Choke chains in the UK are more commonly known as check chains, martingale collars, check collars, and you get half check collars too. They are not always made from chains but can be fabric like Nylon. The key feature to them is how one side goes through the loop of the other to allow it to slide through and tighten. Slip leads work in the same way.
Why do dog owners and balanced trainers use them?
A dog wearing a choke chain may appear to have a behavioural change, stop pulling on the lead or stop reactive behavioural all together. The use of a "pop" can be used to tighten the collar when the handler wants. On the surface, the owner or balanced trainer will see a well-behaved dog, problem solved... right? But you'll find these people are unaware of how these collars work.
How does it work?
As the dog pulls on the lead, the collar tightens. The more the dog pulls, the tighter the collar gets, with no stopper to prevent it from strangling.
So when the dog performs the behaviour, for example pulling on the lead to bark at another dog, the collar tightens and causing pressure on the dog's neck and thus pain. They associate the presence of another dog with further pain.
Your dog learns that no matter what they do to try to get the other dog to leave them alone, it doesn't work and causes further pain. Therefore, they give up trying, known as learned helplessness.
Consequently, these collars tackle the behavioural problem, but not the cause. As a result, the dog still has the fear that caused the behavioural problem in the first place.
What are the problems with this?
The tightening of the collar puts pressure on the internal organs in the neck. There are several scientific studies (referenced at bottom of page) showing the damage caused to the soft tissues, even showing damage to the eyes and neurological damage caused by these collars. Dogs can be strangled to the point of suffocation with loss of consciousness and even death as a result of these collars.
Looking at any dog wearing this type of collar, many signs of stress can be seen. This includes panting, lip licking, yawning, lowering of the body and seeing the whites of the eyes. This demonstrates the level of fear and anxiety in the dog. The fear of the initial trigger e.g. another dog, is still present and likely increased due to the association of their presence and neck pain. As such, these collars will need to be used forever to prevent problems from reoccurring.
Learned helplessness is linked with depression, reduced motivation and increased stress levels. Further behavioural problems can occur as a result, such as soiling in the house.
Choke chains cause pain, internal damage and psychological damage. Before choosing to use one, consider:
Do you want to cause your dog pain?
Is a quick 'fix' worth internal damage?
Would your dogs suppressed emotions be worth it?
Do you use a choke train on your dog? Looking to change to positive training methods?
Get in contact for free support and advice.
Greenebaum, J.B., 2010. Training dogs and training humans: Symbolic interaction and dog training. Anthrozoös, 23(2), pp.129-141.
Grohmann, K., Dickomeit, M.J., Schmidt, M.J. and Kramer, M., 2013. Severe brain damage after punitive training technique with a choke chain collar in a German shepherd dog. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 8(3), pp.180-184.
Hamor, R.E., Gerding Jr, P.A., Ramsey, D.T., Whiteley, H.E., Benson, G.J. and Schaeffer, D.J., 2000. Evaluation of short-term increased intraocular pressure on flash-and pattern-generated electroretinograms of dogs. American journal of veterinary research, 61(9), pp.1087-1091.
Ogden, D., Baines, S. and Beck, A., 2007. Bilateral thyrohyoideus muscle rupture in a dog. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 48(7), pp.400-403.
Hamon, M., Picavet, P., Etienne, A.L., Guieu, L.V., Billen, F. and Noël, S., 2018. Bilateral laryngeal paralysis secondary to traumatic nerve damage in two dogs.
Herron, M.E., Shofer, F.S. and Reisner, I.R., 2009. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 117(1-2), pp.47-54.
Makowska, I.J., 2018. Review of dog training methods: welfare, learning ability, and current standards.
Pauli, A.M., Bentley, E., Diehl, K.A. and Miller, P.E., 2006. Effects of the application of neck pressure by a collar or harness on intraocular pressure in dogs. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 42(3), pp.207-211.
Piette, S., Liebmann, J.M., Ishikawa, H., Gürses-Özden, R., Buxton, D. and Ritch, R., 2003. Acute conformational changes in the optic nerve head with rapid intraocular pressure elevation: implications for LASIK surgery. Ophthalmic Surgery, Lasers & Imaging Retina, 34(4), p.334.
Rooney, N.J. and Cowan, S., 2011. Training methods and owner–dog interactions: links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 132(3-4), pp.169-177.
Schuman, J.S., Massicotte, E.C., Connolly, S., Hertzmark, E., Mukherji, B. and Kunen, M.Z., 2000. Increased intraocular pressure and visual field defects in high resistance wind instrument players. Ophthalmology, 107(1), pp.127-133.
Teng, C., Gurses-Ozden, R., Liebmann, J.M., Tello, C. and Ritch, R., 2003. Effect of a tight necktie on intraocular pressure. British Journal of Ophthalmology, 87(8), pp.946-948.
Ziv, G., 2017. The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs—A review. Journal of veterinary behavior, 19, pp.50-60.