Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Dog Choke collars not always effective tool

I was asked by a local dog trainer to write about injuries to dogs caused by choke collars. In a recent column I promoted the use of head halter-type collars and buckle collars as preferable ways to control your dog but didn't go into the types of injuries from choke collars. After watching a woman jerking her little dog's front feet off the floor in an attempt to make him sit, I decided to do a little research.

For many years, choke collars were called "training" collars or "correction" collars. In the 1960s and 70s world-famous dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse popularized the "yank and stomp" method of training. Some trainers still consider it a harmless training tool and use it in their classes. The problem with this is that the choke collars are sold everywhere, and new dog owners (having seen them used for years) assume it is what they need to teach their new dog some manners. They proceed to use it without the benefit of professional dog training and, in most cases, use it incorrectly.

For some odd reason, people seem to think that dogs are somehow immune to the pain of being jerked violently. Gee, can I put a chain around your neck, stand on a high wall, and yank hard enough to lift your feet off the ground? No? Think it might cause discomfort, bruising or an injury?

The whiplash effect of the choke chain can set the stage for serious problems, including disc and spinal cord disease, neuropathy or problems with the nervous system. The damage caused can be cumulative - the strangling effect can cause bruising and damage to the skin or neck tissue which results in scar tissue. As scar tissue has no feeling, the dog will no longer respond to light tugs and will then be jerked even harder to get a response.

The relentless and violent use of choke chains can cause dogs to be fearful of hands, resentful and aggressive; the opposite effect of what owners hope to accomplish with training.

Besides the injuries caused by owners yanking the chain, a choke collar can be deadly when the owner is not around. Leaving one on your dog all the time can have lethal results. Dogs can choke to death when the O-ring of the choke collar is snagged on a fence, a heater grate in the house, or another dog's tooth in play. In other cases, owners who tried to rescue their dogs from hanging when snagged have been bitten by their terrified dogs.

Although they appear simple, choke collars are often used incorrectly. There are just two ways to put it on your dog; with the moving end over the dog's neck (correct) or under his neck (incorrect). That would give most people a 50/50 chance of using them correctly. But putting it on your dog incorrectly means that the chain doesn't release easily and the collar stays tight, giving the dog a constant choking sensation. This can make dogs anxious, rebellious and not inclined to pay attention to you. So you yank again.

Getting rid of the choke collar means you will help your dog avoid pain, and injuries such as sprained necks, tracheal and esophageal damage, injured ocular vessels, paralysis of limbs due to spinal cord injuries and even a crushed trachea. It will also mean that your relationship with your dog will be more humane, more trusting and he will respond to you for positive reinforcement (praise or treats) not out of pain or fear. For all the joy and unconditional love he gives you, isn't it a fair trade?

Head-halters such as the Gentle Leader and Halti are great tools, especially if you have a large dog that strains against his buckle collar and constantly pulls and chokes himself. Traditional chest halters are also effective. Choosing the right leash is important, too. Most trainers recommend a 6-foot standard leash for maximum control while training. The retractable leashes are popular, but more difficult to use while training as they don't offer as much control.

In the end, a training tool is only as good as the person using it. Technique is everything, and misuse of any tool can be dangerous. Consulting a dog trainer, watching a video or reading a book on training can help you understand dogs, their motivation and behavior, and pick up tips for success with your pooch.

Diane L. Jarvis is education director of Second Chance Center for Animals.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Positive Dog Training Techniques

Dogs learn much more quickly and reliably, and retain more of what they learn, when they are rewarded for their work. Reward-based training, or positive dog training, teaches the dog exactly what we expect, and then reinforces the correct response, until the new behavior becomes automatic. It’s that simple.

The most modern, progressive methods and equipment will always be offered to you and your dog. We will not recommend anything that causes pain or fear, or that focuses on punishment. You will be amazed at how easily you can get your dog working with you, and how much easier it is to use positive methods.