Training collars are not inherently inhumane

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To the editor:

Your June 6 Pet Matters column was very disappointing, as it was full of misinformation and opinion presented as fact. We were also alarmed because the incident described seemed to occur at a store like ours in Alexandria. In fact, we have had several clients ask if the dog in question was fitted for a pinch collar by our staff.

We don’t have pinch collars on our retail floor as we feel strongly that the owner should have guidance and take an appropriate training class before using one. If this dog was fitted at our school, not only did the author, Isabel Alvarez, decide to describe her take on this particular dog without knowing anything about the pet’s temperament or history, but she also waylaid a customer in our — or someone else’s — place of business by saying how she felt the dog should be trained with no regard for the business owner’s rights.

Given the column’s title, “What your choice of collar says about you,” and that the gist of the article was that training collars — in particular chain or pinch collars — were cruel and inhumane, readers must logically conclude that people who use them are cruel and inhumane themselves. Not only is this conclusion wildly incorrect, it also is an attempt to publicly shame anyone who chooses to safely train a dog with one of these collars.

The author identified herself as a pet expert who has walked hundreds of dogs over the years. While this certainly entitles Alvarez to an opinion, it does not qualify her as a dog-training expert.

The pinch collar is an effective and humane training tool, which when used correctly has saved many dogs’ lives. It allows elderly and disabled owners the ability to walk and keep their beloved pets. It gives owners with insensitive or difficult dogs the ability to get the pet’s attention and work through problems.

Alvarez describes the collar as a “medieval-looking thing, designed to poke the skin and tighten around the neck,” and says it consists of “a few pounds of metal.” Weighing the collars we use, the heaviest one was about seven ounces. The prongs are smooth, not sharp and often guarded with rubber tips if the dog is sensitive.

In a perfect world, we could train all dogs with a food-based reward method (something we also incorporate into our balanced method). We would work only with flat collars and harnesses or, as Alvarez described them, “humane restraints.” Dog training would be so much easier if that was all that was required.

But having trained more than 40,000 dogs and owners through our school in the past 37 years, we have chosen a balanced method that gets the job done as well as keeps dogs in their homes and out of shelters and rescue organizations. Through a structured, fair and consistent training program, the school has saved many dogs from losing their homes or their lives.

If our balanced method, which produces excellent results, is “old school” — as Alvarez argues — it also is very effective. We have helped thousands of happy dogs and owners.

Our school stays full with a months-long waiting list. I don’t think that would be the case if our choice of equipment was abusing or frightening dogs.
Good dog trainers pick the equipment that is safest and most appropriate for a dog’s structure and temperament. This means the owner and instructor must keep an open mind as to what is best for each dog. It is our sincere hope that people not feel shamed or bullied into believing that working with their dog using a training collar makes them inhumane.

We hope that all dog owners take it upon themselves to do their research regarding training methods. Hopefully, in doing their research, they will observe dogs working with different equipment and methods around distractions while in real-world circumstances. Only then can they make a decision regarding what is best for their dog.
– Carlos and Sandy Mejias
Olde Towne School 
for Dogs Inc.