Looking online for a dog to adopt may be almost as popular today as looking online for a human to date. Both pursuits require serious common-sense guidelines for safety’s sake.
You’ve probably read lots of warnings about what to do and not do when you’re looking for romance online, but if you’re looking online for a dog to adopt, what standard precautions should you take?
What can you learn from an online dog-for-adoption listing?
Let’s talk about what we see. The first thing is the photo. What does the photo of a dog for adoption tell you about the dog?
Not much, right? You look for the likely breed or mix, the size, the age . . . and that so-very-important first impression: What do you feel about the dog from the photo you’re seeing?
Again, it’s not wholly different than online dating. That “feeling,” that first impression, may well influence your decision whether or not to look further into the full information available about that dog.
Is that first impression important? You bet it is!
Your initial “take” on the dog from a photo may make you stop, look, and read more—or simply scroll on. It’s an adoptable dog’s first and maybe best chance to connect with humans who could become family!
Is the dog in a shelter or fostered through a rescue? Will you take the next step, pick up the phone, ask if you can meet? Has a photo just given that dog a good shot at finding a great home?
We can all agree—shelters and rescues owe it to the dogs they advertise online to do everything possible to make their online listings the best that they can be. And photos are important.
That is why I wanted to know more about people’s first impressions when dogs in online-adoption photos are wearing training equipment—which would include “tools” that work punitively, by causing the dog discomfort or pain, like the prong or “pinch” collar I see in photos frequently.
What’s a prong collar?
Here’s one dog-lover’s first experience with that particular tool:
Susan Knight Riggins Waters (Washington) Once upon a time, my wayward daughter showed up with a dog she had adopted from somewhere. The dog was large but still a puppy and totally untrained. My daughter brought a “friend” who said she was an expert at training “unruly” dogs with the aid of her prong collar. It was so cruel, watching the “expert” yank this poor dog around with that torturous collar. We threw the collar away and kept the dog until we could find a good home for him. He really was a lovely dog who just needed some attention and love. I cannot understand why people use things like that collar.
I asked dog professionals this question: “When you see a photo from a shelter or rescue of a dog in a prong collar, what do you think?” Here’s how they answered:
Leslie McGavin Clifton (Florida) I would personally hate a shelter to promote rescue with that image. It contradicts the notion that dogs are moving toward a better life! Based on one image, I would want to find out about the shelter’s dog-handling philosophies in general.
Flacortia Rosiea (Canada) Do Not Adopt from that place—at least I wouldn’t. The type of “training” that requires such equipment tends to suppress behavior rather than deal with the reason for the behavior.
Katt Patt (Washington) Since prongs can be so easily abused, I would think that rescue/shelter is having trouble controlling their dogs. Very few people should use a prong.
Lisa Marie (Canada) The prong doesn’t necessarily say anything about the dog. There may be issues, including a simple lack of training; there may not be. What it does say is that the shelter is using outdated, forceful methods on the animals in their care. They need to be educated and adopt better protocols. Many use a prong as their “go to” equipment whether the dog has issues or not. Either way, the dog is building associations and learning things that will be damaging to him and his potential adopters.
Christine Hale Vertucci (Illinois) I’d think that the shelter or rescue’s PR team didn’t do their job.
Sarah Adams (Oregon) I would not be impressed. I think they should be promoting their dogs. They really can’t put something cute on the dog, to make it seem more approachable? The prong makes it look like the dog is difficult to manage. Maybe it is difficult to manage, but that’s not a good first impression.
Dawn Elberson Goehring (Hawaii) I hate it because of the perception it gives the public. I believe a dog like that is more likely to be judged before the person even meets the dog. From a dog-owner’s perspective, a prong collar or a choke collar says this dog is a puller or a strong dog or needs a “heavy” style of training. I am not saying I would make [those] assumptions, but the general public does. I don’t think shelters should [post photos of dogs in prong collars] because John Q. Public has a tendency to judge.
Debby McMullen (Pennsylvania) I would not promote a picture of dog from a rescue or shelter who is wearing a prong collar because it sends the wrong message. It sends the wrong message because it’s an antiquated tool that is not necessary. I would never want anyone interested in a dog to think this is what they need in order to function. It’s wrong on several levels. Simply taking appropriate pictures of a dog to promote them for a rescue or shelter is a far better option. But the archaic prong collar on the dog says that it needs this [collar], and that, since the rescue does it, it must be okay. And that’s not okay.
Photo by Steven Cogswell
Frances Dauster (Alabama) The rescue drops down in my estimation of them—big-time. If the collar is oversized/too loose, even worse (if there could be worse). A rescue that puts dogs in prong [collars] isn’t, in my opinion, up to par/up to date on modern principles, medically or behaviorally. I’m too educated/bull-headed/snooty not [to look for] the education that I believe a good rescue should have. Basically, if you’re dealing with a subject, KNOW THE SUBJECT. I’m burnt out with dozens of local rescues. I’ve given up locally.
George Guba (Virginia) Personally, I would prefer not to see a prong collar, Halti [head collar], or a bandana on a dog they are seeking homes for, or one advertising the shelter. I feel that it presents too much norming for the behavior, whether there is a reason for it or not. Too many people will look for a tool, rather than proper training with the dog. Prong collars can be a proper tool, just like Haltis or any other collar. However, any tool should be the appropriate tool with the appropriate training. I feel that [adopting] any dog from a shelter or rescue should require training classes for the new owner. I also recommend that people who get a puppy from a breeder also take it to classes.
Jules Weber (Maryland) I would be extremely disappointed that the organization was using outdated (and frankly bad) training techniques. And it would make me question not only their competency in training and managing the animals in their care, but their ethics, too. If it’s a marketing photo, yes, I’d judge. There is really no reason to “show off” your organization with a prong or choker collar pictured around a dog if you know how terrible those things are and the aggression they can create. I can’t imagine any business using a photo on a website or marketing material they don’t see as representing their best self. So yes, I do judge. And hopefully more and more people and organizations will educate themselves more about why those “tools” shouldn’t be used. And that there are a million other ways to train the exact same behavior using reward-based methodologies.
Ingrid Bock (New York) I would absolutely pass judgment on a shelter or rescue from one photo of a dog in a prong. I am having real trouble figuring out why one would NOT pass judgment. Why not judge from whatever evidence you’re given? If it’s one photo, use that. I always feel lucky to have been handed that important info. I maintain a list of trainers and rescues who/which use prongs and shocks. I have never seen a shelter photo in which a dog is wearing a prong. I suppose I would cut a shelter a little more slack, knowing the severe challenges they often face, and knowing that dogs don’t usually stay long in the shelters (meaning that they suffer less abuse). A rescue using prongs or shocks?!? Please, tell me what you mean by “rescue”!
Beth Fabel (Washington) I would rather see the dog in a prong not practicing bad behavior and getting out and about than a dog staying in its kennel not getting exercise because it drags people around. It would not deter me in any way from considering that dog. Don’t get me wrong, I think that there are better ways to train a dog than a prong, but I know plenty of perfectly nice dogs who have worn one and I think the only behavior it suppresses (assuming it’s used correctly) is pull[ing] because the dog understands the concept of [a] loose leash. A tool is a tool. Some are better or more appropriate for various things, but it’s only a tool. [If I were not experienced with dogs, maybe like a prospective adopter], I’d think the dog needed the collar to be controlled, which may be off-putting, but at least the fact that it needs training would be evident. The collar alone shouldn’t deter people. It would totally be advisable [to avoid any reactions to the prong collar whatsoever, simply by using a photo of the same dog not in a prong], and prettier—prongs look so aesthetically ugly, too. I just would not (like many of your other commenters) be put off about the rescue or shelter or assume the dog was shut down or not a good candidate for adoption.
Carol McPherson (Wyoming) I would think that a picture of a dog in a prong collar may attract the wrong sort of adopter. It may make the dog more attractive to someone who wants a tough-looking dog, as opposed to someone who wanted a companion. I would question the philosophies on care and training of animals under their protection.
Jeanne Brennan (California) Showing an “adoptable dog” in a prong collar is a good marketing move neither for the dog nor for the rescue/shelter. It’s almost a form of subliminal advertising that conveys a message of guard dog, needs training (as does the handler), questionable “family” dog. I would think it might attract a lot of people whom rescues want to screen out. People are smarter about training methods now. In doing adoptions, I meet people all the time who flinch at the thought of prong collars and shock collars. They don’t want a trainer who tells them to use that type of tool, and they aren’t convinced by the old line, “It doesn’t really hurt the dog.” Then why would you use it? When I ask that, it’s like I’m giving voice to the question they had but couldn’t phrase. As for marketing dogs, there is nothing about a prong collar that says “soft and friendly.” To those of us who can read dog body-language (not a typical adopter), we often see stiff, restraint, shut down/learned helplessness. For breeds that face negative stereotypes, prong collars just feed into that.
We had a GSD rescue our shelter worked with that insisted on prongs on their dogs all the time. They came to shelters to assess dogs themselves, then did their evaluation with the prongs and collar pops. I saw them ruin dogs. Several of us refused to assist this rescue when they showed up, but not all staff did. Our director was upset with those who refused, but I didn’t care. I also knew that this rescue had a reputation in the community as a kind of “liquidation” rescue. Dogs with issues were adopted out, still with issues. They required adopters and fosters to use prong collars. The thing that REALLY got me? The probable lie that their insurance REQUIRED prong collars. I have never heard of an insurance company with requirements on training equipment.
Eileen Anderson (Arkansas) I would be torn. Part of me would want to just go adopt the dog, to get it away from people who don’t know modern training methods and are using something so archaic. But I would also be concerned for myself or any future adopter, since aversive methods have the common side effect of causing aggression. I suppose a rescue might put a prong on a dog just once, for a photo, but it seems highly unlikely. It seems likelier that they would put the prong on the dog when they needed to manage it, move it, or walk it. And I have seen the fallout of prongs first-hand. I watched a goofy adolescent corgi turn into a snarling, snapping biter when put on a prong. He didn’t habituate over the weeks that I saw him, just got more aggressive. Back to the shelter, dog. Even if the new owner never uses one, they wouldn’t know what sensitivities and responses the dog could have developed while exposed to aversive methods.
Colette Kase (Mexico) Sadly, it seems to be a common theme from the USA. There is never a reason or excuse to use that sort of equipment on any dog, and for an organization supposed to be setting standards of welfare to implicitly condone the use of such equipment is nothing short of shameful.
Here’s a conversation between two trainers on the subject:
Chantal Bissonnette (Canada) I would never pass judgement on a dog or a shelter or a person based on one photo. We have zero idea why the dog is in a prong. Zero. I believe it s a disservice to our profession, one where we rely on careful observation, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, to make snap judgements like that based on one photo that shows a fleeting moment in time. I again have no idea why the dog is in a prong, based on a photo. It would be a disservice to make a judgment on a professional based on a photo.
Sarah Adams (Oregon) The issue is that the public DOES judge off one photo. If you’re trying to get a dog adopted, you owe it to the dog to have a photo that draws people in. So yes, I judge the group for not having the dog’s best interest at heart. I’m not judging for the use of the prong, I’m judging for why it’s in the photo. It takes literally no effort to put a bandana on or some such, to make the dog look more adoptable.
Val Hughes Would it be impossible to get a photo of the dog not wearing the prong collar, I’d wonder. If it would be impossible . . . I’d have to ask why.
Chantal Bissonnette That is true, I would rather a rescue post a photo with zero tools on the dog. I saw a dog recently posted with a head halter. Wow, the comments from the general public got out of hand before the rescue shut them down. Huge assumption that it was a muzzle.
Fair point you brought up, Sarah, the more I think about it. I saw another post last year, the dog was in a no-pull harness and the comments were asking a ton of questions on the dog’s leash skills, if it had aggressive tendencies on walks, and such.
I didn’t think anything of it until now, but the only dogs that didn’t get so many questions [like that asked] were those wearing flat collars. I wish I could remember what rescue it was—I wonder if the dog got adopted or not.
Sarah Adams Yes, a head halter is a bad choice, too, same reason. Makes the dog look difficult to control, and can be mistaken for a muzzle. Ideally, the dog will be wearing nothing more than a flat collar. Bandanas and/or silly costumes are fine, too—and proven to attract interest in a rescue dog.
Why do these dog professionals agree that picturing a dog wearing a simple flat collar or colorful bandana would be preferable to picturing a dog wearing a prong collar or any other training equipment that a member of the general public might question, if the goal of the photo is to find the dog a home?
The general public may know little about dogs, and even less about dog training. It’s not something that’s taught in school. Someone with little knowledge and less experience sees around a dog’s neck a tool that might cause pain or discomfort, and that person may come to some conclusions . . . about the dog, unfortunately, and even about how the dog is being cared for by the rescue or shelter.
Will those conclusions lead to an adoption?
I’m suggesting that shelters and rescues give serious consideration to the first impressions people get when they view online photos of dogs for adoption wearing prong collars. Are any of the negative reactions our dog professionals commented on possible? Then why take a chance, when it would be so easy to photograph an adoptable dog wearing a simple flat collar or a colorful scarf?
You’re someone looking online at dogs to adopt from a rescue or a shelter?
You don’t think the prong collar is a great choice for a photo, either, but there’s a dog from a rescue or shelter in a photo for adoption and you really like the looks of the dog otherwise and the dog sounds like a possible perfect match for you, but now you’re worried about why the dog is wearing the collar?
You’re just beginning on your journey, friend. Call the shelter or rescue, ask the questions, think about the answers, read the online reviews, consider all the evidence. This is part of your due-diligence before you adopt a new canine family member.