Recently in Toronto, a new rule was snuck into the by-laws of the city of Toronto, Canada. The city decided to ban the use of prong collars and slip chains (often referred to as choke chains). Luckily, thanks to the tireless work of organizations like the International Association of Canine Professionals the rule has been temporarily repealed while they gather more information.
Worse yet, in Hillsborough County and the state of Florida, a powerful lobby is pushing legislation that basically mandates an “all-positive” approach in dog training.
There is a growing movement of a loud minority of trainers and animal rights activists who are well-intentioned, but misinformed about the benefits and drawbacks of such “aversive” tools and if the rest of us remain quiet, then we’ve got a dire situation for all the dogs we care about on our hands.
Look at Elmer. He is a French Bulldog who was originally trained at the most well-renowned all-positive school in Indianapolis where his behavior was clearly not fixed. He blew up not only at every dog he saw, but every car, person, lawnmower, leaf, etc.
As you can see, have the options to switch to different tools can quickly allow dogs to get out of their own way and open up an opportunity to more positive training and more positive experiences.
Or perhaps we look at Abbott – a spirited golden retriever who had repeatedly gotten excited and pulled his elderly handler to the ground. Look at him here walking with a pack. He’s happy, healthy and enjoying the world. Thanks to prong collars and remote collars Abbott can spend time on and off-leash in the world with his owners without causing them physical harm. With a limited training approach and a limited toolbox, this dog and owner – a great energy mismatch from the start – could have been doomed to failure.
Positive training is great – I clicker train most every dog that comes through my doors. That doesn’t mean that other tools aren’t useful in helping a dog be successful in their home environment or in the general public.
As LA trainer Sean O’Shea put it in a must read blog post on this topic, positive training makes a great “yes,” but a terrible “no.”
Here are some things to consider if we’re going to start banning training tools:
1) More dogs will be euthanized – It’s the sad truth. If people can’t find the trainers and tools to be successful, dogs will be turned into shelters and rescues and often euthanized because they are “uncontrollable” or “dangerous.”
2) Many dogs will have more limited lives – the reality for a lot of dogs is that they are bad on leash. If people are limited to harnesses and flat collars, many will choose to just not walk their dogs.
3) Dogs will still be abused – If someone is going to abuse a dog, they don’t need a prong collar or a slip chain to do it. An animal abuser will do more harm with a stick, their foot, or their hands than they will with a training collar.
4) People will have to spend much more time training their dogs – the point of a good tool is to make your work efficient. That’s what these tools do. A good trainer can train a dog with anything. Or even sometimes with nothing. But every dog owner will have to become an excellent trainer as well. This isn’t a bad thing, but it will certainly discourage more casual dog ownership and potentially keep more dogs in shelters.
5) Dog owners will lose the freedom of choice – One approach doesn’t fit all dogs. Many owners go through several trainers until they find one who uses an approach that works with their dog. If all trainers train the same way, with the same tools, then this becomes much more difficult.
6) Some “friendly” tools are hated by dogs – The most common alternatives to prong collars are face collars (Haltis, Gentle Leaders) and “no-pull” harnesses.” Face collars, if you ask me, are the tools that dogs would vote to have banned. I’ve seen dogs gator roll, flip, and fight when one was placed on their face. They might also lead to long term neck issues from having their face pulled on. This is essentially the straightjacket of dog collars. “No-pull” harnesses work on the same principle as prong collars – they make it uncomfortable to pull. Prong collars just look worse. And unlike prong collars, no-pull harnesses could lead to long term shoulder and joint issues from the torque of the harness – not a problem with the evenly distributed pressure of a prong collar.
Dog training is always evolving and it’s our job as trainers to get better at what we do, but dog owners should have the right to decide if a trainer is being inhumane or unfair with their dog.
Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point where people who have effectively trained their dog and have used effective tools are forced to defend themselves – previously our defense has been showing off well-trained and happy dogs, but that doesn’t seem to be enough anymore.
I encourage you, if you’ve benefitted from any dog training tool, tell your friends about it and be ready to answer their claims about how “inhumane” you are. Be proud of the success you’ve achieved and don’t be afraid to tell your neighbors and legislators how your dogs’ lives have improved from slip collars, prong collars, or e-collars.
*Please share this post and perspective so people understand the realities of dog training.