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The Prong Collar – Why it Works

Updated: Mar 28


Think back to those days when you really enjoyed watching a good horror film. I mean that nasty movie that had you slumping in your seat, so engrossed in the moment that the movie was, at that moment, your whole world. The protagonist is found in a no-win situation, an imminent, bloody and beyond painful death is nearly upon him… then your partner pokes you in the ribs and blares a blood curdling “Buooohhhh Haaa Ha!” into your ear.


You are ripped out of the fantasy world your mind was engulfed in and immediately faced with reality again.


Or maybe, you are driving down the highway? You have been on the road for a good hour and your thoughts had been wandering back to the problems at home or work. All of the questions about what happened?

How could I have let things get this way? What can I do to change what is coming? Where do I begin with making things right? The stress is almost overwhelming, and your thoughts have you on auto-pilot. The dashed center line is just a blur, the bridges you pass blend in with the clouds, the cars you had been passing look like transparent ghosts, whisps of fog, flowing into your barely perceived mirror.


To your horror, your whole front windshield is suddenly filled with the flashing red and blues light of a shark lying patiently for its next prey. All of the previous weeks of bad decisions and ugly situations are whisked from your thoughts as though they were never there. Your concentration now is completely on the big question… Are those lights for me. Your mind is now wholey in the moment.


In both scenarios, the persons find themselves fixated on something so intensely that all else around them has faded into the background and is barely registered. Both are literally shocked back into the real world. The “shock”, is not painful… Well, physically it is not painful. The second scenario might present a shock to the pocketbook. The point is, both persons were abruptly brought back to the real world and “into the moment”.


Most people who own dogs want a well-trained dog or at the very least a well-mannered dog. You can have neither unless you have a dog that is focused on you and understands what you expect of them.

Focus is very important when expecting a dog to not become reactive to people or dogs. Just as important is that a dog must understand that it is not their place to become reactive to their surroundings unless Mom or Dad allows it.


What does it mean to become “reactive”? The definition from a dictionary.

  1. Showing a response to a stimulus

  2. Acting in response to a situation rather than creating or controlling it

When dogs ‘react’ they are putting themselves into what we call a “heightened” state of mind. Once in this state, it is very difficult to get them out of it.


Before getting into what we, as dog owners, need to do with a reactive pup, let’s take a look at how dogs react in real life when dealing with each other.


Momma dog has a litter of pups that are about 3 weeks old. Their eyes are just opening and a whole new world is being presented to them. Wow! The wonder of it all! The sounds that they have been hearing, the smells that have been bombarding them are all taking on shape. The world is now a magnet that is pulling them out of their den to discover the meaning of this new information. Momma is napping, trying to recover some of her strength but wakes often with the feeling of loss. One of her pups is once again on an adventure and roaming out into the big wide world. She rises, leaves the den to find the young pup just beyond the warm blankets, nose in the air, oblivious to moms’ approach. She reaches down, engulfs his head in her mouth, then deftly grabs a large swath of skin at his neck, her teeth firmly planted so as not to lose the precious boy to gravity. Dangling from her mouth, she carries him back to the den, all the while thinking “Oh, no you don’t”.


Momma dog’s litter is now several weeks older. The pups are getting to their rambunctious age, jumping, chasing and rough and tumbling with one another… That would include trying to get momma in on the fun. Momma is tired and drained though and would rather have a break from all the fun. One pup in particular is tenacious and continuously pounces on momma’s back to the grab at her ears and lips with his needle sharp teeth. It doesn’t take long for momma to become, well, bitchy? She begins to raise her lips in protest, a bit of her eye whites flashing with her rising mood temperature. A clear warning to the little guy that wants to instigate a good chase. He lunges again to be confronted with not only the earlier warnings but also with a good grump and snap of the teeth. Boy is this fun, the little guy is thinking to himself, pitching out his first attempts at a bark. Not catching the more than obvious hint, he springs at her head again. This time his antics are answered with a resounding growl, a solid nip at his neck and momma, like a flash of lightening poised above him in the most menacing of manners. The little guy is now on his back looking up at ferocious display of teeth and piddled onto his belly where the wetness rolls to the ground for all others to smell. The playful behavior has left him completely to be replaced by wonderment at momma’s sudden setting of boundaries.


The pups, now about 15 weeks of age, are out playing. They largely avoid momma because she can be so obnoxious to them when they are having fun. The pen they are in is large enough for all to move around comfortably and magically things appear that are so fun to push around and attack and chew on. The problem? All of the pups want to do the same with these things. It is a free-for-all but only the strongest seem to have any time with these, toys. Inevitably little fights break out where one pup will chase the other, tossing the annoying one to the ground where he instinctively hovers over the weaker with teeth on his opponents’ neck. The scuffle started out as “My trophy”, “My Ball”, “My Bone” but in the heat of the moment has turned into, “I bested you!”, “I am the boss!”, the bone now forgotten with two other pups challenging each other for possession.


What to take from these scenarios? These pups, to include momma dog, are not out to hurt each other. So what is the point? They use their teeth to pass on information to the other dogs in the family. These puppies are confronted with this type of transfer of information since a very young age.


Okay, what to do with the reactive dog? Training. Pure and simple. We train the dogs that focusing on us, the parents, is rewarding. The dogs need to know that being physically located right next to us is the best place in the world. They need to understand that when adverse situations do occur, we are in control. The dog does not need to be scared or feel challenged by what might be taking place in front of them. If the situation does reach a point where the dog thinks a reaction is necessary, the pup needs to know that the leader (mom or dad) will ‘transfer’ information to it about its upcoming annoying attitude and that it will be rewarded for behaving well instead.


When trained properly, a dog does very well understand the difference between what we have taught to be ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’.


How to best facilitate this kind of training? Focus is fairly easy, we just need to appeal to the dogs sense of fun, rewarding the dog for keeping its attention on us when we require it. This is only half the answer though. When stress enters any given situation, even the greatest rewards that a dog might want won’t necessarily get them to look at you. This is where ‘negative’ reinforcement comes into play. When the pup understands that its action(s) will be reacted to negatively but if focus is re-established it will be rewarded.


The way to avoid our dogs becoming reactive is to get their focus on us BEFORE they become reactive to a situation. Again, once in that heightened state of mind, it is very difficult to get them out of it without removing them from the situation.


When effectively and efficiently training anyone or any animal, we need to use those tools that best promote that training. When training pilots, we use a simulator, right? When working with dogs, ‘laying teeth on’ is something that they understand very well. This is where the Prong Collar comes in.


First and foremost, the Prong collar is a training tool! Just as with any other tool, used properly, this tool can be a huge asset in the training of a dog. Mis-used, it may cause a dog to become very anxious resulting in more unwanted issues.


There are a lot of trainers out there looking to ban this tool, claiming that it is intentionally hurting the dogs. Once again, used properly, this tool is not designed to hurt the dog. One would have to equate this to operating a bulldozer. Let someone who is not qualified jump into the driver’s seat, the likelihood that the person is to cause more damage than good is greater than great. Once that person has trained and earned his certification on that piece of equipment, one might expect hugely positive results from his / her time in the driver’s seat.


Yes, the prong collar looks brutal, it looks medieval. Yes, the prong collar is designed to imitate teeth but without the devastating effect that real teeth can have.


How can this work? Imagine, your pup is barking out the window, he is in a heightened state of mind. Calling his name doesn’t work because the stimulus outside outweighs the reward he might get from you. “Laying Teeth On”, is just like poking you in the ribs with that scary movie or turning on those Red and Blue lights when you are on the highway. Properly applied, the dog will break its attention from the distraction at hand to look to see who is ‘biting’.


“If you can get your dog to look at you, you can get him to listen.”


The magic in this collar is to never have pressure on it unless required to get your pup’s focus. The amount of ‘force’ one uses depends on the heightened state your dog is in.


A good analogy; imagine you are at a concert with your partner. You pay at the front gate and walk in. There is no music playing and very few people around. You are thirsty and tap your partner on the shoulder to say “Lets go get something to drink.” The message is easily understood. Get that music playing at one hundred twenty decibels and fifty or sixty people pushing around you and that tap won’t work. You will have to smack your partner on the shoulder and yell, “Lets go get something to drink!”. Your partner may not understand what you are yelling about but you have his attention.


The absolute same is true for the prong collar and the state of mind your pup is in. You are using just enough force to overcome the heightened state of mind and get focus back. Once focus is achieved, the dog is asked to sit where he is then rewarded with treats and love.


Notes:

  1. CAUTION! Not all Prong collars are equal! Use only those that have rounded tips! Those with flat tips may have edges that will hurt your dog.

  2. The prong is a training tool. It should only be used as such. Do not allow a pup to have it on 24/7.

  3. The dogs should be taught that the prong collar is a good thing! The same as when a leash is put on, the pups should rejoice with the sight of it.

  4. If your pup cowers when presented with the prong, you are certainly doing something wrong.

  5. Not all dogs are the same! Some pups are so sensitive to corrections they do not require the prong collar.

  6. The Prong works so well because it substantially reduces the amount of effort required to get a pup’s attention.

  7. “Laying Teeth On” puts you in Momma’s paws (shoes). You are establishing yourself as the leader. A very important aspect in the decision-making process of a dog.


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