The city of Toronto has banned the use of Prong Collars (as well as choke chains and other similar slip-style collars) effective immediately, March 1, 2017.
The ban has created a tremendous amount of outcry and backlash on social media, partly because the ban went into effect without adequate public notification, community input, and against the recommendation of the committee.
Among the supporters trying to have this ban reversed, I have also come across a number of articles and posts from PO or so called "Force Free" trainers that are in support, or at least partial support of the action by Toronto City Council. One article in particular caught my eye and inspired this post. It was written by an individual describing themselves as a reinforcement and "Force Free" dog trainer.
The author was not entirely in support of the ban on Prong Collars, however went on to encourage Torontonians to research and find a local "Force Free" dog trainer, explore the other tools available to them and see the amazing world of Positive Reinforcement training that they've been missing out on while stuck in this archaic world of Prong Collar use.
The author, who remember describes themselves as "Force Free", then went on to list the other incredible tools available to dog owners that can be used in place of the "painful" Prong Collar.
The tools espoused included:
The head collar (often times referred to by brand such as Gentle Leader or Halti) and the
Front clip "no-pull" harness.
Now, here is where I take issue and here is why I'm writing this article.
Number one: You cannot call yourself a reinforcement based or "Force Free" dog trainer if you recommend the use of such an aversive tool as a head collar.
Head collars, while they have nice names and conjure up a sweet picture in one's mind when compared to the medieval appearance of a Prong Collar, are abusive and aversive training tools. In this author's opinion, they are in fact the most abusive, stressful and pain inducing training device that you could ever use on a dog.
A prong collar, by design is the only training tool available today that distributes pressure evenly around a dog's neck, eliminating pressure and damage that can be caused to the trachea by flat, martingale and slip collars. A head collar has a thin cord that drapes across the muzzle of a dog, causes pressure, pain and manipulates the dog's head and neck when they begin to pull.
This is not a force free device. This tool causes lasting and often irreversible neck damage and pain to the dog. It can also cause eye damage and almost always leads to scarring on the muzzle. It's interesting that dogs can walk around bearing the scars caused by head collars digging into their muzzles and no one will judge you, but if you are using a Prong Collar, you are somehow an abusive monster and a primitive archaic caveman who must be educated.
Well I for one am waiting to be enlightened. I'm waiting for someone to educate me as to how a head collar can be deemed humane and "Force Free" when it so obviously is not. I'm waiting to see scientific evidence that less pressure is applied when using a head collar on a dog's muzzle as opposed to a prong collar placed and used correctly on the neck of a dog. I'm waiting to hear how a dog is not subject to force when they attempt to pull while wearing a head collar and then have a thin nylon chord tighten against their face.
While much has been said about the head collar, it's important to also mention the front clip or "no pull" harnesses. These are by no means a "Force Free" device and like the head collar, they can have serious consequences to your dog's health and well being. These types of harnesses do not eliminate pulling for most dogs, and instead throw off the dog's gate and force them to walk awkwardly and on an angle. Over time, this often leads to knee and hip lameness and joint pain, the effects of which are often irreversible.
The bottom line is this; a valuable, humane, gentle and effective training tool has been stripped from an entire city and in it's place we have even more aversive and physically damaging devices. Pet dog owners need to educate themselves to the real facts concerning the training tools available today and which ones are actually damaging to our dogs.
Lastly, this author has a tremendous amount of respect for someone wanting to train their own dog (that is not suffering from behavioral issue), using no force. Good for you, reinforcement training is fun!
I do however take great issue with the plethora of professionals out there claiming to be "Force Free", using scientific techniques, when in fact they are advocating for highly aversive training tools such as the head collar and are practicing closed minded and limited science. Dogs everywhere are suffering the consequences for this close mindedness and will continue to do so until we look at training devices based on facts and not based on emotion.
Meagan is the founder and owner of Mayrich Kennels Inc. and is one of the leading dog trainers working in behavior modification, today. With over 12 years of professional experience in this area specifically, she has spent her entire lifetime and professional career working with aggressive dogs and dogs with severe behavioral issues. This work has led to the development of the widely successful programs offered at Mayrich Kennels Inc.