Something has been causing me a great deal of concern for as long as I can remember.
Every day, I see dogs, pulling and choking on the leash attached to either a choke chain, martingale, prong or even a shock collar.
I believe that most of these dogs are loved and well cared for; it is just that these people didn't have the opportunity to learn how dog collars are common causes of neck injuries and how often they are the root of the health problems of their dogs.
“A FERRY TAIL”
Just the other day, my family and I were waiting for a ferry to travel to Tofino, one of Skai’s most favourite places, a true dog paradise. Dogs run on miles of pristine beaches with no end in sight.
Naturally, the ferry passengers travel with the dogs. As we were waiting to board, I saw a lovely Weimaraner walking by our car dragging his people along like a sled dog. His choke chain was cutting deep into the flesh on his neck, and a surprising memory of dumplings came to mind.
My European mother used to cut dumplings using a thread. She would encircle the salami-shaped dumpling, cross the two ends of the thread at the top, and pull until it cut through the dumpling, making a slice. The dog’s neck looked exactly like a dumpling just before the thread cut through. The collar was cutting deep in the skin.
I took a deep breath, gathered my courage, and said "hi" to the owners. I was lucky because they were very friendly and open to a conversation about the damaging effect of collars. I also learned that two of their friends just recently recommended my website!
Your dog can't tell you
Over the years, I have had countless conversations like this one. Sometimes, I manage to make a difference and at other times fail because not everyone is open to a conversation. But, a dog can’t tell their human that they're getting hurt by a collar. I can, and this is why I will always try.
What every dog lover needs to know
- Dogs that pull can cause serious trauma to the thyroid gland, which results in hypothyroidism. This is a condition that affects mostly medium and large dogs, as they pull with more force than smaller dogs.
- Dogs that pull often damage their cervical spine nerves, which leads to shoulder and front leg lameness.
- Dogs that pull often lick their feet because they have an abnormal sensation due to cervical nerve damage. This condition is often misdiagnosed as allergies.
- Dogs that pull often traumatize the vagal nerve, which can lead to respiratory, digestive, and systemic problems that become chronic and can have serious consequences.
- Pullers that wear a collar only occasionally can still experience trauma; it sometimes takes just one pull to cause serious damage.
- Retractable leashes may increase the risk of injuries because their spring-loaded mechanism applies constant pressure on the neck, which compounds the chances of injury.
Common challenges with avoiding injuries
- Many people are completely unaware of the serious damage collars cause. Some guardians assume that the occasional use of a collar in a pulling dog is okay, but it is not unless your dog NEVER pulls. Sometimes it only takes one jerk to cause serious damage
- Using a harness with a leash attached at the back does not prevent neck injuries or pulling. Such harnesses do not solve the problem. The ideal harness has the front clip located below the front portion of the neck on the chest bone.
- Many harness designs cause armpit chaffing and muscle pinching trauma because they hang too low or too close to the armpit. It is super important to choose the right harness, and there are not many that fit well.
- I see some people making a price-based decision because they do not know what the right design should look like.
- Some people try to teach their dogs to heel by tugging or jerking on the collar, which can cause more damage. Despite many trainers' recommendations, I can’t agree with such corrections for medical reasons.
- A harness should never stay on if your dog is having off-leash time. Take the harness off with the leash whenever your dog is running free to avoid armpit chafing and muscle pinching. A harness can also get caught easily on trails or in the forest and removing it prevents injuries.
6 steps to protect your dog from collar injuries
If you have been using a choke chain, prong, martingale, or shock collar, I hope you will not beat yourself up. I have been a vet for 30 years, and it is easy for me to see what leads to problems. In contrast, I would not know how to install electrical wiring for a house and do other jobs in which you may be an expert at.
Not knowing is not your fault; it is a part of life, and I hope this article will help raise awareness on this important issue.
Here are six essential steps to prevent collar injuries:
- Use a front clip harness and do not attach the leash to your dog's harness at the back.
- Choose a harness that gives your dog enough space around the shoulder/armpit area.
- Make sure that the harness is well padded.
- Ensure that you choose the right size.
- Work on teaching your dog how to heal and not pull (this requires a lot of patience). Never jerk on your dog’s leash to make corrections. Your dog’s health is more important than someone’s training method.
- Use a shock-absorbing Gentle Leash to reduce the impact of pulling.
A GOOD EXAMPLE OF A HARNESS AND LEASH
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© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM