5 Of The Most Dangerous Types of Dog Collars When Improperly Used

Aversion collars can cause serious physical injury and, even more frequently lead to long term psychological trauma.

A dog collar is likely the first purchase every owner makes for their pooch. Every dog needs a collar to display identification and medical information. And, they can make for adorable fashion statements, giving your pup a little extra character.

However, pet owners and trainers often resort to using negative reinforcement or “aversion” collars in an attempt to train their dogs out of undesirable behaviors. Whether it’s leash pulling, jumping on the furniture, or incessant barking, there’s a collar that claims to eradicate each unwanted behavior. Every one of these collars relies on using punishment to train your dog. While aversion collars are sometimes successful as a quick fix to terminate specific behaviors, when used improperly or unsupervised  they can cause physical injury and, frequently lead to long term psychological trauma.

Following are the 5 most dangerous:

1. Choke Collars

According to PETA.org, “the use of choke collars has been associated with whiplash, fainting, and spinal cord injuries, leading to paralysis, crushing of the trachea with partial or complete asphyxiation, crushing and/or fracture of the bones in the larynx, dislocated neck bones, bruising of the esophagus, bruising and damage to the skin and tissues in the neck, brain damage and prolapsed eyes caused by sharp increases in pressure in the head, and other injuries.

Not to mention the obvious – being CHOKED – leads to psychological issues, such as increased fear and aggression.

Dog wearing a choke collar


2. Prong Collars

In addition to choking, prong collars can easily scratch and tear your dog’s skin, leading to a build up of scar tissue. Scar tissue means nerve damage, which means your dog will become desensitized to the pain the collar delivers and, will likely continue the undesirable behavior you are attempting to correct.

Dog putting on a prong collar


3. Shock Collars

There is no way to candy-coat it; when you use a shock collar on your dog, you are administering physical pain and injury. The act of being consistently electrocuted (however “gently”) can lead to long term health issues, ranging from heart and respiratory conditions to gastrointestinal disorders. And, there’s always the chance that the collar malfunctions and issues nonstop shocks.

Dog wearing a shock collar


4. Citronella Dog Collars

While a gentle spritz in the face of a non-toxic substance seems more reasonable than the collars above, it is still not a humane way to train your dog. It is highly possible that the collar’s sensors are sensitive enough to pick up on other dogs barking, thereby punishing the dog wearing the collar for something that they didn’t do. And, let’s be honest – getting sprayed in the face with a chemical is still seriously unpleasant.

Dog wearing a citronella correction collar


5. Head Collar

Head collars (also known as head halters or, gentle leaders) consist of a strap that fastens around the back of the neck and over the muzzle. This type of collar focuses on controlling the head by putting pressure on the sides of the muzzle, making it more difficult for a strong or reactive dog to pull. While it does avoid the problem of putting pressure on the windpipe, it does not come without its dangers. As with the other collars mentioned above, the head collar still relies on using discomfort to redirect the dog. If the dog’s head was to be jerked suddenly, it could result in a serious neck injury. These types of collars are also more difficult to fit on dogs. And, a head collar that is too tight can cause pain by digging into the dog’s eyes, or create skin abrasions from rubbing.

Dog wearing a head collar


So, what is the safest collar?

The safest collar is the buckle collar (sometimes known as a flat collar) which is best used for displaying identification tags and necessary health information. However, actually hooking your leash up directly to a buckle collar still puts your dog’s well being at risk. If your dog pulls consistently or, if he suddenly sees something and lunges, the quick pull on the leash will still snap on your pups neck potentially causing long term damage. The safest way to walk your dog is using a combination of a buckle collar (for ID)and a body harness (for the leash) to avoid all strain on the neck.

Effective training should be force-free, humane and science-based. No matter what the behavior, correcting your best friend through positive reinforcement using clickers, treats, food, and praise will yield better long term results and create a deeper bond between you and your dog. There’s no doubt that it takes more effort and consistency on the human’s part, but there is no greater reward than having a truly happy and healthy canine companion.

Dog chilling in a collar and body harness


Photo Sources: Feature Image 1. Instagram 2. Instagram 3. Instagram 4. Instagram 5. Instagram

Safe Collar



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  • Hey, Nicole. Great article!
    I’m going to play the Devil’s advocate here, as well as shed some light on the very safe and appropriate ways to use these tools, as many of them have incredible benefits. They exist for a reason!
    1. First, I am going to say that any tool can be dangerous when used improperly. A shovel is a simple tool, but can be used to cause damage or even fatally wound someone. The same can be said for nail clippers, even combs, which are both standard grooming tools that people use quite often. These tools have an intended purpose, and then they have potential. You must realize that these are vastly different aspects of the tool.
    2. Another incredibly important and necessary aspect of dog training is finding the tool that a) is effective for your dog, b) is safe for your dog, and c) is a tool you are confident in operating. Every dog learns differently and responds to different training tools in a unique manner. – ex. you will not be able to train two dogs in the exact same way.
    3. Prong Collars: The danger with prong collars has everything to do with the execution and fit of the collar. Using a collar that is too large or too small for your dog can indeed do damage, the same as any regular collar. You do not want unnecessary pressure on your dog’s throat, nor do you want the collar to be so loose that it is not effective. The execution of these collars is imperative to understand, because they are not intended to a) be left on during play or strenuous activity, b) be pulled tight all of the time. Their intended use is to prevent dogs from pulling in a quick fashion, which is especially handy if you have a reactive dog. They have prevented close encounters with my own dogs, whether they were planning to chase a squirrel into traffic, or react to an aggressive dog. These collars sit loose enough that the prongs do not bother the dog, but are quickly pulled tight when needed. When used properly, one jerk is all that is needed to correct the behavior or distract the dog. If it doesn’t work, then you are either using it wrong, or this is not the tool for your dog.
    4. Electric Training Collars: You titled them “shock collars”, which is your first mistake. There is actually no shocking of any kind involved. The “shock” is a stimulation of the muscles, which effects dogs different based on their size. Every e-collar will have an adjustable voltage level to ensure that you are using what is appropriate for your dog. The next mistake you made was saying that this is a negative reinforcement tactic. Though it can certainly be used that way, that was not its intended purpose, nor is it the appropriate one. The e-collar is a distraction technique, often used for recall, or on reactive dogs who need to be distracted from reacting to a situation. Anyone who uses an e-collar as a form of “punishment” is using it incorrectly. As well, most e-collars, at least the good ones, have a vibrate function. THIS is what people use. The voltage function should only be used in emergencies, where you feel like your dog is putting themselves or someone else in danger. These e-collars are an incredible form of non-verbal communication between dogs and humans, and are the reason why many deaf dogs are able to explore off leash. Hunting dogs also benefit greatly, as they can travel distances out of earshot of their owner, but still be recalled if necessary.
    5. Head Halties and Gentle Leads: These are safe and effective tools. In all my years of dog ownership and walking, I have never heard of one of these harming a dog. You would have to pull very hard to injure your animal, and if you feel the need to yank your dog around by the face, you either shouldn’t have a dog, or you need a new tool. Period.
    6. Flat collars are actually quite dangerous, because MOST people do not use them correctly. A flat collar should be used on fewer dogs as a walking tool, and more dogs as a place to hang their name tag. By pulling on a flat collar, you actually risk causing irreparable damage to your dog’s vertebrae. The only appropriate way to use these collars is to have your dog’s vertebrae measured, and have a custom collar made or locate a collar that matches the size of the vertebrae or is larger. That way, you reduce the risk of pulling and causing space between the vertebrae (which is a common issue with dogs.)

    The most dangerous of the ones listed are the “choke chains.” These truly have no place in the training world, and are merely decorative pieces that could potentially injure your animal. No collar that promotes loss of circulation or breathing should be used as a training tool.

    The safest collar is the collar used properly! Find one that works for your dog, learn how to use it safely and effectively, and educate yourself on other tools, so you don’t make the mistake of giving incorrect advice.

    Education is key!

    • This is all great information!

      If only every person buying theses collars was trained to use the collar correctly! I guess I should have prefaced with a note that if you have a dog who needs correcting, please get guidance/ training from a specialized dog trainer who will give you the tools that are right for your dog and teach you how to use them properly.

      Thank you for your feedback. It is totally valid.

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