Sunday, October 25, 2009

To use or not to use?

Let's start off with a few updates. One, I opted not to continue training to volunteer at the shelter. The staff was, in my eyes, unprofessional. I did not like the way they addressed volunteers, and I did not like their policies, so I took my volunteering elsewhere. Now, I volunteer at the local food bank, and I love it. Second bit of news is that when I moved up here, my fathers dog was an absolute nightmare. He would sit inches away from your dinner plate and drool, lick the air, and paw you. My parents aren't very firm with him, wheedling a tiny little "no" when he was begging and expected him to listen. By far, this is the least intelligent dog I have ever worked with, but guess what? It took him around two days to learn that begging was by no means acceptable behavior, and that when I eat, he is to go to his corner and lie down. From time to time I have to reinforce this, but never physically. A loud "NO!" and an "Out" suffices. I have also been working on keeping him out of the kitchen using the same approach. Sometimes, he will creep in, but when I turn around and find him standing there, he beats a hasty retreat back to the living room. My parents still can't grasp the concept, so when they eat, there he is, hovering inches away from their plate. I have tried to show them that all it takes is a firm voice, but they still give him the little baby, "No no, no being a beggar". If they decide not to take up my technique, fine with me, but I will be enjoying my meals drool free. I'm also going to have to teach him to stop scratching at the door, a lovely habit which he picked up from the cat.

Anyways, on to my main point. There was a discussion today in which I participated involving the use of Halti-Leads, choke chains, and prong collars. I have used Haltis religiously and have had amazing success, but most people seem to think it's a tool created by Satan himself. They gave accounts of dogs just wigging out over it, but my experience has always been that sure, it will be a bit uncomfortable at first, but after swiping at their nose for a while and giving a vigorous roll in the grass, they figure it isn't coming off and get over it. I have successfully retrained my extremely fearful hundred pound dog with the use of a Halti with no repercussions, whereas when I would use a flat nylon or a choker, he would bolt and leave me dragging on the other end of the leash. I've had pullers that were broken of the habit using a Halti, leash-wanderers (as I call them; the dogs who just can't seem to keep on one side during a walk), overly hyper dogs, and none have had a violent reaction to it.

However, in the discussion, a prong collar was deemed the best idea. I have used a prong, and some dogs respond well, but there were some dogs that would absolutely pull until it punctured their neck. Switching to a Halti, the sensation of pressure on their nose and a quick jerk to the side, thus throwing them off balance, I have gotten a lot better results, and more quickly.

Then comes to the subject of the dreaded choke chain. I had been using a prong for about a week on my step dad's English bulldog, and it may as well have been that I was trying to walk him using a piece of dental floss. He absolutely did NOT care about it, and would pull and pull, and, well, pull some more. A Halti was not an option, as he's one of the brachycephalic breeds, and neither was a harness, because with his awkward shape he could easily back out of them. What bothered me about it most though is that even though it was brand new, the collar would sometimes lock up with his pulling and I'd be rushing to unstick it before my dog was strangled to death. That is when I switched to a choke chain. He was EXTREMELY dog aggressive and thought he was massive, going after dogs four times his size. A week on the choker, and I could walk him through parks and bring him wherever I pleased. Mind you, I never choked him but he learned that pulling caused an uncomfortable squeeze. I also used a choke chain on my larger dog, who had an affinity for pulling me down the street to investigate all the awesome smelling things he came across. I can now walk him on a slack line, to the point where the chain is dangling off his neck with plenty of free space, and he stays right by my side.

IMO, when used properly, choke chains and Halti-leads are absolute miracle workers. Prong collars, however, I absolutely loathe and will never use one. In my mind, you may as well be using a shock collar.

What is your opinion on the subject of choke chains, Halti leads, and prong collars? I'd love to hear from you.

50 comments:

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Oh. Wow. So much ... good updates. Doesn't surprise me you've moved on from the shelter.

I haven't time to address it all right now, so I'm going to have to leave it to this ...

Training tools, when used properly and fit correctly, are tools to help you get to the next step. That's it. That's all.

I don't like head halters because not all straps are adjustable. I'm sorry, but not every dog's muzzle is the same size. I accept that they do fit some dogs, but not many properly.

Regarding chokes ... I find that they are a good tool, but they require the dog to always be on the left. I don't insist that the dog always be on the left - sometimes it is impractical. Unless I'm competing in obedience than the dog can be on either side. Using the choke and insisting on the left means they stop thinking - which for some dogs is hazardous.

The prong is similar to the choke in the fact that the dog stops thinking. I find it excessive and don't like to use it. However, if it is properly fitted, it can work. Unfortunately 95% or more of dog owners who use the prong don't know how to properly fit the collar.

There are good and bad to all of the tools out there.

All training tools should be used to help you get to the next step. Not forever.

Unfortunately, many dog owners are lazy and don't bother to take the training to the next step. They find a tool that masks the problem and then don't bother to train

LegendsLiveOn said...

Good to hear from you, DDF!

Hrrm, the Halti I used for my shy/bolting dog had an adjustable muzzle piece, like the tightener to a bicycle helmet. I agree... a lot of people don't know how to use the tools they buy - I have watched people being dragged down the streets by their dogs in prongs or chokes. I tend to like to keep my boy on my right side (worry wart me; I just do NOT like the idea of my boy being on the side closer to the road :/) - of course, I wasn't strangling him or doing hardcore corrections - a jerk to the side so that he'd be pulled in towards my thigh, give the heel command, and as simple as that, he picked it up. I've never used constant pressure on a choke, just a quick tug, enough to get Buddy to look at me, and instant release, so his choker was mostly slack. When I used the prong on Tank, he acted like nothing was there - of course, I think I attribute that to the fact that EBs, like other bully breeds, are prone to ignore pain and not give a hoot about the spikes around his neck. I also switched to a choke for him, and yes, I am aware that he is brachycephalic, but due to that trait, he learned REALLY quick that lunging towards another dog was only going to result in him strangling himself, and that he was not going to be able to go after his target. We had tried harnesses (which I later learned that due to an EBs... er... awkwardly proportioned body, extremely wide in the front and V-ing quite noticeably from the haunches on back, they are able to simply back out of them), the prong, and a slip (name of which I can't recall, the sort you use one show dogs that go at the very top of the neck), and after five days or so I was able to walk him on a slack choke without a second glance at passing dogs.

And, in other news, when I move to Florida this coming summer, my mother will be neutering Tank and shipping him to live with me, seeing as I am the only one in the house that was able to get him to respond to training (Surprise! He turned out to be the most intelligent of our four dogs). So, I'm pretty excited, mostly for him, because his days of sitting around in a cage all day are over. Within two weeks of boredom, I was able to accomplish sit, stay, shake depending on which hand you put out (right hand right paw, left hand left paw), roll over, lay, leave it, out, and "calm", which was my cue for him to relax and stay where he was. Before, I couldn't so much as imagine trying to let the other dogs out to pee while Tank was out of his cage, and in no time flat I was able to let all the dogs out to use the restroom with Tank in the room, and all I would have to say is "Calm" and "Stay", and he wouldn't move a muscle, even allowing Aero and Buddy to sniff him, whereas before, a vicious bloody battle would have surely happened. And, like I said, funny as it sounds, NO ONE in the house could get him to listen, not even for a simple sit command. I am stoked to pick him up. I feel a bit guilty leaving Buddy and Aero behind, as they were "my dogs" - I picked them out of the litter, but they are strictly guard dogs and would probably do best staying in an environment they're used to.

Even though my dad has his retriever here, I just don't really dig him all that much. I give him cuddles and whatnot, and I'm usually not one to say this because I have usually believed it all depends on the owner and their training techniques, but he is unarguably one of THE least intelligent dogs I have ever met. Once I can teach Tank a bit more doggy manners, I plan on adopting (or possibly buying, I like the idea of health guarantees and certifications) either a young (puppy) female Bull Terrier or Rottweiler.

Whew, I can't believe I just typed all that. I'm practically nodding off on the keyboard, it was a long day at work. But seeing a droopy Bloodhound hanging out of the window in the parking lot totally made my day of pizza flipping monotony worth it. If you can't tell, I am missing my dogs dearly. x)

whiskey said...

Oh no! I liked the rest of this blog but I can't believe you're into choke chains, particularly on a bulldog!
I don't know if this is a US thing but they're considered a pretty bad idea, worse that shock collars, in the UK because put dangerous ammounts of pressure on the dog's neck. They're both inflicting unnecessary pain but at least shock collars cause no lasting physical damage.
I'd never heard of a prong collar till I saw this and I'm glad- they look like cruel and unusual punishment.
Haltis = brilliant. But unless your dog has at least some idea of a "heel" command negative reinforcement will just confuse them.

LegendsLiveOn said...

Believe me, I would never dream of using a choke on a /regular/ EB, but Tank is a bit unusual. He has an elongated muzzle like a boxer due to poor breeding. Heck, he can even swim.

However, I did not put him on a choke until I successfully had him listening to me without props (clicker, treats, collars, etc), so the choke was a last resort, in case things when wrong. He can back right out of a harness, his muzzle is a bit too short for a halti, and he slips collars like nothing. Given the options, I could have set him up in a slip, which I personally disprove of a lot more than a choker, or a prong, which I dislike regardless. I like chokes, personally, but that's because I don't use them to choke - EVER. I give a quick tug, and most dogs learn pretty fast that by putting pressure on the lead, all that will happen is that the collar will constrict. I've never choked out a dog - like I said, they learn pretty fast, and can then be eeeeasily walked (like my 140 lb monster Buddy. Before the choke, it was just not gonna happen, He would drag me away.) on a LOOSE, ie the choker is dangling off the neck on a loose lead, as long as you know how to use a choker correctly. I have seen people lift their dogs straight into the air from their choke collars and leads, and that is definitely NOT how I use my chokers. It is a tool for me, not a staple. I only use it in really necessary situations, IE with Tank and Buddy. And I always buy a choker that's about a size or two too big - I like my dogs to be able to breathe. It's a training crutch, not a permanent fix, but I must say, Tank is an ANGEL to walk when we had the choker. I haven't been around him in a few months obviously, but he listens very well to verbal commands. He is a bit unpredictable though, which is why I'd rather not chance him slipping a lead and taking off after someone's dog, especially since Tank isn't aware that roughly 60% of the dogs in our neighborhood are ENORMOUS and could eat him as a snack.

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Texan said...

I personally think each and every dog responds to different correctional collars differently, and I hate hearing anyone say they would "never use X again" because I can almost guarantee that they will run across a dog one day that will benefit greatly from "X collar."

I personally adore prong collars. I call it "power steering". The percentage of people, however, that use prong collars correctly is extremely minimal, and obviously the collar will not work if you don't use it correctly. I like halti's and have had good success with them, but I don't use them on dogs I am training for competition purely for the reason that it is SO hard to train a dog off a halti, and it is so very hard to teach attention work with something controlling the dog's face.

I use choke collars for very minimal things. I will use them on extremely aggressive dogs simply because it gives me the upper hand. I also use them in the conformation right because it is standard for use in the ring. I will not use choke collars on conformation dogs who have not been trained how to respond to a choke collar.

I still think that regular buckle collars and martingales are the best thing to use, and most people using correctional collars are looking for a "cheat" and are being lazy when they use correctional collars rather than taking the time to train their dogs properly.

Back on the topic of the prong collar... I start my dogs on a prong at around 5 or 6 months old, and actually teach them that the prong is a motivator, not a correctional device. I walk the dog on a leash and when he lags behind or gets ahead or wanders to the side I use a happy voice and say "Come on!" Lets go" and give it a few gently tugs to get them going. Simultaneously, I pick up my speed to a jog and give them a cookie as soon as they give me their attention again. It takes very little time for my dogs to adjust to the prong, and to be looking for treats when they get a "correction" rather than get upset about it.

And FYI... the problem you have with the prong collar "sticking" is probably because you are using the big links. I HATE the big ones, and don't even use them on big breeds. Use the medium sized (smaller) collar and just buy additional links until it fits the dog. They are much less clumsy and move better than the big links.

Christina said...

Advocating a choke? For a dog with a smaller head than neck, the best collar is a martingale (if you cannot use a halti/flat). If even that doesn't work, a front loading/clipping harness such as an easy walk. Choke/check chains have been shown to cause neck/spine injury used incorrectly.

Personally, I'd much rather someone go to a trainer, learn to use a prong collar and use it correctly. However, for most training situations a prong collar is unnecessary and should not be the go-to.

Two links about prongs:
http://www.cobankopegi.com/prong.html
http://www.8pawsup.com/articles/training/prongcollars.html

Any training tool is just a tool that should not be used in the long term. I don't mind haltis (with dogs who are not spastic enough to cause themselves neck damage) as long as people use them correctly in conjunction with a flat collar and wean their dog off the halti.

I trained both of my dogs on a flat collar with the "be a tree" method (that's not entirely true, my older female came with great leash manners, I can't take credit for that!). I thought to use a halti for the corgi, but because they are already prone to back issues I decided be a tree would be much more effective long term. I also considered a gentle walker, but his breeder advised against it, I think she was really speaking about top clip harnesses, I don't see a gentle walker being a problem for their weirdly shaped bodies (and have read about people having success with it).

The real sticker here is taking the time to use the training tools to get the effect you desire and then continuing to reinforce the good behavior after the tools are taken away. Too many people forget to tell them when they get it right after they're "supposed to know it".

I realize you went through why you ended with a choke, but I would have been interested to see your results with a martingale first.

And like I said on fugly, I stopped following your blog a long time ago due to very sproadic updating. If you want to be featured on FHOTD, you need to make it worth featuring with at least weekly updates.

Christina said...

@Texan

I think you make a valid point, but many of us will never work with a truly aggressive dog and have need in that situation. Chokes being standard in the confirmation ring can't be helped I suppose, but you made a great point that you train the dogs how to respond. There's the biggest difference between you (and many other confirmation ring people, though it is certainly misused there too) and the average dog owner!

Texan said...

@Christina,

EXACTLY... I honestly really wish chokes WEREN'T standard in the conformation ring... they've made martingales legal finally, but the "fad" that gets you points is still with the choke. However, those dogs are trained to walk on a choke and to move like they should, where most dogs are not.

And yes, the average person doesn't wind up working with aggressive dogs. I'm one of those "up in your biz" kind of people... I quite often stop people I see walking their dogs on chokes and prongs incorrectly and inform them that they are using it wrong and show them how. Most people are really appreciative.

Zelika said...

When the prong collar isn't working (like on the bulldog) and you are sure you are using it right, two words

SHOCK COLLAR

They go as low as a simple vibrate and the sporting quality ones even the hardest of dogs will feel and respond to. I use Dogtra and I got mine from www.signaturek9.com

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Dondi the Vegan Wondergirl said...

I love the halti's as well as gentle leaders. In my opinion choke collars and prongs don't work and more often than not improper use causes damage to the dog. In all things training is important and yes you need to combine being firm with lots of love and patience. Those who don't know how need to go to a reputable trainer using positive reinforcement as well as socialization as a base.