Skip to Content

The Prong Collar: An Amazing Dog Training Tool When Used Correctly

The Prong Collar: An Amazing Dog Training Tool When Used Correctly

Like many, I learned about balanced dog training and the use of aversive tools like the prong collar and e-collar after exhausting the use of positive reinforcement only training with a challenging dog.

Prior to using them, I misunderstood how the tools work, due to widespread misinformation about their usage.

After talking with many friends, professional trainers, and watching many videos, I decided to give it a try with my dog.

It was a night and day difference.

After a one-hour training session, I went from dreading walking her to enjoyable, calm walks.

When used correctly, the prong collar is a fantastic tool that helps bridge the communication between a dog and their handler.

Remember, dogs don’t speak English and we don’t speak dog. Think of the prong collar as the translator.

The prong collar comes with a lot of pushback from animal rights groups due to the way it looks and the misinformation spread about the tool. This article explains how the prong collar works and how it can help modify your dog’s behavior in a humane and effective manner.

What is a Prong Collar?

A prong collar is a dog training tool used by some dog trainers to teach loose leash walking and basic beginner obedience.

They can be great for behavior modification in reactive dogs to help redirect them from their triggers. Petite people with very large or strong dogs also find them incredibly helpful.

The prong collar has a series of pronged metal links whose open ends lay flat on the dog’s neck. Its appearance has led to the common misconception that it is a torture device, however, when used correctly, it is an extremely effective training tool for teaching a dog to understand what is being asked of them. 

Prong collars can also be called “pinch” collars, not because it pinches the dog’s neck, but because you have to pinch the prongs together to open the collar to put it on your dog. This name likely also leads to its bad reputation.

When used correctly, the prong collar is actually the best tool for protecting a dog’s trachea because it applies an equal amount of pressure around the dog’s neck, compared to a flat collar, or even a martingale, which puts pressure directly on a dog’s throat. This can lead to collapsed tracheas.

In his book, The Well Adjusted Dog, Dr. Daniel Kamen, a veterinary chiropractor states:

“The improper use of collars is the number one cause of cervical (neck) subluxations in dogs…The flat collar is the most common type, and can be dangerous if misused…It should not be used for obedience training…a frustrated owner who has difficulty controlling his pet will pull the dog in such a manner as to cause tremendous cervical muscle tightening, thus producing subluxations.”

How Does a Prong Collar Work?

Before you go and buy a prong collar and put it on your dog, I urge you to work with a professional dog trainer to learn proper use, technique, and sizing.

You don’t just put it on and go for a walk, letting your dog pull and self-correct constantly. 

That won’t do anything except cause a lot of discomfort and confusion, creating a negative association with the tool. It’s not a magic wand!

Prong collars apply pressure evenly around a dog’s neck to teach them how to turn off pressure, giving them a very clear understanding of unwanted behaviors. 

They are useful tools for teaching dogs how to walk nicely on a leash and to learn basic obedience, like sit, down, and place.

You can also use them to start the basis of recall.

Unlike a flat collar, harness, head halter, or even a martingale collar, the prong collar applies even pressure. Further, it releases quickly once the dog gives into the pressure.

Prong collars only require a small amount of force to communicate the behaviors you want from your dog. 

Use a High-Quality Prong Collar

It’s important to use a high quality prong collar, otherwise a poorly made one will hurt your dog and can puncture their skin. Herm Sprenger prong collars are the highest quality and recommended by every dog trainer I know who uses them.

Herm Sprenger collars are designed with blunt ends that do not cause the dog pain, while the center plate creates symmetry to create the even pressure around the neck. 

The prongs gently apply pressure around the dog’s neck, providing negative reinforcement when the dog pulls.

The only time the Herm Sprenger may not be the best option is for very small dogs. In that instance, you will want to use a Kimberland Collar.

How to Place a Prong Collar on a Dog

Proper fit of the prong collar ensures optimal communication and minimal discomfort for your dog. Consult a trainer to help with fit.

It should be placed high on the dog’s neck, just behind the ears. The collar should fit snugly, but not excessively tight. You may need to remove or add extra links to obtain the right fit.

The Herm Sprenger plate should be at the base of the dog’s throat, just below their chin, and the chain should be in between their ears.

You want to make sure that the chain forms a triangle and isn’t twisted, otherwise it won’t work properly.

Make sure that the collar does not droop because it can get caught easily, pinch the dog’s neck, and they can easily back out of it and escape.

Most dogs will use the 2.25 mm prong collar, where very large and strong dogs, like American Staffordshire Terriers (commonly mistaken as Pit Bulls), Dobermans, Mastiffs, etc may need to use the 3 mm prong collar.

Very small dogs, under 15 or so pounds can use the Micro Prong from Kimberland Collars.

Accurate sizing and width depends entirely on the dog, so please consult a professional trainer before purchasing one.

My favorite accessory for the prong collar is a Katie’s Buckle. Pinching the collar to take it on and off can be cumbersome, especially in cold weather or if you have small hands. Katie’s Buckles solve that problem!

Prong Collars are not Cruel, and Here’s Why

Aversive tool adversaries argue that prong collars and e-collars cause pain to a dog and damage the relationship between the owner and the dog. 

This simply isn’t true. 

Usually, the “horror” stories activists describe are meant to villainize these tools, making them out to be weapons of cruelty.

Antagonists of the prong collar focus more on its appearance and name and few have actual experience using the collar. 

There is a single image that has been making the rounds on the Web for years that depicts a dog with deep prong collar marks on its neck.

This isn’t due to correct usage.

It is due to a negligent dog owner who has left the collar on permanently on a dog. It’s likely that this dog was tied up 24/7 and putting constant pressure on the collar. 

The same thing could happen in a flat collar, harness, or even your own socks if you didn’t take them off for weeks on end.

The prong collar is a training collar. It should be used during training and not left on all the time.

We use Aversive Tools Every Day

The fact is, we use aversive tools every single day. We also use dangerous tools every single day. Some, in fact, are murder weapons.

Need some examples?

  • Your alarm clock is an aversive tool that makes sure you get to work on time.
  • Your car dings until you put your seatbelt on to ensure you’re safe in an accident.
  • The knife you use to cut your food each meal can also be used to kill someone.
  • A fire alarm saved my brother and sister-in-law’s lives when their house caught on fire.
  • Driving our cars is the single most dangerous activity we do on a daily basis.

It’s easy to twist things out of proportion to make them look bad and sound factual. The reality is, when used correctly, prong collars perform a job effectively and humanely. 

Any tool–leash, prong collar, flat collar, harness, your own hand, etc, when used incorrectly can cause harm.

The Science Argument Against Prong Collars

The same extremists also argue that the use of aversive tools isn’t “science-based.”

Again, this isn’t true. 

Prong collars are a tool that follows the rules of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a method of learning that uses reward and punishment to teach behaviors. Humans learn through operant conditioning, and so do dogs.

Humans and dogs alike learn to make behavior choices based on the consequences for that behavior.

Attributed to B.F. Skinner, the principles of operant conditioning state that behavior followed by reward is more likely to occur. Contrarily, behavior followed by unpleasant consequences is less likely to be repeated.

The Four Quadrants of Operant Conditioning

Balanced dog training teaches a dog desired behaviors using both reward-based techniques and aversive corrections. Tools such as prong collars and e-collars utilize quadrants outside of positive reinforcement that help effectively communicate desired behaviors to the dog.

The technique incorporates actions taken from the four quadrants of operant conditioning which are outlined in the image above.

Here are a few examples for both humans and dogs:

  • Your dog sits, you say “yes” and give them a treat. (Positive Reinforcement)
  • Your dog jumps on you, you ignore them or turn your back. (Negative Punishment)
  • You are caught speeding and the police officer issues you a ticket. (Positive Punishment)
  • You arrive home late from curfew, so your parents take away your phone (Negative Punishment)
  • Your dog pulls on the prong collar, which releases as soon as they stop pulling (Negative Reinforcement)

Issuing Corrections with a Prong Collar

Once a dog has learned a command to fluency, the prong collar can be used to issue appropriate physical corrections. Corrections help redirect poor behavior and remind the dog of the task. 

A quick leash pop on the prong collar mimics the correction a mother dog will give her pup or a dog will give to another dog if they’re doing something they don’t like. 

Corrections (or punishment, if we think back to the four quadrants) teach the dog consistency in a variety of environments.

Again, fluency is key. If your dog isn’t calm inside your house, you can’t just take them to the farmers’ market with you and expect perfect behavior.

You have to be fair to your dog. This means setting them up for success before you start using the prong collar for corrections.

How Long Will My Dog Have to Wear the Prong Collar?

This is a very common question among new users of the prong collar and there is no cut and dry answer.

It all depends on your dog and the amount of time you spend working with your dog.

I still use prong collar with Sitka when we go for walks, and we started training in spring of 2020. He can be pushy and likes to be in front when we walk, so we continue training that heel and wearing the prong collar.

He is also leash reactive, so the prong collar helps me navigate certain situations that might trigger his reactivity.

I know some friends that have switched to a slip lead, others use a flat collar. Some switch between different tools. It’s all about what works best for you and your dog.

The goal of using a prong collar shouldn’t be to stop using it as soon as possible, it should be to use it until your dog doesn’t need it anymore. Keep in mind that that day might never come and that’s totally fine.

Have you used a prong collar with a dog? What was your experience?

Do you have a different understanding of the prong collar after reading this article?

The Prong Collar: An Amazing Dog Training Tool When Used Correctly

D

Wednesday 29th of June 2022

This site just lost all value for me after this article. Prong collars are torture instruments, period.

Jen Sotolongo

Wednesday 29th of June 2022

No need to announce your departure, but out of curiosity, do you use a knife to prepare your food each day? Who I am kidding! There's no way you do, since knives are murder weapons, after all.

Jacqueline

Saturday 28th of May 2022

Just happened to read this article. Have a friend that just acquired a 1yr female rottie, 90lbs. The wife is very petite. I have had 5 german shepherds. Both male and female. Have a 3yr male presently. Every trainer or class I have been to with my dogs have required a pronged or "power steering" collar. Believe you me, these are the best things ever. My boy howls with delight when he sees the collar and leash come out for his walk. Cannot imagine not using one. Trying to convince our friends this is the only way to go, with a dog that pulls constantly. They think it is a torture tool. Thanks, for a great article, jackie

Jen Sotolongo

Tuesday 31st of May 2022

Hey Jackie! So glad to hear that you've had such great success with the prong collar! I love the comparison to power steering, because that is very much what they do! While I don't think they are the *only* way to teach a dog not to pull, I do believe they are the most efficient and effective way!

Holly

Saturday 12th of March 2022

As a CPDT and certified behaviorist I'm appalled to see someone promoting this. It goes against all best practices in our field following the guidance of veterinary medicine and applied animal behabior science. This is not a case of different opinions, it's a case of best practices and dangerous attitudes. What are your credentials? What professional certifications do you have and what professional guilds or associations are you a part of? It's unfortunately legal in the US and beyond to call oneself a dog trainer without any actual certification and all too often self styled trainers with good intentions make dangerous recommendations. Promoting 'tools' such as prong collars or shock collars demonstrates either lack of professional certification or actually having the credentials but holding on to outdated theories from yesteryear. If you're so confident in these tools, put them around your own neck and have someone 'gently' and 'correctly' use them on you and see how pleasant it is. I'm perfectly serious. If you wouldn't do it to yourself or a child, you shouldn't be doing it to a dog. I used to enjoy this blog back when it was about cycling. This is my first time visiting the site in a few years and I'm horrified about what your doing. Well intentioned pet parents will listen to you as their research generally consists of googling and reading blogs like this. Anyone reading this, I recommend looking into proper experts such as Dr. Patricia B McConnell, Paul Owens, Turid Rugaas, and the late Dr. Sophia Yin. An excerpt from Dr. McConnell's website with citations: "But here we are in 2017, and prong collars are still being used. It should be clear that I’m not a fan. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The reasons not to use a prong collars are many: 1) They use “positive punishment” (positive does not mean good here!) to suppress behavior, which is associated with an increase in behavior problems [Herron et al Appl An Beh Sci 2009], an increase in aggression, and can diminish the trust between dog and owner, 2) they don’t teach the dog what you do want, and 3) they can cause physical damage to the neck, including to the sensitive thyroid gland, the spine, and the muscles of the neck. If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a good article in Whole Dog Journal about this issue." The whole dog journal she references is here:https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/care/collars-harnesses-leashes-muzzles/can-a-collar-damage-a-dogs-thyroid/

Debi

Thursday 9th of June 2022

@Jen Sotolongo, My response to @Holly-

The question is have you put it on your neck? I have, and it certainly isn't painful. It is meant to get a dogs attention and that is what it does! I have been involved with dog rescue for 30 years and have dealt with every kind of aggression, fear and overly strong and happy dogs. My biggest regret is that I bought into the bullshit about prong collars just because of how they looked.

Thankfully I hired a knowledgeable trainer at our rescue kennel who suggested using a prong on a couple of our extremely dog aggressive dogs. WOW! What a game changer! Not only are they more responsive, we have built a mutually loving a respectful relationship! Dogs I wasn't sure we would find a home for, have been adopted and are thriving in their homes!

I have two of my own dog reactive dogs that I had almost given up walking, except at times of the day when we weren't likely to run into may other people and dogs. I tried the prong collar on them and we can walk anytime and enjoy it! My relationship with my dogs is even stronger!

I also have two pit mixes I am fostering, rescued in a cruelty seizure a year and a half ago. They are/were terrified of everything, wasn't even possible to walk them. Now we are going on walks and they are getting a chance to experience the world finally!!

Ironically, I have a harder time putting collars on these dogs than I do a prong collar! Not once have I seen any of the dogs cowar when putting one on, never seen their tail between their legs or their posture change negatively. Instead I get my dog to give me loving looks and watch his tail wag! I have not witnessed any negative behavior associated with using these collars...and trust me I've watched for it!!! I am all about positive reinforcement and training and will shout the praises of prong collars from the top of a mountain!

People stopped thinking of dogs as dogs and treat them as human children. We need to first remember they are dogs, and their momma taught them to be dogs. We project our feelings as human on them, and expect them to be perfect. We have a crisis with dogs being dumped in shelters for behavior... It's our behavior and perception that needs to change! Ignoring what positive responses people and dogs have from using the prong collar is ignorant, especially when it is based on looks.

Prongs are not necessary for every dog or every situation, but work wonders when needed!

HAIL TO THE PRONG!

Debi

Wednesday 8th of June 2022

@Holly, The question is have you put it on your neck? I have and it certainly isn't painful. It is meant to get a dogs attention and that is what it does! I have been involved with dog rescue for 30 years and have dealt with every kind of aggression, fear and overly strong and happy dogs. My biggest regret is that I bought into the bullshit about prong collars just because of how they looked.

Thankfully I hired a knowledgeable trainer at our rescue kennel who suggested using a prong on a couple of our extremely dog aggressive dogs. WOW! What a game changer! Not only are they more responsive, we have built a mutually loving a respectful relationship! Dogs I wasn't sure we would find a home for, have been adopted and are thriving in their homes!

I have two of my own dog reactive dogs that I had almost given up walking, except at times of the day when we weren't likely to run into may other people and dogs. I tried the prong collar on them and we can walk anytime and enjoy it! My relationship with my dogs is even stronger!

I also have two pit mixes I am fostering, rescued in a cruelty seizure a year and a half ago. They are/were terrified of everything, wasn't even possible to walk them. Now we are going on walks and they are getting a chance to experience the world finally!!

Ironically, I have a harder time putting collars on these dogs than I do a prong collar! Not once have I seen any of the dogs cowar when putting one on, never seen their tail between their legs or their posture change negatively. Instead I get my dog to give me loving looks and watch his tail wag! I have not witnessed any negative behavior associated with using these collars...and trust me I've watched for it!!! I am all about positive reinforcement and training and will shout the praises of prong collars from the top of a mountain!

People stopped thinking of dogs as dogs and treat them as human children. We need to first remember they are dogs, and their momma taught them to be dogs. We project our feelings as human on them, and expect them to be perfect. We have a crisis with dogs being dumped in shelters for behavior... It's our behavior and perception that needs to change! Ignoring what positive responses people and dogs have from using the prong collar is ignorant, especially when it is based on looks.

Prongs are not necessary for every dog or every situation, but work wonders when needed!

HAIL TO THE PRONG!

Sally BaDour

Friday 27th of May 2022

@Jen Sotolongo, Amen!!!! Obviously Holly is completely misinformed about the pronged collar. I’m a true believer in the pronged collar. We have one for our Great Pyrenees. I worked with a trainer from Suburban K-9. He was wonderful. He introduced us to the Sprenger pronged collar and explained at length how it mimics what the mother does to her puppies when they are misbehaving. I never knew that until he explained it to us and that the pronged collar uses the same technique. I wish people would do their homework before posting such nonsense. Kudos to you for actually putting the collar on yourself and for continuing to believe in your training methods. I am not against other types of harnesses and collars but with the advice of our trainer, and the fact that the Great Pyrenees breed is very large I felt that this works best for us. Thank you for your expertise and defending the pronged collar. It is not an outdated tool nor is it harmful.

Beth

Wednesday 16th of March 2022

@Jen Sotolongo, Thank you for this article! I have had a number of dogs that required different types of training. One benefited greatly from correct use/training with a prong collar. She was a large 70lb untrained older rescue that bonded with me very quickly. She weighed more than half of me and was very strong. I tried EVERYTHING and it was not until a dog trainer suggested the prong collar and correct usage that we were finally able to be successful. (had 10 happy years with her) One of our current dogs, easily trained loose leash without issue but the newest member, a bit more of a challenge. I agree that the right tool, with the right dog, is a Godsend. Correct technique, patience, consistency are key, no matter the tool.

Jen Sotolongo

Sunday 13th of March 2022

Hey Holly! First of all, thanks so much for visiting my blog and leaving not one, but two comments. Not only did you help me make some dough, but you also boosted my rank in Google and now more people will be able to learn about what a great tool the prong collar can be for their dog. I appreciate it!

I know you were worried that I wouldn't approve your comment, but it does a great job of highlighting the exact misinformation and lack of knowledge I discuss in my training articles. So, let's break them down, shall we?

1. Letters behind someone's name don't necessarily indicate their level of knowledge or skill. I look for proof of skill, not letters behind a name. 2. Promoting tools like prong and e-collars has nothing to do with credentials. It just has to do with method of training. 3. I have put these tools around my own neck. I also ask my clients to do the same so they understand what it feels like. Have you? 4. Now getting to the "if you wouldn't do it to a child" argument, I'm guessing that you also wouldn't make a child shit outside or eat from a bowl on the ground. That's because they are a child and not a dog. As much as we love our dogs like children, they are not actually the same! 5. I think Patricia McConnell is great and I have read her books. Turns out, I can respect and admire someone AND not be in agreement with every single thing they say. Isn't that neat? 6. "Positive" never means "good" in operant conditioning. It means the "addition of." I'm surprised that this side note was made on McConnell's website and that you agreed. That's a big red flag for me if I were looking for a dog trainer. Again, kinda odd that you don't know that given that you're a certified dog trainer and all. Since you quoted McConnell, I trust that you also read the quote from Dr. Daniel Kamen in my post?

Anyhoo, I'm going to keep on promoting these tools because they work well for my training goals and many others have told me that they've helped their dogs as well. And I think that's great!

Nick

Tuesday 8th of March 2022

After a few years of being stressed out and not sure how to tran our leash reactive Bouvier that darted all over the place, we sent him to a balanced trainer 4 week board and train that taught him and us to use with prong and e-collars. I was scared and concerned about using the aversive techniques.

We got him back a over a week ago and my fears were totally misplaced... I actually feel like I can communicate with him now and he understands! So happy we did the training, the change is amazing! He walks in a great heel when asked to, is sooo much calmer in general, and is way way less reactive. Walking him is now fun!

He's still reacted in a few more intense situations situations like 2 large dogs rushing at him from behind a fence but he's so much better in general. He also calms himself back down in seconds compared to minutes. It's only been 5 weeks of training so I don't expect him to be perfect already. But I suspect in a few months he'll be pretty close.

He also now pretty reliably recalls off leash, which we didn't ever think was possible.

And through all that, his personality at home and off leash is still basically the same goofy dog we love - just a bit calmer and a lot more obedient.

So huge believer in "balanced" training now. Read a lot of things on your site before sending him to the board and train. Keep it up!

Jen Sotolongo

Friday 11th of March 2022

Hey Nick! I'm so happy to hear that you had such great success with your board and train. I felt the same way after introducing the prong collar the first time. It was like we could have an actual conversation!

Carter

Monday 21st of February 2022

I used a prong collar on my 7 month old Dutch shepherd. It made a lady out of a hooligan. I used it as long as it was needed, as I did and e-collar. I proofed her on chickens, deer, coyotes and javelina. She currently has 11 titles and the the best dog I ever owned or trained.

Jen Sotolongo

Tuesday 22nd of February 2022

So awesome to hear that you had such great results with your Dutch Shepherd!