Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bad Idea: Can I Use a Coupler With Prong Collars?

This is easily the most cringe-worthy gear combination I've seen so far, though fortunately I don't see it often. Using a coupler to walk two dogs in prong collars could be no problem at all, or it could be so terrible that it causes lifelong behavior problems.

So what's the big deal?

A prong collar is a training tool designed to communicate a clear signal to the dog via the leash. When the collar is pulled tight, the prongs pinch the dog's neck, causing discomfort or pain depending on the dog in question. A lot of dogs are bred to be insensitive to pain in order to do their jobs, so prong collars tend to have less of a dramatic impact on gun dogs and bully breeds than they do on herding breeds. 
bad idea
They are staying in this picture, I wouldn't let them move in this ridiculous setup.
Photo by Erin Koski

Though prongs are meant for giving corrections via sharp jerks, the majority of people seem to use them as a device to discourage pulling. It's true, most insensitive dogs will pull hard enough to pinch their own necks a bit. These dogs do tend to respond to collar corrections as well, so the feeling of just casually pulling on leash wearing a prong must be significantly less than a hard collar pop.

For placid adult labs who don't tend to make sudden moves but do pull when not wearing a prong collar, connecting them together with a coupler is probably not the end of the world.

However, the whole picture changes when one of the dogs in question makes a sudden move. If one dog on a prong collar lunges or bolts suddenly, they will give themself a hard collar pop when they hit the end of the leash. If they are attached to another dog via a coupler, they will both feel it. This essentially means both dogs get punished if one moves too far from the other. If one of those dogs is excitable or reactive, they could both get a severe correction when that dog lunges.

It gets worse...

Constantly getting pinched for your buddy's bad behavior would make anyone feel less enthusiastic about him. But what if he does it whenever he sees something specific? Take a dog that gets overly excited or stressed at the sight of other dogs, coupled to a dog that doesn't care about other dogs. If both are wearing prongs, it would only take a few incidents of neck pinching before the second dog also thinks strange dogs are bad news.

A prong collar on a fairly resilient dog is not a huge concern for me, and I'd rather see that than a choke chain. Throw a second dog and a coupler in there though, and you have two dogs getting random punishments that they may learn to associate with each other, or just about anything in their environment. You wouldn't randomly punish your dog if he were on his own leash, so it's wise to leave the coupler and home and not randomly punish him for the movement of another dog. 

Couplers are for trained dogs on dog-friendly collars or harnesses. It's a bit more work walking two dogs on two leashes, but it's far kinder if you are using prong collars. You can leave one dog at home, enlist a helper, or just walk with one leash in each hand if you must take them both out.

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