Let’s talk about choke chains. They’re also known as check chains, chain collars, training collars, choke collars, etc. Actually, each one of these names provides some insight into the nature of this tool.


If you call it a choke chain or choke collar, everyone will know what you’re talking about but, defenders of the collar will immediately add that the proper name is chain training collar or check collar.


It might be a good idea to stick with calling it a choke chain just because the name provides a constant reminder of the power this tool has and the damage that can be done if the collar is used improperly.


There’s no question that this type of collar can choke a dog. That’s a good reason for calling it a training collar or training choke chain. We would be reminded that this type of collar should only be used while the dog is being trained and is under the direct supervision of the handler.


Standard nylon or leather collars place all the pulling pressure on the trachea when pulled or jerked upwards. When jerked sideways a standard collar transfers the energy of the jerk to the dog’s neck. A choke chain, properly used, tightens with a noisy rattle that gets the dog’s attention and provides the necessary correction long before it fully constricts and begins to transfer the pulling energy to the neck or spine.


Any training tool that has the power to change an animal’s behavior also has the power to hurt them. The way to avoid hurting your dog with a choke chain is to put the collar on correctly and use it correctly.


To put the collar on right, just hold it so it forms a letter “P” and place it on the dog. This insures that the loose end of the collar lies across the top of the dog’s neck. This is assuming that you heel your dog on your left side. The left-side-heel is a tradition that comes to us from gun dogs that are trained to heel on the opposite side of a right handed hunter’s gun.


A serious problem occurs when inexperienced handlers use a choke chain to stop a dog that is lunging and pulling while on a leash. The collar can be used to teach a dog to walk nicely on a lead but it is not a quick fix for the dog that thinks he’s running the Iditirod.


People sometimes buy a choke chain or a prong collar because they have a dog that pulls their arm out of the socket every time they try to take him somewhere on a leash. There’s something about our society that leads us to believe that we can purchase a solution to every problem.


This must be what’s going on when a customer says to me, “I couldn’t get him to walk on a leash so I put him on a choke chain and he’s still pulling”. Yeah, he’s still pulling, but not quite as hard because now you’ve got his windpipe squeezed down to the size of a drinking straw. That might be why he’s making that funny wheezing noise too!


No, really, the only proper way to use the choke chain is to leave it slack except when you want to give correction with small, quick jerks. The chain should relax and slack immediately after each jerk. If you can’t keep your dog from pulling, even with common methods, then perhaps the choke chain is not the tool you should be using or maybe you need to talk to a trainer and get some tips on how to get your dog to respond without choking him until he keels over.