Holistic Health and Longevity Course for Dogs Chapter 10
I love how real life situations bring me the ideas for each chapter of the Health and Longevity Course for Dogs.
Just recently, I went for a dinner with a friend who asked me how life was when I lived in Europe, what the family structure was like and who is in charge in heterosexual marriages.
I thought for a moment and remembered a saying that answered the question perfectly. A man may be called the head of the family, but a woman is the neck that moves the head!
The idea that ‘the neck moves the head’ definitely expresses the dynamics of an average European family very well. Women often enjoy a dominant position in the family. They are the ‘family generals,’ feminine yet strong, grounded and decisive. There may be some exceptions, but typically, when the matriarchs are in charge there is more love, peace and order in the family.
There is another story that I just recently heard and confirms the above. Women from a Mexican village in a region with a very high crime rate one days decided that enough was enough. They chased out the local drug lords, corrupt government officials and police to establish a local self-government that made their village the safest in the whole region. No drug lords, no corruption, just common sense order.
The neck is the key to your dog's strong health
Good health reminds me of a matriarchal family structure. Some people like to believe that the brain and the head are the center of the body, but that is not exactly true. Let’s think of a patient with a severe head trauma. The essential life functions still go on even when the brain is severely damaged and the patient is in a coma. The heart, lungs, digestion and the other internal organs still function normally mainly because nerves in the brainstem and cervical and thoracic spine regulate most life-essential functions.
This system is called the autonomous nervous system, or ANS.
If the brain is damaged, the body may survive, but with a damaged ANS, the patient will die.
For many years now, I have been observing the importance of the neck and cervical spine in health and medicine. The more I learn, the more focused I am on the neck when it comes to healing and disease prevention.
In the previous parts of Health and Longevity Course for Dogs, I mentioned that energy, blood and nerve flow in the body and the neck is super important to flow to the head and also the rest of the body. Imagine spokes of energy that radiate away from the neck to the head and the body.
To summarize, the neck is a super important ‘control switch panel’ for the whole body.
What does electric circuitry have in common with the neck?
If you have ever watched an electrician or a telephone company technician putting together a switch panel, you know how complex it is. A hodge-podge of color-coded wires that makes ones’ head spin and when it comes to your dog's neck it is a thousand times as complex!
It conducts nerve flow to ensure "autonomous" (automatic) organ function and also contains, guides or shields many important structures.
Parasympathetic nervous system
This system is the reason why you don’t need to worry about your dog's heart beating and stomach digesting food. Instead, the parasympathetic nervous system looks after many of the body's functions without anyone’s worry or input. Imagine if you needed to monitor your dog's life functions 24/7!
Instead, the parasympathetic nerve fibers that regulate the body's essential organs, such as the heart, lungs, stomach intestines and the liver are integrated into the vagus nerve. This nerve originates at the base of the skull and follows the neck. Based on its location, any neck injury or pressure of the collar from pulling and choking can have a profound effect on your dog's life-essential organs.
You can see the parasympathetic nervous system influence on this chart here.
Now you can see why you need to be concerned If your dog is a puller or has a choke prong chain on its neck.
Just remember the pinched hose principle in PART 7.
There is more to your dog’s neck
As if this wasn't enough, there are many other functions that are dependent on a healthy unobstructed flow through the neck:
1. Front leg movement and sensation
Front leg nerves originate in between the fourth and fifth cervical and the first thoracic vertebrae. This is why so many dogs with collar and neck injuries suffer from front leg lameness and paw licking.
is important especially in the early development of your dog as it is responsible for the development of T-cell (T-lymphocytes), which play a crucial role in fighting ‘foreign invaders’ in the body.
The thymus is most active in puppies. Puppies often pull on their leash and as a result, the function of thymus and the immune system are often affected. This is another reason why a puppy should wear a front-clip harness and never be on a leash attached to a collar.
This is the point where you can either gain or lose your dog's precious years of life by causing early age damage.
3. Thyroid gland - your dog's metabolic gas pedal
Many experts have written articles and books on hypothyroidism. They often point out that hypothyroidism can be caused by genetic predisposition, processed foods and excessive vaccination, which is true. However, not many of them mention neck and collar injuries as a primary cause and I hope this will change.
The thyroid gland can be compared to the throttle or the gas pedal in a car - it optimizes the speed of metabolism the same way your car's gas pedal regulates the speed. If the metabolism is too slow due to low thyroid hormone, it leads to hypothyroidism. If the metabolism is too high, it leads to hyperthyroidism, which is more common in cats than dogs.
Unfortunately, the thyroid gland is located exactly at the spot where the collar presses on the front portion of the neck. Repeated pulling and jerking causes serious trauma to the thyroid gland, which causes inflammation. As soon as the immune system registers inflammation, it starts removing inflamed tissues cells, which leads to a lack of thyroid hormone production.
No matter how much you may love collars, this is the main reason why any dog that pulls or likes to jump forward should have a gentle leash attached to a harness. For more info on this click here.
4. Trachea and esophagus - the two pipes that like freedom
The trachea and esophagus are two more structures in the neck that deserve protection. Their location makes them susceptible to injuries from collars too. The most common two problems are megaesophagus (lack of muscle tone and esophagus enlargement) and collapsing trachea especially in smaller dogs. Think of a ripped plastic vacuum cleaner hose. If you try to pull something using a vacuum cleaner hose, the pressure will eventually make it collapse. One does not need a medical school degree to see that a collar should only be used for attaching an ID tag but not to control dogs, especially those who pull or are high strung.
5. Jugular vein and carotid artery
In Chapter 9 of the Health and Longevity Course for Dogs, I asked you to surround your neck with your hands and pull to see what it feels like to be a dog on a leash. To be honest, I admire these little guys. Despite their discomfort, they are such good sports and still wag their tail.
But obstruction and repeated trauma of these two major blood vessels can cause many health conditions located around the head.
This is no joke, but actually is a very serious problem
The energy, blood and nerve flow in your dog’s neck is super important to their health. You now know that untreated injury, the effect of collars especially choke, prong and electric shock collars, and even the regular ones, can create serious life-long consequences and shorten your dog's lifespan.
The effects of such trauma are not only local, but affects the whole body, including life-essential organs such as the heart, the lungs, the stomach, the liver, the guts and more.
The vagus nerve originates at the brainstem and passes through the neck to get to your dog's vital organs. It does not take a genius to see that collars are a bad idea and we need to tell more of our dog loving friends about it.
If you see people frustrated with their dog's health problems and the doctors are having a hard time reaching a final diagnoses, it is quite possible that the origin of the problem lies in the dog's neck.
What is the solution?
Only dogs that never ever pull or jump forward can be on a leash attached to a collar and even then I would only use a shock-absorbing leash to reduce the chances of an injury. The rest of them should be on a front-clip harness, which I will be writing about in the next chapter.
I also recommend regular check-ups by a canine chiropractor, physiotherapist or a veterinarian who is trained in spinal alignment techniques.
What about dog trainers recommending prong and shock collars?
If you have any trainers telling you that the use of choke and prong collar is ok or if they teach you to jerk on the leash, talk to them or choose another trainer. I see some trainers being adamant that the correct use of collars and their use for corrections are ok. In light of what you just learned that can't be true.
When I started writing articles about neck injuries and collar trauma a few years ago, I took the harsh comments and emails from the pro-choke/prong and e-collar crowd hard.
But then I realized that it takes time for people to understand why a leash attached to a collar of a dog that pulls or is high energy is risky. I hope that this chapter helps to understand why and that you will help spread the word.
Thanks for sharing.