Of all the behavioral modification tools at a modern dog owner’s disposal, perhaps none are more controversial and misunderstood that choke chains, pinch collars and similar (and, let’s face it, often scary-looking) products.
Fearing that these items are cruel or dangerous, many owners and dogs who could benefit from them shy away. However, in the hands of a compassionate owner who is educated in the use of these collars, choke, chain, and pinch collars can be extremely effective.
We’ll explore how to know when choke and pinch collars are appropriate choice for your dog, how to use them correctly, and why they really aren’t as tortuous as they look!
Best Prong & Choke Chains: Quick Picks
- Best Chain Collar: Coastal Pet Chain Collar. Quality 20″ chain designed to not tarnish, rust, or break.
- Best Pinch Collar: Coastal Pet Prong Collar. This high-quality 20″ prong collar is made from chrome-plated chain. Can also have prongs removed to further adjust size and fit.
- Best For Long-Haired Dogs: Herm Sprenger Fur Saver. This chain collar uses larger links than standard chains to prevent long-haired dogs from getting their fur stuck in the links.
- Best Martingale Collar: PetSafe Martingale Collar. This nylon webbing martingale collar is a safe alternative to the choke/chain model. Comes in several colors and sizes.
What Is a Dog Choke Chain and Why Would You Use One?
A choke chain (also known as a choke collar or – my preferred term – chain collar) is a very simple device. It consists of a length of chain and two big rings attached to either end.
After setting it up properly (we’ll discuss this in a minute), you can slip it over your dog’s head and attach it to your favorite dog leash.
You use a chain collar for two things:
- Keeping your dog’s head up and attention on you while walking at your side
- Delivering a sharp correction when your dog exhibits an undesirable behavior or breaks away from the “heel” position.
They are often used to help train dogs to stop dragging their poor owner all over the neighborhood and walk properly on a leash. They can also be useful for training dogs to respond to other commands.
How Do Chain Collars Work?
First of all, let’s establish what chain collars do not do: They do not choke or strangle dogs when used properly.
Everybody clear on that?
The unfortunate perception of these collars is likely at least partially the result of some terribly unartful language. If the original marketers of the product had called it a chain collar or – even better – a correction collar, they probably wouldn’t be so misunderstood.
When used properly, chain collars provide a way to safely and securely direct your dog’s attention toward you and move him into proper heel position. They also provide the ability to quickly initiate a squeezing sensation on the neck, which is an effective correction technique.
This works through leverage and body mechanics – when used properly, they sit right up at the base of the dog’s skull, which naturally draws their attention to you when you apply slight pressure. The quick jerk employed in a correction tightens the chain for a split second, before returning it to a loose state.
This gets your dog’s attention and causes nothing more than mild, attention-getting discomfort in the process.
What Are Prong Collars and How Do They Differ from Choke Collars?
Prong or pinch collars are pretty insane-looking devices, that resemble something you’d expect to see in a horror movie. They are essentially chain-based collars that feature a number of inward-pointing prongs. When not under tension, the prongs simply rest around your dog’s fur; when a correction is made, the collar tightens, causing the prongs to press into the dog’s neck slightly.
Despite the frightening appearance of these collars, they are safe and effective when used properly. In some ways, they may be even safer than standard chain collars, as the prongs help ensure that the force of the correction is applied across a number of different locations at the same time.
Note that the prongs of most collars are blunt or rounded to help avoid injuring your dog’s neck. But if you like, you can purchase soft vinyl tips to make the prongs even gentler, and further ensure your dog’s comfort and safety.
How Do I Put a Choke Chain on My Dog?
Despite the simplicity of the device, many people are stumped when they receive a length of chain with two rings on the end. It’s supposed to be a loop, right? Neither of the terminal rings will pass through the other, so how do you make this into a loop?
While this initially seems like some sort of mind-trick puzzle, it’s actually quite simple:
- Pinch a length of the chain
- Pull the doubled portion all the way through the ring
- Push this pinched portion through either of the rings
- Place the resulting loop around your dog’s head, with the free end (the one you’ll attach to the leash) on top of your dog’s neck
NOTE: You’ll need to decide the side on which your dog will walk before placing the loop around his head. The free end of the collar should lie across the top portion of your dog’s neck and point towards you. This ensures that when you release tension on the leash, the restrictive ring will slide back down the chain, re-opening the collar.
If you want to put a prong collar on your dog, there’s a slightly different procedure. You’ll need to disconnect two of the links (it’s often easiest to disconnect the two directly opposite the leash ring), then wrap it around your dog’s neck and reattach the links.
Basic Use of a Choke Chain or Pinch Collar
While the proper use of a chain or pinch collar is generally regarded as safe, improper use can lead to a host of problems. It’s a good idea to seek the help of a skilled, certified trainer to ensure you are using the tool safely, but the basic procedure is as follows:
- Place the collar on your dog in the correct orientation.
- Praise your precious puppy and pat his fat-wittle-haunches. He’s a good boy, yes he is. But then it’s back to business – this is work time
- Have him come to the heel position. If he needs help doing so, gently pull up on the leash to draw his attention to your face, and guide him into position.
- More love, petting and affection — he does a good job; he gets praise.
- Start walking, with the goal being to keep your dog locked into the heel position (tucked up close to your side) with the leash hanging loosely between the two of you.
- If your dog ventures away from the proper position, pop the leash quickly. Many like to issue a verbal correction at the same time, although the choke chains make a distinct sound when popped. This applies to both “SQUIRREL” attacks and innocent sniffing; your dog should be by your side, monitoring you to know what to do.
- Lather, rinse and repeat until your dog understands the proper behavior for walks.
The Dos and Don’ts of Choke Chains and Other Pinch Collars
When using a pinch or chain collar, be sure to do the following things:
Be sure that you put the chain collar on your dog in the appropriate orientation. If you walk with the dog on your right, leash-end of the chain should hang from the left side of your dog’s neck, and it should look like a lower-case “q” when you put it on your dog’s neck. Reverse these directions if your dog walks on your left, and be sure the chain looks like a lower-case “p” when you put it on.
Try to keep chain and pinch collars high on your dog’s neck, just below the jaw. This can take a little practice to get right, but it is important for achieving positive results and avoiding injuries. Some corrective collars feature leather tabs or similar devices that make it easier to keep the collar from slipping down your dog’s neck.
Ensure that you are using a chain collar of the appropriate length. Most trainers and vets recommend measuring the circumference of your dog’s neck carefully, with a flexible ruler or measuring tape. Then, add about 4 or 5 inches to arrive at the proper length for a chain collar.
Conversely, be sure that you don’t do any of the following:
Don’t use a chain collar or similar device as a form of punishment – doing so is not only cruel, it is incredibly counterproductive to your efforts. Chain collars are designed for giving corrections and keeping him in the proper position — nothing more.
It is probably wise to avoid using chain or pinch collars with dogs under 6 months of age. In fact, it is probably even wiser to wait until after 1 year of age before using them.
Never use chain collars or other corrective collars with short-nosed or thin-necked breeds. These dogs are simply to fragile to use this training tool, and could easily end up injured.
Don’t allow your dog to pull against the chain. This can cause serious injuries, including tracheal damage, pulled muscles or even cervical damage. Some dogs can actually exert enough pressure to cause their eyes to bulge. Chain collars and similar devices should only be used for loose-leash walks, with your dog at your side. If your dog is constantly pulling on the leash, don’t use a chain or prong collar! Try an anti-pulling harness instead.
Never leave your dog unattended while wearing any type of chain collar. This includes not only prong collars and choke chains, but slip collars and martingales as well.
Martingales and Slip Collars: Alternative Options
Choke chains and pinch collars are not the only game in town, and there are a number of other corrective collars on the market.
Two in particularly wide use include the Martingale and the slip collar. Both work in relatively similar ways to chain and prong collars, although there are a few key differences.
Martingales are conceptually similar to prong collars, except that they are primarily made from nylon webbing, rather than metal links, and they have no prongs.
Martingales are often considered the safest type of correction collar to use on a day-in-day-out basis, but there are still risks entailed with such use.
Slip collars are very similar to chain collar – just replace the chain links with a length of rope and you’ve got a slip collar.
They work in the same way that chain collars do, although they do not create the same sound a chain collar does – many trainers consider this sound as important as the constricting of the collar for training purposes.
Many slip collars come with a stopper to keep the collar from opening wider than you’d like.
Best Chain Dog Collars, Prong Collars, and Similar Tools
We’ve compiled six of the best corrective collars on the market below. Be sure to review the various pros and cons of each, and select the best model for you, your pup and your training philosophy.
1. Coastal Pet 20-Inch Titan Heavy Chain Collar
About: The Coastal Pet Chain Collar is a straight-forward chain collar, designed to work well without costing a fortune. The combination of heavy-duty, 3-milimeter links and argon-welded seams ensure the chain is durable and built to last.
- Great-looking chain is chrome-plated, so it will not rust or tarnish over time like some others
- 20-inch-long chain (including end rings)
- Recommended and used by professional trainers
If you are looking for a no-frills chain collar at a very affordable price, the Coastal Pet Chain Collar is a great choice. It works well and will help make it much easier to train your dog to walk properly
There weren’t many complaints about the Coastal Pet Chain Collar. However, a few dog owners experienced sizing problems, so always be sure to measure your dog’s neck carefully before ordering.
2. Herm Sprenger Fur Saver Heavy Dog Training Collar
About: The Herm Sprenger Fur Saver features a slightly different design than traditional chain collars. Instead of using a large number of short chain links, which often catch the fur of long-haired breeds, the Fur Saver uses a small number of very large links to provide a collar that works well, without tangling Fido’s hair.
- Made in Germany, this premium chain comes with a quality guarantee
- 19-inch-long chain (including end rings)
- Chrome finish is eye-catching
- Won’t catch, break or pull the hair on your dog’s neck
Most owners love Fur Saver chain collars, and long-haired dogs certainly prefer the coat-saving design. They are very well made, work smoothly and are built to last. It’s an easy choice if you don’t mind coughing up a few more bucks than you would spend for a typical chain collar.
Displeased owners who tried the Herm Sprenger Fur Saver were few, as were complaints about the product. It is about twice the price of a typical chain collar, but its quality easily justifies this difference in price.
3. Coastal Pet Prong Collar
About: The Coastal Pet Prong Collar is a straight-forward prong collar that can help accelerate the training process and provide another tool in your training arsenal. Built from the same chrome-plated links and argon-welded seams that their chain collars are, Coastal Pet Prong Collars will not rust, tarnish or break.
- 20-inch-long chain (total length, end-to-end)
- Includes 11 dual-pronged links
- Prongs can be removed easily to alter the size
The Coastal Pet Prong Collar is a high-quality product that’s available at a very affordable price. If you believe that a prong collar is the best tool for you and your pet, it’s hard to go wrong with this one. Most customers were quite pleased with the durability and quality of the collar. The fact that you can alter the size is also quite nice.
Despite being marketed as rust-proof, a very small number of customers living in coastal areas did report some rusting after prolonged use.
4. Herm Sprenger Extra Large Black Stainless Steel Pinch Training Collar
About: The Herm Sprenger Pinch Collar is a premium collar designed to help you train your four-legged bestie. Simply put, this is a beautifully crafted product, made from high-quality materials.
- 20-inch-long chain (total length, end-to-end)
- Includes 10 premium, dual-pronged links
- Black Anodized finish to ensure the collar will last and look great for years to come
- Made in Germany
Most owners were immensely pleased with the collar and raved about its efficacy. Additionally, because the Herm Sprenger Pinch Collar is black rather than chrome, it provides a slightly subtler aesthetic, which appealed to many owners, including police and military K9 handlers, who prefer the black finish for tactical reasons.
You’ll don’t get this kind of quality without paying for it. But, there were very few complaints about the Herm Sprenger Pinch Collar, and most customers found it to be well-worth the additional cost.
5. Mendota Command Slip Collar
About: The Mendota Command Slip Collar is a soft, flexible alternative to the traditional chain collar. Made from color-fast multifilament, double-stitched polypropylene, it won’t catch your pet’s fur or stain your pet’s skin. The Mendota Slip Collar comes in 10 different great-looking color and pattern options to match your pet’s personality.
- Available in six different lengths, ranging from 16 to 26 inches
- Trimmed with English bridle oil-tanned leather accents
- Made with non-corrosive, brass-toned rings that look great and last for years
The vast majority of owners using the Mendota Command Slip Collar praised it highly. Many owners (and presumably their dogs) appreciated the ability to use a soft training tool, while still achieving improved discipline and better behavior during leash walks.
There weren’t many complaints about the Mendota Slip Collar, although a very small number of owners reported that the collar was not as effective for their dog as a chain collar. Nevertheless, most owners found it to work quite well.
6. PetSafe Martingale Collar
About: The PetSafe Martingale Collar is an alternative training tool designed to help improve your dog’s behavior during leash walks. Because Martingale-style collars only close a predetermined amount, they are safer than chain and slip collars.
- Made from high-quality nylon webbing for a comfortable fit
- Available in five different length and width options
- Comes in five different eye-catching colors to ensure your dog looks great
- Can be operated by hand if need be
Most customers found the PetSafe Martingale Collars to be very effective. Many noted that their dog seemed to prefer wearing these collars to prong or pinch collars. Additionally, many owners who had dogs that would escape from most other collars could not do so with these.
There weren’t many complaints from those who used the collars as training tools, but many were unaware that Martingales are not designed to be used outside of training sessions. Also, this specific model is for petite dogs, but there are other similar models for larger dogs as well.
Do you use correction collars to help train your pooch? How effective have they been for you? Let us know your preferences and experiences – including the type of correction collar you prefer. Which ones have worked, and which ones haven’t? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below
Chain collars and similar devices often elicit strong opinions, but let’s keep things civil – we all love our dogs and try to treat them the best way we know how.