I never use a choker chain because I love my dogs and I don’t want to hurt them.

My theory as to why the use of choker chains is so common in the modern show ring goes something like this:

Once upon a time in the dark ages, someone came up with the idea that if you cannot control a dog with a soft neck collar, then a choker chain will make the dog subservient and do what the handler demands. Ever since, this concept has been foisted on dog handlers down through the ages and no-one has ever really challenged its logic.

Dog obedience schools around the world instruct first time attendees that they must put their dog on a choker chain. Animal welfare representatives routinely recommend choker chains in the media. Handler classes, breeders and breed clubs also condone this barbaric concept.

And yes, I know that they’re not called choker “chains” anymore but that is exactly what they are: by any other name, they’re still a chain and they still ckoke. To call them a “collar” is factually incorrect and the very definition of “choke” is to obstruct a person’s or animal’s airway; to make breathing or moving difficult. I bet I could get you to do anthything I wanted if I put one of these devises on you precisely because THEY HURT!

So why are loving and compassionate dog owners, who would never dream of striking their dog, willing to work with a dark ages device designed to inflict PAIN? Surely these owners would change if they knew there was a better alternative? Surely these loving and compassionate owners would switch straight away but they don’t. Why? Could it be that learning a new way, a gentler, more benevolent and considerate way, is it just too hard? Is it simply easier to go on choking their dogs into submission than learning a new skill? Surely not!

Any form of choking, whether it’s performed with a chain, soft cord fabric or leather, produces the same result: it inflicts pain on your beloved animal. The worst part is, it doesn’t have to be this way. If you don’t believe me, try this:

Tap the back of your hand with your left index finger as softly as you can. You can feel it, right? Well when you do the same thing to your dog, it can feel it too. Soft contact is all that is necessary to signal to your dog what you want it to do and this is true for ALL BREEDS OF DOGS. Yes, a tap as soft as this can effectively communicate to a dog exactly what you want it to do and any dog can be trained to perform the tasks we require of them without force simply by replacing force with a range of touch signals that the dog can understand.

What is even more amazing about this concept is that the softer the contact signal, the better it works to communicate your requirement to the dog. The fact is, no matter what lead, collar or chain you use, the pressure it applies is felt by your dog. If you’re applying that pressure by more than a soft touch, then you can be sure that the type of lead/collar/chain that you’re using isn’t the problem. No, the problem is you because you haven’t properly trained your dog to understand your touch signals.

People sometimes argue that choker chains are necessary for certain breeds but I’ve handled just about every breed of dog there is from Toys and Terriers to Hounds, Working dogs and numerous of the Mastiff family and have never used a choker chain. Yet every one of these dogs carried out everything I required of them with the softest of touch signals.

I firmly believe that the use of choker chains to handle show dogs is barbaric and only illustrates that those handlers who use them have never learnt – or have been willing to learn – a better way to show dogs, a way that is is gentler, kinder and more respectful of the animals they supposedly love.

A world famous breeder and handler once tried to convince me that choker chains were alright if used properly. It was their opinion that the dog would hear the ring coming up the links of the chain and react before the chain started to choke them. This may well be true but the behaviour of the dog is based on what behaviorists call negative reinforcement – that is, the dog is responding not because it wants to do something, but because it has been conditioned to avoid a negative stimulus, which in this case is pain. And this is my point: why do handlers continue to use an instrument of fear and pain to get their dogs to do what they want them to do, when they could be using positive reinforcementto achieve the same, if not better results?

9 thoughts on “Why do so many handlers use chains to show their dogs?

  1. Interesting concept BUT any sort of lead or collar used up behind the ears, whether a cloth or leather collar or a Resco is doing exactly the same as a choke chain no matter how light the handlers’ touch.
    If my dogs are having a negative experience when being walked with choker chains why do they rush to get them on ?
    My biggest hate are the so called “gentle leaders” so often seen on “much loved pets” nothing is more cruel than those.

  2. interesting view, I have trained on and used check chains fine jeweler link ones for near 40 years, they are strong escape proof and NEVER cruel, I hope you dont tell all your students this, pharaoh hounds are ALWAYS and I stipulate always shown on check chains, they will get out of a soft lead or martingale they are very cunning, and when I tell my puppy owners that is what they are to use, I certainly wont like someone else with no breed experience quoting otherwise.

    • HI Helen, your comments are very interesting especially your reference to sighthounds in particular. My personal experience with sighthounds is quite wide ranging and have found that when the lead is used incorrectly these breeds are very skilled at slipping their leads and must add so are a many other breeds, hence I agree with you. My philosophies and techniques in handling dogs contrasts to most other methods of show handling, when using the TOP DOG Handling approach there is no need for dogs to slip their leads. I utilize the three aids available to us to form one signal and always one signal for every specific task and the least important aid is touch (the lead). In fact the touch aid is so soft that there is no resistance to it and what fascinates most when learning this skill is the softer the touch the better it works. So I have found no need to show dogs on leads that choke to the contrary choking leads can be a significant hinderance in gaining the best performances out of sighthounds.

  3. I think this article is very narrow minded. I am a behavioural trainer, but have never used a chain to correct a behavioural problem. I do show some of my dogs on chains, with the lead held in my fingertips and my dogs have never been “corrected” by the chain. In fact my dogs would preform just the same without a lead as with it. Like any tool that is available to use with our dogs it is how it is used that makes it good or bad.

    • Thank you Liz for your comments they are appreciated but if your handling does not utilize the end result of a choking lead why do you feel the need to use one? Studies have shown that dogs use four forms of signals to communicate with each other, one we cannot use but the others are easy for us to employ and the most used is sight, the second is sound and the least used is touch. When the first two are used touch becomes almost irrelevant. If you tap the back of your left hand with your right index finger as softly as you can, dogs can feel that type of contact as well and if that is all the contact force you are going to use then is no need to have choking as a last resort in a handlers repertoire. Choking leads also have a number of distracting features when show handling.

  4. I checked my show kit box, and discover no chains in it, I always had long term problems getting toy dogs to adjust to my using a chain and hated them. Yes I have broken a dogs spirit using choker chain, I tried the index finger touch only to realise how sensitive it is to contact. yeah its a third aid in dog handling, I understand now why I handle dogs really well in the show ring, as people always comment as to how nicely a dog goes for me in the ring..

  5. I was once tasked with the retraining of a show collie that had been lead broken by someone who used coercive training techniques. This lovely bitch would run and hide when I picked up a collar and lead. If I put a chain choker on her, she would keep one ear turned backwards, listening for the telltale “clink” of the links moving through the ring, which warned her that pain was about to occur. I switched to a nylon choker, which was only marginally better. She still would be fearful of the sound of the two rings clinking together. I eventually used a Resco noose, which made no clinking sounds. I would then take her on long walks with a calm and stable male I had. It took months, but I eventually convinced this dog that being on a lead meant only good things. I showed her at a match show, where her tail never quit wagging, and her overall type and beauty and lovely flowing movement won her the group.

    Sadly, after she went back to her breeder, she was sold to someone in another part of the country who was not told to avoid any sort of choke collar. The dog was sent out to a show with a handler, where all of the retraining I had done was undone in one show. She was never shown again.

    • Marguerite, It is always distressing when this occurs and my sympathy always goes to the dog. The reason I now have this blog page is in some small way to try to persuade handlers that there is a better way to handle dogs and that does not require force. If with your right index finger tap the back of your left hand so softly you can hardly feel it – that is the type of contact I have with dogs that I handle, with this method there is no reason to use any style of choking collar. If I do not convince everyone then at least if I convert some then those dogs they handle will have a better life. Thank you for response and good handling in the future next time the dog you have may have a wonderful life. Best, Peter.

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