Helpful for control, but there's a downside.
My staff asked me to write a column about collars. Collars are a helpful tool for physical control, but there’s a downside to dogs wearing collars. One danger is strangulation—the collar can get caught on something and the dog strangles in an attempt to get free. Another danger is with a growing puppy. Check the collar frequently to make sure you can get several fingers between the collar and your puppy’s neck. A too-tight collar can injure your puppy.
The event that lead to this request is a dog that arrived to stay with us wearing an electric fence collar. We remove collars from dogs lodging with us and in our daycare, and when staff removed the collar, they found sores on the dog’s neck from the metal contacts. Apparently, the collar was left on the dog all the time and the contacts had abraded his skin. There’s no reason to leave any collar on your dog in the house, but certainly remove an electric fence collar when your dog is indoors.
Throughout my life “in dogs” I have experienced some profound lessons. One lesson that occurred early in my professional career was about the dangers of collars. I was an apprentice to a wonderful dog trainer who had phenomenal, beautifully trained German shepherd dogs. One day she called me to relate a horrifying story—one that frightens me to this day.
Two of her dogs—a mother and her two-year-old son—were playing together as dogs do. They were wrestling, chasing, and having a wonderful time. Sue wasn’t paying much attention until she heard the playful, growly sounds change to alarm and then rage. She rushed into the room to find the dogs entangled in a fight that she was powerless to stop. The son had gotten a tooth caught in his mother’s metal link collar. In trying to extricate himself, the collar had twisted around his jaw, painfully cutting his mouth, and was strangling his mother. The dogs were panicked, reflexively snapping, fighting and trying to escape.
Alone in her house, Sue was helpless. There was no way she could contain 160 pounds of writhing, fighting, terrified dogs to extricate them from each other. She was hysterically thinking she’d have to shoot one dog to save the other when fate came to their rescue. Her rural mail carrier arrived, bravely jumping in to help Sue disentangle and save her dogs.
Sue’s experience profoundly impacted my view of dogs playing together wearing collars—any collar. Even flat buckle collars can cause problems as happened to one of our trainers. Two of her dogs were happily playing when one dog got a tooth caught in the other’s collar. It took two people to control the dogs and extricate them from each other. Sadly, even though they were best friends, they never played together again.
Recently, a friend who works on the west coast asked me about a doggie daycare in their area that a co-worker was considering using. She gave me the website and asked me to check it out and give her my opinion. The first thing I noticed when I clicked on the site was that the dogs playing together were wearing collars. I went no further. Either get them to take off everyone’s collar or don’t send your dog to that daycare, was my response.
We’ve seen live feeds of daycares in which the dogs were unsupervised, with staff looking through a window from time to time—a dangerous enough practice. But leaving dogs both unsupervised and wearing collars is a recipe for disaster. In fact, having dogs wear collars, supervised or not, is both dangerous and unnecessary.
As one of the first interactive daycares in the US., over the years many people have written or called me for advice about starting a daycare. One of the first things I say is “no collars.” “But how can you control the dogs without collars?” they ask. It’s not difficult to come up with alternatives to collars, such as caretakers having lines to throw around the dogs’ necks if they need to control them, as our daycare chaperones all have. There’s no reason to risk the disaster of a tooth, jaw, or even a foot getting tangled in a collar.
Whether at home, at a dog park, or at a doggie daycare—wherever your dog may play and wrestle with other dogs—take off your dog’s collar and make sure that any dog he plays with is also collar-free. It could prevent a disaster, and possibly even save your dog’s life.