Do Prong Collars Work?

by Kerry Ryan, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Family Dog Mediator,
and Taylor Sneed, Accredited Dog Trainer and DANW Alum

So your dog pulls on walks. 
Maybe they yank, lunge, or charge.

You are desperate for some help, and someone says, “You should try a prong collar!” And you think to yourself… why not just give it a try?

Before we answer that, though, it’s time for a little positive reinforcement:

  • You are a great pup parent for wanting to train with your dog.
  • Good on you for trying different things when what you’re doing isn’t working.
  • We know that you love your dog, and just want what’s best for them.
  • It’s awesome that you are seeking help.

We never guilt, blame, or shame dog owners for inquiring about management tools, especially when many of these tools are marketed so well. It’s hard to not consider a prong collar when they are on display at a prominent pet store chain, or when they seem to work (and work really well!) on dog training TV shows, or when a professional defends a tool’s use by what seems like sound rationalization.

What we hope to show you in this post, however, is why prong collars seem to work like magic... and also why you should steer clear of them in the future

How a Prong Collar Works

Prong collars primarily usually use positive punishment, which is just a way of adding something your dog doesn’t enjoy to decrease how much they display a behavior. When a dog wearing a prong collar pulls on their leash, the collar tightens around their neck to cause irritation, annoyance, or, in some cases, pain. In order to avoid the unpleasant feeling the dog is less likely to pull.

Prong collars also use negative reinforcement, which removes something the dog doesn’t enjoy to increase how much they display a behavior. For example, a trainer could tighten the prong collar around a dog’s neck, give a cue like “heel,” and release the pressure on the collar when the dog walks at the trainer’s side. In order to avoid the unpleasant feeling the dog is more likely to heel.

When applied consistently and with impeccable timing, positive punishment and negative reinforcement can be effective. To quote applied animal behaviorist Susan Friedman, however, “effectiveness alone is not enough.” When our interventions are as intrusive as a prong collar, while we may be effectively limiting the behavior through suppression, we are also risking unintended — and dire— consequences. It is common for prong collars to increase fearful behaviors in dogs over time, for example, as well as increase various types of reactivity and lower a dog’s confidence in new situations. Dogs become fearful, avoidant, shut down, self-defensive, or desensitized to the physical sensation of pain. The use of this equipment can also severely damage the relationship between dog and handler, which is not at all helpful.

What’s the alternative?

There are many wonderful harnesses out there that can help to manage pulling without also causing fearful, avoidant, or reactive behavior. (We particularly love Blue-9 Pet Product’s Balance Harness.) On top of using a harness, we recommend teaching your dog loose leash walking skills using a variety of positive reinforcement-based techniques, such as rewarding the dog for checking in while on leash, using connected walking skills, and even playing predictable games (yes, games!) while on walks. 

It also may be helpful to reach out to a local, science-based trainer like those at Dog Adventures Northwest for positive reinforcement-based training to help you attach value to the behaviors you want from your dog. (And, hey, here’s a helpful PDF of how we go about teaching Loose Leash Walking!)

At the end of the day, we're all just on a quest to be the best we can be for our dogs, and it's our hope at Dog Adventures Northwest that this post can serve as a resource for you on your journey to level up as a pup parent.

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