When a collar becomes dangerous

A Shih Tzu Puppy. Photo by Jim Winstead, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.


By Julia Runk Jones

I had a terrible shock a few days ago. A kind neighbor came by to help me install a new TV. I put the dogs into the sunroom to play while we worked. In the midst of the screen going up, I suddenly heard terrible screams coming from the sunroom.

Rushing in, I found my two youngest dogs, siblings who loved to play together, locked in what appeared to be a murderous embrace. For a moment, I could see nothing but thrashing bodies. When my sight cleared a little, I saw that their heads were locked together. They both looked terrified and were screaming in one another’s ear.

I realized I had seen this before. The simple little collar around Glinda’s neck was twisted and she was choking to death. Her sister Maria had an eyetooth caught in the ring of Glinda’s collar. She was desperately struggling to free herself, which only made it worse.

Years ago, two of my dogs were caught the same way and, being younger and stronger, I was able to lift one up and turn him around to free them. This had also happened for other people I knew in the show ring, and at least one of those dogs had died. I knew collars could kill and never put one on a dog in the house and rarely when outside.

Did I say never? A few weeks earlier, a houseguest had had trouble telling the two girls apart. I collared Glinda so that she could recognize both easily. It worked out well, until I forgot to take it off.

A Simple Buckle Collar

It doesn’t take much to turn a little nylon strap into a killing tool. Just one twist will do it. And the killer was getting dragged around the room by her frantic friend, who was quite literally fighting for her life. Fortunately for both dogs, my son waded into the middle of this thrashing mass of hysteria and lifted one over the other to untangle them.

When both were caught in this deadly dance, they had done damage to one another. With heads clamped closely together, screaming in one another’s ears, their panic increased and thrashing legs dug into one another, leaving long scratches. But the worst damage was to their friendship.

Now uncharacteristic suspicion shadows their activities, but they are littermates and young. They may be still stalking around stiff-legged and rumbling at one another, but it will be forgotten in a few more weeks. If they had just been two strangers playing together in a dog park, the damage to their relationship and to their feelings about the park itself might have been irreparable.

I know breeders who have lost dogs in this way. Please be careful. My dogs were caught twice. They are hounds and often grab the neck when playing. It is characteristic of the breed and reflects the way they bring down prey. But even breeds who may never go for the neck can get over excited and manage to catch a tooth in the joyful rough and tumble. After that, everything they do will make things worse and tighten the twisting collar.

Make no mistake about what I am saying. An innocent looking ten dollar nylon collar can kill your dog. When out on the show circuit, I heard stories of dogs killed or almost killed by a simple collar in this manner. And if someone leaves a choke chain on their dog after removing the leash the danger increases rapidly.

But, you may say, I need to be able to control my dog. Yes you do and believe me, everyone wants you to be able to do so. That problem is solved with one decision: get a harness.

The magnificent harness

A harness controls a dog from his center of gravity. The controlling ring sits on his back not at his vulnerable and sensitive neck. Some people hook the leash to the front ring at his chest, but that unbalances the dog. The front ring is best used for double-contact control using a leash with two connection rings. In our area, there have been teachers and classes around modern leash control. (I will go into this in detail in a future post.)

When buying a harness, you may want to first try it on your dog to get the proper size. Check how it fits across the front legs. A poorly designed harness will restrict movement and rub on the upper thighs when moving.

There are also harnesses that light up at night. I have one and it is quite beautiful. Mine even twinkles or flashes in sequence on demand, adding even more to its safety as well as being kinda cool. These light harnesses are available on the internet. However, you would not want to use one for everyday activities because they are not strong enough to handle normal rough and tumble play.

REMINDER: Keep an eye on the water bowl. Dogs cool themselves principally by evaporating water inside the mouth and off the tongue. This means they will need to drink considerably more water than usual.


Our sweet Puff – our time with you was not enough

12/2015 – 3/2023

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1 Comment on "When a collar becomes dangerous"

  1. Deborah Fulghieri | June 29, 2023 at 10:19 pm | Reply

    Another reason not to use a collar is that it damages the dog’s trachea if there is much tension on the leash.

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