Making wise leash and collar choices for your best friend
When we look at retractable leashes, they look seemingly benign. They give a dog a wider range to roam and keep them safe.
However, when you look at the design from the practical point of view, every time a dog pulls on it, the leash spring applies a continual force through the the collar. The collar presses on vital structures in the neck including the thyroid gland, jugular vein, carotid artery and numerous cervical nerves which supply the chest and the forelegs.
However, this is not the biggest problem. Imagine that your dog starts running in the direction that is not safe, let's say the road. Most people press the 'brake' button on the leash, which makes your dog stop on the spot. This creates a very severe jerk on the structures mentioned above.
These repeated jerks can create severe damage to the cervical structures resulting in multiple problems that are often misdiagnosed and are therefore not treated properly.
Here are the most common issues caused by retractable leashes:
1. Paw licking is often a result of neck damage and injury. If you have ever had a sore neck, you know that it can present with numbness or a pins and needles sensation in your hands. Dogs are no different. What they usually do in such cases is lick and chew on their paws. Most of these dogs are misdiagnosed with allergies.
2. Armpit scratching is similar. Neck injuries often lead to referred sensation/pain into the thoracic or front legs or can cause tightness of the armpit muscles.
3. Hypothyroidism. If you have ever seen an image of the thyroid gland, you would notice that it is very superficial in the neck and is therefore prone to physical damage. It is positioned near the adam’s apple. An injury to the gland usually results in inflammation and the body creates antibodies against the thyroid gland. These antibodies lead to selective destruction of thyroid cells resulting in a decrease in hormone production called hypothyroidism.
4. Ear scratching and infections are also frequently related to collar and leash injuries. It appears that dogs that have injured their upper cervical spine – C1-C3 are especially prone to ear problems. The neck is crucial for providing the energy flow to the ears and without a doubt collar injuries play an important role. I have addressed chronic ear infections in another article.
5. Epilepsy/seizures can also be triggered or aggravated by neck injuries and pulling on the leash. Pressure on the jugular vein increases intracranial pressure which can increase the likelihood of epilepsy in a predisposed dog. Neck energy stagnation is also known to affect the flow of cerebral-spinal fluid.
I could go on and list more symptoms and issues caused by retractable or regular leashes. I also expect some people will disagree with my opinion. People often ask me where my double-blinded studies are.
Let me clarify something. In my 25 years in veterinary practice, I have treated hundreds of dogs with problems described above and they have responded well to having their necks treated and by switching them to a front-clip, no-pull harness. Yes, I could spend valuable time trying to prove my observations by doing studies, but I prefer helping people and their dogs than proving something that clearly works.
I am NOT here to accuse or blame the retractable leash manufacturers or the leash users for causing damage to dogs necks. I am certain that they have not even thought about the consequences on dogs necks from the effects of the retractable leash spring and their stop button. They may not know that numerous people or their dog have also been cut by the retractable leash line.
I am bringing this to everyone’s awareness and hope that more people will use a front-clip harness in place of a collar. If you are wondering if there is any safe indication of using a retractable leash, I would say that it may be ok to use it with a front clip harness. However, it still generates continuous pull or pressure when the leash is extended.
If you would like to know what my favorite leash is, it is an amazingly sturdy but lightweight seamless leash made of wool. If you attach it to a front clip harness, it is the best way to keep your dog safe.
If you are feeling bad about using a retractable leash until now, please don’t! Being unaware and making mistakes is a part of learning. All we need to do is to make changes and move on.
Still in doubt about what is written in this article? Perhaps you may do a little trial. Attach a retractable leash to a solid post or a tree, put a collar on your neck, clip it to the leash and RUN! You can share your experience in the discussion below.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM
PS: Here are some interesting questions and comments from our Facebook page about retractable leashes.
- Why do they still sell retractable leashes? This is a good question. I think some people will sell anything unless it is illegal to sell and then they will try to sell it anyway.
- Michelle Steward shared with us her dog's story: “My beagle was caught up in one due to an irresponsible owner on the other end. He ended up pulling hard on the leash as his dog and mine were completely tangled and getting agitated. The result was the cord on the leash completely “degloving” the skin on my beagle’s entire leg. Ended up with three surgeries, thousands of dollars and weeks of hell… I will never recommend these leashes to anyone!!”
- Mona Persson shared with us her experience: They (retractable leashes) can cause serious injury to humans, too. I have scars to prove it!
- Kingstone Chiro wrote: Did you cover the potential damage to the neck when the dog hits the end if the leash? I have seen a number of these doggy patients!
- Devon Mary Ward wrote: My dog got dragged down a hill by his back leg screaming in pain because someone dropped their retractable leash when their dog hit the end. The dog circled my dog and then took off with poor Thor in tow.