The Toronto Prong & Choke Collars Total Ban

The City of Toronto has banned all chain, choke, and prong collars as of March 1st, 2017.  What do you think?

Is a total ban on prong and choke collars the right answer?

My Personal Opinion

I personally never use any type of collar on Kilo the Pug, just in case.  I am a firm believer in positive reinforcement and reward-based training.  This method clearly works extremely well, especially with puppies. Humans and dogs may alter short-term behavior because of punishment and fear, but this “learning” may not be reliable or safe longer term. I find it really horrible when I see a beautiful little puppy wearing any of these collars and think it should be illegal. I just don’t believe they are necessary or as effective as alternatives, and they can be painful and dangerous (see below). You need to be responsible and put in the time and effort to socialize and train your puppy without pain and force.

At first, I cheered when I heard about the ban. However, several recent experiences, all with rescue dogs, including my own, have made me question the unintended consequences of a total ban. I support preventing cruelty and animal abuse, but I do not think you can really judge others’ decisions unless you have walked in those shoes. You can’t possibly know how many other methods they have already tried, and failed with. Perhaps using one of these collars is their last resort before having to get rid of their otherwise beloved companion.

If you adopt a reactive dog or your dog becomes reactive, obviously you start by checking that there are no medical reasons for the behavior and then trying positive training. However, I know from personal experience that “retraining” can be:

  1. Very very time-consuming and slow and seem impossible.
  2. Very difficult to execute effectively, particularly if you’re attempting to manage this alone.
  3. Very expensive if you do get professional help.
  4. Dangerous for your dog and others if you can not avoid all triggers 100% at all times which can be very difficult.

The Issues and Barriers to Success With Reactive Dogs

What if you have a full-time job and limited time? What if you have or work with other dogs and/or kids? What if you do not have friends willing to come to the front door over and over, or walk parallel with their dogs and slowly socialize your dog. What if you can not afford the $500 just for the consultation with the behaviorist, let alone the treatment,  or the hundreds of dollars for sessions with trainers and experts? You can watch videos and read books and blogs but it is very difficult and stressful putting the recommendations into practice.

If you have a reactive dog, every single moment out of the house and even in the house, means you have to be vigilant for triggers. You can not easily take your dog to a park with any off-leash dogs or to a group training session or to events with strangers or to someone’s cottage for the weekend. You have to be so careful they never escape out the front door or slip their collar or yank the leash out of your hand and chase another dog or human. If you are out walking, you can never go around a blind corner without checking first that no one is coming. You have to cross the street if you see other people or dogs and even then, things can get noisy and scary as they lunge. You have to be so sure no one, especially a kid, comes up from behind and tries to pat your dog or passes too close. You may have to crate him with guests or spend hours briefing them and getting him used to them if they are staying. You have to leave treats around the house and warn everyone never to surprise him or touch him in a way he doesn’t like or reach into his crate or try to take anything from him without trading, even if it is something toxic.

With Kilo the Pug, I have had to adapt. I am lucky that he has a small jaw and tiny teeth – he can not do that much damage. He is little enough to manage in a harness and easy to pick up if necessary. I am also really lucky that he loves his food and his family so much. Very slowly, with a lot of work and investment, he is gaining confidence and improving but I can only imagine if he was a bigger, stronger dog how differently his reactive behavior might need to be handled.

TH Kilo hike

Toronto Dog Lovers react to the ban

A lot of people feel conflicted. Toronto dog lovers have taken to various forums and social media to express their concerns. One of the most common insights being shared is the perception that these collars can be used as training tools and the tools correctly used aren’t really the issue. Education is.

One of the top comments brings up the fact that Toronto Police apparently use these collars to train their dogs, and while they are exempt from the ban – this doesn’t mean that the Toronto Police are abusing their K9 unit. We have done several features and the bond between the dogs and their handlers is phenomenal and the dogs seem very healthy, happy and well-trained.

The choke-chain ban may also affect the Canadian Kennel Club as club members sometimes use these collars in dog shows, several of which are hosted in Toronto. This could potentially mean shows moving out of the city though the CKC is reaching out to try and resolve the issue.

httpss://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPnmYfIYMb8

Another woman mentions that her 130lb large breed is strong enough to dislocate her shoulder and bolts so she would not feel safe walking him without a choke collar or martingale. One recent rescue owner we interviewed had tried for 6 months with trainers and rewards to help their large reactive dog but he remained a danger. They were going to have to give him up. Finally, they worked with someone who tried a prong collar (with rewards as well) for leash training. While he may never like other dogs, they can now safely walk him up the street and he can stay in his home.

Last week, my husband, daughter and I went for a beautiful walk down at the waterfront with Kilo. He likes it there and generally ignores other dogs and strangers and walks up and down the promenade between us, sniffing pee-mail, looking for scraps and occasionally peering into the lake over the edge. We stopped to sit on a bench and enjoy the sun. Kilo sat between us with his head on my daughter’s knee and me on the outside.  Dogs and people went by without issue. Then suddenly, a huge, young, and very muscular, male dog walked by with a young couple and their other golden retriever. He was wearing a nice leather collar and leash. Kilo let out a little growl (probably swearing at him, if you ask me). The dog turned towards Kilo, somehow ducked down and slipped his collar, let out a roar and came flying at my daughter and Kilo. I moved like greased lightning and snatched Kilo up out of his path. He pounced where Kilo’s head had been and grabbed my daughter’s black fanny pack and shook it. Then he looked sheepish, dropped it back in her lap and started licking my daughter.  He was a gorgeous, friendly dog, supposedly fine with other dogs and people. The owners were so surprised and apologetic. My daughter was a little shaken but she had not even seen him coming as she had her eyes closed and no damage was done. To be honest, I would have felt a lot safer if he had had a collar or harness that he could not slip. If he had got Kilo in that huge jaw he would probably have killed him. He might have been put down. Maybe he should have to wear a muzzle, but is that better than a collar that only tightens if they pull or lunge and has a chance of stopping them?

Many seem to feel that the government’s resources would be better spent rescuing the many innocent dogs currently in abusive situations than in legislation that will affect everyone, even those perhaps using these devices correctly. One commenter suggests that for people truly abusing animals, banning these collars won’t make a difference as they can always find another thing to misuse, suggesting that a course required for dog ownership would be a more effective measure.

I worry this ban might mean certain bigger or harder to control dogs will not be adopted or will be returned, or get put on the dangerous list or have to wear muzzles or not get walked enough? Of course being educated on the type of dog you are getting is a very important step everyone should take before deciding to adopt any animal – but even then, does this mean that only big, strong, men should be allowed to adopt big, strong, dogs? I’m quite happy with my little Kilo the Pug, but I’ve had bigger dogs in the past and loved them to pieces.  I just don’t think their strength or size should limit their options for a loving home.

US Positive Trainers have strong Opinions

“Aversive trainers will often use choke and prong collars to perform ‘corrections’, essentially causing the dog pain any time he pulls on the leash or misbehaves.While this type of training may stop the pulling or suppress a certain behavior at that particular moment, it does nothing to address the root of the dog’s issue.” -Renowned Positive Reinforcement Trainer Victoria Stilwell

“It is the position of the Pet Professional Guild that effective animal training procedures lay the foundation for an animal’s healthy socialization and training and helps prevent behavior problems. The general pet-owning public should be educated by organizations and associations to ensure pet animals live in nurturing and stable environments to better prevent behavior problems and help ensure the overall well-being of the animal. Consistent with this effort, it is the position of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) that the use of collars and leads that are intended to apply constriction, pressure, pain or force around a dog’s neck (such as choke chains and prong collars) should be avoided.”

Toronto is not the first

In 2014 the province of Quebec took a similar step to ban these collars but the wording of its by-law is actually more inclusive in that it reads simply: “dog collars must not interfere with breathing, or cause an animal any pain or injury.” Frankly, all collars can do that. The Quebec by-law states that shock and prong collars are unacceptable, in that they inherently infringe on this regulation, but the new Toronto law is much more specific, reading:

The Quebec by-law states that shock and prong collars are unacceptable, in that they inherently infringe on this regulation, but the new Toronto law is much more specific, reading:

Bylaw:

  • 349-8.1. A. No person shall use a choke collar, choke chain, pronged collar or any similar device at any time on a dog.
  • No person shall keep a dog off the premises of the owner other than on a leash which shall not exceed two metres in length, except in designated (off-leash) areas of a City park as permitted by Chapter 608, Parks.

https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/bylaws/2017/law0102.pdf

Oddly enough it seems as though shock collars are not included in Toronto’s ban, though they offer many of the same problems.

The Details Behind the Collars included in the Ban

Though data demonstrating the exact damage that can be potentially caused by using choke and prong collars is incomplete, experience has apparently shown that soft tissue injuries are common, especially with incorrect use and damage to the animal-human relationship may result from aversive training. Studies and the experience of the PPG’s membership have found that training and behavior problems are consistently and effectively solved without the use of choke or prong collars with alternative methods that instead focus on reinforcing the animal-human bond.

If you’re unfamiliar with these 3 types of collars slowly being banned in Canada here’s a breakdown of each:

As the name implies, a choke collar is made of metal links designed to control your dog by tightening around their neck when they pull. It is should sit high up on the dog’s neck and just behind their ears. Unlike the martingale collar, which is exempt from the Toronto ban, there is no way to control how much a choke chain tightens, so it’s possible to choke or strangle your dog. They can also cause other problems, too, such as injuries to the trachea and esophagus, injuries to blood vessels in the eyes, neck sprains, nerve damage, fainting, transient paralysis, and even death. It is best for your dog if you avoid using a choke chain altogether. If you insist on using one (and fall outside the area of the complete ban), consult an experienced trainer to learn how to properly size, fit, and use it. And even then, never leave a choke chain on your dog as their regular collar; the chain could catch on something and choke your dog!

The prong or pinch collar is similar in style to the martingale. The control loop that the leash is attached to is made of chain. The loop that fits around your dog’s neck is made of a series of fang-shaped metal links, or prongs, with blunted points. When the control loop is pulled, the prongs pinch the loose skin of your dog’s neck. Like the choke chain, the prong collar must be properly fitted. The size of the prong links should be appropriate for the size of your dog. The collar should sit high up on your dog’s neck, just behind their ears. The fit should be snug, so the prong links can’t shift to the front of your dog’s neck where they might pinch your dog’s trachea.Prong collar image

Shock collars use electric current passing through metal contact points on the collar to give your dog a signal. This electric signal can range from a mild tickling sensation to a painful shock. Shock collars are sold as training devices and to stop barking. They are also used with pet containment (electronic fencing) systems. The most controversial use of the shock collar is when it’s used as a training device. The trainer can administer a shock to a dog at a distance through a remote control. There is a greater chance for abuse (delivery of shocks as punishment) or misuse (poor timing of shocks). Your dog also may associate the painful shock with people or other experiences, leading to fearful or aggressive behavior. However, I have also heard of life-saving success in certain situations.

More humane collars and good obedience training should make it unnecessary to resort to these aversive collars. But are there exceptions?

What do you think about the collar ban? Tell us in the comments.

 

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5 Comments

  • Wow, this is an emotionally charged topic for sure! I’m not a fan of choke or prong collars because they can damage a dog’s throat area. I prefer a no pull harness. If I had to choose between using one of these collars and muzzling a highly reactive dog I’d choose the muzzle. I saw a woman with a very interesting collar not long ago – it had the prongs, but only on the top of the collar. She said it would mimic the way a mother dog would grab her puppy by the neck. I found that quite interesting, especially since it wouldn’t damage the neck area. It will be interesting to see the reactions to this post!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    • Profile photo of Talent Hounds

      Yes. I am not a fan either and I do not use any collar for Kilo. He can not use any muzzle so far as he freaks out so badly he can not breathe so we just avoid any situations that put him at risk as much as possible and slowly work on reducing his fear etc. If he does get upset, I can pick him up or easily control him with his harness without hurting him and he is not much of a threat anyway. However, I do think there may be unintended consequences for certain large or reactive rescue dogs. The neck one does sound interesting as sometimes you just need a reminder to get their mind back if they lose it.

  • Hi there.

    Thank you SO much for pointing out the class bias in this ban. Many people don’t have access to training facilities or backyards and they *must* be able to walk their dog to housebreak it, even if the dog is not yet trained.

    While clicker/marker training are wonderful ideals to aspire to–they aren’t going to solve the immediate needs of an owner/dog combination that have to live their lives before the dog is completely trained.

    I have a wonderfully behaved, rescued Alaskan husky ex-sled dog. I’ve had him six years. There’s the odd moment though, in a heavy snowfall if he sees another husky that he will do direct-to-drive, do not pass GO , do not collect 200. While much of the time I can pretty much relax, having a prong for those moments to help him collect himself is a Dogsend. To be clear, he’s offlead trained as well.

    I’ve trained a lot of dogs in my day, including protection and fixing aggressive dogs. I won’t get into a full background, suffice to say, I’m pretty dog knowledgeable. I’ve used pretty much every tool out there on myself–then on a dog 😉

    Now I am older and physically limited. This ban stops anyone like me from owning any kind of exuberant or challenging dog over ten pounds or so, regardless of how knowledgeable we may be because an excited dog can cause injury to its owner. My dog at 50lbs can pull 200lbs in six feet of torque. And that’s with one slightly lame leg.

    I see dog and people abuse every day. People with flat collars, dog lunging ahead being dragged around while screaming NO NO NO as the dog knocks over other people on the sidewalk like bowling pins. Some of them stop and belt the dog a good one–because they don’t know any better.

    No properly used prong or check chain would ever result in that much abuse. The other is the misuse of halties. Yanking and twisting, dog forging forward, head askew.

    Almost every prong collar owner I’ve seen with their dog, while their timing may be negligible in some cases, the dog isn’t choking and knocking over everything in its path or jumping on other dogs.

    My dog gets more damage when he plays with his girlfriend. She loves to drag him around by the ruff–often leaving red marks. I’ve never left a mark on him with a prong collar so clearly, she’s meaner than I am. He quite literally, can not feel a flat collar. And he’s far from the only heavy-ruffed dog who can’t feel a slip chain or flat collar. Halties also cause many dogs to panic. They often don’t fit properly and they are useless on flat faced dogs, anyway.

    Even now the CKC is outraged because this means that using a slip lead in the show ring is now illegal.

    This was one of the most ill-conceived dog laws on the books and thank you for speaking out against it.

    It’s kind of ironic that these are the same officials that can’t seem to get the poop n scoop problem under control with any efficiency and now they have more laws to enforce?

  • As someone who has worked with dogs for forty years I am saddened to hear of the ban Toronto has on prong collars & slip leads.
    First off dog owners should be aware that your best tool in working with dogs is your energy. Not the equipment you put on them. If you are anxious & nervous & yanking on your dog, it doesn’t matter what type of equipment you are using, the dog will become stressed.
    If you are calm & confident you will have a much easier time controlling your dog. Having worked in shelters that only use positive reinforcement reward based training, I have seen the unfortunate result of them not being able to rehabilitate aggressive dogs with R+ training methods. These dogs were euthanized. They were unwilling to let anyone else try a different training method to rehabilitate these dogs.
    If you hire a repair person to come to your house to fix something & they come with only one tool in their tool box, wouldn’t you be a little concerned?
    I have nothing against R+ training methods, I use some of it in my work with dogs, however it is not all I use. I usually don’t use treats, as this takes the focus off of you, & can make the dog only responsive to treats.
    Prong collars and slip leads are great tools if used properly. A prong collar should never be slipped over a dogs neck. It should be fastened on under the ears, with a snug not tight fit. Sean O’ Shea has some excellent videos on how to properly put on a prong collar.
    If you have a dog with issues concerning the nose, ears, eyes & mouth. You want to control the head. This is what the slip lead & prong collar do, apply pressure to where the dog is responsive to. You can have a hard time doing this with a harness.
    When you watch dogs play do they grab the front of the chest or the neck to get the other dogs attention?
    About 85% of the behavior issues I see in the dogs I work with stem from their owners.
    I hope Toronto reconsiders this ban, as it can do more harm then good.
    Calm, Confidence, & Consistence = Balance