Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. Find him online at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.WalkaHound.com).
Chris Longenecker, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Reading, PA, contributed to this article.
Dog owners are constantly reminded to keep their dogs on a leash. That's the right thing to do, right? It’s certainly true that leashes and collars can be great. Unfortunately, there are several ways to get into serious trouble when a leash or a collar is used incorrectly. I can think of several instances when dogs have needed medical or surgical care over the years after hurting themselves with a leash or a collar:
- Bruiser the Maltese, who was taking a walk in the dog park with his owner at the end of a retractable leash, saw another dog and ran to greet him. He startled the other dog and that dog started barking. Concerned about a possible dog fight, and caught off guard, Bruiser's owner jerked the leash to get him out of harm's way. Unfortunately, the owner's quick reaction caused severe trauma to the neck. Bruiser had to wear a neck brace and take pain medications for one month.
- Simba the Australian shepherd was attached to an overhead line tied between two trees in the back yard. The line gave him the freedom to run back and forth while unattended. Then one day, his owners heard Simba scream in pain. They ran outside and found him crying, holding his rear leg up. The owners rushed him to the vet. Radiographs revealed a shattered tibia (shin bone). We successfully fixed the bone surgically, but this is a good reminder that these tethered lines can be very dangerous. To be fair, a fracture is a rare result. A much more classic injury from these lines is neck trauma when the dog runs just a little bit further than the leash allows him to. These injuries are just as likely to occur when dogs are tied to a stationary object.
While retractable leashes allow your dog to have more freedom, they sometimes provide a false sense of security.
Tiny the Rottie was walking with his owner on the sidewalks of a busy street at the end of a 20 foot retractable leash. He must have seen something really exciting on the opposite sidewalk because he suddenly ran across the street to investigate it. Unfortunately, he was hit by a car along the way. That's how I met Tiny, who ended up with multiple fractures of the pelvis and a dislocated hip.
Retractable leashes can also hurt humans: there have been cases of rope burn, badly hurt fingers (very badly), and broken legs. One little girl even sustained eye damage because of a faulty retractable leash.
Many behaviorists and trainers actually dislike retractable leashes.
If leash troubles weren't enough, collars can also be a source of danger.
A very sad, almost barbaric, situation can occur when a collar is kept on a growing puppy (sensitive souls should skip this paragraph-it is graphic). While the puppy grows, the collar does not. The end result might very well be what we call an "embedded collar." This is a horrible situation where the collar literally grows into the skin and needs to be surgically removed under general anesthesia. Then the raw skin has to be reconstructed to close the circular wound around the neck.
A loose collar is not much better; we often see this in vet clinics when we use a pet owner's own leash and collar. If the pet resists following us to the treatment room by pulling in the opposite direction, they often slip right out of the collar. If this happens in an exam room, nobody gets hurt. But this has happened to some of our patients who were in the streets or near an aggressive dog.
A good rule of thumb is that one to two fingers should fit under the collar. You should find out that this is comfortable for your pet.
A painful situation can occur when a dog wears a shock collar or an "invisible fence" collar and it causes a burn or irritation to the area where the prongs touch the skin. These collars are beneficial if used appropriately, but serious complications can occur if they are not used correctly.
Of course, we are huge advocates of leashes and collars. Just be aware of the dangers and act accordingly--especially with retractable leashes--and enjoy your next dog walk.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Good and bad dog collars
Home & garden Let's talk good-dog, bad-dog collars
1 of 14 Ginger models a halter on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. The halter is a harness that fits over the body of the dog with a leash attachment on the chest. Russell Yip/The Chronicle Show More Show Less
2 of 14 Ginger models a choke chain aka the slip or choke collar on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. The choke chain forms into a loop which cinches tight when pulled. Russell Yip/The Chronicle Show More Show Less
4 of 14 Ginger models a head collar on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. The Gentle Leader head collar hooks around the dog's nose and pulls the head down when pulled. Russell Yip/The Chronicle Show More Show Less
5 of 14 Ginger models a martingale collar on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. The martingale collar is made of two loops which prevent the dog from wriggling out of the collar. Russell Yip/The Chronicle Show More Show Less
7 of 14 Ginger models a prong collar on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. The prong collar is metal and has dull prongs which constrict the dog's neck when pulled. Russell Yip/The Chronicle Show More Show Less
8 of 14 Ginger models a harness with a leash attachment by the shoulder on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. Russell Yip/The Chronicle Show More Show Less
10 of 14 Ginger models a flat collar aka identification collar on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. The flat collar fastens like a belt and provides minimum pressure. Russell Yip/The Chronicle Show More Show Less
11 of 14 Ginger models a halter on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. The halter is a harness that fits over the body of the dog with a leash attachment on the chest. Russell Yip/The Chronicle Show More Show Less
13 of 14 Ginger models a choke chain aka the slip or choke collar on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. The choke chain forms into a loop which cinches tight when pulled. Russell Yip/The Chronicle Show More Show Less
Cassius strained against his nylon collar toward a snack his ancient Roman namesake would have considered appealing only after days of contentions debate in the Senate: a dried cow's hoof.
The 8-month-old, 100-pound mastiff-boxer dragged his new owner, Scott Ehlert, along with him into the Lower Haight pet store Animal House. As the puppy's enormous paws flopped this way and that, Ehlert, 33, a student from Oakland, tugged back.
"I'd like to use a pinch collar on him," he said, referring to a type of metal-pronged collar with blunt metal edges that tighten at the neck, "but my girlfriend hates it. Thing is, I end up pulling him a lot more without it."
The debate about how best to outfit your dog, when it comes to both training tools and walking aids, is a heated one among veterinarians, trainers, walkers and owners. The real split seems to be whether or not you believe in punishing the dog when he pulls or jumps or rewarding with treats or praise. Those in the first camp often use training collars, the second, harnesses or head collars.
The only thing all can agree on is that the ideal dog will leave the house wearing only his identification collar, so well trained that he is calm, focused and immune to passing distractions, a Zen dog. Unfortunately, most pups don't channel the Dalai Lama.
So what's young Cassius to do? He's sweet but rambunctious, friendly but tends to start scuffles, can sit on command but often uses his teeth when taking treats.
He's got a whole range of options: flat collar, choke chain, prong collar, martingale collar, shock collar, head collar or harness. All have their pros and cons (see sidebar).
Holly Brand, veteran trainer and owner of West Coast K-9 Training in Brentwood, says, "It's not so much what you use, it's how you use it. It's like with people. Not everything works for everybody."
While Brand says the choke chain can be used effectively, she cautions owners to learn how to use it properly.
"You want a snap effect," she says. "You don't want to drag the dog with a choke chain and apply pressure to the neck for a long time. That can cause neck trauma."
For that reason, Megan Johnson, owner of Animal House, prefers prong collars. They apply a quick corrective "yank," rather than the prolonged, dull pull of a choke collar.
Dr. Melissa Bain, assistant professor in veterinary medicine and epidemiology at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, is less diplomatic. She says anything that restricts the dog's neck can irritate the neck fur, hurt a dog's larynx or even cause a collapsed trachea.
"For a choke collar to be used properly," she says, "it has to choke the dog. No matter how lightly you do it, you're still damaging the dog, either physically to cause choking, or emotionally to cause fear."
Like her, many opt to avoid any correction that will scare a dog.
"If the dog is scared and you add pain, you might suppress the behavior, but not the emotional state," says veterinarian and animal behaviorist Sophia Yin, author of "How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves."
Her top choices? The head collar or front-leash-attaching harness. The head collar, which is "like power steering," she says, and the halter are both humane and severely reduce pulling.
They are the training tools of choice at Dog/Evolve, a training company in San Francisco that advocates pain-free equipment.
"With choke chains and prong collars, we end up seeing negative side effects like leash aggression," says partner Pamela Wyman, a certified trainer. "Dogs will associate the painful stimulus around their neck with seeing other dogs or strangers, because they'll lunge out in a normal puppy way just to say 'hi' and they get this big yank. The halter or Gentle Leader are more comfortable for both the dog and the walker."
Wyman cautions owners to remember that these devices are all tools to reach the ideal, not the ideal itself, which is a calm, cool, collected pooch that wouldn't dream of pulling or playing rough.
"This equipment is used to reduce pulling without actually doing training," she says.
So Cassius, here on out, the bottom line is: School comes before hooves.
This collar, above left, forms into a loop that cinches tight when pulled.
Pros: If used properly - i.e. a quick jerk - some say this is a good training tool and reduces pulling.
Cons: Often used incorrectly, irritates neck, can damage the trachea, cause or escalate aggression.
Metal collar made of dull prongs, this col-lar constricts the dog's neck when pulled.
Pros: Same as choke chain.
Cons: Same as choke chain.
Made of two loops, functions similarly to a choke chain.
Pros: Prevents the collar from slipping off sight hounds (i.e. greyhounds, whippets) whose heads may be smaller than their necks. Some say it constricts the dog's neck less than choke chain/prong collar.
Cons: Similar to a choke chain.
Hooks around the dog's nose.
Pros: Humane, severe reduction in pulling, no pressure on throat, encourages positive reinforcement.
Cons: Some dogs don't like the feel
and need a few days to warm up to it.
Chest- attaching harness
This collar, top right, fits over the body of the dog, with a leash attachment at the chest.
Pros: Severe reduction in pulling, no pressure on throat, encourages positive reinforcement.
Cons: Can be expensive.
Shock collar, or electronic collar
Administers an electric shock, of varying degrees, to the dog, either controlled by a remote switch or by the dog's bark.
Pros: If controlled by the dog's bark, the correction is immediate.
Cons: If controlled by remote switch, correction often administered a few beats after dog misbehaves. Both types can frighten the dog.
Flat collar, a.k.a. identification collar
Fastens like a belt and provides minimal pressure.
Pros: Easy to put on, fairly neutral.
Cons: Not a training tool.
Fits over the body of the dog, with a leash attachment between the shoulder blades.
Pros: No pressure on the throat.
These pet collars have been linked to nearly 2,000 pet deaths
A dog rolling around and playing with a ball. Image source: LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe
Anyone that has a pet knows how quickly they can become a member of the family. You miss them when you don’t see them for a while, and the feeling is usually mutual. You’ll do whatever it takes to keep them happy and healthy — or at least you should — and that includes keeping them free of nasty parasites like ticks. Unfortunately, one particular brand of flea collars has now been linked to hundreds of pet deaths across the country, along with nearly 1,000 human injuries and a total of over 75,000 reports of adverse reactions.
A new report by USA Today reveals the details. The Seresto collar developed by drug giant Bayer is at the center of an absolutely massive pile of reports suggesting that it can be dangerous or even deadly to cats and dogs. The collars, which were first rolled out in 2012, have a long history of reports related to pet deaths and injuries, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a massive archive of the cases. Yet, as USA Today notes, there have been no warnings or recalls issued for the collars.
When contacted for additional information, the EPA told the news agency that the chemicals used in the Seresto collars have “been found eligible for continued registration,” meaning that there are no plans to pull the product from the market or restrict its distribution.
The EPA also provided the following statement:
No pesticide is completely without harm, but EPA ensures that there are measures on the product label that reduce risk. The product label is the law, and applicators must follow label directions. Some pets, however, like some humans, are more sensitive than others and may experience adverse symptoms after treatment.
Based on the EPA data, approximately 1,700 domestic pets have died after using the collar. Another 3,800 have experienced major health effects, 7,700 have experienced moderate reactions, and 21,400 have experienced minor reactions. On top of that, 907 humans have had health reactions to the collars, presumably when handling them and not wearing them.
Some of the human incident reports were related to pet owners sleeping in the same bed as a dog wearing one of the collars. Hospitalizations have been reported from close contact with an animal wearing the Seresto collars, along with heart arrhythmias, soft tissue irritation, and other uncomfortable symptoms.
The collars were developed by Bayer, but the company sold its entire animal health operation to Elanco Animal Health in 2019 for $7.6 billion. Bayer’s earnings data shows that the collars earned the company over $300 million in 2019, so you can see why a recall could cause a noticeable impact on the company’s bottom line.
Studies declaring the safety of the chemicals used in the collars have come under fire from organizations like the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, but nothing has resulted in restrictions of its use in pet collars. We’ll have to wait and see if this new publicity leads to further investigations and potential action, but the fact that the product has remained on the market for nearly a decade despite the well-known risks suggests it may dodge a recall yet again.
What Is a Prong Collar?
A prong collar, more commonly known as the pinch collar, is a special type of collar constructed out of a metal chain. You can add to the length of the collar by adding more chain links or even shorten it by removing some. The unique part about these collars is that each metal chain link includes metal prongs that stick to the dog’s skin.
Most dog owners do not consider themselves a fan of the prong collars as they consider it an inhumane way to train your dog. However, if you use it correctly, it can be the perfect tool to help your dog behave in public. While that may be the case, it still can hurt your dog if you do not know how to use the collar, especially on smaller dogs.
How Does This Type of Collar Work?
As we already mentioned, the prong collar consists of various metal chain links or loops that fit into each other. Each chain has a prong that acts as the training aid. Also included on a prong collar is a silver ring at the front through which you can attach a leash. Usually, this ring sits at the back of your dog’s neck.
When you walk your dog with the leash on, the prongs simply rest against their skin. However, if your pet starts to pull or tug at the leash, the collar tightens a little and the prongs on the back side of the collar start pinching the dog’s neck.
This tends to create an unpleasant sensation and helps deter any pulling by the dog. We highly recommend that you use the collar and leash only when walking your dog by your side and not in front of you. The reason being that some dogs tend to pull lightly when they are walking in front, even if they are trained well.