Choke chains(also called choke collars, Slip chains, check collars, or training collars) are a length of chain with rings at either end such that the collar can be formed into a loop that slips over the dogs head and rests around the top of the dog's neck, just behind the ears. When the leash is attached to the "dead" ring, the collar does not constrict on the dog's neck. When the leash is attached to the "live" ring, the chain slips (adjusts) tighter when pulled and slips looser when tension is released. Training with this leash involves a quick jerk with an immediate release, called a "leash pop", "snap", or "correction". This is supposed to correct a dog's unwanted behavior, such as leaving the "heel" position. Pulling harder or longer on the choke chain presses on the dog's esophagus and restricts breathing.

The traditional way these chains are used by professional trainers is to give a sharp jerk—strong enough to make the dog stop what it’s doing and do something else. For instance, if the dog starts to sniff and pull on a walk, you quickly brace yourself and give a quick yank in the hopes that the dog feels it enough to stop pulling. My first trainer told us to generate enough strength by actually running full speed in the opposite direction so that my, then 76 pound boxer, would feel a strong enough pop! The next trainer I had taught me to first attach the leash to a fence so that I could practice the technique and get it right before I tried it on the dog. The technique was a lot like karate where you have to twist your hip to get enough power for your body and so that you can get the timing of the correction right. Most trainers do not give owners practice on a fence first. They just let owners make a lot of mistakes on the dog.

With the choke chain, the idea is that once the dog knows he’ll get a strong correction when he misbehaves, you don’t need to continue to give strong corrections often; a light correction, may be good enough because it’s a reminder that a stronger, more painful correction can occur. In fact, it’s this phenomenon, with the use of a lighter warning correction that makes some people think that it’s the sound of the collar being jerked that teaches the dog, as if there’s something innately aversive about the sound. If that were true, then you’d be able to train dogs with a recording of the sound of a choke chain snapping, even if the dog had never received a choke chain correction before and was not sound sensitive. In other words, if that were true, someone who could have developed a little device that dogs can wear on their leash or flat collar that makes the sound of a choke chain snapping would be rich!

Another fact about the choke chain is that most people use them ineffectively because they are not that easy to use and there are some secrets that the old time professionals used to make them more effective and the correction stronger. First, these professionals make sure the length is right or you won’t get the strong, quick pop. If the chain’s too long, when you go to give a correction, there’s too much slack. When it’s too short, the collar tightens too quickly, before you’ve gained enough momentum in the jerk. Seasoned trainers also know that dog’s feel the correction more if you can keep the choke chain up high, right behind the ears. That’s how Cesar Milan’s Illusion collar works. It keeps the collar positioned so that a correction can have the greatest effect (e.g. create the most effective jerk). Back when I was competing in obedience we didn’t have Illusion collars and they wouldn’t be allowed in the ring now anyway, but we did try to keep that choke chain up high when we were training. A third point, but one that’s the first thing a seasoned professional trains is that the choke chain has to go on the right way. It needs to form a “P,” with the tail of the “P” on the same side as the handler. You can tell right away when a force-based trainer isn’t good at his choke chain technique because he doesn’t even put the collar on correctly.

Pros: Easy to physically overpower a strong, untrained dog. You will see slip collars at shelters and vet offices in situations where for safety’s sake, untrained or extremely unhappy dogs must be controlled by their human caretaker, willing or not.

Cons: Can cause damage to neck if dog pulls or lunges frequently over time.