusiastic verbalization. When he takes the first step in my direction and the light tension on the leash goes away, I immediately mark the movement and provide reward. I have found this to be pretty effective--is this correct technique?

SO, the pup doesn't normally pull during these exercises--it happens more when we are going out to the bathroom or for a quick walk around our apartment complex where we encounter several people and dogs coming out of their units or going to and from cars. That's when he gets super pumped and pulls.

Maybe the best solution for us will be to continue loose-leash walking (if that's even what we're doing), and get a harness that connects in the front so that when he tries to pull towards unsuspecting people leaving their apartments it will turn him towards me and discourage that type of pulling, and when he settles down, we can then approach and greet the person in an appropriate manner?
 

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I tried regular collar, halti head type collar, and front pull harnesses.... All worked a bit, but all had failures. At 9 months, a trainer suggested a prong collar, and it has worked magic, and I don't have a pulling choking pup anymore. She's polite and well mannered. We transition off it when I know we have no distractions, and when there are known distractions so I can work with her with treats, etc. in fact, we recently got our CGC title, due to being able to work and train with her in a calm manner because of the prong, and able to pass with a flat collar.
 

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A few things I want to address here...

The trainer saying it "pinches" but isn't "painful". I think the main thing you need to understand about this is that it's a punishment. It doesn't MATTER whether it's not "painful" or it only "pinches" or is "uncomfortable"...We have no way of knowing what the dog actually FEELS, so it's really of little importance. Trainers who use them only say that to make you feel better about putting something that looks like a torture device on your dog. What matters is that you understand the collar administers a positive punishment.

A positive punishment is adding something or adding a consequence that is undesirable, that an animal (or child) will want to avoid. In this case, the prong collar adds something (pain/pinch/discomfort/who cares) that makes the dog avoid it's pressure.

Does it work? Of course it works. Punishment is known for working. BUT, there are a handful of potential problems with using positive punishment.

1) It must be severe. If the dog doesn't perceive the punishment as something it wants to avoid, then it won't work. You have to give a severe enough punishment to make the dog want to avoid doing that behavior again.

2) Dogs can become desensitized to the punishment. It happens. This can lead to a pretty bad negative feedback loop because to make a punishment work again, you have to make it more severe. It can easily be a slipperly slope to abuse.

3) Fallout. Fallout is basically the unintended consequences of the punishment. It's always there, you just don't always see it, or it may not always be obvious. A dog may pull on the leash especially hard when it sees another dog. You put a prong on, it pulls, it associates the punishment NOT with the pulling, but with the other dog. You have inadvertently created aggression in your dog. That can happen with another human. It can create and worsen reactivity. I've seen this one a lot actually.

4) Dogs learn to avoid the punishment. This might just be a different kind of fall out. But dogs don't always associate a positive punishment with the behavior you want it to. They're not like kids where we can lay out very specific reasons for a punishment. In other words, positive punishment doesn't necessarily result in LEARNING. Dogs can figure out that the collar is what ultimately causes and is associated with the undesirable stimulus. You take the collar off? Dog reverts to pulling. The prong will not teach your dog the behavior of loose leash walking. It only suppresses the behavior of pulling.

Some will say that positive reinforcement training WITH the use of a tool is the what's suppose to happen and is what constitutes proper use of the collar. Most people put them on as quick fixes and allow the collar to be a natural consequence of pulling with no training. That's what's going to cause some of the problems I listed and why some people can't walk their dog without one. But honestly, if you are willing to use positive reinforcement to train the dog, you are probably best off not using the prong. There's no need to risk the chance of creating/exaggerating reactivity or aggression, or fall out. Plus you don't have to go through the long process of weaning the dog off the collar if you don't want to walk him with it permanently. When you consider the positive reinforcement training aspect and the process required to transition back to a normal collar, it's really not a quick fix at all.

If you can train the behavior using positive reinforcement only, you will ultimately get better, more reliable results and you will not cause any harm to your dog psychologically.
 

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I tried so many methods under the guidance of a trainer/behaviorist before I agreed to a prong. It was either get my dog trained or rehome her, the second was NOT an option. My trainer emphasized it as a tool. Martindales, chokes, and halti's can cause damage so don't be persuaded into them being 100% humane. Front clipped harness seem to be a bandaid fix for me....forcing a change in direction instead of training.
The key is phasing out the prong through practice, consistant, constant training, and knowing your dog. The first 2 weeks Luna was walked 100% on a correctly fitted prong. We slowly transitioned from the prong on her but leash was clipped to her flat collar. About a month into the training, prong totally removed. Luna was extremely fear-aggressive to the point she would drag me in the opposite direction to avoid people, cars, strange noises and other dogs. Today I can walk next to another dog with her in a perfect heel. She still gets a bit nervous but has learned to trust and is building up her confidence. She will maintain a 20-30 minute down or sit/stay in a public area with distractions, and heel perfectly in closed areas. Off-leash has been a challenge because of her genetic built in prey-drive.
During the training I never 'popped' the prong like some trainers recommend to correct. My trainer emphasized that she would be able to feel the tension and self-correct, which she did during the first week. She started walking perfectly and the pulling stopped.
Please make sure you ask your trainer about a protocol, proper fitting, and the timeline for phasing out the prong. You know your dog and the level of commitment you are willing to put into training. If your trainer can't answer your questions, find one that can.
 

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Honestly, I like prong collars if they are used correctly for a lot of dogs. Leash pops are not helpful, but the way the prong tightens like a martingale, but disperses the pressure over multiple points makes it easier on the dogs trachea. I also think that, used correctly, the collar is a negative reinforcer as it applies pressure when the dog is pulling, and releases it when the dog stops. Leash pops after the behavior, but removing stimulus when the appropriate behavior is achieved is negative reinforcement, not punishment. Both positive and negative reinforcement have scientifically proven efficacy, and the methods have been shown to have different success levels for teaching and retaining behavior depending on the behavior and the situation.

So that is that. HOWEVER it is often very easy for someone who doesn't know quite what they are doing to use a tool like a prong, E-collar, etc incorrectly and thus inadvertently punish a dog. Timing is the ESSENTIAL difference between negative reinforcement and positive punishment, and that can make things tricky. It takes practice. And, with an aversive stimulus like a prong collar, it can be hard for a sensitive dog to forgive a trainer who gets their timing wrong. A less sensitive dog might cheerfully withstand hours of badly timed stimulation and still not know a thing. All dogs are different, and using any tool incorrectly can create a bigger problem than it solves.
 

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I find harnesses just increase the pulling & find a good redirection & changing the direction etc & of course praising loose leash moments.
 

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I often wonder about the underside of a dogs neck with prong collars, as could not imagine it be anything but quite nasty feeling 1 of those prongs sticking into 1's windpipe.
 

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You know I was actually being a nerd yesterday and watching mythbusters and something relevant to this came up. They were testing a myth that said a motorcyclist could be killed by an impact with a large bug. Not that the bug will cause an accident and the accident kills the driver, but that the impact itself with the bug can be fatal.

Well, they talked to a doctor and found that the very worst spot to be hit is actually the front of the throat where the trachea/esophagus is. It's a very weak area and according to the doctor, a hit of only 50 or so pounds of pressure per square inch can kill you. It isn't an instantaneous kill, but the swelling that will quickly follow will suffocate you.

A single stationary house fly generated 10 PSI when hit at 85mph. A stationary Cicada about 40. You could realistically be killed by a bug while you are on a motorcycle if it hits you on the throat.

I personally don't see why a dog's throat would be any different. There's nothing on the underside that would provide protection...I can feel Tigger's throat and feel the ridges of his trachea just like I can on mine. And with most dogs weighing much, much less than a human....The amount of pressure they could handle must also be significantly less. It's no wonder small dogs are prone to a collapsed esophagus. Even a flat collar is dangerous, considering the data.

I always used to walk my dogs with just a collar...They're all trained not to pull. But I think now I'm going to get harnesses and use them from now on, just in case. All it would take is one good, powerful lunge with the collar in the right spot.
 
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