Is Your Dog’s Collar Dangerous?
Winston is a great dog, smart and affectionate. He only has one problem: He just can’t get anywhere fast enough. His walks always turn into a tug-of-war between his walker’s arm socket and his neck. An old-fashioned dog trainer would say to teach him not to lunge by walking him on a “choke” chain collar and yanking it abruptly whenever he starts to pull.
Sherry Fries, an accredited animal chiropractor, adamantly disagrees. “Anybody who still employs the jerk method for training their dogs … should have the same thing done to him or her,” she says. What happens? “Whiplash of the most severe kind. It can also set the stage for disc disease, neuropathy, or disease to the spinal cord and nervous system.
According to British veterinarian Robin Walker, the “yank and stomp” method was popularized by the well-known animal trainer Barbara Woodhouse, whose books from the ’60s and ’70s are still sold in book stores.
“Barbara had arrived with her choke chains and nasty things were happening to dogs’ necks,” he says. “Since then I have seen a stream of screaming dogs arriving at my surgery with dislocated neck bones and damaged voice boxes.”
Sherry Fries explains why: “When a dog is jerked by a collar, his head is stationary, and sometimes the body whips around. So now we’re talking about maybe 50 to 60-plus pounds on the stalk of the neck being thrown around, and the dogs can’t tell us, ‘Hey, that really hurts!’”
The garroting effect of a choke chain can cause bruising and damage to the skin and tissues in the neck, resulting in the formation of scar tissue. Scar tissue has no feeling, thus, subsequent jerks will require greater force to achieve an effect.
Not only can the jerk method of training cause physical injury, it can cause psychological problems as well. Kevin Behan, author of Natural Dog Training warns: “…with a choke collar, the dog has an instinctive reflex at his disposal to deal with the sensation of something tightening around his neck. He may misinterpret the correction on the choke collar as a stranglehold and unnecessarily become rebellious or afraid.”
Australian veterinarian Dr. Robert K. Wansbrough has even printed a factsheet on the hazards associated with choke collars. In it he warns that chokers can cause dogs to become fearful of hands, resentful, and aggressive.
While choke chains and their ugly counterpart, the “prong collar” (sometimes recommended by trainers when the war of wills caused by a choke chain escalates), come in for the most criticism, regular buckle collars aren’t necessarily the answer.
Chiropractor Sherry Fries dislikes all collars. “I implore people to use harnesses as opposed to any collar,” she says.
Like a choke collar, a buckle collar puts pressure on a pulling dog’s neck. The absolute safest option for walking a dog is probably a standard nylon-web harness. However, if your dog is a determined lunger, he or she may need an intermediate tool for training.
Injuries caused by choke collars:
● Intervertebral disc protusion
● Partial or complete paralysis of the fore and or hind limbs dueto spinal cord injuries
● Damage to the vagus nerve thus affecting function of majororgans such as the heart, lungs, liver, bladder, spleen,kidneys,etc.
● Crushing of the trachea with partial or complete asphyxiation
● Crushing of and sometimes fracture of the bones in the larynx
● Brusing of the esophagus
● Sharp increases in pressure in the head which can cause brain oreye damage and sometimes prolapse of the eye
Learn to Walk Safely—
Halters and Harnesses
One of the gentlest devices for training dogs not to lunge is a head halter. These consist of a strap that fits around the back of the dog’s neck, connects to a loop over the dog’s muzzle and continues down to a control ring under the chin. The idea is that where dogs heads go, their bodies follow. The halter works, not through force, but by redirecting the dog’s focus sideways or down. It may also re-create the sensation felt by puppies when their mothers correct them by putting their mouths over their puppies’ muzzles. (For more information on training halters, call Premier Pet Products at 1-800-933-5595.)
The “no-pull” harness consists of cords that run under the dog’s front legs, puts pressure on the chest and “armpits” when the dog pulls, not on the neck. While safer than a collar, these harnesses have been suspected of causing chafing and even radial injuries in some dogs’ legs if used incorrectly. Available in animal supply shops and catalogs.
Trainer Robin Kovary of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers emphasizes that just about any training tool can be either benign or dangerous in the wrong hands. She believes that the technique is more important than the tool. “A heavy-handed approach is not only unnecessary, it’s counter-productive,” she says. “It causes fear and stess and stress impairs learning.” Kovary believes a dog can be taught to heel just by using positive reinforcement, such as “lure rewards” (urging the dog to stay close by holding a treat or toy, for example).
And, finally: Always use a retractable leash: It takes the strain off you and your dog.