The Tasmanian and Queensland governments in Australia are planning on banning the use of prong collars and they are developing amendments to the Welfare Act in consultation with the RSPCA. The RSPCA Tasmania CEO Jan Davis recently issued a statement on their website at discussing why they plan to help the government ban prong collars and makes a number of claims that prong collars are proven to cause damage. According to Science, some of the injuries listed by Jan in this statement are eye issues, neurological issues, thyroid, skin organ and numerous other issues. She claims that science shows that prong collars cause emotional damage and that positive reinforcement training has been shown to be more effective than the use of prong collars. As there’s no reference list on this statement, I reached out to Jan Davis and asked for the reference list that she used when making this statement.
She got back to me with a link to the RSPCA Australia’s website which also contains their own position statement on the use of prong collars and she said that while she hasn’t gone through the references on the occasion Australia’s website, she does believe that that was the only source for her comments. Rather than assuming that the science is sound, I went through their reference list and had a look at each of the four citations that they list which they claim show the prong collars cause emotional and physical harm and this is what I found. The first source on their reference list is a study by Rooney 2011. This is an owner’s survey which looked at interactions between owners and their dogs depending on the type of training method that they use. These are owners using punishment techniques on their dogs without the consultation of trainers.
And this is also the study the RSPCA Australia is citing when they claim that rewards based training is more effective than the use of prong collars. The punishment techniques that are listed but not observed are squirt bottle in the face, rubbing the nose and feces, shouting, flicking the ear and shaking the dog. Prong collars are not included in the study, they are mentioned once in a list of punishment techniques but they do not give any information on how many owners use prong collars, how they use them, if they’ve been taught how to use them or what behaviors they were using them for. This study is not a study that shows any evidence to do with prong collars whatsoever. The second article overall, which is an editorial or an opinion piece overall, discusses that there is evidence for choke chains and prong collars to call medical and physical issues.
She then goes on to quote a study done by Pauli in 2006 that did measure the impact of collars on dogs throats compared to harnesses. Here’s where we find one of the quotes from the RSPCA Tasmania’s website with regard to eye injuries. But what’s interesting about this study by Paulie is it does not look at prong collars. So overall in her 2007 editorial piece which is listed on the RSPCA’s reference list, is quoting the study as evidence. But the study she’s quoting does not even measure prong collars or choke chain.
It looked at basic nylon collars. The third reference by Blackwell this is another owner survey the use of training methods and behavioral problems with owners who are training their dogs did not look at training tools whatsoever. No prong collars listed or even mentioned in this entire paper. Again the type of physical punishment that is listed smacking, scruffing, shaking. Out of 192 owners who returned their survey, 15 sought the help of professional trainers to help them with their dog’s behavioral problems.
Our study listed on the RSPCA Australia’s reference list is a study looking at the relationship between military dogs and their handlers. This study is quoted on the RSPCA Australia’s website that prong collars cause damage to dogs. Yet this study is not looking at prong collars. Both myself and other members of professional dog trainers Australia reached out to the RSPCA asking for further information on abuse cases that have been recorded with prong collars and any other references that they’ve used in these statements. They knew one extra reference that wasn’t listed in their citation study by Groman, which is a single case study, not a research study discussing the effects of a German shepherd that was helicoptered or swung around with a choke chain, had neurological effects and had to be euthanized.
A literature review done in 2017 by Fernandez looking at aversive training techniques stated that they excluded this case study because it reports an isolated incident which clearly limits the strength of conclusions that can be drawn.
RSPCA Position Statement and not one factual reference to back it
So what you have here is the RSPCA Tasmania’s RSPCA Australia’s position statement on prong collars and why they should be banned, the harm that they inflict according to science and this is the organization that is working with governments in terms of changing legislation to ban these training tools. Yet none of the references that they provide back these statements that they’re making, some that are blatantly taken from other training tools or other studies that had nothing to do with prong collars.
It is research that the RSPCA has not included on their website that has looked at prong collars. So Go in 2012 compared prong collars, e collars and a force free quitting signal technique when training working military dogs.
This study showed that prong collars were more effective and less stressful than a force free quitting technique. Yet the RSPCA states that they cannot modify behavior and that rewards based methods are more effective. And again, the study that they’re quoting that from is an owner survey when no prong collars were included.
What’s more, veterinary chiropractor Dr. Daniel Kamen, a book called The Well Adjusted Dog discussed prong collars in comparison to other restraint devices.
He stated that the nature of the prong collar is such that it is almost impossible to cause injury to the dog, even if misused. Most literature suggests that the prong collar is the most effective and least dangerous of restraining collars due to the fact that the prong collar distributes pressure evenly around the neck, which is the reason for the prong collar’s design not to dig into a dog with metal spikes, but to distribute pressure evenly so as not to choke the dog. He does on to say that any individual would have to go out of their way to cause physical damage with this tool and it is arguable that any individual who would go through such effort would likely commit the same abuse or worse if a prong collar were not available. He goes on to state that there’s far greater potential for physical harm from the misuse of flat collars and harnesses than from prong collars, even if improperly used. The prong collar is designed to be safe whether you’re for or against the use of prong collars in training.
You cannot go against the fact that the RSPCA is using false information to base their position statements on which are being used to try and ban these tools. There is no scientific backing to their claims and they are taking information from studies which has nothing to do with the tools that they are trying to ban.