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Friday, 22 May 2009

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We all know that choke chains are a big no-no in training, but what about so-called 'half-checks'? I assumed they'd be frowned upon too, but they seem very popular - even in training classes. Are they cruel?
Viv Green, by email

Half checks come under various names, such as Martingale collar or 'combi' collar, and as the name suggests, part of the collar is made up of a chain, with the rest being like a traditional flat collar.
Like a full choke chain, the potential is there to use a half check inappropriately - to stop the dog from pulling by the collar tightening around the neck and effectively choking the poor animal. But then, a standard collar can be used cruelly too if the handler is intent on using harsh methods when training.
Half checks have their advocates. Some owners of heavy-coated dogs sometimes prefer half-checks, as they do not affect the neck coat as much as an ordinary collar, and they also stop narrow-headed dogs (such as sighthounds) backing out of a collar and running off. And for those with arthritic hands, who may find buckles difficult to negotiate, they are easier to put on a dog.
"The APDT has no issue with members using half-check collars for these reasons, provided they are fitted correctly and not used to jerk and copy the action of a full choke chain in any way," said a spokesperson for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.
Correct fitting is crucial, to ensure they do not inflict harm. "They should be fitted so that, when tightened, the two rings actually meet around the dog's neck, with sufficient space for two fingers to be slipped against the neck, under the collar, in exactly the same way as a flat collar would be fitted. This ensures that the half-check collar cannot be used as a choke collar when the lead tightens.
"However, if fitted so that the two rings do not meet, half-check collars can, of course, be used to copy the unpleasant and painful action of a full choke chain. Unfortunately, some unenlightened owners still use the collar with the intention to jerk, choke and intimidate dogs. To make matters worse, it has recently become fashionable again to fit collars that slip, tight up behind the dog's ears. This disgusting practice, seem by some as a 'miracle' that stops dogs from pulling, does so because when the lead tightens the collar causes extreme pain to the TMJs (temporomandibular joints - hinges of the jaws) and the pressure points at the base of the skull. The UK APDT does not endorse methods of training that cause pain and discomfort so would take seriously a complaint against a member using this collar contrary to our code of practice and ethic of kind, fair, effective training."
The APDT concludes by saying, "It is most definitely against the UK APDT policy to use any collar to jerk, pull or choke a dog."
Claire Horton-Bussey, Dogs Today

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