Prong Collars

Monday, June 23, 2008

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“I have a 2-year-old, neutered, German Shepherd (from a reputable breeder), and he's truly a wonderful, intelligent dog. I just feel as though he has an indifferent attitude towards me much of the time. It seems like he'd rather be off doing his own thing rather then working with me. I'm quite envious of people I know who have dogs that just naturally want to stay at their owner's side, wherever they go, whatever they're doing, and off leash at that. I would love to work towards this, I would love to have that mutual trust; him trusting me as a leader and me trusting that he'll not go wandering off at first chance.

While he does listen quite well just to physical touch and my voice, I'm forced to keep his prong collar and leash on him 100% of the time outdoors because of his prey drive -- if he sees a cat run by, or a motorcycle zipping along, he has the physical strength to actually drag me along (unless I have the prong), and it doesn't help that he completely zones me out when he sees something he'd like to go after. Even in the house, much of the time, he'd prefer to stare at the two cats rather then pay any attention to me. I want to learn how to divert his prey drive, and to one day have him on nothing more then a flat or martingale collar.”

- GSD Owner

Dear GSD Owner,

A bond with a dog extends from whom the dog feels it can stand next to unconditionally. What is needed in order to strengthen this bond is a couple of things.

First, you want to work on yourself so you can be understanding and benevolent in all avenues of leadership. Take that and apply it to the daily management of your dog. Part of this benevolence is working in all the drives.

A dog has 4 distinctive drives:

  • Food Drive
  • Prey Drive
  • Pack Drive
  • Defense Drive
Each and every one of the 4 drives needs to be harnessed and handled so the dog responds in each one, regardless of situation or stimuli (i.e. cats, squirrels, people on bikes riding past, etc.)

Most importantly, I have found that if you manage and balance Food Drive properly, as well as manage and balance Prey Drive properly, your Pack Drive strengthens and the Defensive Drive diminishes greatly.

Defensive drive is not necessarily aggression, it could also entail, impatience, anxiety, hyperactivity, fear, shyness, or oblivious black-out (which is what you are experiencing with your dog.)

From what I am reading, your problem is the Prong Collar. Many people use this primitive medieval tool, for whatever reason. I try to figure it out and it is beyond me. (I use them to scratch my head!)

In my early days of training protection dogs, Prong Collars were used to enhance the dog’s bite on the decoy simply because the collar heightens the adrenaline flow prior to the corrective pinch. The dog clamps down bracing itself for the pain and then it is used again to make it release. Your dog goes into oblivious blackout each time he sees the motorcycles, or whatever he feels will get him that corrective pinch, because he believes they are the types of things that cause him pain. Prior to the pinch, his adrenaline increases in anticipation of the moving object, forcing oblivious black out and low and behold we give it a tug to bring him back to some form of false reality. This is what is imprinted in his mind.

Prong Collar

I say it is a “false reality” because in your e-mail you mentioned when he is loose, he doesn't want to stand next to you. He walks away and doesn't look back. This is what a prong collar causes; an alienation from the handler due to forced acceptance in some from of a desperate measure of false control. Now who would want to follow someone desperately grasping for control?

As for the excuse that a prong collar mimics a mother dog in correction when she gently mouths her puppies...This negative behavior happens at the beginning of weaning time (see my blog on Food Resource Guarding). As it gets close to ending the whelping period, this mouthing becomes firmer with growling, meaning the mother doesn’t want the pups anymore and it is time to go. Is that the message you want to send your dog?

What you need to do is get rid of the prong collar, start over  with the "Whelping Box Theory" and review your conduct with him and how he sees you. Changing who you are and teaching yourself who you’re supposed to be in his eyes is the key to success. Your dog knows who he is looking for, it is our job to give that to him.

If I were a dog and my handler used anything like a prong collar, halti, or electronic collar, well, then I guess I wouldn't want to stand next to or give attention to my master, either. After all, my best friend is saying, “Do what I say or I will hurt or demean you.”

Funny how I have seen many trainers wrap the prong collar around their arm and put pressure on the pins and then say "you see, it doesn't hurt the dog and it is more effective than a choke." I get a kick out of that. Why use a prong collar or a choke anyway? It isn't necessary. I know I would be quite anxious and, through time, possibly become agitated looking for some release. I have seen dogs extend this release to people, other animals, children, vehicles, and even their owners. All of these types of training collars do is compromise your dog’s freedom and yours. Worse yet it, using them might possibly lead to the difficult decision of ending the dog's life because he bit someone.

Any relationship is a long-term building of trust and respect. Those who want to be followed must earn that and not demand it.

Metaphorically speaking, if you put a prong collar on your husband during your first date, do you think he would have asked for a second date? I seriously doubt it! Relationships take work and quite a bit of patience and understanding. We cannot expect our relationship partners, regardless of whether it be dog or human, to accept us until we look at ourselves first.

I have a saying (I help all of my students work towards the second part of the sentence):

Your dog will look at you when you are worth looking at.

- Sam

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