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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

Rika

Saturday 14th of October 2023

So, in other words, you would be banned from training dogs in Europe. Nice to know you are not a professional trainer.

Jen Sotolongo

Wednesday 8th of November 2023

I would and it sucks. It's kinda like when a bunch of law makers and lobbyists who are not dog trainers make laws about things they know nothing about.

John

Thursday 27th of July 2023

I have a 3mm prong for my absolute tank of an English bull terrier and he has calmed down significantly and no longer pulls every direction. He is reactive to nervous or highly strung dogs, especially if he’s not familiar with them, this has also become much less. I seldom need to apply any corrections now and only use it if we go somewhere where he could become reactive. He knows the sound it makes when I give it a shake and he gets so excited to put it on. It is a great tool I have used on and off for nearly 20 years and only some of my dogs that required it. The majority having been rescues with massive reactive issues, some needed it and some didn’t, every dog is different. It’s a tool like any other, it can work wonders or it can be abused.

Jen Sotolongo

Monday 7th of August 2023

Thanks for sharing your experience, John!

Connie

Sunday 4th of June 2023

I had my hip replaced and was worried about walking my doodle and being pulled. I sent her to The Canine Coach the trainers I used when she was a puppy and after 5 days at "camp" the prong worked wonders. Saga is happy and excited when she sees me grab her collar and leash and stands very still to let me put it on and take it off.

Jen Sotolongo

Wednesday 7th of June 2023

Whoo hoo! I love to hear that. Sounds like you got the right tool just in time!

Katie

Thursday 2nd of March 2023

I recently adopted a black pit mix who was also heart worm positive. She was so sweet and submissive when meeting my older rescue. I thought she’ll never be adopted with the black dog syndrome, pit mix and HW+, but we had love at first site! Fast forward to her completing heart worm treatment. Now that she doesn’t feel sick from HW, her personality came out. She’s extremely strong and dog reactive towards any dog that’s not her brother! Looked into trainers and one states up front they use prong collars. I hesitate because what I’d heard about them, but decide to give it a try because she’s unlike any dog I’ve owned in the past. I had extreme anxiety and fear taking her for a walk, but now she’s amazing. She sits up tall and happy when I grab her prong collar because she knows she’s about to get lots of treats and enjoy some kind of adventure! The reactivity is manageable now. I have put the prong collar around my arm and squeezed it as much as I could and it’s NOT painful. It simply applies pressure… so do massages, but we like those!! I’m now a confident dog owner. I was also nervous about what others would think. When it’s cold and icy we walk at Lowes store and the sweet older ladies working come up without hesitation to give her treats. Ive not heard one comment about it. We are more bonded than ever and her behavior is amazing at home, I don’t have to use her prong collar where she’s comfortable with her surroundings because she knows what is expected of her! Thank you for educating others about collar.

Jen Sotolongo

Thursday 2nd of March 2023

I'm so happy to hear that the prong collar has been such a helpful tool with your pup's reactivity! It's truly amazing how well and how quickly it works with just the tiniest amount of pressure. I also used to worry about what people would say when they saw me out with my dog on his prong and e-collar and in the four years I've had him, no one has ever said a word.

Stephanie

Saturday 25th of February 2023

Good grief. Thank goodness I live in one of the countries which has banned them, and we have no problems communicating with our dogs. But then again we send our kids to school without fear of mass shootings either.

Strange how countries with high animal welfare rules have fewer on rescue centres, fewer euthanised and fewer dog attacks. You don't need pain to train

Jen Sotolongo

Saturday 25th of February 2023

Good grief. Thank goodness I made a choice for my own dog and didn't just assume that what I hear about tools I've never used is true. But then again, everything they say on the Internet is true, so I guess it must be so. Strange how people who have never experienced something are more closed minded than those who seek a solution to their problem. And I agree, you don't need pain to train.