By David De Witt
Punishment-based training and prong collars are unnecessary and damaging to pets some animal experts in Queensland say, who also back a petition against their use.
Prong or ‘pinch’ collars contain a circular ring of round protrusions that pinch the skin around the dog’s neck when pulled by an owner.
The petition calls for the selling and use of these ‘torturous’ collars to be banned.
These collars are available online and over-the-counter in some Queensland pet shops.
A similar ban of these collars was passed in Victoria in 1997.
RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty says the RSPCA strongly supports the petition and oppose the use of prong collars.
“We don’t believe in them … we believe in encouragement based training not punishment,” he said.
Australian Veterinary Association spokeswoman Dr Debbie Calnon says training methods using punishment, including prong collars, are linked with many behavioural problems like aggression.
“These collars can cause physical damage to the neck and throat area especially when misused, but the biggest concern is the emotional damage to the dog,” she said.
“If dogs could talk I have no doubt they would vote for being trained using positive reinforcement methods.”
Owner of Clever Paws dog training service Melissa Bruce a dog behaviourist, says devices like prong collars are ‘lazy’ ways to temporarily get a dog back under control and have damaging, long-term effects.
“The attitude of punishing a dog into obedience through pain is out-dated,” she said.
“You have to find the core problem instead of just fixing it for the moment.”
“The prong collar teaches a dog it’s going to hurt but doesn’t promote any appropriate techniques to combat the reason they’re doing it in the first place.”
Ms Bruce says in no point of a dog’s training is a prong collar required.
National Dog Trainers Federation spokesman Brad Griggs, who owns canine training and behaviour business K9 Services International, says training using ‘positive punishment’ is necessary to teach the vast majority of dogs higher levels of reliability.
“Where these tools would be of overall benefit to an individual dog it is criminal that we cannot apply the tool to the job … People are demonising these tools because they don’t understand how to use them,” he said.
“They look absolutely terrible … but when you examine the actual design of the collar they have deliberately rounded ends to allow them to be used in the most humane way possible.”
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia Inc says in a statement there is significant risk to both dogs and the community in making these collars publicly available.
“Punishment-based training can quickly escalate in intensity and frequency resulting in pain and unnecessary suffering to the animal,“ the company said in the statement.
“They can easily become instruments of abuse when unskilled, angry and frustrated individuals attempt to modify dogs behaviour with their use. Yet they are promoted commercially as a safe, simple and easy method to train dogs.”
Owner of training and canine behavioural consultancy K9 Pro, Steve Courtney, says he opposes the current petition.
Mr Courtney says there are no studies to prove punishment-based training is ineffective and many people against this training are not dealing with hard-to-control dogs.
“Without prong collars many dogs will be beyond help and wont be able to be trained or controlled… there will be little option but to euthanize them,” he said.
Mr Courtney declined to comment on how long they have sold prong collars to the public online or his own use of them.
Prong collars in the hands of the public
Ms Bruce says the average person is “useless” at using the prong collar, which takes hours of training to effectively use.
“There’s no way the average member of the public can just pick up a prong collar and know how to use it without causing damage to the dog…and yet they’re being sold over the counter,” she said.
“A scalpel can be useful in the hands of a surgeon but if you give it to the average person and tell them to do an operation all they’ll do is more damage.”
Mr Griggs says he has no problem with these collars being sold online but was most supportive of their supply to the public by a vet or trainer with appropriate education.
Mr Griggs says the passing of this ban in Victoria was not because of any actual problem with the collar but because of “vote-grabbing and political posturing” and the same was being done in Queensland.
“Certain key supporters seem to be using this topic as an opportunity for media attention and to gain popularity,” he said.
“A person’s relationship with their dog is an emotional one and people are hijacking this topic’s emotive nature for their own personal and political gain.”
Ms Bruce says hate mail and personal threats she has received because of her public support of the petition will not be enough to alter her support.
“I personally am only interested in furthering humane treatment and training of dogs, so a few threats, while disturbing, will not alter my support of this ban,” she said.
“I would suggest anyone arguing that these collars are gentle and humane place one on themselves and jerk and tug for an hour every day. Their view might be reshaped.”
The debate over the prong collar has led to heated argument between some owners and trainers, which has spilled onto social networking sites like Facebook.
Should prong collars be banned? Tell us what you think below.
TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Dr Debbie Calnon
TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Brad Griggs
EXTERNAL LINK: Ms Melissa Bruce – Dirty Paws blog
EXTERNAL LINK: Full statement from Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia Inc.