In Praise of the Pinch Collar

The pinch collar is a much misunderstood, misused, and underused tool that can be of genuine value to the dog trainer.

By Guest Blogger, Pam Green

I believe that the cause of the misunderstandings lies partly in the appearance of this implement and partly in the names by which it is generally known, but mostly in a lack of thought about the relationship between this implement and that used by that supremest of all dog-trainers, the mamma-bitch.

My Theory on Why a Pinch collar works

Most people assume that the pinch collar works as a negative reinforcer or a punishment because it causes a sensation of pain.

Therefore, those who can’t stand the thought of inflicting pain on their beloved dog refuse to use a pinch collar. Those who see their dog as a willfully disobedient and defiant adversary or those who are angry with the dog, those who have for the moment forgotten their love for their dog, are often too willing to use pain as a motivator and assume the more, the better, thus use the pinch collar harder than necessary, often with adverse results. Those who love their dog but recognize that the contrast between pleasant and unpleasant results of the dog’s right or wrong response to a given stimulus greatly aid the dog in learning will generally read their dog well enough to use a pinch collar well, even though they believe that it works because it hurts.

I believe that the true power of the pinch collar is the similarity in the sensation it makes when popped and released to the sensation made by the mamma-bitch briefly grabbing the whelp by the neck with her teeth.

Thus the impact on the dog is through his social psychology by making the statement “I, your mother, don’t approve of your behavior” rather than through his self-preservation psychology by causing pain. Since the bitch rarely bites the puppy’s neck very hard, it should not be necessary to give more than a moderate pop on the pinch collar, and indeed, for the most part, I find that light to moderate “pop” is all that is needed. Only if the dog is quite excited with his attention intensely focused on some object or activity, thus dull to perceive other sensations, would a stronger jerk be needed for the dog to notice it and respond. Thus an appropriately gauged pop will gain the dog’s respect for the leadership of his handler and will impress him that the behavior in which he was engaged is disapproved, but it should not make him feel fearful. I hope the recognition that one does not necessarily need to inflict severe pain on the dog will encourage those of you who have heretofore been unwilling to use this useful device to try it — especially if your training mentor advises you to do so and is willing to supervise your first few attempts.

In line with this “sensation of mamma’s teeth” theory, we might also put this quality to work when we give a scruff shake or a muzzle-surrounded-by-hands type rebuke by including a bit of poking or pinching sensation from our fingernails to simulate the teeth of the bitch. (Those who bite their nails are out of luck.) Those who use any of the muzzle-constriction halter-like devices sold under various names (“Halti,” “Kumalong”) are also utilizing a mamma-bitch rebuke and could emphasize this (if needed) by putting a few blunt rubber nubs on the inner surface of the noseband.

(Update: “Kumalong” seems to have dropped by the wayside, but the “Halti” has become popular, and the halter formerly known as “Promise” and now known as “Gentle Leader” has become popular. Today everyone advocating the use of halters proclaims that the psychological basis is the communication of social dominance, i.e., the mamma-bitch message and the pack-leader message, telling the dog to relax and be subordinate and follow the leader’s cues.)

The Ghastly Appearance of the Pinch Collar

There’s little doubt that the appearance of the pinch collar, looking very barbaric, causes many people to believe it must be an instrument of torture.

Those who know better may still be unwilling to use one in public because they fear the disapproval of those who see this ugly contraption and believe it to be an implement of torment. Well, there’s an easy answer: camouflage. You could tie a bandanna over the pinch collar, which looks quite jaunty and is considered stylish by some. You could stitch a wide flat band of leather or fabric to the outside of the pinch collar. My own answer has been to flatten the links slightly and slip the collar inside a length of 2″ wide tubular nylon webbing (from the camping store), then poke the prongs through the inner surface of the webbing. The sole disadvantage of the latter two methods is that they make it difficult to shorten the collar by removing links; one can still add links easily to lengthen it. Any experienced dog trainer will quickly spot a camouflaged pinch collar and smile knowingly, but the non-dog training ignorant member of the public will never guess. Those matches that forbid the use of pinch collars will generally forbid a camouflaged pinch, even though the reason given for the prohibition is “well, we are in a public place, and so we have to think about the way we appear to the general public.” (Note: halters are also disallowed at AKC events. The rationale for this is totally unclear to me.)

(Update: interestingly, those who use a halter often find that members of the ignorant general public look at it and think it is a muzzle and that, therefore, the dog wearing it must be a dangerous biter. So much so that “Gentle Leader” sells a button one can wear on one’s shirt that proclaims, “It’s NOT a muzzle!” Of course, many who use halters welcome the chance to educate others about what they really are. As these tools have become more popular, the public recognition of them as a pleasant means of dog control has increased.)

What’s In a Name?

Plenty!  The names “pinch collar,” “prong collar,” and “spike collar” certainly tend to foster the belief that the collar operates using pain.

These names discourage many people who need such a collar to control a strong or unruly dog from using them.

Many shrewd training class leaders have recognized this and therefore refer to this tool as a “power steering” collar or as “the equalizer.” These names seem to help to make those who need this tool more willing to use it. Such names imply that the handler uses it to compensate for his relative lack of physical strength compared to the dog, which is often true for many women and slightly more than middle-aged persons when dealing with a healthy and exuberant young Bouvier or Rottweiler. Still, the implication is that the collar operates in the physical realm rather than the psychological one and fails to emphasize the concept of the mamma-bitch.

Let me suggest to those looking for another name for our friend the pinch collar they might refer to as the “mamma-bitch” collar or the “listen to me; I am your Mother !” collar.

Yea, verily, if thou wouldst train thy dog, thou shouldst go to the bitch: consider thou the ways of the mamma-bitch and emulate her!

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