Pinch collars and why they can compromise dog welfare

Over the last couple of days, we have been asked on several occasions for our position on pinch collars (also known as prong collars) and whether they are legal to use. Pinch collars are not illegal unfortunately and although those who sell them state that they are ‘quite gentle training tools’, we believe the opposite to be true and we want to see them banned.

Pinch collar (c) iStock

How do pinch collars work?

To appreciate why we are opposed to pinch collars, it is important to understand how they work. Pinch collars are based on the principle of applying something painful or frightening to stop an undesirable behaviour – very simply, when a dog pulls on the lead, the prongs of the collar close around the neck which can cause pain or discomfort which reduces the chance of the dog pulling on the lead again. Research has shown that aversive training techniques, like pinch collars, can cause pain and distress and can compromise dog welfare.

As the owner of Sidney, a 40kg labrador mastiff cross, I can sympathise with owners who walk a pulling or difficult to control dog. When I first adopted Sidney, he had no understanding of walking nicely on a lead and would pull me all over the place! It is therefore easy to see why some owners who are struggling might buy a pinch collar wanting what is perceived to be a quick fix to help control their dog particularly as the marketing of these products implies they are safe and quite gentle.

Sadly, many won’t realise that their dog no longer pulling on the lead may have come at a cost and won’t recognise that what is supposed to a really pleasurable and rewarding experience for the dog can be quite the opposite. The labrador I see regularly in my local park wearing a pinch collar might not be pulling on the lead but his behaviour suggests that he isn’t truly enjoying his walk.

What can owners do instead?

Sidney in his harness

We want to see these collars banned not only because of the risks they pose to dog welfare but because they have great potential to cause abuse or to be misused. There are much better and humane ways to train dogs.  I used a well fitting and comfortable harness to help control Sidney and taught him, using food, to walk nicely by my side. I could have also contacted one of the many trainers across the country who would have helped me to train Sidney without subjecting him to techniques which can cause pain or fear.

In modern society there is absolutely no excuse or need to use techniques which can compromise dog welfare.

If like us you believe that prong collars should be banned, please write to your MP.

- Dr Samantha Gaines, Acting Head of the RSPCA’s Companion Animals Department.

We do not condone or support any threatening or abusive behaviour as part of any campaign. We urge that any member of the public contacting politicians, organisations or other individuals on this issue to remain respectful at all times. 

14 Responses to “Pinch collars and why they can compromise dog welfare”

  • Catherine Cotterill

    Please can we stop these being sold. Its cruel and this will lead to more animal cruelty.

  • Carol Kaczor

    I so totally fully agree with you – they are barbaric horrible items of torture that should not be used on anything!!! let alone an animal – unfortunately they are advertised as a ‘quick fix’ solutionm, but as you say, to what cost? Lets get them outlawed NOW…

  • Emma

    When I first got a puppy I had considered a pinch collar as she pulled a lot. I did some research and heard nothing but good things about them. Unfortunately she was attacked by 3 boxer dogs, having had a dog previously who had behavioural issues following an attack I sought help from a dog trainer. I mentioned to her pinch collars and she literally begged me not to get one, she told me exactly how they can adversely affect a dog so I took her advice and didn’t get one. My girl still pulls but we are working in it with positive reinforcement. I am very glad I didn’t get one!

    • RSPCA Official

      So sorry to hear your dog was attached, I hope she is ok now! Excellent advice from your trainer, really glad you decided to use positive training methods and good luck with your girl :)

      • Emma

        She has some issues still but mainly with cars but got my trainer coming again, she however loves to play with dogs but can’t stand up for herself so loses her toys to others often! However she still cowers when she see’s any boxer dogs :( she is a wonderful dog though! This article is brilliant and I hope more people read it!

  • Belinda

    Sorry, but as somebody who has actually studied Dog Behaviour & Training & learned from the best dog trainers in Australia, I do not agree with these statements.
    To begin with, this article is not written by a qualified behaviourist. It is written by a vet, and sorry- but although vets have a great knowledge of anatomy, they usually aren’t trained in behaviour- particularly not to the level of top behaviour experts.

    A pinch collar is a tool, just like any other. Yes, there is the ability to misuse them, but the same can be said for any other dog training tool. For example, head collars are often regarded as the safest & most effective way of controlling dogs on walks. The opposite is actually true- head collars are much more capable of causing serious injury & death in a dog, and all it takes is one simple tug on the leash to do it.

    All dogs are individuals, and all respond to different methods of learning. What is inappropriate for one dog is a Godsend for another. Aversive training methods are not the ideal training methods for some dogs, but for others, it can literally be the difference between life & death.
    And for those who support the “purely positive” movement (don’t get me started on how wrong that whole ideal is- just research the basics & definitions on positive & negative punishment & reinforcement & explain how you can eliminate 3 of these factors from dog training successfully) ask any of these trainers if they have come across dogs who they have recommended be killed due to a behavioural issue. I can guarantee that any genuine dog trainer would not do that without exhausting every other option first, and that includes aversive training methods.

    • RSPCA Official

      Hello, to clarify, the author of the blog is not a vet but a PhD trained dog welfare scientist and has 23 years of experience in working in dog welfare and behaviour, so has considerable knowledge in this area.

      The RSPCA recognises that any piece of equipment can be used in the wrong way but pinch collars are designed to cause pain and discomfort as they work on the principle of positive punishment and are considered aversive.
      We do not believe that aversive training methods are literally the difference between life and death. Dog trainers all over the UK use reward-based methods to train dogs very effectively and where dogs have behaviours which owners find unacceptable, qualified behaviourists achieve long term changes in behaviour through the use of established and validated techniques of behaviour modification without subjecting dogs to training techniques which may cause pain or distress.

      Further, the RSPCA has previously voiced its concerns about aversive training techniques including pinch collars and stated that they were both unacceptable from a welfare perspective but also unnecessary to modify behaviour. More information can be found on this website http://www.dogwelfarecampaign.org.uk and as you will see it also had the support of many national and international respected training and behaviour organisations.

  • Jim

    I’m shocked that anyone who claims to have studied dog behaviour and training would advocate a pinch collar. I can only assume that the training was not with any accredited body because anyone who has got a valid qualification in behaviour understands that positive punishment and negative reinforcement based training using implements like pinch collars generally compromises welfare and whilst it may squash one behaviour, something else invariably pops out somewhere else.

    I don’t know any credible trainer or behaviourist who only uses positive reinforcement – that bunkum that is generated by people who are desperate to justify their personal need to hurt the animals they train. We all know that there will be times when negative punishment and negative reinforcement are used – but that doesn’t mean the dog has to suffer either physically or mentally and can all be encompassed using welfare-friendly techniques.

    To say that a pinch collar is just a tool like any other is rubbish – it is a tool that is DESIGNED to cause pain and discomfort, end of story. The argument that people can abuse any form of tool doesn’t wash, head collars are not designed to hurt a dog.

    No competent, qualified, educated and empathic dog trainer uses a pinch collar on a dog. If trainers aren’t able to make changes to a dog’s behaviour without relying on hurting them to do so – then they need to refer to someone with more experience and knowledge.

  • Derek Chambers

    As a professional dog walker I am against these as they are designed to cause pain to an animal which is wrong and have contacted my MP

  • Bel

    Funnily enough, while I am not the Belinda above, I actually to an extent agree with her. I don’t believe Belinda said she advocates for the use of a prong collar so much as they are a tool, like everything else, that can be used correctly or incorrectly. Using any tool incorrectly can potentially cause injuries. Using a tool correctly can create wonderful results with no long term mental/behvaioural concerns.

    I don’t think prong collars should be sold to the general public nor used by a dog owner without consulting a trainer familiar with the tool. I also don’t think they should be banned for use by competent trainers that have the skills, knowledge and understanding to use one correctly.

    I will leave my comment at that because this is a debate that has been going on for far too long and it generally brings about comments from those not familiar with the tool that have been told how it works and why it is a “bad” tool by others not familiar in how it works but have seen other people (not familiar with how it works) using it incorrectly.

    I don’t use prong collars when working with clients and their dogs but I also don’t use head collars (gentle leader, halti). Mostly I teach a dog to walk perfectly with its flat collar without any issues, but for rare situations I will use a martingale or correction chain. Not a “choker”. Once again, it was given that name by people using it incorrectly, causing damage to dogs necks. If it is choking the dog it should not be wearing one.

    It’s about what works best for the dog (and owner – if they can’t use the tool properly, get rid of it). Every dog is different and should be assessed and rehabilitated how it needs to be, not how those in society uneducated in dog behaviour and psychology say it should be.

  • Jennifer Blair

    I did not know these existed until today. These are awful! The Animal Welfare Act 2006 places an obligation on pet owners to protect pets from pain, suffering and injury. If one of these collars is witnessed causing pain to an animal or if it causes an injury then presumably that pet owner will have broken the law.

    It appears that these collars are being misused as ‘status’ symbols, or being used without understanding that they were never designed for constant use. Presumably they are being used in the UK in a way that is harming dogs. Is this something the RSPCA’s enforcement team could look into bringing a test prosecution on, to help raise awareness and implement the Animal Welfare Act?

  • charlene eccleston

    I too didn’t know about either of these barbaric things that people are legally allowed to use? Absolutely discusting,shocking and appauling that these have been allowed to use.

  • MyDogsAreFine

    I have used these collars after being trained by a reputable trainer on multiple large breed dogs.

    My training taught me that these collars could be used incorrectly, and when used incorrectly can cause major pain and or injury to the animal.

    This collar is not a collar that is left on my dogs 24 hours a day 7 days a week during which times they may not be visually watched (they run in the back yard all day long), therefore there is no chance for this collar to get caught on something and injure my family members (my dogs are as much a part of my family as my son)

    My dogs also know that when I grab this collar, they are going for a ride somewhere, and they absolutely love riding – especially when taking them to local water holes to play fetch.

    If you are not bright enough to use the collar properly, then by all means don’t…but enough of the crap with everyone else in the world trying to tell me what I can and cannot use on my dogs.

    Guess Freedom is only Freedom if you don’t offend someone else….well guess what, everyone on here saying that these are “barbaric” or “cruel” or how “horrible” people using these are, offends me.

    I know how to use this style collar properly, and have been doing so for over 10 years with more than 1 dog.

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