Many dog owners assume that they need to use a choke chain for their dog’s everyday collar. While the choke chain can be effective in trained hands, on the whole, most dog trainers do not recommend it. There are several reasons for this, including risk of injury to the dog, accidental death of the dog, and the fact that there are plenty of other, more humane, ways of restraining a dog.
The choke chain can cause injury to your dog, especially to the neck and esophageal area. The choke chain is designed to provide a quick check and release form of correction for your dog; however this is not how it is most often used. If your dog insists on pulling hard against being restrained, he will keep tightening the choke chain around his neck. This causes him to gasp for air, and sometimes pull even harder. This can cause damage to his esophagus and windpipes. The collar will continue to tighten until the pressure against it is released.
If the choke chain is pulled too hard too quickly, your dog’s neck can become injured. The vertebrae can be pulled out of place or the muscles can be strained. Many times these injuries go unnoticed, as animals are good at hiding discomfort. It does, however, hurt the dog, and may cause some long-term damage. Since these injuries often go undetected until later problems emerge, they are not often seen as a direct result from using a choke chain.
Another, more devastating, risk of using a choke chain can be the accidental death of your dog. If your dog happens to catch the end ring of the chain on something, the collar will start to tighten. Your dog will naturally struggle to get free, thus tightening the chain even more. Eventually, the chain will tighten to the point of cutting off all air supply to the lungs, and your dog will choke to death. There have been incidents of dogs jumping a fence, only to get stuck by the collar on a piece of the fence and are left hanging to die. It is a gruesome picture, but it is all too real of a risk.
Many dog trainers refuse to use the choke chain, preferring other restraints such as a harness or a traditional collar that goes around the neck and connects with a buckle or a clasp. The harness is growing in popularity, as it puts the least amount of pressure on the dog’s neck. There are some styles that resemble a horse halter in that a part of it goes around the snout and another part around the neck.
The idea being that where the nose goes, the dog will follow. Mother dogs will guide their young puppies by pushing on their noses or necks. Trainers have observed this behavior and tried to replicate that same communication with the new halter styled harnesses.
Another reason trainers are hesitant to use the choke chain is that they cannot control how the owner will use it once the training session is over. An experienced dog trainer will be able to use the choke chain the way it was intended to be used. Even if the dog owner is trained the proper way, there is no way to know if the owner will continue to use it the way he was taught
to use it. This potentially leads to the misuse of the choke chain, thus endangering the health of the dog.
Some dog owners feel that the choke chain is necessary if their dog is a large breed or is thick necked. They feel that it is the only way to control such a large dog. Dog trainers will often disagree with this line of thinking. There are many effective ways to train a dog, ways that are more gentle and effective than the choke chain. If the looks of a choke chain appeal to the dog owner, then the owner should use a harness or other style of collar for restrain purposes and leave the choke chain as an accessory item.
The choke chain has a few benefits, but it also carries many risks with its regular use. Dog owners are advised to talk to experienced dog trainers before purchasing a choke chain for their dog.
RECOMMENDED READING: by Duston McGroarty, founder of The Dog Solution & author of The Dog Owner’s Secret Handbook