I mentioned in my first essay about Ozone that I have not had a dog since I was a teenager, twenty years ago. In the time since I last had a dog there have been some changes in the way that society treats them, and there were some things I was not aware of back then even if they were around. For example, the idea of putting a dog in a kennel at night seemed cruel to me. All the dogs I had when I was younger either slept in my bed with me, at the foot of the bed, or outside. In this case, experience with our new rescue has updated my opinion; Ozone is genuinely content when he goes into his crate at night. He seems to feel secure, surrounds himself with his favorite toys, then goes to sleep without issue or complaint. There are other issues, however, that have not so happily resolved themselves.
The prong collar is one such issue. The rescue mission that took care of Ozone after his stint running free in the wild trained him using a prong collar, and he seems comfortable with and accustomed to the device. When Ozone first arrived, I was unfamiliar with the prong collar and its rather controversial place in the dog training community, but in the three days since then I have taken the time to educate myself. What I have found is a deeply divisive controversy with very heated rhetoric on both sides.
For those unfamiliar with a prong collar (see image left), it is a device that according to the Humane Society of the United States, has a control loop made of chain to which the leash is attached. The loop is comprised of a series of blunted fang-shaped prongs that pinch the skin of the dog’s neck when the control loop is pulled. The Humane Society also notes that there are more humane collars and good training should make it unnecessary.
I am not prepared to wade into the debate on prong collars and incur the wrath of either set of advocates. I will, however, freely admit that the prong collar made me uncomfortable when I first saw it and none of my research made me feel more comfortable. Instead, all of the research left me pretty much in the same place where I began; uncomfortable with the methodology and feeling like I had to use the prong collar at least for the moment. Why do I have to use it for the moment? We live in a dense suburban environment with lots of stimuli through which he has to walk several times a day. He lacks substantive reaction training and does not seem to have had any form of other training outside of the prong collar that covers such situations. When I have attempted to walk him, both short and medium length walks, without the prong collar he reacts, lunges, leaps, and strains against the regular collar to the point that I fear he will injure himself. In short, for the moment it is the lesser of two, or three, potential evils.
That said, I am not content to continue using it for any extended period of time. For that reason, I have scheduled an evaluation session with a trainer that only uses positive reinforcement for this upcoming Monday. If all goes well, we can begin alternative training shortly thereafter and get him transitioned completely off of the prong collar. I realize that the prong collar and aversive training advocates would, at a minimum, believe that I am neglecting a tool in the training arsenal, but this is about what is most comfortable for both Ozone and myself. More importantly, this is about the kind of relationship that I want to foster. I want our relationship to be based on cooperation, mutual respect, understanding, and, of course, love and affection. I do not think that can happen in the long run if one of us is regularly inflicting discomfort on the other.