Can Choke Chains Harm Dogs?

Choke chains are meant to correct pulling on lead and unruly dog behavior, but these collars might do more harm than good because they constrict your dog’s neck.

Feb 3, 2024By Lisa Szymanski
can choke chains harm dogs

Choke chains or choke collars have been around for years and are meant to restrict a dog’s forward movement when they pull against it. It was a common training tool way back in the 1900s, but today the use of these collars is frowned upon. While there is a way to use a choke collar, the pressure it places around a dog’s neck can injure them. To better understand the purpose of choke collars along with their pros and cons, let’s answer the question, can choke chains harm dogs?

What Exactly is a Choke Chain for Dogs?

brown dog wearing silver choke chain
Choke chains are metal collars.

The choke chain was introduced to train dogs that were difficult to handle wearing soft collars. They were designed with strong metal links to withstand the force of a running, lunging, or jumping dog. In addition to providing a reinforced collar, handlers would correct pets that wouldn’t respond to their commands with a forceful jerk. These metal link collars were used to provide a harsh punishment for dogs by tightening around their necks with increased tension. The interlocking design constricts around their necks the more they tug. Sadly, trainers would use the chain to choke dogs that would misbehave by pulling and holding the chain. The tighter the pull, the more it would choke the dog.

Is There a Proper Way to Use a Choke Chain?

pitbull and bulldog pulling on lead in snow
A dog can sustain an injury by tugging against the choker.

A choke chain can be used with small to large dogs during training when you want a heavy-duty collar that won’t slip off their heads. Once the collar is in position, it must be loose, and the longest part of the chain positioned on the side of the dog’s neck. When teaching your dog to walk properly on lead, a short and sudden sideway tug should be enough to give your dog a correction. The chain is not meant to be held upwards or pulled sideways for long periods.

For large dogs that are difficult to control, the chain is supposed to prevent them from lunging, running, or pulling you off your feet. It does this by closing the loop around their neck the more the chain is tugged. It stops dogs from moving forward and distracts them from continuing with unwanted behavior. Unfortunately, in restricting or tugging your dog, there is the possibility of placing too much pressure on the head and neck area. This can lead to quite severe injuries and is the reason that many trainers don’t advocate the use of these collars today.

The Truth About Whether Choke Collars Are Harmful for Dogs

French bulldog wearing a gold chain and colorful jacket
Modern chokers are available in different sizes, colors, and styles.

Chokers have gone from sheer torture devices for robust dogs to becoming fashion accessories for all breeds from sausage dogs to pitbulls. But the problem is that even if these collars aren’t used forcefully, they can still cause damage. For example, bully breeds with a lot of power are known to pull against their collars and leads. In doing so, they choke themselves but these dogs don’t always stop pulling even as the choke chain tightens around their necks. They continue to lunge and pull and eventually, they start coughing and hacking because of the pressure placed on their throats.

Many dogs have suffered from cervical vertebrae injuries and neck sprains due to the forceful use of these chains. Other types of injuries include nerve damage, swollen eyes, temporary voice loss, and fainting. Not only is the incorrect use of these collars physically harmful to dogs but when used in frustration, it creates anxiety.

The Differences Between a Choke and Prong Collar

black dog wearing a prong collar
A prong collar has visible spokes or prongs that dig into your dog’s neck.

While prong and choke collars are similar in overall style, there is a big difference in the way they work. Both types of collars consist of metal links that tighten as they’re pulled. Choke collars are meant to loop over your dog’s head and provide a nice loose fit compared to the snug position of a prong collar. Prong collars include rounded metal spokes that turn inward toward your dog’s neck compared to the smooth links of a choker.

While the use of both types of collars is questionable, prong collars pinch and dig into the skin around your dog’s neck. Even if they don’t tug too much while walking on lead, the slightest tension can cause the spokes to bruise their delicate skin. Of course, if dogs show high resistance and pull continuously on a prong collar, the spokes could puncture their skin. In the same scenario, a choke collar will close around the neck and constrain them causing them to suffocate.

Should You Use a Choke Chain to Train Your Dog?

German shepherd in snow wearing double choke chain
Choke chains are commonly used to train dogs that pull on lead.

Choke chains remain popular collars because they’re long-lasting, reliable, and easy to use. The debate as to whether you should train your dog using a choker is a difficult one. Some dogs learn how to walk on lead very quickly using choke collars because the yanking technique is a form of punishment. More powerful breeds that break soft collars or pull terribly on harnesses will wear metal check chains to give their owners more control.

But too much force when tugging on the collar or keeping a tight grip causing the chain to constrict your dog’s neck, will cause problems. It’s also not fair to use fear and pain as a form of training. There is also a high risk of severe injuries the more dogs fight against the metal noose placed around their necks. Alternative collars such as gentle leaders, no pull harnesses, and slip collars can help you better train a pulling dog without the risk of strangulation. I use a head collar or halti to walk my Boerboel, which has actually been more effective than the choker. Whatever you choose, always educate yourself on the correct use of the collar, and if your dog’s behavior is an issue, consider hiring a trainer.

Lisa Szymanski
By Lisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the "queens of the yard," Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.