Choke or check chains have been around for many years and are often recommended in dog training classes. They are designed to stop dogs pulling on a lead through the application of pain.
Do they work? No, or we wouldn’t keep seeing handlers continually jerking on the chain!
There are many problems with the use of choker chains.
Firstly, the potential for physical harm – with sufficient force or repetitive jerks on the chain the dog can suffer:
- Damage to the trachea (windpipe) and oesophagus
- Severely sprained neck
- Loss of consciousness
- Transient foreleg paralysis
- Laryngeal nerve paralysis
Secondly, the potential for mental harm – if enough force is used to cause pain then the dog can become fearful of the handler or even associate the pain with something else happening at the time. If the dog is looking or seeking attention from another dog and gets a hard jerk on the lead and choke chain it may actually become fearful of and aggressive towards other dogs.
The problem with applying punishment to teach dogs is that it has to be sufficiently averse and of increasing intensity to keep working, which is inhumane for the dog.
Most dog owners don’t jerk the chain but are taught that once the dog has stopped pulling forward to loosen the choke chain. This is negative reinforcement – removing the unpleasant pressure from the chain so the dog learns that it is more pleasant to walk nicely on a loose lead than to pull on it.
Does this work? Not always. The problem is that most people don’t have precise enough timing in releasing the pressure, or releasing it every time, for the dog to associate the loosening of the chain with not pulling.
It is much safer and more pleasant for the dog to use positive reinforcement training instead. Head halters are often recommended as an alternative for making walking easier and, for the most part, they are great. However, head collars do require the owner habituating the dog to wearing one and fitting it correctly to be effective.
Now we have front-attaching harnesses that make life much easier! When dogs pull on leash they lean forward, using their weight and strength to pull against the lead. We often reinforce this by pulling back on the leash and inadvertently train the dog to pull even harder. A front-attaching harness leads from the front and helps break this feed-back training. It also helps train your dog to balance on all fours when on the lead.
You still have to be consistent and the key is to praise your dog whenever it is walking well. Happy owner, happy dog, happy walking!