Prong collars are easily available and used frequently to change a dog’s behaviour. They do work, to an extent, hence their popularity with certain aspects of the dog training world but what’s really happening when the dog wears one? Let’s see.

The prong collar is a chain collar with metal spikes that push into the skin around the dog’s neck if he pulls on the lead. An example can be seen in the picture above. The idea is that the dog feels the pressure and pain, then the relief as he stops pulling and learns not to pull at all. The problem with this is that pressure and pain are not conductive to learning. They are however, conductive to fear and stress.

Prong collar use is based in punishment and negative reinforcement. The idea is this:

When the dog has it on and pulls, the metal digging into the neck and throat adds punishment (+P) to the situation and the dog learns not to pull. Then as the collar slackens the dog learns that when he stops pulling the pain stops too which is known as negative reinforcement (-R)

Prong Collar Punishment

If we decide to use punishment in dog training we must accept one very important thing:

We need the dog to carry out the behaviour that we can punish him for.

And everybody knows the term practice makes perfect.

Any behaviour carried out regularly enough is being practiced. Why would we want any dog to practice the thing we are trying to eradicate through training? Why not just eliminate the behaviour via a process of extinction, which means the dog decides not to do it anymore because doing something else serves him better, in a process called positive reinforcement. (+R)

In addition, punishment relies on perfect timing. If a dog trainer or handler has less than perfect timing the dog will not make the connection between his act and the tightening and pain around his neck and throat. This can lead to the trainer punishing the dog more often and more severely to try and get their result.

If a punishment is delivered effectively, it will only ever need to be delivered once and will result in a one trial learning experience for the dog, which means he never tries the thing again because the result was so awful for him last time. One trial learning is the only way that punishment will truly work. Now here’s the thing:

If a dog trainer is happy to overlook the dog’s stress, physical and psychological damage, recent scientific finding and veterinary advice then use the prong collar anyway – their timing is likely to be questionable too.

Which is why they use a prong collar on the same dog, multiple times.

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