The Heart Rules the Head

There is a little daschund in our neighbourhood that I see periodically on our walks.  The little daschund must weigh all of 8 pounds soaking wet.  Her owners seem to really care about her because she gets walked regularly, even in this cold weather.  I also believe this little daschund was probably a rescue, because it’s been the same size since I first saw her.  Unfortunately I have never talked to their owners because this little daschund is leash reactive (she barks, lunges, and acts aggressively when dogs get close by).

A short while after the daschund arrived in the neighbourhood, I noticed that they began walking the dog on a pinch collar (also known as a prong collar).  For those of you who (fortunately) do not know what a pinch collar is, here is a picture of one:

Pinch Collar / Prong Collar
Pinch Collar / Prong Collar

A pinch collar is a tool of punishment.  If the dog pulls, the metal ends jab into the dog’s neck causing pain, which causes pulling to stop.  If a leash correction (leash tug) is applied firmly, the metal ends jab into the dog’s neck also causing pain.  Most dogs will walk gingerly and carefully when you put a pinch collar on them to avoid pain, so they are often used by dog owners who are too impatient to teach loose leash walking.

The owners of the daschund, while on walks, would apply a leash correction every time the dog barked, lunged, or reacted to nearby dogs.  Very quickly (within a couple of short weeks), the daschund’s outbursts stopped.  She could walk right by me while I was walking Petey and it was as if the little daschund didn’t even see him.  On the surface, I’m sure the owners of the daschund were delighted with the results.

A few months after that, I would see the daschund being walked in the neighbourhood, and thankfully, the owners had switched to using a harness.  We’d run into each other while walking our dogs; I did my best to give the little girl enough space, and despite the removal of the pinch collar, she still was able to walk by without outburst.  I remember being impressed that she was still suppressing her outbursts despite the absence of the pinch collar (this was summer).  But I knew all was not fixed with that dog.  When I see quiet and still dogs that are reactive or fearful, I think back to this German proverb:

“The silent dog is the first to bite.”

Fast forward now to January.  Petey and I were out for our afternoon walk and we see the little daschund again.  I actually didn’t recognize her at first since she was all bootied and coated up.  As Petey and I walk by, she started barking, lunging, and pulling towards us.  Because the threat of punishment is now a long gone memory, her old behaviors have returned.

The moral of the story is – the heart rules the head.  Fearful, aggressive, and reactive behaviors are rarely driven by conscious decisions – they are driven by emotions.  When behaviors are driven by emotion, the only way to change the behavior is to change what’s in the dog’s heart. The pinch collar never helped the little daschund learn to be confident – in fact, she looked quite depressed while she wore it.  It never helped her learn to feel comfortable around dogs – in fact, the sign of a dog coming meant the risk of leash correction was imminent.  All the dog learned to do was stay still and bottle her feelings up.

I can understand the allure of a “quick fix”.  I wish I could help my clients with reactive dogs walk by other dogs in close quarters and be cool with it in a matter of a couple of minutes.  I can’t – but a punishment trainer can throw on a pinch collar and create an illusion of a “fix”.  But it’s just temporary suppression – not long lasting change.  My clients, however, day by day, week by week, are slowly changing what’s in their dog’s hearts.  And once you have changed what is in a dog’s heart, their head will follow.

5 Replies to “The Heart Rules the Head”

  1. Sure, it looks scary… but a prong collar is not cruel, it is a tool used for training a dog. I just wanted to point that out. There are 2 types of prongs, flat tip and round tip. Owners should be aware which one they are buying because the flat tip can leave scratches on the skin.

    It sounds like the owner of the Dachshund was using it as a “bandaid fix” (like a halti which is also a bandaid fix) it should be used during Training exercises. When used effectively, the “prongs” simulate the bite of the mother dog on her pup’s neck. I have worn the prong collar on my arm and pulled (hard) and it didn’t hurt me. Any pull on the leash that corrects the dog longer than 1 second, I consider inhumane. (Same with choke chains, that do not release properly and can actually damage the dog’s throat) Hopefully the owner had proper training on the usage,

    1. Hi Stacy,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate you finding this blog and reading it and commenting.
      When Hounds Fly is a clicker training school, which means that we teach behaviors without the use of any aversives (unpleasant things). A prong collar is an aversive, and so is a choke chain. Clicker trainers such as myself would assert (and we also prove) that the use of aversives in training behaviors (sit, stay, down, stand, heel, finish, come, retrieve, etc.) is unnecessary. But I would like to just park that for a second…

      The case of the little Daschund is not a case of training a behavior. The dog has an emotional response (fear) of other dogs. This is a case where the use of aversives is not only unnecessary –
      it is possibly the worst thing you could do

      . If you were afraid of pigeons, and every time you are surprised by pigeons that flap by you suddenly, and you jump… if you wanted to stop yourself from jumping, you could ask your friend next to you to pinch your ear hard every time you did that (Just like Mom did). Pinch hard enough each time and you might stop flinching when pigeons fly at you… but you still haven’t gotten over your fear of pigeons. In fact, areas where pigeons congregate will likely start becoming stressful to you since your friend’s back there ready to pinch your ear. This is what is happening when you use aversives for behavior modification.

      If you would like to do more reading on science-based behavior modification, the clinical term you are looking for is Desensitization and Classical Counter Conditioning. You can start with this page from the ASPCA:

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.


  2. I stumbled on this blog when I was looking for an example to show my sister-in-law. I do have pinchers and I use it rarely, more on this later.
    I live in the country, northern PA, and my dogs get walked every weekday morning, with the exception of ice on the road. They each have a slip-chain collar chain on a 3′ leach, both have cloth collars. The road they walk on my get a dozen cars a day that are not local. I had a dog whos neck was bigger then her head and this was the only collar that would stay on her. This particular dog was 100 lbs. My current dogs are 65 and 75.
    My dogs walk well on the road. Most of the smells are routine now. Yesterday the local town library had a fundraise to walk dogs. I had the older dog and after about 10 minutes she settled down, the younger dog never did. This is my daughters dog and we put on the pinchers. She is just over a year and I think this is the first time she ever had them on. We got a head of the pack and we went back to the slip-chain till the end of the walk.
    Is the pinchers cruel? no it is a tool. We where in an envernoment that the dogs had never been in. Could the dog been walked with out it? yes, I could have held both. Did the dog yelp, byte or otherwise show resistence to the collar? no. The dog weighs 65lbs, my daughter weighs about 100lbs. So was there a better option, I am sure there is. Did the dogs start off with the pinchers, no. If I did not have the pinchers, I would not have gone to the fundraise.
    There is a difference between the 8lb dog and my dogs, so let the be the issue here, not the pinchers.
    – Frank

    1. Thank you for your comment – we appreciate it.

      For owners that simply have a dog that pulls on leash, we recommend the use of no-pull harnesses with front attachments such as the Premier Easywalk, Softouch Sense-ation, or Freedom Harness, plus using reward based training to teach the dog to walk on a loose-leash. In fact, here is an example of an online course I created for distance students to learn how to do so:
      We do not teach “big dogs” different than “little dogs”. Of course, I can understand that a small person walking a big dog that pulls can be dangerous; in most cases, a proper no-pull harness and training is plenty sufficient.

      In the case of this article about the Daschund – this is a different problem. This dog is fearful and is being leash corrected for reacting to dogs. This is absolutely the worst application of a pinch collar I can think of.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *