Editor’s note: This article originally ran on Dr. Dobias’ site; we’re sharing it with his permission because we think this is a really important topic and we wanted to give Dogster readers a chance to comment on it.
I invite you to do a little test. Open your hands with your thumbs touching each other. Place the thumbs at the base of the throat and with the fingers pointing back and surrounding the neck. Now take a deep breath, squeeze, and pull back with all your force, keeping your thumbs connected.
This is how many dogs feel when they are on the leash and they are pulling.
If you are still keen to continue, put a choke chain around your neck, attach it to a leash, and ask a friend to pull and jerk on it periodically. Welcome to the dog world!
No, I will not make you go on with this experiment and ask you to test a prong collar or electric shock collar. I just want people to be more aware about what an average dog needs to deal with.
I also want to share with you why I believe that collar injuries make dogs sick and what the alternatives are.
How collars damage dogs
The reason why I am so weary of collars is that when dogs pull they can cause a lot of damage. The neck and cervical spine is one of the most important “energy channels” in the body. It contains the spinal cord for supply to the whole body, it is where the front leg nerves originate from, and it is the energy channel where the nerves controlling the internal organ function pass through. The thyroid gland, which regulates the whole body metabolism, is also located in the neck.
For years, I have observed the relationships between the neck injuries and health of dogs. I have learned that if the flow of energy in the neck is interrupted or restricted, a whole array of problems may arise, including lameness, skin issues, allergies, lung and heart problems, digestive issues, ear and eye conditions and thyroid gland dysfunctions. I also suspect that the patients who have severe energy flow congestion in the neck area have higher cancer rates.
Here are a few examples of issues that may be related to collars, to help you understand how important the health and alignment of the neck is to the general health of your dog.
1. Hypothyroidism (low thyroid gland hormone)
For the longest time I have been puzzled about the high rates of thyroid issues in breeds who frequently pull on the leash, such as Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. It seems obvious that the collar pushes on the throat exactly in the area of the thyroid. This gland gets severely traumatized whenever a dog pulls on the leash, it becomes inflamed and is consequently “destroyed” by the body’s own immune system when it tries to remove the inflamed thyroid cells.
Because the thyroid gland governs the metabolism of every cell, it can affect the whole body. The symptoms may be low energy, weight gain, skin problems, hair loss and a tendency to ear infections and organ failure.
2. Ear and eye issues
When dogs pull on the leash, the collar restricts the blood and lymphatic flow to and from the head. My clients are often perplexed when their dogs’ ear and eye problems disappear after switching from a collar to the right harness.
3. Excessive paw licking and foreleg lameness
Leash pulling impinges the nerves supplying the front legs. This can lead to an abnormal sensation in the feet and dogs may start licking their feet. These dogs are often misdiagnosed as allergic, when all that needs to be done is to remove the collar and treat the neck injury.
4. Neck injuries can cause a variety of problems, including emotional trauma
Some dogs suffer severe whiplash-like injuries from being jerked around. Extension leashes do not help because they encourage dogs to pull. They are faced with the imminent jerk when they get to the end of the line. They also do not understand why they are being “punished,” which often makes them shut down, disconnect, or act out their frustration with aggression.
Most people do not know that leashes and collars can be at the core of many problems, and that just one incident of pulling or running fast to the end of the leash can be serious.
So, how can we reduce the risk of these injuries?
Over the years, I have searched for the best way of making dogs safe and to prevent neck injuries and tried many harness system. So far, the Walk-In-Sync harness front-clip harness, which I sell on my site, is the best I have found. It fits excellently on most dogs and the straps do not fall too low, which keeps the shoulders nice and free.
Harnesses that have the leash attached at the front of the chest are the best solution, because they distribute the pressure of tugs and jerks throughout the whole body and keep the neck and throat free. Many harnesses on the market have the leash attached on the back, and pulling still restricts the front portion of the neck, thereby pressing on veins, arteries, nerves and energy channels.
Some final things to keep in mind to prevent injuries from collars
- If your dog is adequately trained, give him as much off-leash time as possible.
- If you have a “puller,” have his neck examined by a vet, physio or chiro experienced in neck assessment. You may want to get his thyroid level measured and the neck and back checked for any signs of injuries. Keep in mind that many veterinarians are not trained in checking spinal alignment and working with the right practitioner is essential.
- If you are looking for gentle and effective treatment methods, homeopathy, physiotherapy, intramuscular needle stimulation, chiropractics, acupuncture and massage are the best choices.
- Remember that ideal muscle and spinal balance also depends on the body receiving essential nutrients. Here are the supplements that I give to my dog Skai and recommend for any dogs. If your dog appears stiff or has had a history of neck, back and joint injury, Zyflamend and Glyco-Flex may be very beneficial.
Whenever you see a dog pulling and choking on the collar, gather the courage to approach their guardian. You can make a difference in a dog’s life.
Read more about shock collars and training:
- Shock Collars, to Me, Are Horrible; What Do You Think?
- Shock Collars for Dogs? They Don’t Work, and Here’s Why
- Let’s Talk: Should People Who Use Shock Collars Even OWN
- Please Don’t Hate Me! I’m a Reformed E-Collar User
- Would You Subject Your Dog to a Shock Collar if It Would Save Him from a Rattlesnake?
- Dog Clicker Training Basics
- Dog Training Techniques
- When It Comes to Dog Training, Breed Size Doesn’t Matter
- Traditional Trainers Almost Killed My Client’s Tiny Pekingese
- Modern vs. Traditional Dog Training: What’s the Difference?
Learn more about dogs with Dogster:
- 6 Ways to Thwart an Off-Leash Dog Rushing You and Your Dog
- On Dogs and Body Language: How I Learned to “Speak” Dog
- Aspirin and Ibuprofen: Are Human Pain Meds Safe for Dogs?
About the author: Peter Dobias is a holistic veterinarian who works to combine his knowledge of conventional veterinary medicine with natural nutrition, herbology, homeopathy, and spinal alignment techniques such as physiotherapy, chiropractic and osteopathy. He lives in Vancouver with his dog, Skai. Keep up to date with his work by following him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Note that the information provided in this article is for education and information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat a disease or replace the care of a veterinarian.