This collar is one of the more controversial of training tools, and admittedly it does look like something you’d have seen during the Spanish Inquisition, yet it is used and defended by many. There are two different types of prong links: flat-tip and round-tip. As the name implies, the round-tip links are rounded, rather than possessing the flattened edges of the flat-tip, and thus offer a more mild correction.
I am not a fan of the flat-tip prong, as it is harsh on the skin. There are little plastic caps available that are meant to be placed onto flat-tip prongs to make them rounded, but these break or fall off too easily. The prong collar comes in three main sizes: small, medium and large (there is also a ‘micro’ prong for extra small dogs). To a certain degree, these sizes do not reflect the size of the dog, but obviously a Jack Russell Terrier will not be able to wear a large link prong. Instead, they reflect the severity of the correction: the smaller the link, the more the dog will feel the pinch because there is more pressure being applied to a smaller surface. I liken this to comparing the feeling of someone stepping on your foot with a running shoe rather than a stiletto, although the weight is the same, the heel of the stiletto has a lesser surface and therefore all the weight will be concentrated to a limited area.
The type of prong collar pictured above is the most common, but there are several different types of collars that employ a pinching mechanism: some have shorter, wider prongs and are made of plastic (more mild), some have flat, V-shaped metal plates (more severe).
Some trainers advocate the practice of always opening and closing the collar using the same two links, while others believe that this will cause a weak point to form there after a while. If your dog is still growing, you must constantly make sure that the collar hasn’t become too tight, but this is true for any training tool, not specifically prong collars.
These collars work by pinching the dog’s skin. Contrary to popular belief, they will not dig into the dog, but some degree of irritation is inevitable, of which the resulting redness can be seen on dogs with short, thin or sparse fur.
The leash is attached to the swiveling D-ring on the chain, which, when pressure is applied, will cause the collar to tighten, bringing the prongs closer together, effectively pinching the dog. The harder you pull, the harder the pinch. Hooking the leash onto both rings on the chain will somewhat diminish the pinching mechanism. The prong collar is correctly fitted when you can comfortably fit a finger between the tip of a prong and the dog’s neck.
On the right dog (not overly sensitive individuals or puppies under five months of age) these collars are not as barbaric as they look, but let’s not kid ourselves – they work by causing discomfort and sometimes even pain. Anyone who tells you that a pop on the collar is meant to merely startle the dog out of the behaviour is either lying or misinformed.
Startling, by definition, is not a permanent condition. You can startle a dog by clapping your hands or making a loud, sharp noise, but the effect it has will decrease the more you do it, discomfort takes much, much longer – if ever – to desensitize to.
Seeing as there is no flat surface to apply pressure to, this collar reduces pulling because the dog cannot lean on the collar as much as if he were wearing a flat collar or body harness, although dogs can become somewhat habituated to the feeling of the prongs and still pull. It is properly used when in conjunction with training, but it won’t do the work for you!
In my experience, most dogs will not react particularly adversely to wearing a prong collar. I’ve seen quite a few people Obedience train their dogs in a serene manner, and many novice trainers and handlers appreciate the added control that this collar affords them.
Before choosing the prong collar, it is advised that you consult a qualified trainer, as these collars do not come with instructions and are most certainly not self-explanatory. A professional can help you decide if this collar is the best choice for both you and your dog and what size to choose. Make sure to look up reviews, like Yelp, and don’t settle for explanations that aren’t clear.