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We grew up using check chains (also known as choke chains) on our dogs (responsibly, or so I thought). There are articles like this one (Flying Paws Dog Training) saying these chains should never be used in training. I really am unsure what to think.

When training big dogs, it's important to have some control over them. I can understand how a small dog could be hurt by incorrect use of a check chain, but some big dogs have pretty strong necks.

  • Are check chains truly bad for a dog's health?
    • Is there statistical research to back this up?
  • What effective physical control substitutes exist for check chains?
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I would personally advice against the use of Choke chains on dogs. First of all, what is the benefit of choke collars, It teaches the dog what you want it to know faster but this can still be achieved using normal methods and with more patience.

Choke chains have been scientifically proven to cause Injured ocular blood vessels, Tracheal and oesophageal damage, Severely sprained necks, Cases of fainting, Asphyxiation, Transient foreleg paralysis, Laryngeal nerve paralysis and Hind leg ataxia. (source)

Quotes stating why choke chains are bad for the health of a dog.

In a retrospective study on spinal pain, injury or changes in dogs conducted in Sweden, Hallgreen (1992) found that 91% of dogs with cervical anomalies experienced harsh jerks on lead or had a long history of pulling on the lead. Uses of chokers was also over represented in this group. This strongly suggests that such corrections are potentially injurious.

  • Karren Overall MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB Clinical Behavioural Medicine for Small Animals.

(source)

Alarming facts from a recent survey [..] 63% of the dogs examined had neck and spinal injuries. [..] 78% of the dogs with aggression or over activity problems had neck and spinal injuries. [..] Of the dogs with neck injuries, 91% had experienced hard jerks on a leash or had strained against their leashes. [..] The study concludes that leash corrections, the dog forging ahead or a tethered pet hitting the end of a solid line may inflict spinal injury. [..] The study was conducted on 400 dogs

  • Scotty Valadoa, Accredited Animal behaviorist.

(source)

Although Choke chains is a very effective way of Negative Reinforcement, It has its own consequences on the dog. LET'S TEACH THEM NOT CHOKE THEM. Instead of using a choke chain. I'll advice a

  • Flat Collar
  • Head Collar
  • Harness

Positive Reinforcement should also be used for your dog.

  • Yes. In my neighborhood there's an old (60+) lady who has a huge male German shepherd. They manage without a choke collar. It must be a matter of training that they go along so well. The dog surely has the strength to run at his will and not even notice the smallish old lady dragging behind like a sack of potatoes. – Esa Paulasto Dec 26 '13 at 8:57
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TL;DR

Which Types of Collars and Harnesses are Safe for Your Dog? by Dr. Sophia Yin is a fairly thorough look at your options. However, it addresses safety more than effectiveness; this is an issue where you will find more opinions than facts outside of the behavioral-research literature, so I think your best bet is to:

  1. weigh the pros and cons of each method,
  2. be honest about your own skills and experience, and
  3. consult a vet or professional trainer before embarking on a corrections-based training program.

Reasons to Avoid Choke Chains

There are a lot of reasons to avoid choke chains, but from a tooling perspective the main reason to avoid them is that they are difficult to use properly. Issues include:

  1. Improper fit, where the collar remains too tight at all times.
  2. Improper placement, resulting in a failure to release after a correction.
  3. Poor trainer timing, resulting in positive or negative punishment that reinforces the wrong behavior.
  4. An unlimited choke diameter, potentially resulting in nerve or tracheal damage.

When used correctly by a professional trainer, the P-shape of a choke is used to deliver a well-timed "leash pop" that should be informational rather than punitive. This is extremely hard to do, is almost never what happens with at-home training, and doesn't provide "control." There are simply better tools for this.

Limited-Choke Alternatives

If you accept the need for aversive collars (not everyone does), then you might consider using a limited-choke collar that avoids the possibility of actual choking as a hazard. Options in this category include:

  1. Prong collars.

    As one example, the Herm Sprenger Quick Release can't over-tighten if properly sized. While the collar certainly looks medieval, it is actually more humane than a choke collar. However, one can still use it improperly in a variety of ways, so please do additional research before choosing a prong collar.

  2. Martingale or slip collars.

    These are very similar to flat-buckle collars, but have a short chain section (or other material) that can provide a limited tightening when the live ring is pulled. This is most often used with dogs who can back out of a collar, or who might benefit from an extremely-limited tightening as a well-timed correction. In general, these collars don't provide "power steering," but are best used as safety tools for racing breeds or mild training tools for very soft dogs.

Head Guides and Harnesses

Other alternatives that provide feedback and control include:

  1. Halti or Gentle Leader head collars.

    Like any tool, improper use can cause damage. A good fit and gentle use will prevent eye damage, nasal damage, and neck damage, but should still be used with skill, care, and proper preparation.

  2. Harnesses

    This is another broad category, and includes harnesses that provide no control but a great deal of safety by distributing pressure across the chest, as well as other harnesses that are designed to give dogs tactile feedback through chest-mounted rings (e.g. the Har-Vest).

Personal Recommendations

For optimal results I currently recommend clicker training, with or without no-reward markers. However, when safety is the primary consideration, head harnesses or prong collars might give you the extra control needed to keep you and your dog safe during walks.

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