One "jerk" can cause a lot of damage

by Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM
5 ways to prevent neck injuries

Before you start reading the following lines, I invite you to do a little test. Open your hands keeping your thumbs together. Place the thumbs at the base of the throat and the fingers surrounding the neck. Now, take a deep breath, squeeze and pull back with all your force keeping your thumbs connected.

Before you start reading the following lines, I invite you to do a little test. Open your hands keeping your thumbs together. Place the thumbs at the base of the throat and the fingers surrounding the neck. Now, take a deep breath, squeeze and pull back with all your force keeping your thumbs connected.

If you have not fainted by now and are still reading these lines, I am sure the sensation was not comfortable. Perhaps you never thought of it, but this is how many dogs feel when they are on the leash.

If you are still keen to continue with this experiment, put a choke chain around your neck and attach it to a leash. Ask a friend to grab the end of the leash and 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 another torture device, the prong collar. I just want you to become more aware of what is happening out there.

A "jerking" experience 

One day, Skai and I were on one of our favorite walks in a beautiful river canyon nearby our house. The wild river carved a breathtaking canyon with moss-covered cliffs, white water rapids and old growth rainforest trees.

As soon as I arrived at the parking lot and let Skai out of the car, I noticed a man with a young German shepherd on the leash. The poor little pup was struggling to say hi, but the master 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 sorry for the poor dog that was coughing and gagging with every jerk. 

Suddenly the voice in my head whispered: “Peter, you must say something, this poor dog can’t speak for himself, he is getting hurt,” the voice went on, “maybe the man is not even aware of what he is doing?".

“Excuse me,” I started with hesitation, “You may not be aware of this, but the choke chain you are using is causing your dog discomfort." I started. “Have you ever thought how it feels to have a collar on? Your dog’s neck may be put out of alignment and the trauma could lead to numerous other problems."

“Thank you for telling me, I will keep it in mind,” the man replied.

With a sigh of relief, I continued my walk and I hoped that the man would indeed keep our brief interaction in mind. 

Why am I so concerned about the negative effect of pulling and jerking on the leash?
Because one jerk can cause a problem for a lifetime. If you have ever had a sore neck or back, you may understand. Most people feel the effect throughout the whole body, and chronic pain can easily make you feel like you are 10 – 20 year older.

Why is that? The neck and cervical spine are one of the most important “energy channels” in the body. If the flow of energy between the head and the neck is interrupted or restricted, a whole array of problems may arise from lameness to skin problems, allergies, and even cancer.
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid gland hormone) may be related to collar related injuries
For the longest time, I have been puzzled about why dogs that are known to pull on the leash, such as Labradors, Retrievers and German Shepherds, have such a high rates of thyroid gland issues. One day, it dawned on me that the collar pushes on the throat exactly in the area of the thyroid gland. This gland gets severely traumatized whenever a dog pulls on the leash.

The thyroid gland gets inflamed and consequently “destroyed” by the body’s own immune system that tries to remove the inflamed thyroid cells. The destruction of the thyroid gland cells leads to the deficit of thyroid hormone – hypothyroidism.

The thyroid gland governs the metabolism of every cell, and its absence can have very severe consequences. The symptoms may be low energy, weight gain, skin problems, hair loss tendency to ear infections and organ failure to name a few.
Ear and eye issues
May also be related to pulling on the leash. Why? My experience is that pulling decreases the energy and lymphatic flow to the head, which leads to ear and eye conditions. My clients are often perplexed when all the ear and eye problems disappear after switching their dog from a collar to the right front clip harness. I will tell you more about these alternatives in a chapter ahead.
Paw licking and foreleg lameness

This too can be related to your dog’s collar. Pulling the leash often causes an abnormal sensation (pins and needles sensation) in the feet and dogs simply try to lick their feet not knowing what better to do. I have seen many so-called “allergic dogs” or chronically lame dogs healing completely after they were put on a special harness.

Some dogs may get such severe whiplash like injuries from being “jerked around” that they may suffer severe neck misalignment. A neck injury can pretty much affect any part of the body, and if the energy flow deficit is severe, this can even predispose the individual to cancer.

Most people do not know that leashes and collars can cause so many problems. If you belong to the lucky people, who live with dogs that do not pull, congratulations! If your dogs is one of those types that takes you for a walk flailing behind, make sure you are reading the following lines. 

"Most people do not know that leashes and collars can cause so many problems"
The collar alternative
Over the years, I have searched for the best way of making dogs safe without the risk that a collar brings. A harness is the answer because it distributes the possible tugs and jerks throughout the whole body, some harnesses keep the neck and throat free. However, it may not be as easy as it looks to choose the right harness.
5 ways to protect your dog from harm

1. Ideally choose a harness that has at least one attachment to the leash in the front portion where the neck connects to the torso – the chest opening. Most harnesses on the market have the leash attached on the back. I have seen many of these harnesses restrict the front portion of the neck, which presses on major veins, arteries and the thyroid gland, which is what we try to avoid.

2. Make sure that your dog’s harness is the right fit and follow the maker’s instructions carefully. 

3. Use the harness only when leash walking and take it off when your dog is off leash. In other words, consider the harness and the leash permanently attached and remove them together to prevent skin abrasions and muscle bruising when your dog is running off leash 

4. Ensure that the harness is not pressing or rubbing anywhere, especially in the armpit and shoulder region, and wash it regularly.

5. If your dog is adequately trained, give him as much off leash time as possible and use a special shock absorbing leash (click on the link for my favourite one.)

If your dog is a “puller”, and you think that he may be suffering back or neck injury, I suggest you have him examined. Initially, you may want to get his thyroid level measured and the neck and back checked for any signs of injuries. Keep in mind that most veterinarians are not trained in checking spinal alignment and working with the right practitioner is essential.

If your dog gets injured, I caution you about using NSAID painkillers such as meloxicam, Despite them being widely used, they suppress pain but also suppress the natural course of inflammatory and healing response. The most common side-effects are gastro-intestinal ulcers, indigestion, and kidney damage, to name a few.

If you are looking for gentle and effective treatment methods, I recommend using physiotherapy, intramuscular needle stimulation, chiropractics, acupuncture, homeopathy and massage. Perhaps, you are lucky, and you may have an experienced and reputable practitioner nearby.

Most of all, I would like to thank you for reading this article all the way through. Join our “gentle leash efforts” and please pass this information onto others. 

Instead of using collars to control your dog, use it for attaching a tag with your phone number and address in case your best friend gets lost.

I also hope that whenever you see a dog pulling and choking on the collar you will not be afraid to speak up, and make his human more aware of the problems this can cause. You can make a huge difference in the lives of many dogs who live with loving but unaware people. 

© 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...

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