Can A Collar Injure a Dog's Neck?
Before you start reading this article, I invite you to do a little test. Open your hands keeping your thumbs together. Place your thumbs at the base of your throat and your fingers around your 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 about it, but this is how many dogs feel when they are on a leash attached to a collar.
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.
A Story From a Rainforest Walk
One day Skai and I went on one of our favorite walks in a beautiful river canyon near our house. The wild river carved a breathtaking canyon with moss-covered cliffs, whitewater 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 a leash. The poor little pup was struggling to say hi, but the man 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 and 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.
Negative Effects of Pulling and Jerking on the Leash
One jerk can cause a lifelong problem. 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 to 20 years 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.
A List of Common Collar Injuries in Dogs
Before I get into the details, here is a list of the common problems resulting from using collars:
- Thyroid Injuries and Hypothyroidism
- Vagus Nerve Injuries (vagus nerve controls internal organs)
- Ear & Eye Issues
- Paw Licking and Foreleg Lameness (often misdiagnosed as allergies)
Why Hypothyroidism (low thyroid gland hormone) Is linked to collar related injuries
For the longest time, I have been puzzled about why dogs commonly known to pull on the leash, such as Labradors, Retrievers and German Shepherds, have such 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 – or 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, a tendency for ear infections and organ failure to name a few.
VAGUS NERVE INJURIES
The vagus nerve is one of the most important structures of your dog’s nervous system. It originates at the neck level and it controls multiple life-essential organs such as the heart, lungs, stomach and the intestinal tract.
This is one of the core reasons why a neck injury can cause other serious health problems and I hope you keep this in mind. Keeping your dog’s neck free and healthy will result in better health and longer life.
Ear and eye issuesEye and ear problems 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 many ear and eye problems disappear after switching their dog from a collar to the right harness.
Paw licking and foreleg lameness
This too can be related to your dog’s collar. Pulling on the leash often causes abnormal sensations, or pins and needles, in the feet. Dogs try to lick their feet, not knowing what else to do. I have seen many so-called allergic dogs or chronically lame dogs heal completely after they were switched to a special harness.
Some dogs may get such severe whiplash injuries from being jerked around that they suffer serious neck misalignment. A neck injury can affect any part of the body and if the energy flow deficit is severe, it can even predispose the dog to cancer.
Most people do not know that leashes and collars can cause so many problems. If you are one of the lucky people who lives with a dog that does not pull, congratulations! If your dog 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: A Harness
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. Because not all harnesses are well designed here is the one I love and use for my dog.
5 ways to protect your dog from neck injury on leash
1. Ideally, choose a harness that has two attachment points - one leash attachment to the front portion where the neck connects to the torso (the chest opening) - and one attachment on the back. Most harnesses on the market that have the leash attachment on the back still 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 properly fitted.
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/her as much off-leash time as possible and use my favorite special shock absorbing leash.
If your dog is a puller and you think that he/she may be suffering with a back or neck injury, I suggest you have them examined. Initially, you may want to get their thyroid level measured and their neck and back checked for any signs of injuries. Keep in mind that most veterinarians are not trained to check 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 gastrointestinal 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 attached to a collar you will not be afraid to speak up and make their 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