Anytime a dog is walked by leash attached to a collar, there is a risk of physical damage, not to mention emotional and behavioral.
Even for dogs who do not tend to “pull” or owners who do not “jerk” the leash or collar, things can and do go wrong. For example, a person or a dog might panic over some unexpected stimulus and react before thinking.
Here are some good reasons to forego the collar and use a well-fitted walking harness, such as a spook harness, instead:
Injuries related to neck stress caused by tightening or sudden action to the collar can include whiplash, crushed or damaged trachea, larynx damage, and broken vertebrae.
Neck and spinal cord injuries may result in paralysis or neurological disorders.
Tightening of a collar can restrict lymphatic and blood flow to and from the head.
Tightening of a collar can increase intraocular pressure.
Eye prolapse, which is the eye slipping out of its place in the eye socket can be more or less severe. Some dogs will pull so much against a leash that their eyes begin to bulge out of the sockets; I myself had received phone calls about this from people seeking help for their dogs. Eye prolapse may result in vision loss and necessitates a veterinary visit. Per the Merck Manual, on severe eye prolapse, the eye should be “put back in place surgically” and the eyeball can usually be saved, but recovery of sight isn’t guaranteed. Rather, vision returns in about half of dogs.
Other risks include hypothyroidism and front limb nerve damage. Furthermore, collars are all too often slipped.
The above risks are present with all collars, flat and tightening, including martingales, which people tend to mistakenly believe are unslippable.
If you’re wondering about how to ensure identification in case of dog loss, thank you! I prefer a simple cotton or nylon click-in closure collar with my phone number stitched on it, and tags attached. Never attach a leash to an identification collar. You also will need to microchip your dog in case the collar is lost, but the easily accessible, instant identification provided by a non-leashing collar is an extra protection that means any member of the public can call you to retrieve your lost dog rather than taking the dog to a shelter for chip scan and stray dog hold, which would be upsetting for most pet dogs.
Some people don’t like to collar their dogs at all, due to risks of injury during play. In that case, you might create your own stretchable collar of a wide elastic band and Velcro closure, and write your phone number on it with indelible ink. This is inexpensive and it’s easy to make multiples. Supervise dogs playing in case one of them attempts to eat a torn off elastic collar. One of my dogs loved to pull off his playmate’s elastic collar and prance around the yard with his stolen prize.
There are a few harnesses that, especially if not constructed or fitted properly, may tend to ride up and put pressure on a dog’s throat. Obviously, you’ll want to forego those as well. Look also for a harness that does not lie on or put pressure on the shoulder and that does not loosen depending on the dog’s position, or otherwise pose a risk of slipping out. I prefer a spook harness, which has a third band around the waist, just at the bottom of the rib cage. This band is not for control or direction of the dog. It simply makes backing out of the harness very unlikely if not impossible. These can now be found online in specialty shops or can be custom ordered for your dog.
If you’d like more information on spook harnesses, or source citations for collar risks, just drop me a note. Happy leash-to-harness walking!
Rain Jordan, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP, is a certified dog training and behavior professional. Visit her at www.ExpertCanine.com.