During a recent Facebook discussion, it was pointed out that I had never worn a prong collar. As such, I would have no idea whether a prong (a.k.a. pinch collar) causes pain. My knuckles firmly rapped, it seemed the only solution would be for me to open my mind and wear a prong collar.
For those unfamiliar with the product, these come in a variety of styles. Some look scary with spikes and “prongs” of metal. Newer models hide the “teeth” of the prong collar under a strip of leather, plastic or fabric. I use the word “teeth” very deliberately, because proponents of these products claim that the spikes of a prong replicate a mother dog’s teeth as she corrects a misbehaving pup.
I do know how to fit a prong collar, and I know how to use one. I am a crossover trainer, meaning that I have used physical corrections and discipline in the past. However, never have a put a prong collar around my neck I have not been able to claim to know how it feels. It is about time.
While not scientific, I wanted to challenge my pre-conceived notions. How does a prong feel? Does it cause pain? When products “work”, they work for a reason. What is that reason?
I began by placing the collar on my forearm. Surprisingly, it did not cause pain. There was pressure. At this point, I felt that I would be eating a good healthy dose of crow. This gave me the confidence to move forward – to fit the prong to my neck.
Carefully, I adjusted the number of links so the collar sat high up on my neck, snug but not tight. Gently I pulled on the ring where the leash attached. Again, I was legitimately surprised that spikes did not dig into my neck, and there was very little pain.
My husband entered the room, rolled his eyes at yet another “experiment”. Jokingly, he grasped the chain. Using his fingers only he tugged. “You’re coming with me!”
That is when the prong collar “bit” me. As the metal of the prong pressed against the bone of my spine, it created sharp, intense pain. I screamed – yes screamed – for him to stop. My husband blubbered, “I didn’t pull hard. It wasn’t hard at all. I just used my fingers.”
One of my friends pointed out that dogs have muscular necks and walk on all fours. I can respect that my husband’s tug on the collar does not replicate a dog walking at an owner’s side. Head down (literally, I got down on all fours) we attached the leash to the collar. My son “walked” me around the house. He was applying FINGERTIP pressure.
It was here that the collar “bit” me for the second time. It was not painful. I think it was worse than that. The pressure from the evenly spaced links didn’t distribute evenly, the way it had on my arm. Walking on my hands and knees, the collar did not pinch. It pulled up against the front of my throat, an area that has very little muscle to afford any protection. Checking the front of my dog’s neck, it becomes quickly apparent that his muscular neck and shoulders do not offer protection to the front of his neck either.
As I crawled along the ground, and the prong dug up into my windpipe, I felt a primal urge to recoil and relieve pressure. While not quite a choking feeling, it was a gagging, gurgling, inability to swallow. My stomach seized and I felt panic. In an instinctive need for self-preservation I gasped, “Drop the leash!” Grasping at the links, my hands shaking, I immediately struggled to remove the prong collar from my neck. Having felt both the pain of prong on bone, and the pressure of a prong on my windpipe, the pressure on my windpipe was, at least to me, far worse.
I went into this process with an open mind. Some of my most profound life lessons have come when others have challenged my position. I respect it when people speak up and push me. I want to know why a product “works.”
This little experiment may have begun as a prong question; it has led me to wonder how we perceive a dog’s neck. We see the muscle and power. Under their chin is the soft underside, cartilage, glands, bones.
Prong collars are not the only collars placed high upon a dog’s neck. Owners are often told to ensure collars stay up as high as possible. Why? They are told this is to maximize control – and the effectiveness of the collar. Some collars are designed so they intentionally do not slide down the dog’s neck – to the muscular part. I can see how that “works.” It hurts like hell when a collar presses on delicate tissue. Research shows that pressure on a dog’s neck presses on the optic nerve, potentially causing eye problems. This isn’t just a moral “tree hugging” concern. Veterinary organization recommend harnesses for this reason.
I can’t ask my dog how any collar feels for them. However, I can, for a minute, put myself in their position – look at the anatomy of their neck and look at the fit of a variety of collars and ask how it would make me feel.
No dogs were harmed, corrected or pulled using a training collar. In other words, the photos for this blog post were staged.
Update: May 6th, 2013. There have been an overwhelming amount of comments. This one stood out. Jennifer Montgomery Kay wrote the following:
I tried this experiment myself on Saturday. There really is nothing like the horrible feeling of it merely resting on my windpipe. The moment I caused it to apply actual pressure? I thought I was near death.