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Dog training, Constrictor Collars

I wonder how many people still think dog-training classes are like those that Barbara Woodhouse demonstrated on television so many years ago. Do you remember her use of the aggressive commands of SIT and DOWN, that we can never purge from our memories, as well as her seemingly verbally abusiveness towards handlers who failed to forcefully CHECK their dog. How many of you recollect her cringing phrase of Walkies.

Though my classes are nothing like hers, many professional dog trainers do still use this method of enforcement training on both the handlers and their dogs. One thing she certainly did do was to decrease the numbers of men taking their dogs to training classes, when the programme was suppose to increase people’s awareness of the need for obedience training.

Here in Spain I have watched a number of instructors at different training establishments, where they use check (choke) or spiked (pinch) chain collars with such terrible force. Their use not only makes the dog wince with agony but, looking at the handlers, they too seem reluctant to cause such pain to their dogs. Never fear, if the handler cannot do it, then an assistant will take hold of their dog and they will inflict the pain instead.

Enforcement training does still appear to be the most common of standardised dog training methods available to those seeking to train their dogs. Though there is an increasing aversion to using force on our dogs to make them obey us, either some instructors have dispensed with the check chain for half checks as being less painful, or they have gone for more pain, by using the spiked collar.

Those that use half checks say it is more humane. This is because, though it still tightens round the dog’s neck, using a short chain loop, it can only constrict so far. A problem is for those handlers who use excessive force; the collar will become pear shaped, so placing greater pressure on the dog’s throat.

The spiked or pinch collar is similar to the half check in that it too, only closes so far by using the chain loop system. Instead of the force of the handler’s pulling (checking) their dog spreading evenly round the dog’s neck by the collar, the weight actually dissipates through each of the double spiked links. If you remember the damage stiletto heals make to a floor, this is what happens to a dog’s neck.

The theory of its use is the way a dog will chastise another by nipping its neck with its teeth. Providing the pull used by the handler is not excessive, the weight of the check, distributes evenly round the dog’s neck, in the same way as an Indian fakir can lie on a bed of nails. As each link tightens, the prongs come closer together, so giving numerous nips right round the dog’s neck.

There is also another problem with these collars. Some handlers are thinking that if they attach their lead to both sides of the chain loop instead of only one, then this stops the constriction and must therefore be less painful. In fact, it is far worse and very dangerous. It is possible that a hard pull can result in two pairs of spikes crushing or cutting into the dog’s windpipe.

Recently I met with a handler who, on the advice of a Spanish Dog trainer, purchased such a collar. These collars do not go over a dog’s head, in order to work properly; they would be too big. The idea is that when you place the collar on the dog, you unclip the links and rejoin them again round its neck. To check the fitting is correct, you should be able to get three fingers between three pairs of spikes and its neck. This means when you pull on the leash the chain loop pulls each end of the spiked collar together, effectively multi-nipping the dog’s neck between each row of spikes.

If the handler attaches the lead to both sides of the chain loop, the spiked collar no longer tightens evenly. What happens is it forms into more of a pear shape. This means the two pairs of spiked links round the throat will grip even closer together and into its windpipe. Handlers do this in the belief that it stops the spiked collar constricting round the dog’s neck, so saving it pain, when in fact it is the opposite.

You can easily test this for yourself. Put the collar round your arm or thigh so that it fits just as it would on your dog. Next, connect the lead to the ring of the loop chain and gently pull it. You should see identical small indentations, evenly distributed round your arm or leg. Now attach the lead to both sides of the link. It will certainly no longer constrict as before, but you will notice that, with the same gentle pull, the two spiked links opposite to the chain loop will have made deeper indentations, compared to the others.

Alternatively, there are thick rope or canvas slip leads available. This type simply has a ring at the end instead of a clip. Pushing the material through the ring, you create a loop, which goes over the dogs head and when pulled, tightens evenly round its neck. Unlike choke chains, the lead runs more smoothly as it tightens and releases. Also for dogs with long hair, their hair pokes through the links so when you pull the lead, the chain links slide over each other, effectively cutting or worse, pulling the hair out by the roots. This does not happen with the slip leads.

Whichever type of collar you use, handlers never needed to use so much force that jerked the dog backwards. When the dog moved to far forward, the handler only needed to flick the collar upwards so that it suddenly tighten round the dog’s neck and then immediately released. In this way, the dog received momentary pain for moving to far away and had to return to the handler’s side.

This week at an owner’s request, I showed them how to use a small linked check chain on a medium sized dog that was still a strong puller. It had been to classes where it had passed the obedience test and walked without pulling. Since the classes, it had started to pull again and the owner said that easing the dog back was not working. When I tested the dog, within five minutes, it no longer pulled, but the owner still wanted to try the choke chain.

Certainly, after a couple of flicks of the lead so making the choker tighten and slacken, the dog just looked up at me with fear in its face. Yes, it worked well and certainly, the dog stopped pulling. The owners watched and learnt how to flick the lead correctly, instead of yanking the dog back into position.

For me, seeing the dogs face looking up at me, I remember my reading of the horse whisperer books written by Monty Roberts. He wrote how he detested the way of breaking in horses, by riding them until they eventually submitted. This harsh method was effectively breaking their spirit, but yes, it worked. Dog training using such enforcement type collars does indeed work, but surely, training should be fun for both the handler and their dog.

Dogs should trust us, not fear us.

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