Going for a walk around the neighborhood is a great way to bond with your dog while giving them the exercise and mental stimulation they crave. But what if the collar you are using for walks is actually creating distance between the two of you?
The convenience of collars as a walking tool is understandably very appealing because you can leave the collar on your dog and simply clip the leash to it. However, taking the extra time to help your dog into a harness or head halter can add much benefit to their walks and in turn, their home life.
Collars add little value when it comes to training your dog, and the pressure applied to the neck, trachea and spinal cord whenever the dog pulls at the end of the lead puts an unneeded amount of strain on the throat and spinal cord. This can lead to inflammation around the nape area for any-sized dog. In smaller breeds specifically, the pressure from the collar can cause the eyes to bulge out of the sockets, creating a higher risk of developing glaucoma.
Research has shown that using collars for walks can cause harm to the thyroid gland, which can lead to a multitude of health issues. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland positioned at the front of the neck just below the skull. If pressure is applied to this area, inflammation may develop around the thyroid causing a disruption in hormones produced. To make matters worse, when the dog’s natural immune system steps in to help clear out the inflammation, there is potential for the body to inadvertently remove healthy tissue.
Research is now underway to confirm whether or not there is a link between damage caused by collars to the spinal cord/thyroid gland and dogs developing serious health issues. Some studies show dogs who have a fixation with chewing on their paws might be feeling a bit of nerve damage from the collar digging into the spinal cord and upsetting the natural circulation, causing their feet to feel tingly.
If you are currently using a flat collar for walking, you may consider using a harness instead. Harnesses offer a world of difference on a walk with your pup. While it is true that it might take a few walks for your dog to feel comfortable, the advantages of a harness make it worth the time. Harnesses distribute the pressure across the dog’s entire chest and torso instead of just on the neck, which, as we now know, is an extremely delicate area for a dog no matter the breed or size.
There are several suitable options for those looking to get away from flat collars:
Back and Front Clip Harnesses
Back-clip harnesses can sometimes encourage a dog to pull by using the opposition reflex. The opposition reflex is a dog’s natural instinct to push or pull against pressure. In these cases, we would recommend a front-clip harness as these off-set the dog’s natural desire to push into the feeling of being held back. The front clip harness also makes it easier to control your dog while on a walk if they tend to pull toward passing people and their pups.
Gentle Leader Head Halter:
This type of head halter is greats for dogs with longer snouts and who need a little help staying focused on their walks. It fits gently over their muzzle and allows more control by gently directing the head of the dog in the direction you want to walk. Derived from horse bridles, the thought here is if you can control the head, you can control the body.
Unlike a flat collar, the martingale’s pressure is evenly distributed around the dog’s neck. Made with two loops, the larger loop is slipped onto the dog’s neck and a lead is then clipped to the smaller loop. When the dog tries to pull, the tension on the lead pulls the small loop taut, which makes the large loop smaller and tighter on the neck, thus preventing escape. Properly fitted, the collar will be comfortably loose when the dog is not pulling against the leash.
Even more than the issues around walking dogs on flat collars, dogs left unsupervised or left home alone wearing a flat collar are at risk of getting into a dangerous situation. Should your mouthy dogs play in your absence, one can get their jaw stuck in the other’s flat collar causing panic in one or both dogs. As they struggle to get loose, the collar can tighten around the neck and cause suffocation. This is where a break-away collar would be useful as it ‘breaks away’ when pressure is applied.
**There are also tools on the market that are used to train by way of negative reinforcement, which we do not recommend. We highly encourage anyone using these tools to strongly consider healthier options.**
This collar puts pressure on the neck the more the dog pulls, similar to the martingale collar. The difference, however, is that while the martingale is often made with fabric, choke collars are made of a thin chain metal. This metal can dig into the dog’s neck area, which is where many health issues can occur.
Similar to the choke collar, this one tightens the more the dog pulls, but this tool has added metal prongs that dig into the dog’s skin to ‘pinch’ them when they pull. The sharp pinch caused by these collars — a result of the handler sharply yanking on the leash — is intended to give the dog a correction when they misbehave.
Shock collars, also known as e-collars, remote training collars and Zap collars, deliver an electrical shock of varying intensity that is controlled by a hand-held remote. In addition to the potential for severe electric burns on the dog’s neck, shock collars can create anxiety and fear as the dog tries to understand the reason for punishment. These collars are currently under review in several countries and there are other countries that have banned this tool. They have already been banned in Wales, and soon to be Scotland and England.
As more evidence surfaces, the more it seems clear that the best and only use for a collar is to hold identification, rabies and license tags. Choosing the right tools to aid in positive training will help create a healthy and long-lasting bond between you and your pup.