Animal Writes
3 March 1999 Issue

A Pain in the Neck: 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."

"...[Choke collars] are responsible
for thousands of dogs being injured
each year through blunt force
trauma to the trachea and spinal
column. The danger lies in the
accumulated effect of repeated
pressure to the neck."
~ Kirby B. Hill, owner and trainer,
Dog Sense Unlimited

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 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."

But it's not just choke collars that are the problem: Sherry Fries explains,
"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 dog 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."

"I have seen many cases where a
happy, friendly dog who just needs
some training has become, with
the use of a prong collar, a fearful,
even dangerous dog."
~ Arty Ansell, dog trainer

Australian veterinarian Dr. Robert K. Wansbrough has 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.

"No dog deserves to be adorned
with the strangulating links of the
choke chain...if you care for your
dog, chuck the choke!"
~ Roger Mugford, dog trainer and
author of Never Say No!

Chiropractor Sherry Fries dislikes all collars. "I implore people to use harn-
esses 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.


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 information, call
Premier Pet Products at 1-800-933-5595.)

The "no-pull" harness consists of cords that run under the dog's front legs. It
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 emphasizes that any training tool can be dangerous in
the wrong hands. "The technique is everything. A heavy-handed approach is
counterproductive," she says. "It causes fear and stress which impairs
learning." Kovary believes that 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.

Injuries caused by choke collars:
* Dislocation and/or fracture of the vertebrae
* Invertebral disc protrusion
* Fainting
* Partial or complex paralysis of the hind and/or forelimbs due to spinal cord
* Damage to the vagus nerve affecting function of major organs 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
* Bruising of the esophagus
* Sharp increases in pressure in the head, which can cause brain or eye
damage and sometimes prolapse of the eye

From PETA's Animal Times, Summer 1998
Email: [email protected]

Go on to The Rhetoric of Apology in Animal Rights
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