Try a simple experiment.
Open your hands with your thumbs touching each other. Place your thumbs at the base of
the throat with the fingers pointing back and surrounding the neck. Now, take a deep breath, and as you squeeze your hands together, pull backward with all your might.
Now you have a hint of how many dogs feel.
If you are still keen to continue with this experiment, put a choke chain around your neck and attach it to a leash. Ask a friend to grab the end of the leash and jerk on it periodically. Or attach the chain to an extension leash and sprint until the leash runs out. Welcome to a dog’s world!
No, I will not suggest that you test a prong collar or electric-shock collar. I just want you to
become more aware of what is happening to dogs. Collars have caused more injuries and ailments than you can imagine. These include:
Whiplash-like injuries. These injuries are just one result from being jerked around on a leash. Extension leashes add to the problem because they encourage dogs to pull and to gain speed before they get to the end of the line.
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 ear and eye problems disappear after switching their dog from a collar to a proper harness.
Excessive paw licking and foreleg lameness. Leash pulling can impinge on the nerves in the front legs. This can lead to an abnormal sensation in the feet and cause dogs to lick their feet. These dogs are sometimes misdiagnosed as having allergic reactions.
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid gland hormone). I was puzzled by the high rates of thyroid issues in breeds that frequently pull on the leash, such as Labrador retrievers and German shepherds. Then I realized that the collar pushes on the throat in the area of the thyroid gland, and the gland may be traumatized when a dog pulls on the leash. Thyroid trauma can cause low energy, weight gain, skin problems, hair loss, and a tendency to ear infections and organ failure.
Cancer. I suspect that the patients with severe energy flow congestion in the neck
area have higher cancer rates.
What’s the best alternative to a collar? Harnesses that have the leash attached at the front of the chest are the best solution. These distribute the pressure of tugs and jerks throughout the whole body and keep the neck and throat free. Harnesses that have the leash attached on the back are not recommended because pulling still restricts the front portion of the neck, thereby pressing on veins, arteries, nerves, and energy channels.
Make sure that your dog’s harness is the right fit and follow the maker’s instructions carefully. Use the harness only when leash-walking and take it off when your dog is off leash. If your dog is adequately trained, give him as much off leash time as possible. Ensure that the harness is not pressing or rubbing anywhere and that it is washed regularly.
If you have a “puller,” have his neck examined by a vet or animal chiropractor 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, so working with the right practitioner is essential.
I hope that you will join our “gentle leash” efforts and will pass this information on to others. Whenever you see a dog pulling and choking on the collar, gather the courage and talk to the owner. If you would like to be part of our “gentle leash” movement, you can reach us at [email protected].— Peter Dobias, DVM