Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
The typical letter 'P' of a choke chain
The Use of Choke Collars in Dogs
Among the variety of collars found in your local pet store, choke collars for dogs are still quite popular. Nowadays, choke collars for dogs come in a vast array of materials and there are different makes and models. What most choke collars though have in common is that they consist of a loop that goes around the dog's neck and that tightens when the leash attached to it gets tense.
As the name implies, choke collars have the potential for causing a dog to gag, cough and choke because of its constricting action.
Also known as choke chains, slip chains or check collars, the most common choke collars are made of chain. There are rings at both sides of the chain and one ring can go inside the other so that you are left with what looks like the letter "P" as shown in the picture above. The loop of the letter P is what goes over the dog's head while the ring found at the "tail" of the letter P, is where the leash attaches.
When the dog pulls, the leash becomes tense and causes the collar to tighten around the dog's neck; whereas, lack of tension causes the collar to sit loose on the dog's neck.
The use of choke collars in dogs is often recommended for dogs that pull on the leash. Handlers may deliver quick corrections by giving a quick jerk on the leash (what is often called a leash pop) to correct unwanted behaviors such as moving out of heel position, barking or jumping. The leash also causes the collar to tighten on its own as the dog pulls on the leash and loosens when the dog is not pulling, delivering a form of "auto-correction."
As effective as these collars may appear to be, there are several considerations to keep in mind before investing in one. Choosing a choke collar should never be a lightly made decision; just because your neighbor uses one on his mastiff, doesn't necessarily mean it's suitable for your dog and acceptable to use.
If you have already bought one, please don't feel guilty; they are readily available in stores and don't come with instructional manuals, and of course, no store clerk will recommend against its use.
Following are seven things you should know before using a choke collar on your dog, and if you already have bought one, seven good reasons you may want to consider ditching it and replacing it with something else .
Should You Use a Choke Collar on a Dog?
Whether or not to use a choke collar on a dog is a personal choice, but it's important that at least it's an educated one. Here are some considerations.
Choke Collars Deliver Corrections
The main purposes of a choke collars are to 1) deliver punishment for undesirable behaviors and, 2) to reinforce desirable behaviors. In terms of learning theory, what the choke collar is meant to do is deliver positive punishment and negative reinforcement. Its use requires a certain level of skill and perfect timing, but even when used correctly by a professional, these collars still exert pressure on the dog's neck.
In positive punishment, unwanted behaviors gradually decrease and eventually extinguish over time. Pulling, barking, lunging and jumping behaviors should reduce and eventually extinguish overtime if every time the dog engages in these behaviors he is delivered a leash pop. If your dog has been on the choke collar for quite some time and he is still pulling and gasping as the choke collar tightens, it's defeating its main purpose. Same goes if your dog is still barking, jumping and lunging despite those leash pops you deliver.
In negative reinforcement, desirable behaviors increase when something unpleasant is removed. In the case of the choke chain, if the sensation of tightness of the neck stops when the dog is heeling next to the handler, the behavior of heeling next to the handler should increase over time.
It's unfortunate that too many dogs have been wearing choke collars for years, and they still gag, cough and choke. Their arousal levels are still high and they likely have poor self control. Many are still pulling despite the tightness around their neck, and most aren't heeling nicely for the purpose of removing that unpleasant sensation of tightness. Basically, these dogs haven't been learning anything from their use, and their use is far more damaging than helpful. Which brings us to our next point....
Choke Collars Can Cause Potential Harm
Choke chains have been known for causing significant damage to dogs. According to the Pet Professional Guild, choke chains and prong collars have been known to cause soft tissue damage, eye problems, neurological problems, tracheal and esophageal damage, and even strangulation.
Veterinarian Dr. Sophia Yin claimed that choke collars could aggravate coughing in dogs predisposed to collapsing trachea, a condition seen in many small-breed dogs.
On top of that, it can trigger a case of Horner's syndrome, a condition that causes changes of the dog's pupils and nerve-induced lameness in the front legs.
Veterinarian Dr. Peter Tobias also mentions damage to the thyroid gland which is also found within the neck area, potentially severe whiplash and eye problems. It's quite natural to understand that a dog's cervical vertebrae, trachea and spine aren't ultimately designed to withstand such corrections.
Choke Collars May Trigger Reactivity
When two dogs or more see each other on walks, they evaluate each other from a distance and react accordingly. A dog that is pulling on the leash and gagging loudly is a sure attention-grabber and all his commotion may cause other dogs to be on the defensive.
Even dogs behind fences who normally don't react to other dogs walking by, may react to a dog that is breathing heavily and pulling.
Choke Collars May Cause Negative Associations
On top of the physical effects, dogs who wear choke chains and strain against the leash when they see other dogs, may develop negative associations, which may induce or aggravate the fear or aggression towards other dogs.
So now the dogs grow more and more concerned about not only seeing other dogs, but also of the negative sensations they feel when their necks are compressed and airways are restricted. The same dynamics may happen with any other stimuli that cause the dog to react and lunge.
Choke Collars Don't Address Underlying Problems
It's often forgotten that dogs may pull for a variety of reasons. I like to call dogs emotional pullers, because there are so many emotions involved. What looks like a disobedient dog, may often be a dog that is fearful, stressed, excited, defensive or impatient. More than training, these dogs may need behavior modification.
For this reason, often choke chains don't fix the pulling behavior, but worsen it because you are only dealing with the tip of the iceberg (the manifestations of a problem) without addressing the underlying emotions.
It's sort of like plugging the mouth of somebody who is screaming at the sight of a spider, rather than curing the phobia itself.
Choke Collars Impact The Bond
Why would a dog want to walk near an owner who is correcting his dog all the time with leash pops? While choke chains were popular many years ago and so were aversive training methods, nowadays we know better. Why not train a dog that wonderful things happen when he walks by your side through positive reinforcement instead? Why not make that spot by your side the reward zone?
This way the dog stays near the owner because he chooses to rather than being forced to out of fear.
There are Alternatives!
Not many dog owners are aware of the fact that there are other options to stop a dog from pulling. A popular option is a front-attachment harness. With the harness, there's no more pressure on the neck and therefore no more coughing, gagging and choking. There are several models of harnesses on the market nowadays such as the Freedom harness, Sensation Harness, Walk Your Dog with Love harness , Easy Walk harness and more.
However, despite the efficacy of these harnesses, it's important to remember that your ultimate goal is to train your dog to walk nicely on the leash, and that once you have accomplished this, you shouldn't need any training aids in order to walk your dog because your dog no longer has a need to pull.
Victoria Stilwell Discusses Choke Collars and more humane options
For further reading
- Why I Love Front Attaching Harnesses for Dogs
What are the advantages of using front attaching dog harnesses? Learn why I tell my clients to use these harnesses for strong pullers over other types of collars.
- Helping Dogs who are Afraid on Walks
A dog who is fearful on walks may pose several problems from leash pulling to barking at triggers not to mention that living in a constant state of stress isn't healthy.
- How to Get a Dog Used to Wearing a Collar and Leash
Is your dog anxious about wearing a collar? Scared of the leash? Don't flood your dog! Learn how behavior therapy can successfully help habituate your dog to using a collar and leash.
- The Best Leashes and Techniques to Train a Strong Do...
Wondering what leash is the best for keeping your strong dog under control? Learn what leashes work best, but most of all, learn how to train loose leash walking.
- Dog Leash Pulling; When Emotions Get in the Way
Why do dogs pull on the leash? Often, it's simply an emotional issue stemming from fear, anxiety, stress or frustration. To each dog their own. Learn how to approach
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 21, 2015:
Hello, thanks for stopping by. Many dogs indeed are what I call "emotional pullers" and more than training need behavior modification. I am personally not very fond of the gentle leaders because several dogs don't like the feel. Many paw at it, rub to get it off and some literally shut down which is the opposite of what is needed for training. So they're not my very first choice. With those who accept them though they can be helpful. I have a program of DS+CC to help them, but not all my clients have the patience and time to do that. But, yes, at the end of the day, equipment doesn't really matter it's ultimately the training that pays off. Indeed, I make a point that the harness should be weaned off once the dog reaps the rewards of LLW and dogs should go back to their regular buckle collars.
Amanda from Michigan on February 20, 2015:
It's important for dog owners to educate themselves about behavior modification for dogs who pull. I was glad you brought this up in your article! Training a dog not to pull in theory is very easy, but it does take time, patience, and consistency. It's rewarding to have a dog walk by your side because he wants to, not because he fears discomfort and agitation. Personally I don't like harnesses either. If anything, I would recommend a gentle leader head collar to give the owner control in such a way that a harness does not. With proper training and manners even these tools are not necessary.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 17, 2014:
Glad to hear your harness helped put a halt to leash pulling! Several years back, before becoming a trainer, I listened to the advice of a local trainer and used a prong collar to walk my Rotties. After discovering positive reinforcement, and no-pull harnesses I ditched the prongs and never looked back!
stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on November 17, 2014:
I did switch from a choke collar to a harness and the pulling has finally stopped. The leash pulling use to be terrible but has stopped. Nice and informative hub. Stella
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 12, 2014:
Thanks DDE, I am happy you enjoyed this read on choke collars.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 12, 2014:
Nicely written and explained.