How I Explain Choke Chains

First of all, I don’t call them CHOKE chains. I call them slip collars. And that’s not some cool ploy with words to get them over it. I don’t use them for the choking potential, I use them for their LOOSENING potential!

See, to me, the best reward you can give a dog, is freedom, and comfort. And a loose slip collar, is the most comfortable collar there is!

Seriously…. Think about it. When a dog has learned to be fluent in leash communication, they can have a collar that just flops, and dangles. Hell, I make special wide, soft, martingale collars for dogs that aren’t fluent to help keep them from irritating their skin as they learn. And I make them with a chain action specifically to find a similar releasing action… Hell, the name of my collars are Kaiho Collars, because that means “release” , or “liberation” in Japanese. But, as awesome as those are…… when they are TRULY fluent….. I’d prefer a simple chain, because a big ass martingale  isn’t rewarding ENOUGH!

That’s the reason I don’t use flat collars. Because there’s no reward at all! They’re just flat uncomfortable. (Pun intended)

Here’s my analogy:

Neck ties.

Flat collars are like neck ties! Sure, a neck tie  in a suit isn’t choking, but you damn sure know it’s there. It is the opposite of comfortable. And as soon as you can…… You open that bad boy up.

Well you’re dog cant do that in a flat collar. Nothing they do can loosen it. Not one damn thing they do can give that sense of relief. And that’s the problem. I don’t use flat collars because, I don’t want to make my dog feel that way.

Now, you will get 2 objections as people try to shoot holes in your theory. People don’t take kindly to you pooping on their paradigm. They don’t really want to realize that choke chains are more rewarding and kind, and flat collars are kind of restrictive, and uncomfortable. Not everyone wants to take the red pill (Matrix reference).

These objections are:

1. Flat collars can be made loose so they don’t feel as restrictive as you’re making them sound.

My response: Listen, if your flat collar is that loose, your dog is probably going to slip it and be gone. A flat collar worn that loose, is irresponsible. Now, if you buckle it tight enough to not slip off…. You’re back in the non-comfort zone.

2: Well, that sounds great, but when you’re dog isn’t listening to the leash, it’s not slipping open. It’s slipping tight. It’s choking them. I don’t even clip my leash to his flat collar, because he chokes himself on it. I use a Halti/No Pull Harness/Etc…

My response: Here’s an idea. How bout, you train your dog to listen to the leash. At what point do we stop defaulting to crazy apparatus to wrench their muzzles sideways and harnesses to pull them in weird angles, and just teach the dog what we’re asking her to do? Rather than use a flat collar to mitigate the dog’s resistance to the leash…. Lets put on a slip, and gently teach the dog, HOW to loosen that collar. How, to find freedom and comfort.

There you have it. The explanation that has convinced several Purely Positive (don’t get me started on that term) people to switch to slip collars!

Take the red pill.

Give your dog the gift, of comfort a slip collar can give.

13 thoughts on “How I Explain Choke Chains”

  1. In answer to your last question: Your described use of the choke chain is no different than the way you described the use of the head halter or the front clip harness. Most people use the head halter and the front clip as management devices. As you’ve described them, all three create an aversive experience. Some people would disagree, but I agree that for some dogs any of these could “induce dislike.” But no matter what, you are still using them as management. And we can manage this problem forever.

    …OR…we can actually TRAIN the dog to yield to a leash using none of the above. It’s possible to teach a dog to walk properly on a leash without using any aversive techniques. Choke chains don’t teach a dog to walk properly, good trainers do. And a good trainer doesn’t need a choke chain to teach a dog anything. A good trainer doesn’t need to rely on a collar to provide rewarding experience, because they can do it themselves without first creating an aversive situation. Case in point: I have three rescue PB mixes at my house that I taught to walk properly on a leash using nothing but a flat collar and/or back clip harness(used interchangeably), a leash, and R+ methods. All walk really well without the use of corrections. All yield instantly when they feel any pressure on the collar or back clip harness, or martingale. Why? Because they are properly trained. I taught all “fluent leash communication” without the use of any type of corrective device.

    Conversely, I have a foster PB mix here that was trained by a well known local traditional trainer who uses choke chains: in fact, he has a “lifetime” guarantee on his training. That dog will pull like a charging bull without the garroting action of a choke chain to remind him to not pull. So which dogs should I consider to be trained? I’ll tell you that I consider the three rescue PBs that I worked with to actually be trained, and the foster to be nothing but a managed situation (completely dependent upon the “reminder” action of the choke chain in order to walk reasonably on the leash.)

    As far as your assertion that a slip collar can provide comfort? Well, I’m not sure how you’ve decided that dogs find flat collars to be uncomfortable and slip collars to be comfy. What led you to believe that dogs are trying to find “relief” from their flat collars? Do you see a lot of dogs going to great lengths to rid themselves of their flat collars? It seems you’ve leapt to your own conclusion here. Or were you able to poll the dogs to get opinions on this? Because your assertion that dogs stop pulling to loosen the “slip” collars would suggest the opposite. Choke chains only become “rewarding” by first being uncomfortable. That’s an indisputable fact.That’s also why dogs work to loosen them. The release only feels good if the tightening feels bad. So the dog’s reactions are actually telling you what they find uncomfortable.

    Bottom line is this. Choke chains by any other name still act as a noose. They tighten without restraint. Such devices are dangerous for people, and dangerous for dogs.
    Sorry to poop on your paradigm.

    1. Kim, I actually appreciate your passion for the humane treatment of dogs. I will try to explain myself, not to argue, but to actually try to communicate what I am seeing better. My main job is human self defense instruction, specifically Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. One of the main goals is to choke the opponent out. So, I’ve been on the receiving end of countless chokes myself. And I will tell you, that without debate, it is a well known fact that collar chokes (of the uniform we wear), that apply pressure around the entire circumference of the neck, are FAR more comfortable that chokes that only apply pressure to the front of your neck. So, based on my own personal experiences, I naturally extrapolate that choke collars, if pulled into, are far more comfortable than flat collars. Now, the combination of the difficulty of dogs I work with, and my own level of skill, means many of the dogs I handle pull into their collars. Choke chains, and slip collars of various sorts, allow me to A- make that experience literally more comfortable and less damaging than flat collars, and B- make a greater release of pressure when they do understand what I’m asking and yield to the leash. As for the question of how do I know dogs find flats uncomfortable…. I didn’t mean to imply they were “un”comfortable. I meant to imply they were “less” comfortable. That was what I was trying to get across in the Neck Tie analogy. When the line is slack, a flat collar is necessarily tighter than a chain. In my own personal experience, I’d much rather wear a loose chain necklace, than a Tie. Again, just my extrapolations based on my experience. But then again, that is the idea behind this whole blog!
      If you aren’t sure if these collars can possibly be used humanely, I would suggest googeling Chad Mackin, and Tyler Muto. Those are the leash skills I aspire to. If you can watch their videos, and feel like the animals are being treated unfairly, or inhumanely, I would be stunned.
      Now, I wrote this very reasonable response in the hopes that in spite of your passion, and obvious first impression of me, you can see what I’m saying and get at least the thought experiment of a new perspective. Because hearing different opinions, and considering them is how you come to new conclusions, or solidify your old ones. Either way its a win.

    2. I have a Staffy Bull with a lot of hectic energy and is a nervous dog around strange environments and when she thinks she is going to go in the car. Very hard to find proper equipment to manage her when she is nervous and not thinking, or when exercisng.

      Flat collars pose a problem, even though she responds to leash pressure, when she’s in the right mind state, her necks swells a lot during exercise so the flat collar that fit well at the beginning of a walk chokes her by the end, and to loosen it makes it possible to nearly be slipped or is too far down on the neck making it put pressure on trachea and less easy to communicate with leash pressure.

      Slip type collars are a problem because this dog (due to bad structure of trachea and anatomy) chokes easily and throws up, a comfortable wide collar seems to reinforce her hectic hitting the end of the leash when in a nervous mind state.

      I have found the best way to manage her is low level (under 20 on Dogtra IQ) e-collar stim and the equipment the leash is attached to doesn’t matter so much.

      Working on training her mind state so I don’t have to manage it forever, but at 4.5 years old, and having had her since 8 weeks.. I am realistic about my own abilities and her nature. She does have a CGC and has never shown any fear of nervousness with regard to a person or other animal.

  2. Great job, Jay. It takes better training to use a slip chain without ending up in a situation where the dog is constricting his own airway by lurching and lunging ahead. If this training is done appropriately, I see no reason to avoid using a slip chain. I personally love them. They allow very subtle, nuanced, silent communication between dog and trainer. It can be like a ballet. A fine team will come nowhere near hitting the end of a lead, much less the constriction of the collar!

    A friend who is a very “positive” trainer exclaimed one day when I arrived at her house, and allowed (with her permission) my two dobermans to run loose in her yard without leads. Her house fronted a busy road. She exclaimed yet more vehemently when she realized that they both sported slip chains. It went something like this: “OMG, I was so surprised to see you use choke chains. But you don’t really use the chains – your dogs are perfectly responsive off lead! Aren’t you worried about them running into the street?!?”

    Both had aced an extensive training and proofing program. Traffic, and even deer, were not issues for either of them.

    As you know, I don’t use the collars for communicating training information. I use them on trained dogs to give them directional information. A martingale or a flat collar doesn’t suit well at all, in my experience.

  3. I’m not interested in arguing either. But I did note that you started your blog with the line “I don’t fucking call them choke collars…” I see that the expletive is absent from your blog post, but it must have been there at some point in to show up in the link on FB. It didn’t seem like you were opening up to friendly debate. And while you’ve certainly explained your own thinking in regards to flat versus choke collars, I can’t say that I find the argument completely logical to me. If the pressure of flat collars were so uncomfortable to dogs, then they would logically learn to stop pulling against them. Certainly you know that the pressure from a flat training collar is different when being pulled upon, than it is when it simply sits against the neck. So when the collar tightens, the dog can release the pressure on a flat collar as they can on a slip collar. Stop pulling and the pressure goes away. It seems extremely obvious to me. And just FYI, you didn’t just imply that flat collars were less comfortable, you actually said that they were “just flat uncomfortable.” Is flat collar less comfortable than a loose hanging choke chain? Well I think that probably just comes down to personal preference. Some people are completely comfortable in form fitting clothes and some are only happy when they are dressed in loose clothing. That really doesn’t make one inherently more comfortable than the other. It’s completely subjective. But again, different people have different opinions and sometimes we simply need to agree to disagree.

    I don’t know if my opinion is that these collars can’t be used humanely, as much as I just don’t see the necessity of them. And if they aren’t necessary, then I guess the use of them does seem less humane. My own professional experience working with dogs spans 30 years, and I’ve been known to take on some pretty gnarly training challenges…in spite of this, I’ve just never been a fan of choke chains. Training certain dogs without them does require a greater degree of patience and skill IMO, but it can be done. As far as I can tell,training without the use of the aversive requires more of the trainer than it does of the dog. I think that’s the reason so many people choose to manage their dogs rather than train them. Training takes time, skill, and patience. I also believe that is the reason people are attracted to the use of aversives in dog training. It’s simply an easier road for the handler.

    If I took exception to anything, it was that you seem to be implying that people eschew the use of these collars because they don’t know enough about them, rather than because they know enough to get the job done (and done WELL) without them. Personally, I began to drop the use of certain training equipment as my understanding of dogs and how they learn grew, rather than diminished. I’m a cross-over trainer, so I am no stranger to the use of aversive training tools; even so, I was never a fan of choke chains. I’ve seen many dogs pull as hard on a choke chain as any flat collar. Between information gathered from orthopedic vets, and chiropractors who work with animals; and my own work at a canine physical rehabilitation center; I believe they are responsible for many of the spinal issues dogs experience later in life. I would be more inclined to use a pinch collar than a choke chain if I were to feel the need to use an R- training technique. And that’s a big if, because if I start my training at the correct criteria and expand that criteria at the correct rate, there should be no need to use a collar to create success.

    I’m curious about something said by Kayce Cover: Why would an appropriately trained dog need the directional information of a collar? Dogs who are trained and attentive on a leash pay attention to where you are, and where you are going don’t they? Why do they need directional guidance? I’m not being snarky here, I really would like to know what you are referring to. A leash is pretty much just an extraneous piece of equipment for a well trained dog right? When I put leashes on my dogs it’s to stay within the letter of the law, not because I need them to communicate. It’s their “job” at that point to maintain an appropriate distance, and pay attention to changes in direction and pace.

  4. Hi Kim,

    When I worked my dogs (both have passed now), we were working fast, complex stuff. No matter how I strove to keep my body from giving any extraneous cues, the slip chain told them everything they needed to know. Even when an observer could discern no cues. On a different collar, performance was just not as sharp.

    Best wishes,

  5. I use metal training collars, and I love this post. All dog training equipment can be used in various ways some better methods and some not so great methods. A piece of training equipment is only as good as the other end of the leash.

    I personally first train the dog without using a collar as a correction tool, but rather to hold them still. So this first collar could as well be a flat collar. Some great things about a metal training collar though are 1) properly fitted and even not so well fitted, it is just about impossible for a dog to slip or fight it off 2) only cheaply made non Herm Sprenger will break and they never fray or have cheap plastic clips and 3) the whole point of “training” on one is to train them not to have to use it. Now some people and trainers do not use it this way, and it becomes a lifetime crutch. Or worse, they allow their dogs to just pull and do no training at all.

    I disagree that any trainer can successfully, effectively, or efficiently train any type of dog and dog temperament without ever using any kind of correction. Many of us work on molding or conditioning the dog so that a harsh correction with a metal training collar is not needed. Their are some that think ANY correction is wrong for any reason. And they are entitled to that opinion. And if they think anyone who uses a metal training collar is less of a trainer than one who who uses treats, that is a valid opinion also.

    However, my opinion is that so many people would not be reached and dogs. Some humans believe it or not, sometimes make things worse with treats because they do not want to follow the time consuming protocols or accept that this sort of training may take longer. Others are not safe waiting for cookies only to work, and I suggest there are definite times that will not work for some dogs and definitely some temperaments.

    If you know how to use a collar and condition to it, you do not need to make a correction harsh at all. Meanwhile you can provide clear and well timed information that makes the both of you a team with the required responsibilities for each.

    Just writing this BTW to give out a cookie to the author. Great points, and it is also great to see another trainer educating on tools and how they may be used. Also that they are not akin to a meeting with Satan!

  6. Trainers worked with my dog on haltis, martingales, harnesses and finally the prong collar when I moved to balanced trainers. I’ve not used a slip collar but the prong was what best allowed me to communicate with my dog. The halti cut into her muzzle because she learned how to pull in it so easily, the martingale and harnesses simply didn’t communicate anything to her. The flat collar was also ineffective. I worked with the best PP trainers in my area but their conclusion was that my dog needed Prozac. Um…no, I’m not putting my dog on Prozac. They honestly didn’t understand the needs of a high-energy working dog.

    I think the best trainers use what’s best for the dog and aren’t convinced that one collar works for every single dog. Included in “using the best collar for the dog” is using the best collar for the owner. I love hearing a balanced trainer say their preferred collar just didn’t work for a certain dog so they switched to something else. I think this is the challenge with PP methods – the assumptions that a limited tool set will work for every dog.

    I’m not well versed on slip collars but I think this post is great!

  7. I come from the purely positive camp, but have been branching out since not finding real world answers to my training conundrums. I absolutely LOVE this post. Thank you!

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