By Marcy Eckhardt
La Plata County Humane Society
At an open-admission humane society like we have in Durango, we see all types of dogs: different shapes and sizes, different histories and temperaments and different reactions to fear and losing their homes. To work with these pups, we use a number of management devices – items that help us work with a dog when the dog is unruly, rude or huge and pushy. These include belly-bands, Gentle Leaders, front-clip harnesses and martingale collars.
One thing we don’t have and don’t ever use at the humane society is prong or pinch collars.
There are a couple of reasons we don’t use prong collars at the humane society. First, dogs that are being rehomed – puppies or adults – are going through a number of transitions. By throwing pain into that equation, we can cause long-term reactivity and anxiety. We always want to build dogs’ confidence before initiating corrections – especially if you’re working with an anxious or nervous pup. Consistency, holding the space for dogs while they adjust is 10 times more beneficial than showing them you have a device that will “control” them.
Second, we’ve never needed to pinch a dog to get them to walk politely on a leash. Considering our dogs change constantly and we have young interns and elderly dog walkers, this is a testament to Gentle Leaders and front-clip harnesses – they work great and don’t involve pain.
And thirdly, we’re working on building a relationship with the dog – not building a relationship between the dog and the collar, which is what happens when these are used. You don’t have your dog’s respect, the collar does.
To say these don’t hurt the dogs is ignoring both what they’re doing and the effects they’re having. Of course they hurt, otherwise, they wouldn’t have so much respect from the dogs. Just recently, I was working with a young man and his 97-pound dog. Great dog, just huge, strong and a bit out of control. The man had him in a pinch collar, and I cringed as an elderly woman said hello to the dog. As the dog reached to say hello back, the collar tightened, and although the dog was doing everything right, he was getting corrected. Unfortunately, these collars also “correct” or pinch dogs when they smell something, itch themselves and perform countless other normal activities.
Over the past 20 years, people’s relationships with their dogs has grown tremendously. Moving them inside, treating them as family and using positive reinforcement and relationship-building methodologies is a big part of that. It’s time to continue it to the devices we use, and ditch those that control our best friends, and instead, use ones that grow our relationships.
Marcy Eckhardt is director of pranaDOGS Behavior and Rehab Center and trainer for La Plata County Humane Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.