I have to tell this story!
This is a pro-prong collar on giant breed dogs story.
If you are on the fence about prong collars and want to learn more, stick around! If you hate prong collars no matter what anybody says, this post is likely not for you.
Meet Figaro, the subject of today’s deep dive into dog training, ethics, prong collars, and life with dogs that are in fact bigger and stronger than we are!
Why prong collars ROCK 101
Figaro is a Well-Trained Dog
I’m not trying to brag here, but this guy is a great dog.
He walks politely next to me on a flat collar through all sorts of distracting areas.
He checks in with me often, is gentle around people and other dogs, and can be off-leash almost anywhere that it’s safe and legal to do so.
Figaro was trained using a lot of positive reinforcement! He obtained his Canine Good Citizen and Novice Trick Dog title, and is working towards his Community Canine title now.
He is also a BIG, strong, intact male.
Dogs will be Dogs
I’m a 5’4″ strong, sturdy female.
I can move furniture, haul giant bags of dog food on my shoulders, and lift my 95 lb tripod female Dane out of the car without help. I’m far from weak.
But we failed. Figaro gave me a run for my money the other day, and I’m embarrassed.
On our walk a neighbor’s dog came out of nowhere, charging his fence line and zipping back and forth. He was barking and growling at us behind bushes and trees that rustled and shook as he moved.
Figaro LOST IT.
My sweet boy who is great on a leash, polite and friendly, literally lost it.
As a matter of fact, the ONLY thing that gave me the strength to hold onto his leash was that slow-motion picture in the back of my head of what might happen if I let go.
Figaro wasn’t trying to be a jerk. He wasn’t trying to overpower me with his flat collar, or pull me down.
At that moment, I didn’t exist. He lunged, he jumped, he bounced like Tigger. He made all kinds of noise and threw his body weight around.
His plan was to get to that fence and protect himself against what he perceived as a threat.
TRUTH: No amount of training can prepare you for moments like this and yes, even the most well-trained dogs can be caught off guard.
Things are going to happen. Dogs will come out of nowhere. Wildlife will bounce in front of you. People and things and sounds are lurking, waiting to prove to you that you still have more training to do.
What I Learned from this Mistake
I had believed for far too long that prong collars were aversive, punishing torture devices. Like many people, I fell for the negative marketing which implies that using a prong collar is a form of abuse.
But here is the thing.
A prong collar would have been the safest and most effective tool for him to be wearing at that moment. Allow me to explain.
Flat collar: with a traditional flat, martingale or choke collar not only do you have very little control, but the dog can injure its trachea. That made this lunging VERY dangerous and unsafe for both of us!
Harness: harnesses have their place in some situations and for some dogs, but it’s very easy for a large dog to pull through one and lunge straight out of your grasp. I believe that harnesses on giant breed dogs are often dangerous: if the dog does decide to lunge, the owner may not be able to recover.
Front Clip Harness: A front-clip harness may provide more control than another type, but similar to a flat collar a lunging dog may then damage itself by pulling into one. Front clip harnesses work by restricting the movement of the front shoulders and chest, and pulling a dog to the side when they lunge.
Head Collar: this is one of the most insidious, damaging, and aversive training tools available. While it would have allowed me to maintain at least some control, he likely would have also whipped his head and neck around. We all know how dangerous that can be for Great Danes!
The Best Collar for a Great Dane
Fig needed to be in a prong collar in that moment.
It can never be acceptable for a giant breed dog to lunge like that. He could have easily hurt me, himself, or anything in his path.
I’ve invested thousands of hours into his training. The fact that my well-trained polite dog did this means that it could have literally happened to anybody.
Prong collars look like stabby pokers that jab at the dog’s neck.
What they look like and what they do are two different things.
Prong Collars don’t stab and poke. They take the pressure from pulling and distribute it evenly around the dog’s neck.
This makes it so the dog cannot injure itself while wearing one. It’s a simple matter of pressure on, pressure off.
The pressure is uncomfortable, but not painful. Unlike other tools, the sensation from a prong collar is a very deliberate YES and NO that dogs understand.
The dog is in control of that pressure. They can turn it off at any time.
A properly fit prong collar (I like Herm Sprenger) would have allowed me to:
- Maintain control
- Communicate to my over-threshold dog that he didn’t need to be doing that
- Bring him back to focus
- Reward him for engaging with me instead of the crazy rude dog behind the fence
- Keep him safe from injury
- Keep myself safe from injury
- Prevent him from getting out of my grasp and potentially hurting himself or others
It’s Time to Stop Vilifying Prong Collars
Because prong collars are so effective, that also makes them one of the safest and most gentle options for Great Danes. Hear me out.
The prong collar quickly resolves pulling issues, thus minimizing the damage a dog can do to itself and others by continuing to lunge into collars, harnesses, and head collars.
Of course, I could just keep my dog at home in a ‘gentle’ harness and practice more so that he never does that again, but that’s not real life.
Real life is FULL of surprises. We cannot isolate our dogs as we attempt to practice responding to each one without error. It’s just not possible.
Giant breed dogs can and will throw their weight around. You are not hurting your dog when you say NO.
As a matter of fact, pairing an occasional and necessary NO with lots of YES is a truly holistic way to approach dog training and your relationship with your dog.
A prong collar is not an abusive torture device, especially when it becomes the difference between getting out in the world with your dog, and staying home because you don’t have safe and effective way to control them.
I know I learned my lesson. Figaro walks with me in a prong collar now so that we can practice NOT practicing that behavior again.
Someday I’ll trust him in his flat collar again, but until then, we’re having a great time together out and about.
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