February 26, 2013

Pet Connection: Slip choke chain off your dog for good

Years ago when I started training dogs, I couldn't have imagined doing so without a slip-lead collar, commonly known as a "choke" collar.

Years ago when I started training dogs, I couldn't have imagined doing so without a slip-lead collar, commonly known as a "choke" collar.

These days, I can't remember the last time I put one on a dog, and I may never feel the need to do so again.

That's because the options for training and control have changed, and are now easier on dog and owner alike.

The choke chain was never without problems. In the old days, the important thing to remember was to never leave the collar on your dog unless you were training or walking.

It is, after all, a choke collar, and over the years I've heard from readers whose dogs died when the collar rings became caught on the tooth of another dog in play, on a piece of fencing in the yard or even a heater grate in the house.

In other cases, dogs were injured and traumatized, and the owners who saved their lives by getting them free of the collar's deadly grip were often bitten by their terrified dogs.

This is what it has come down to, for me: If your dog is wearing a choke-chain collar as his everyday collar, replace it with a buckle or snap-together collar today. And then, like many trainers and behaviorists, I advise that when you take that chain collar off, you throw it away.

Some good dog trainers still use slip-style collars and leads at least some of the time, and they're still the top choice for almost escape-proof handling in veterinary hospitals.

But this is a piece of equipment that's nearly impossible for the average dog owner to use properly. When the collar isn't used properly, it's ineffective at best, and cruel at worst.

There are only two ways to put on a choke-chain collar: with the moving end over the dog's neck (as intended), or under the dog's neck (incorrect). By the simplest law of averages, you'd think folks would get them on right half the time, but it never seems to work that way. When the moving part of the chain is under the dog's neck, the chain doesn't release easily when the leash is slackened. And that means the collar is constantly tight, choking the dog.

Even if the collar's put on correctly, the choke collar is very difficult to use in the way that expert dog trainers have recommended over the years.

A choke-chain collar is meant to be loose at all times, except for the occasional split-second tightening to correct a dog's behavior. But people don't seem to know that, so I am always seeing gasping dogs in tight choke chains dragging their owners behind them.

These days, my advice on choke chains is this: Don't bother. Get the help of a good trainer to choose training equipment that's not so hard to master – and learn how to use it. For some dogs, a buckle or snap-together collar will be all you need, or a limited-slip collar known as a "martingale." For others, a head halter or front-clip harness will work best. The pinch collar has advocates, too. It looks horrific, but it can't tighten down to choke a dog the way a slip-lead collar can.

They're all easier for the average person to use, and less likely to cause unintentional harm than a slip-lead collar. And that's why after so many years of giving advice, I've changed my recommendation on this topic.

You simply don't need to master the choke-chain collar to teach any old dog new tricks anymore.

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