Are you supporting cruelty to dogs?

I made a terrible mistake on Sunday. I went shopping online for an obedience dumbbell. After scrolling through the pages and pages of shock, prong, and choke collars that turn up when you click on “obedience equipment,” I was left with a horrible feeling of nausea.

I rationalized, for a moment, that I don’t have to buy a dumbbell. We aren’t competing; I can get by with homemade.

Then I remembered that my local mom-and-pop franchise, where I spend a lot of money, has a stack of prong collars right there next to the clickers.

With a sinking feeling, I clicked over to, that place where we all love to shop. So many allergy-friendly treats! Such good shipping!

And an entire page of shock, prong, and pinch collars. 

You know what? I am done. 

I don’t care if I have to make every particle of food that crosses Silas’s lips myself. I am through giving money to people who help other people abuse dogs. 

I know that there are theoretically “correct” ways to use aversive training equipment, although the best modern dog training has moved past it. I also know that maybe 1% of the people who buy this equipment use it that way. Just watch the people walking dogs in your neighborhood on a sunny afternoon. Unless you live somewhere much more enlightened than I do, you’ll see half the dogs, frantic and confused, struggling against a pronged collar, often while their owner talks on the phone or chats with a friend. (Or drinks a glass of wine, and I only wish I were making that up.)

There isn’t much I can do about the way a stranger treats his or her dog, aside from my advocacy here, but I can spend my money however I want.

puppies against animal cruelty


So, there.


Edited to add: if you want to join me, I made a more badge-y image, although it’s not my strong suit:

Say NO to shock, prong, and pinch collars and the businesses who sell them. #forcefreeshopping

22 thoughts on “Are you supporting cruelty to dogs?

  1. This is why I don’t carry prong collars, choke chains, etc in my store. Because the products a business sells matter! Please share your views with your local pet store. Your opinion matters & if they hear it often enough, they may reconsider.


    1. Yes! I’m going to my local chain tomorrow to verify what exactly they have in store, then I’m sending them a letter. I was surprised to see prong collars in the branch I was at most recently. I don’t think they sell them in every branch, so I’m hoping they’ll be open to change.


  2. As you know, we use all three of these training tools. I know a lot of people who use all three tools and use them correctly. Just as positive only trainers do not always do right by their dogs, of course there are people who use these tools incorrectly. In my opinion, it is not proper to over generalize. If I see someone with a clicker and an out of control dog, should I say that the method leads to an out of control dog? Should I judge the person, or the store that sold that person a clicker without warning them that they may still have an out of control dog no matter the clicks? Should I say no clickers ever?

    Many people who are against these tools have no idea how they actually work. For example prong collars do not dig into skin, but for some reason people who have never used them think that they do. They pinch a bit, but they do not leave a mark and can be very helpful if you have a dog who likes to pull. I guess my biggest complaint with prong collars is that people do not know how to fit them properly. However, when they are too big they just don’t work and that is about it (which I bet is the case with the dogs you saw).

    E collars, yes we use them. Each and every time we train our dogs. They get corrections. Yes sometimes hard corrections. They also get praise. As with everything it is balance. E collar is the only method to correct a dog at a distance of 100 or 200 yards. It is also the most reliable method to reinforce a recall and may just save a dog’s life.

    So I guess my bottom line is, you don’t like these tools, OK don’t use them. But I would ask you not to go on some crusade to prevent other pet owners from having access to these tools.


    1. Sorry, going on a crusade. If you’d like to unfollow, I understand.

      I know that people like you use these tools correctly. I even know that some of the behaviors you guys train are difficult to teach without them. (Although people are starting to do it.) But, people like you are not the norm. I’m sick of people wandering in to PetSmart or my local chain store and buying a prong collar just because their dog pulls a little. It isn’t fitted well, they don’t know how to use it, and then they *don’t train the dog.* They just hope that “a little pinch” will get the job done for them. It doesn’t, because they never address the underlying issue.

      You can do significant mental and emotional harm to a dog with aversive training. A mentally and physically tough sporting dog, within an extensive framework of training? Probably not. Not every dog is like that, though. If I’d put Silas in a prong collar just because he pulled on the leash, I’d probably have had put him to sleep by now. Which sounds like an exaggeration for effect, but I truly believe it.

      With a badly-used clicker, the worst-case scenario is a fat dog who still doesn’t do what you want. A badly used e-collar can destroy a dog’s life.

      It’s not my job to get them completely off the market. If people want to go to someone like Leerburg, read all their information about how to properly fit, size, and use equipment like this, watch a few of their training videos, and LEARN what they are DOING that’s different. I still don’t like it, but I don’t have to like every decision someone else makes with their life. I just want it to be a *decision* that requires some thought and maybe a little effort.


      1. Not to belabor the point and hopefully you are interested in a discussion.

        First, people assume Chessies are tough dogs. They are not. They are in fact very soft dogs. Smart but soft which is why we say they are not a breed for everyone.

        Second those people who claim to be able to teach what we are teaching without ecollar can never point to a dog who has actually earned a title. (Well old time field trail dogs, but then they used cattle prods and beebee guns. Thank goodness those days are long gone.)

        We are attending a seminar in Wisconsin in May with a trainer who claims to have a slightly different approach (I think he calls it soft collar or something). I have an open mind when it comes to training so am anxious to hear what he has to say. The trainer we use now has encouraged us to go to this seminar.

        But more to your point, aren’t you jumping to a conclusion about what research and training people have or have not done? I also think you are jumping to conclusions about what an ecollar can do. They are not the torture devices so many people make them out to be. Whether it be positive or negative, reinforcing unwanted behaviors can have be bad for a dog.

        With a prong collar, the pinch is the training. It is one of the simplest training devices to use (once properly fitted).

        I have in fact seen dogs pts where the owners mistakenly believed that clicker training was the way to go. Many dogs end up at the pound with the label “too much too handle” because their people mistakenly bought into the whole positive training only theory.

        The trainer we use also offers obedience classes. The reason is because the local vet was tired of having dogs (trained with clickers) coming in that were either out of control or the owners wanted them pts because they were out of control. They begged our trainer to please offer traditional obedience classes and now regularly send people over.

        Yes Silas is an extreme case, but you choose medication to aid him. As you know, medication has risks as well as benefits. I am not saying you made a wrong choice, but not everybody wants to medicate their dogs. Some people just want to use traditional training tools and methods.


        1. I think the medication is an interesting comparison. Because, yes, I did choose it, and there are risks. But I didn’t just spot it in a store, buy it on a whim, and start giving it to the dog, which is the thing I’m objecting to. I did intensive consultations with a veterinary specialist and with my own regular vet. I tried LOTS AND LOTS of training first, and I still do LOTS AND LOTS of training.

          I’m also not saying that it’s possible to be 100% positive in dog training. That’s a kind of ridiculous straw man that gets trotted out in these things. Turning away from a puppy who nips is negative. Putting a dog in a crate for a time out is negative. Silas knows the meaning of the word “no,” but I didn’t have to physically coerce him in order to teach it.

          In a perfect world, every dog owner would go to training classes. In my real life I support local organizations that offer classes to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access. Ian Dunbar is absolutely right when he says that puppy training is the most important thing we can do to keep dogs from being put to sleep in shelters. I think you and I agree there, but I suspect that’s as far as we’ll get.


        2. I have had people even trainers assert to me that we should be 100 percent positive on our training. Really. I also wanted to make one thing very clear. We do not use an ecollar (physical coercion as you are calling it) to teach. That would indeed be a disaster. It is to reinforce an already learned behavior.

          Thanks for the great discussion. 🙂


  3. Thank you so much for bringing this to light. I have contacted my local franchise to make sure they don’t carry these things in other branches. The one I patronize definitely doesn’t. They are outlawed in some countries and I just can’t accept that it’s the only way in some cases.


    1. Additionally, I was one of those people that walked into a big-box pet store and had a prong collar suggested to her for her dog that pulled. I also used the citronella spray bark collars after threat of being evicted for my neighbor’s complaints about my dogs in an uninsulated duplex that bordered a busy alley. I know better now. Ruby is terrified of keys because I dropped them once and it scared her. I cannot imagine what irreparable damage an e-collar would have on a dog like her. It is disgusting and heartbreaking to me the way these “tools” are marketed as harmless, humane, safe.


      1. Silas is *terrified* of spray bottles, and it’s all my fault. When he was a puppy and wanted to dig in the couch cushions, I would give him a little spritz.

        Two YEARS later, I was standing by my mother while she used some hairspray. “Watch out, I’m going to spray you.” And Silas hid under the bed.


  4. I think it also comes down to an inherent difference between those are willing to use pain/fear as incentive and those who are not. I’ve been reading some reviews of a “scat mat” by a lot of satisfied customers who prefer their sofas over their dogs, some even taking obvious glee in their pets’ starteled reactions. Before I sold my young horse I had a trainer come work with her who jerked on her face and startled her with rope pops. She was soon compliant. I still was not interested in working with her in such a way myself. Just because something is effective doesn’t mean it’s right.

    There was a time when physical correction of children was widely accepted, too.


  5. Hmmm…I really don’t follow the argument about why you’d use an e-collar on a soft dog. That makes even less sense than saying you’d use it on a harder dog. If the dog is soft, it should be even easier to use positive reinforcement methods. I understand that some people training dogs for hunting use shock collars. I, personally, disagree with this use, and I do know at least one person who has trained hunting dogs with all positive methods. It is possible. It can take longer, though (for hunting anyway, but I’d very much dispute the idea that positive methods take longer in general). However, it’s pretty much a losing argument: the people who are going to be committed to using prong collars and shock collars are most likely going to keep using them. Their choice, I guess, but I find them pretty awful.

    It’s also a tired generalization that dogs trained with clickers are “out of control.” I’ve seen plenty of clicker trained dogs title in agility, rally, flyball, you name it. Blaming a method for handler error is a false argument, and also, how does someone know what’s going on with the supposed “out of control” dog? Could be an adolescent dog who just began training. Could be a fearful dog with an inexperienced handler, etc, etc.

    The bottom line is as Lara says: are you willing to cause pain to an animal in the name of training, or not? I’m glad there are still a lot of people out there who are not.


  6. The problem with “positive training” is that people assume that means “permissive”. It does not. It just means that positive trainers won’t hurt a dog to get it to comply. I’ve even finally located a trainer that does snake-aversion training withOUT an e-collar! I haven’t been able to attend it yet due to my schedule, but I am very interested in learning about a better way to train Blueberry to avoid snakes. Not that she is off-leash in the desert – but when we have encountered them on the trail, she’s always curious and wants to give them a sniff. Not good.

    Great topic – obviously some good points on both sides of – but the “other side” hasn’t convinced me that their methods are wise.


    1. My biggest issue is that they are often offered to pet owners as a default. Your dog pulls? Put a prong collar on! The truth is that prong collars and choke chains can make reactive behavior much worse, when something like a front-clip harness will not. It isn’t my job to take them off the market, but getting them out of my local store means that people will at least *try* positive methods first.

      Do post if you can try the force-free snake training. My friend shibamistress (who posted above) finally gave in and used the aversive, I think, after her dogs had several bad encounters in her own yard.


  7. I’m a recent lurker, and I’m sticking my head out of the underbrush to say thank you for posting this.
    I was at a local big-box store yesterday looking for a leash because I just started volunteering for my local humane society. In the training section, piled together as though they were all the same thing, were EZ Walks, Gentle Leaders, Clickers, bark spray and bark collars, choke collars, and prong collars.
    I think the worst thing about this stuff reinforces what you say above–this stuff is marketed not to the competent trainer, but to the customer looking for a quick fix. One product, called a “comfort chain,” was a standard choke chain with a string woven through the links. I just don’t even have words for how messed up that is.
    I might have been able to handle all of this if I hadn’t just encountered, in another aisle, a passel of college kids who were lugging around a five week old, apparently purebred, and clearly overwhelmed husky puppy whom they had just gotten that day. When that puppy is inevitably dragging them down the street in four months and they return to that store, what will they do when confronted with the training aisle? I’m still just so upset about the whole thing that I’m still feeling like a dog in the middle of a reactive episode.


  8. I have used choker collars on both my guys but I was educated on how to properly use them, which I don’t think most people are. Even though I have used them in the past I never recommend them to other dog owners because it always seem like they are looking for an easy and unsafe fix for a problem. I agree with the comment above that the marketing for these products is all wrong and most people who work at the stores that sell dog products like this aren’t educated about training at all. .


  9. While I cannot claim to be 100% positive, I do not train with aversives. There are occasions I lose my patience and yell at Elka; I’m unfortunately short-fused at times.

    I’ve turned down sponsored posts and participation in giveaways from companies who were purely electric collar and electric fence people, because I’m not into the use of them. I feel there is a proper way to use e collars, and prongs, with a cool head and a balanced and educated trainer, but it just isn’t for me.


  10. Both Moses and Alma have martingale collars. Some consider them forceful, which I acknowledge. They also have a safety aspect (many dog walking/boarding companies require them after experiencing dogs slipping out of regular buckle collars on walks and running off). We started out with a training company that required them, are happy with our experience, and have well-trained dogs who we have a great bond with – no fear or intimidation. Given it’s what we’ve always used, we’ve stuck with using them. And Alma’s still on her first collar we ever bought her, so stuff lasts a long time in our house. That’s not to say I wouldn’t switch to a regular buckle collar, but I am the type to stick with what I know I like.

    I’ve used a choke collar in the past – a show ring requirement with Moses. I hated it. And I hated seeing other dogs with constant tension pulling on their choke collars. They were widely – and inappropriately – used. And seemed largely ineffective. I’m not actually sure if you can use something else in the show ring, but at the time, that’s what we were told to use and we did.

    However, I support the ability of people like Linda @ 2 Brown Dawgs to use the tools she uses with her dogs in the manner she uses them. I’ve never used an ecollar and don’t see a reason for myself to, but I’ve followed her blog for a long time and don’t think there’s any abuse, fear, or undue force there.

    On e-fences, sometimes they’re actually the only option. There are neighbourhoods here where the bylaws prohibit fenced properties (they’re really fancy neighbourhoods, and while you may be tempted to say ‘live elsewhere’, you’re essentially telling wealthy people to not live in a prestigious neighbourhood – that’s not going to happen). I think I like the idea of an e-fence better than a dog that’s always tethered. Of course, training and supervision are the best options, but no one is perfect and people are going to find ways to leave their dogs outside unattended, even if for short times.

    I do not support the idea of the general public being able to go out and buy these tools without knowledge and instruction. And I don’t like how easily they get promoted in the stores.

    Moses and I were once in a Petland years ago when he was young and less obedient and dashed in front of me, pulling on his leash, to greet the approaching teenager, the Petland “pet counsellor”. Even under 2 years old, he was a big dog who outweighed me. Without missing a beat, the kid suggested I get a prong collar for him. Trying to make a sale? Maybe. I doubt they’re on commission. But I was bothered by the uneducated saleskid pushing those tools on customers he knows nothing about based on the observance of an isolated behaviour. That is exactly how they wind up in the hands of people who don’t know how to use them and will make things worse.

    There’s a big difference between seeking out a tool and having one promoted to you. After that experience, I don’t think they should just be on the shelves of stores like that, where customers and staff aren’t necessarily fully informed.

    Sorry. Long commnet. Lots of things going on in this subject!


    1. I think you and I have a lot of similar feelings on this. (Except you’ll never sway me about invisible fences.) Having a fearful dog pushes me way over to the “positive only” end of the spectrum, because it would be such a disaster to use force on him. But, that’s my dog. I feel like I can generalize to a wide range of other dogs, but not to every dog in every situation. I think the research on the effects of aversive training is quite compelling, but there are some really murky specific situations out there. I know people who have put dogs to sleep for chasing livestock, which could be solved with an e-collar. Is that worth the cost? Should they have tried something else? I can’t say that for every case, which is why I’m not actually in favor of outright bans. And, like you said about show dogs, you aren’t going to win the show without a slip lead.

      Your last point is really where this campaign is most relevant for me. The people who run my local mom-and-pop store are positive trainers. They don’t have any idea how to fit or use a prong collar, but they still sell them. Or, for that matter, online stores are even worse, because they don’t even *try* to give you information. It’s well-documented that people don’t read the instructions that come with e-collars. That’s why I said, somewhere up above, that if someone *really* “needs” an aversive collar, I’d rather they go to somebody like Leerburg (even though it hurts my heart) who can show them videos and help them measure and give specific advice.

      I see especially prong collars *all the time* being used very poorly, probably because, like you said, people just go into the store and get them recommended by people who don’t actually know what they do.


      1. Yes, yes, yes to everything you said above. I didn’t name them in my post but the ad copy for the place “Where Pet Lovers” shop is the absolute worst, making the aversive collars out to be the solution to every behavior problem. I would rather see them being sold only in specialty stores (Aversive Outfitters?) where at least people would be clear on what they are and how to use them.


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