Choke, prong and shock collars can irreversibly damage your dog.

by Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM

Why collars can cause hypothyroidism and other health problems

If you have already read this article and came here to sign a petition to to ban e-collars in Canada CLICK HEREOtherwise, read on.

Learn about better alternatives.

Before you start reading the following lines, I invite you to do a little test. Open your hands with your thumbs touching each other. Place the thumbs at the base of the throat and with the fingers pointing back and surrounding the neck.

Now, take a deep breath, squeeze and pull back with all your force keeping your thumbs connected.

This is how many dogs feel when they are on the leash and they are pulling.

If you are still keen to continue with this experiment, put a choke chain around your neck, attach it to a leash and ask a friend to pull and jerk on it periodically. Welcome to the dog world!

No, I will not make you go on with this experiment and ask you to test a prong collar or electric shock collar. I just want people to be more aware about what an average dog needs to deal with.

My plan here is to share with you why I believe that collar injuries make dogs sick and what the alternatives are

1. Story

One day, my dog Skai and I were walking in Capilano Canyon, our favourite walking area  near our home in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The wild river has carved the rock into breathtaking scenery with moss-covered cliffs, white water rapids and giant old growth rainforest firs.

Just a few minutes after starting our walk, I noticed a man with a young German shepherd on a leash. The poor little pup was struggling to say hi however his human had a different idea. He was determined to prevent his dog from coming closer to us by yanking and jerking harshly on the leash that was attached to a choke chain. With every yank, I caught myself closing my eyes, cringing and feeling terribly sorry for the poor dog. He was coughing and gagging with every jerk and had no idea what was going on.

Suddenly the voice in my head whispered: “Peter, you must say something, this poor dog is helpless” the voice went on, “maybe the man is not even aware of what is going on.

“Excuse me,” I started with hesitation, “You may not be aware of this but the choke chain you are using can cause a life long injury and damage and I thought you may want to know why”.

“Thank you, that would be great, I would love that,” the man replied. “I had no idea.”

Here is what our chat was about:

2. Origin of collars and their effect

No one really knows when the use of collars started. Perhaps it was the way the cave people restrained their wild dogs from running away.  However, the first reference to dog collars comes from Ancient Egypt.

The reason why I am so weary of collars is that when dogs pull they can cause a lot of damage. The neck and cervical spine are one of the most important “energy channels” in the body. It contains the spinal cord for supply to the whole body, is where the front leg nerves originate from and it is the energy channel where the nerves controlling the internal organ function pass through. The thyroid gland that regulates the whole body metabolism is also located in the neck.

For years, I have observed the relationships between the neck injuries and health of dogs.  I have learned that if the flow of energy in the neck is interrupted or restricted, a whole array of problems may arise including lameness, skin issues, allergies, lung and heart problems, digestive issues, ear and eye conditions, thyroid gland dysfunctions to name a few. I also suspect that the patients that have severe energy flow congestion in the neck area have a higher cancer rates.

While the purpose of this article is not to give you long description of each condition, I would like to give you a few examples to  help you understand how important the health and alignment of the neck is to the general health of your dog.

3. Hypothyroidism (low thyroid gland hormone) may be related to collar related injuries.

For the longest time I have been puzzled about the high rates of thyroid issues in breeds that frequently pull on the leash, such as  Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. It seems obvious that the collar actually pushes on the throat exactly in the area of the thyroid gland. This gland gets severely traumatized whenever a dog pulls on the leash, it becomes inflamed and is consequently “destroyed” by the body’s own immune system when it tries to remove the inflamed thyroid cells.

The destruction of the thyroid cells leads to the deficit of thyroid hormone – hypothyroidism and because the thyroid gland governs the metabolism of every cell it can affect the whole body.  The symptoms may be low energy, weight gain, skin problems, hair loss and a tendency to ear infections and organ failure.

4. Ear and eye issues are frequently related to pulling on the leash.

When dogs pull on the leash, the collar restricts the blood and lymphatic flow to and from the head. My clients are often perplexed when all the ear and eye problems disappear after switching their dog from a collar to the right harness.

5. Excessive paw licking and foreleg lameness can also be related to your dog’s collar

Leash pulling impinges the nerves supplying the front legs.  This can lead to an abnormal sensation in the feet and dogs may start licking their feet. These dogs are often misdiagnosed as allergic, when all that needs to be done is to remove the collar and treat the neck injury.

6. Neck injuries can cause a variety of problems including emotional trauma

Some dogs suffer severe whiplash like injuries from being jerked around.  Extension leashes do not help because they encourage dogs to pull. They are faced with the imminent jerk when they get to the end of the line. They also do not understand why they are being “punished” which often makes them shut down, disconnect or act out their frustration with aggression.

Most people do not know that leashes and collars can be at the core of many problems and that just one incident of pulling or running fast to the end of the leash can be serious.  So how can we reduce such risk?

7. A harness – the collar alternative.

Over the years, I have searched for the best way of making dogs safe and to prevent neck injuries and tried many harness system. Harnesses that have the leash attached at the front of the chest are the best solution because they distribute the pressure of tugs and jerks throughout the whole body and keep the neck and throat free.

Many harnesses on the market have the leash attached on the back and pulling still restricts the front portion of the neck thereby pressing on veins, arteries, nerves and energy channels.

When you get your front clip harness, make sure that your dog’s harness is the right fit and that you follow the maker’s instructions carefully. The harness comes in 3 different colors.

Use the harness only when leash walking and take it off when your dog is off leash.  Ensure that the harness is not pressing or rubbing anywhere and that it is washed regularly.

Ideal solution

If your dog is adequately trained, give him as much off leash time as possible. If  you have a “puller” have his neck examined by a vet, physio or chiro experienced in neck assessment. You may want to get his thyroid level measured and the neck and back checked for any signs of injuries. Keep in mind that many veterinarians are not trained in checking spinal alignment and working with the right practitioner is essential.

If you are looking for gentle and effective treatment methods, homeopathy, physiotherapy, intramuscular needle stimulation, chiropractics, acupuncture and massage are the best choices.

Remember that ideal muscle and spinal balance also depends on the body receiving essential nutrients. 

© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM





learn about the author


Dr. Dobias is a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine and lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. He has more than 20 years of practical experience in conventional and holistic veterinary medicine and his big passions are natural healing, dogs and living a healthy lifestyle...

Learn More

join our mailing list