Sunday, February 22, 2009

Say no to choke chains!

Just say “NO” to the Choker Chain
Positive training methods are kind and gentle, and are scientifically proven to be the most effective way to train your dog. Clicker training is the same method use by trainers at Sea World and to train dogs for the movies.

A study, Hiby.(2004) “Dog training methods; their use, effectiveness and interaction with behavior and welfare, Animal Welfare” dog owners “were asked to outline their training methods for seven common tasks, rate their dog’s obedience at each task, and indicate whether their dog had ever shown any of sixteen common problematic behaviors.” It was found that reward-based methods were more successful for training a large amount of tasks; and non punishment training was more effective than corrective training. Also, the dogs that were trained with only positive reward-based methods were reported as significantly more obedient than those trained by harsh or corrective methods. So, the positive training methods were victorious when it came to overall obedience.

According to the study, there was a direct correlation between punishment methods and problem behaviors, which included but was not limited to barking, fearfulness, aggression, separation anxiety, and inappropriate mounting.

An additional problem with using a choke chain was that the timing of the correction could be off. If trainers can mess up on timing, then most likely dog owners will too. If your timing is off with positive reinforcement training, your dog just gets a free treat. However, if you make a mistake with a correction (punishment), you don’t get a do over and your relationship with your dog suffers.

Choke chains can lead to leash aggression because when the dog is “Yanked and Cranked” in the presence of another dog or person your dog might make the association that other dogs and humans equal pain, so the best offense is a good defense and the dog may snap or worse bite.

Using a choke chain is an unpleasant lesson for the dog, and it does not teach the dog what you want them to do. Choke chains punish the undesirable behaviors, but don’t teach your dog the correct behavior. Sometimes a dog that has been corrected will just “shut down” and is afraid of making a mistake. It will in a sense break their spirit and destroy the human/canine relationship. Thus, the reason that when the choker chain comes off, the dog will no longer do what it is asked. The dog may be thinking, freedom at last.

Using positive training methods does not mean you have to be push over, which is a common misconception. Positive training should promote a strong relationship and have clear boundaries. Dogs respond to and appreciate rules and boundaries.

Positive training allows the dog to think and make a decision. If the dog makes the right decision he will get the reward and if it is the wrong decision; he will just not get anything. You ask the dog to stay and every few seconds he gets a piece of chicken, well that’s a pretty good deal. If the dog ate or does not like chicken find a different reward that makes it worth the dogs while to sit there. Think of it as if your employer asked you to sit in a chair and to stay there. As you stayed there he gave you a penny every few seconds, well you might stay for a little while, but that may not be a good enough reward. Maybe you have something better to do with your time. Well, what if your employer asked you to sit in a chair and stay there and then every few seconds gave you a ten dollar bill and told you what a good worker you were. I think that would be a better deal. Don't you?

Try to view positive reinforcement training as a communication tool between you and your best friend (your dog), and choke chains as a device to administer punishment, which closes the door on the communication.

The animal welfare experts strongly encourage positive training methods to strengthen the dog human bond, which will decrease problematic behaviors. If the dog could talk, he would choose methods that nurture and reward good behaviors instead of “choke chains” that punish mistakes.

“Choke Chain” possible medical issues:
If spoiling your relationship with your dog and the research behind using positive training methods don’t convince you to use them, consider the following medical issues associated with the use of choke chains.
• Tracheal/esophageal damage (permanent and expensive to treat) and vertebral damage that may not be treatable.
• Broken blood vessels in the eyes
• Sprained necks
• Fainting from the loss of oxygen
• Transient foreleg paralysis
• Laryngeal nerve paralysis
• Hind leg ataxia

“Choker Chains” were designed to choke and cause pain! Hence the name.

Also, traditional (choke chain) training facilities will not let you bring a dog that is younger than 6 months because the younger the dog when the use of a choke chain is introduced, the more damage the dog might suffer over time. A dog trained with positive methods can start training right away as young puppy.

A long-term study in Germany followed 50 dogs that wore choke chains as their collars for their entire lives. The dogs were followed their entire life and an autopsy was performed with the owners’ permission after the dogs death. Forty-eight of the dogs had some form of injury to the neck, trachea, or back. Two were genetic, while forty-six of the fifty were caused by trauma due to the choke chains. These types of injuries are known to add physical stress and pain, and often shorten the lives of dogs. Not to mention the medical expenses…

Lastly, put yourself in your dog’s paws and think about wearing a choke chain on your own neck. Now hand the leash to someone that is not always paying attention, has had a bad day, had a fight with a loved one, does not speak your language, and does not understand your “normal” behaviors. Just as you move to get a drink of water, “snap” you get a correction for moving from the person’s side. Fine, you ask permission the next time, “Can I get a drink of water?” The person stares at you blankly because he does not speak your language, so you start to gesture, and he “yanks” on the leash again because he thinks you should not even move. Would you think this is the best way to train? What if we used this method for teaching children? If we would not use punishment to teach kids, train dolphins, or killer whales, WHY do we think it is acceptable to train our dogs with this method?

Just a little food for thought…


  1. I'm a new Miniature schnauzer owner. We got our puppy last christmas and he is now almost 5 months old.

    I'm in the process of signing up for a dog obedience class. I have read about clicker training/inducive training methods and have personally tried it out at home when teaching my puppy tricks. It has worked really well.

    However, when we met up with the obedience trainer (who recommends training collars for obedience) - His argument was that you can achieve the same results and clicker training takes much longer in terms of getting an obedient dog.

    Also, in terms of obedience (dissuading dog from tugging or running/adshing across the road) - you want 100% control as these things concern life/death of your puppy.

    However with tricks where you are in a low risk situation, i.e. your puppy doesnt roll over or sit when told, it's perfectly alright to use clicker trainig/positive training.

    Don't get me wrong. I am not for choking my dog or causing him any long term damage, but when i was present at the obedience class, the dogs were well behaved even though the collars were taken off (which is what any owner would want to achieve - offleash obedience)...

    Any thoughts on this? I am still deciding so any advice would help.

  2. Thank you for your comment.

    First, I look at every behavior as a trick. Coming when called is a trick and the key is to have a dog that wants to come when called every time. They come because they want to and know that great things happen to them when they do.

    Clicker training is actually quicker because you learn how to communicate to your dog which behaviors you like and will reward. As for the behaviors you do not like, if you ignore them and focus only on the good ones the dog will start offering the good behaviors more often and bye bye bad behavior.

    Yes, dogs learn from traditional methods, but if you can achieve the same if not better behavior (in my opinion)with clicker training, why not use it?

    There are many methods and strategies that trainers use and sure they all will work. Shock collars work, but at what cost?

    I have trained dogs with the traditional methods and she did not really like to work (obedience). She was slow and did everything she was asked to do, but had zero excitement. So, I decided that maybe it was the obedience she did not like. I started training agility. I decided that I would learn as much as I could about clicker training (conferences, friends that train with clicker, books, and any literature I could get my hands on) and used the clicker to train the agility equipment. I started noticing that she was really liking it. I thought it was just because the equipment was fun. So, I started using the clicker when working obedience and she started really liking it (Her recall was faster, her heeling looked fancier, she never broke her stays, and her finish was amazing). I truly believe that she was afraid to try anything with the choker in fear that she might do something wrong and get a correction. When I stopped using corrections she came out of her shell and started to shine.

    Now I have a Border Collie as well and he has only been trained with a clicker and he is obedient, knows over 60 tricks, runs agility courses, and participates in Canine Freestyle.

    Personally, I wish that I would have learned about clicker training before I got my first dog (as an adult) so that I could have avoided stress that I know I put her through.

    Lastly, I am a dog trainer part time (I wish full time but it does not really pay the bills) and a full time PE teacher and when I work with my students using positive methods they respond better as well. So, for me it is a way of life. Treat others (furry or human) the way I would like to be treated.

    I really hope that helps. If you would like to set up a free consultation for me to help you with your dog, please contact me at:

    I wish you and your puppy the very best!


  3. Hey Pam,

    That was very convincing. We have decided to go with positive reinforcement with our puppy. Unfortunately we are based in Singapore. So I don't think I could get you to train Rufus even if I would like to. =)

    Thanks for all your advice. Keep writing and we'll keep reading.

  4. Hi Sylvia,
    I am so happy that you are planning on going with Positive training. You will love it and so will your dog. If you are anything like me, my dogs are my life (I do not have kids nor do I want any after teaching PE), but I think about what is best for my dogs. Sounds like you do too.

    Check out the APDT (association of Pet dog trainers) website and look for a trainer through them or search for positive reinforcement trainers in your area.

    I wish you and Rufus the very best.

    Now that I have someone reading my blog, I will write more.

    Take care!
    Pam, Isabelle, & Bandit

  5. Hi there Pamela, really like your blog, would it be possible to put up a "follow this blog" thing so we can sign up and everytime you put up a post we know about it? Thanks, and what a great post this was.

  6. Sure, I will try to figure that out and do that. I am not great with computers and I am learning more everyday. I am sure my husband will be able to figure it out.

    Thank you for your comments!

  7. I'm sure lots of people are reading your blog, maybe just not always commenting :)
    Keep up the good work.
    I think the biggest problem with chains is that the public have been taught the misconception that they work by choking the dog and hence got the name choke chain. On top of that they can buy cheap chains at the super market without any instruction, supervision or training on how to use one. Cheap chains are sold as "choke chains" and some actually say on the tag that they work by choking the dog which is not the intended use. They should be loose on the dog at all times, allowing the trainer to give a correction. If the chain is tight you can't give a correction and your dog will keep pulling as an opposition reflex to fight the tightening chain around the neck. It will not achieve any training. I think this is the biggest reason that check chains have become such a bad thing. Not saying I'm defending them or promoting them.

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