Prong collars on therapy dogs…

Prong collars on therapy dogs…

Prong collar on therapy dogFew things anger me as much as seeing prong collars on therapy dogs.  I think it is absolutely inexcusable to have a public ambassador traipsing around with a collar with the potential to cause some gnarly injuries, or at the least, uses pain and discomfort to control the dog.  I am glad to say that many of the more well known organizations clearly state their dogs are not permitted to wear prong collars, but there is at least one organization that must be somewhat local to me that doesn’t have any such rules.  I have run into a few different dogs wearing therapy dog vests and prong collars at several different doggie events or public events.

This past weekend I had a private lesson in downtown Pittsburgh, on the same day of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and celebration (reported to be the second largest in the country).  Near the end of our lesson (working with a reactive dog), I saw 3 dogs wearing therapy dog vests across the street dragging their owners along and all three were wearing prong collars.  It really got under my skin that I keep seeing registerred therapy dogs in prong collars–all but one of the dogs I’ve seen from this one organization have had prong collars on while out and about.

There are quite a few reasons that this really bothers me besides the simple fact I don’t love the tool in general.

It’s my opinion that if a dogs still needs to wear a prong collar, that he/she is not well trained enough to be working as a therapy dog in public.  I suspect (based on the therapy dogs I’ve seen using prong collars) that the prong collars are being used largely because the dog does not have adequate loose leash walking skills.  Each and every single therapy dog wearing a prong that I’ve seen have all had the prong “active” (tight) as they pull their humans along or as their handler pops them for pulling. I don’t recall seeing dogs being popped for non-compliance, but I also didn’t see them ask for any behaviors.  If a handler can’t control her dog or have reliable behaviors without a prong collar, I really do not think the dog should be meandering around hospitals, schools, or other similar places.

Speaking of schools, just what are kids learning about dogs and how to treat them when therapy dogs are wearing tools that utilize pain to teach?  Kids are extremely impressionable–when it comes to finding a collar for their own dog, there is a good chance they may try to find the same type of collar that their favorite therapy dog was wearing because they have such good feelings about the dog. The last thing we want is a kid somehow getting a prong collar for their dog (or getting a parent to get it) and misusing the tool so severely that the dog either gets hurt or hurts someone out of fear/frustration.

I also have some serious concerns about the negative effects of classical conditioning of pain around the dog’s neck when he sees people.  I saw a giant schnauzer lunging at the end of his leash (with a prong collar on of course) to see people and each time he was lunging forward, hitting the end of the line, the prong was snapping on his neck, and he’d recoil quickly, like paddle ball as it hits the end of the string.  From the dog’s perspective each time he went to greet a person (however inappropriate the greeting was for a therapy dog), he was getting a strong enough correction to make him bounce backwards as he tried to greet people.  How long do you think it will take for this happy and friendly pup to start avoiding strangers because they predict painful/uncomfortable corrections?  I wonder if it will escalate into a dangerous situation where the dog lunges, feels pain around his neck, and is tired of it so he snaps at the person/object he thinks is responsible (the stranger he was approaching).

I don’t know how many therapy organizations are like the one near my area that clearly must either allow or require all of their dogs to wear prong collars, but I surely hope this is not a trend.  I simply feel that there is absolutely no place and no excuse for therapy dogs to wear prong collars while ‘on the job’.

  1. Would you have the same objection to a therapy dog wearing a no-pull harness like the freedom harness or a head collar?

    • I don’t particularly like head collars on therapy dogs because I often see them trying to rub it off and it distracts from their work (especially when they are more stationary)–plus they may hurt an elderly person if they try rubbing the nose band off against the delicate skin of some older folks. The other reason I’m not a huge fan is that depending on where the dog is working there may be young kids, or special needs adults who would find the dangling strap/leash attachment part a tempting thing to yank around. I’ve seen it more than once with kids and their own dogs yanking on dangling part of the nose band.

      As long as the front-hooking harness is not engaged (the dog is loose leash walking), I am okay with them being used (especially the Freedom harness that allows you to connect it to the back). It may seem like a double standard but the front hook harnesses are not at risk for classically conditioning a negative response around people like a prong collar, nor is it teaching kids that highly trained dogs need to be trained with pain/discomfort like a prong collar. IF the front-hook is engaged more than just occasionally, i would say the dog is probably not well trained enough yet to handle being a therapy dog.

  2. When I did the handler portion of the training for the Delta society to have my Lab tested for therapy work they discussed the prong in depth. The woman who taught the course actually preferred the prong for training, however, in no way did she advocate it for therapy work.

    The reason she gave was that people you are visiting often grab onto a dog’s collar, and it was a concern that the person receiving the visit could get hurt. This makes a lot of sense to me (along with all the points you made as well) and I wouldn’t want to see someone using it just for the potential of human injury.

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