Ah, the prong collar: Some folks swear by it, others, not so much. Like many (okay, basically all) of the tools out there, we’re not here to debate whether it’s the right fit for you and your dog — that’s only for you to decide, as different tools work for different human-dog duos. But in order to make an informed decision, it’s important you understand what a prong collar is, how it works, and how best to use it. That’s what we’re covering here today.
A prong collar is also called a pinch collar*. And, we’ll be honest — it’s our favorite tool at the Underdog. That’s because, when used properly, a prong collar allows for crystal clear communication between you and your pup.
*Note: Folks often also call this tool a “choke collar,” but technically a choke collar is a different tool.
Want to learn more about how this tool can help you strengthen your communication (and relationship) with your pup? Let’s get into it.
How a Prong Collar Improves Communication with Your Pup
Imagine this: You awake in an alien world surrounded by beings that don’t look, talk, walk, or operate like you at all. One thing that is clear? One of the aliens is “in charge” and wants you to do something. But what he actually wants you to do? That’s another story. All you know is he’s looking at you and yelling “GABBA” over and over again. Gabba, gabba, GABBA. Talk about a terrifying and unsettling experience.
Over time, the head alien tries many different tactics to try to build your understanding of gabba. He tries yelling gabba louder and louder. He repeats it. He adds other nonsensical sounds to the end. He says it quietly and gently. He raises his arms and stomps his feet. He sings it in a little song. All of this is useless without some context.
So What The F#%K Does GABBA Mean?!
Just when things seem hopeless, the head alien switches tactics: He starts using feedback to narrow your understanding of “gabba.” Now, when he says “gabba” and you respond, he either claps his hands or shakes his head and scowls. You quickly determine that the clapping is positive and head shaking is negative—in other words, the alien has just introduced a “yes” and a “no” to help you better understand the concept of gabba.
Over time, he gets even more refined in his teaching by adding direction. Alien says “gabba” and points (direction!) at a chair — well shit, now you have a very good idea of what “gabba” might mean. It could mean “chair,” “furniture,” “wood,” or “sit.” You’re not sure, but at least you have a very, very narrow category to work with. From here, the alien can use his forms of “yes” and “no” to reduce your four options to one.
But What Does Gabba Have to Do with Dog Training?
Dog training, at its core, is simple: Reward what you want, correct what you don’t. The problem with this simple premise is that humans and dogs don’t speak the same language, much like you and the alien above. So, when we communicate with our pups, we need to revert to the binary: There needs to be a clear yes and no. Your “yes” is your reward. Your “no” is your correction.
This gives us a decent method, but little efficiency. What are we missing? Direction. Enter: the prong collar.
Direction, Direction, Direction
The prong collar was designed to provide very specific pressure to the animal wearing it: i.e. direction. If I want my dog to move to the right, I can gently pull the leash to the right. Voila! Direction. Dog doesn’t know “sit”? Gently pull straight up on the leash. Voila! Direction. Dog won’t stay? Pull him back onto his place any time he gets up. Need we say it? Direction.
The prong collar gives us a clear method of providing direction and corrections to our pups. For this reason, it’s a tool we often utilize (as long as it’s safe and appropriate for the dog-human duo!)
It’s worth noting that other tools can also provide direction. The most notable is the flat collar + leash combo. The flat collar has one main problem: All your pressure is dispersed across a broad, flat surface directly on the trachea (danger!). This usually isn’t a problem once communication is established (i.e., your dog responds to pressure on their collar by moving away from the pressure). But, if your dog lunges after strangers, another dog, or a wayward squirrel, a flat collar can cause tracheal collapse. Because of the prong collar’s design, the pressure is evenly dispersed on the sides of the neck, NOT on the trachea.
Okay, Okay, Great. But Is The Prong Collar Safe?
Many people are wary of using prongs as they fear they will hurt or inflict pain on their dog. Much of this is due to people incorrectly using—or flat-out abusing—the tool, as well as the way this tool is often portrayed in popular media. But we want to be very clear: If you’re using a prong collar to hurt or inflict pain on your dog, you’re not using this tool correctly. The goal of training is never to inflict pain. Much like all tools, the prong collar is safe when used correctly. Those with interest in the tool should approach it under guidance of a qualified and experienced trainer.
Which Prong Collar Should I Buy?
We only recommend a single brand of prong collar: Herm Sprenger. Herm Sprenger collars feature a trachea plate, which protects the most sensitive part of the neck. The prong tips are blunted and angled for safety. Herm Sprenger collars also feature two rings, so you can use them clipped with one ring or two rings, for different purposes. They’re also just generally built better. The amount of knock-off brands that have broken, fallen off, spontaneously combusted… aye yai yai. And it’s always at the worst times. As such, we recommend investing in a good one (i.e., a Herm Sprenger) from the start.
What Is Proper Placement for the Prong Collar?
Proper placement of the prong collar should be taught under the guidance of a qualified and experienced trainer. How, when, and why you want to use it will be specific to you and your dog, so we can’t advise without a consultation. However, we can say that the Herm Sprenger Prong Collar was designed to be used high and tight on the dog’s neck. Remember, it’s safety equipment, so it needs to be snug. How effective would a seatbelt be as a loose, floppy noodle? Y’all gonna go sailing into State Street during a minor fender bender.
Using a Prong Collar: Final Thoughts
All tools have pros and cons. We recommend the prong collar because it comes with the most pro-to-con ratio with the lowest learning curve. However, this doesn’t mean that other tools are bad. We regularly add treats, slip leads, e-collars, and harnesses into our training. We always just make sure we have intention and clarity with each tool.
Think a prong collar (or another tool) might be the right fit for you and your pup? Schedule a training session with the Underdog today.