I want to start out by saying that this is a topic that can get some people VERY heated. I am in no way attacking anyone or their personal choices, let’s all remain calm. I just want to bring up some interesting things I’ve learned over the years that may change the way you feel about using a collar (and it may not, that’s okay too).
Today I’m going to walk you through the three big concerns I see with collar usage. When I say collars, I am referring to anything that you put on your pet’s neck to secure them including flat buckle collars, prong, choke chain, and martingale collars.
1. The Thyroid Gland
The thyroid gland is located in the upper third of the dog’s neck in the front, right where a collar tends to tighten….The thyroid gland is “part of the endocrine system, the collection of glands that produces all of our body’s hormones. Together the endocrine glands control almost every cellular function” 1 (Dr. Jean Dodds).
The thyroid gland takes iodine from food ingested and produces the hormones t4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine). Both T3 & T4 are used to control metabolism and also help to control the functions of virtually all of the body’s cells.
- Controlling organ and tissue functions (protein, carbohydrate, and fat synthesis and enzyme, vitamin, and mineral production)
- Producing calcitonin which helps with the regulation of blood calcium levels
- Playing an important role in brain development
Dr. Peter Dobias says that “Most people believe that large breeds are more commonly affected by hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone production) mainly because of genetics. Others point to poor quality processed food or vaccines which cause the weakened and overwhelmed immune system to turn onto its own tissue – in this case, the thyroid gland. I agree that all the above factors play a role, but there is another much more serious cause. Trauma to the thyroid gland caused by collars. The problem is that the thyroid gland is located at the front portion of the throat right in front of the Adam’s apple ( anatomically the laryngeal cartilages). This makes it very prone to injuries by dog collars.” 2
2. Collapsing Trachea
This is a condition which commonly affects small and toy breed dogs. Tracheal collapse can be acute or acquired and occurs when the cartilaginous rings and dorsal membrane that make up your dog’s trachea begin to collapse making it difficult for the dog to get enough air.
Dr. Karen Becker recommends that dogs with or prone to this condition should never be walked in a collar as reducing all pressure on the throat is essential for these dogs. 3
3. Cortisol Release
Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the body’s adrenal glands. I want to focus quickly on its effects on memory.
“Cortisol works with epinephrine (adrenaline) to create memories of short-term emotional events…and may originate as a means to remember what to avoid in the future. However, long-term exposure to cortisol damages cells in the hippocampus; this damage results in impaired learning. Furthermore, cortisol inhibits memory retrieval of already stored information.” 4
This is important to know because when the brain is deprived of oxygen (i.e., when a dog pulls on the leash and puts pressure on his windpipe), cortisol is released. Meaning the dog could potentially have a harder time focusing and remembering previously learned behaviours thereby making your training sessions more difficult.
The Front Clip Harness Debate
There is some debate on whether front-clip “no-pull” harnesses are detrimental to a dogs gait. This is based on a gait analysis study done by Dr. Christine Zink which found that dogs in these harnesses bore less weight on their front legs then they normally would wearing a harness. She was especially concerned with the risk this posed for canine athlete.
The bottom line is that the best way to stop your dog from pulling while on a leash is to train it not to pull. Dr. Zink also recommends training as the best method, and recommend using a back clip harness to secure your pet.
Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, comments, “I am a dog trainer/behavior professional with a very specialized concern about helping dogs be well-mannered companions to their humans. I agree that the way to get a dog to stop pulling is to train it. No-pull harnesses provide, in my experience, the least harmful way to give many owners the window of opportunity to reinforce –and thereby train – polite leash walking. An owner can’t train a dog to walk on leash if she is getting dragged off her feet.” 5
Overall, the recommendation is to walk your pet in a harness or off leash to minimize risk. Also using a shock absorbing leash can help reduce jarring of your pet and your shoulder.
I walk my dogs in harnesses that have both a front and back clip so I can move their leash attachments as I see necessary, I also strive to bring them to places they can be off leash as much as possible (because it’s just easier with three of them and a baby). Collars can be useful for identification and beautification purposes but are perhaps not the best option for restraining a dog.
*A quick note to those people who say that choke, prong, or martingale collars only cause damage if they are not used correctly…
Whenever I bring this topic up, I always get someone who says this. They will argue that dogs walking in these collars pull less than dogs walked in regular collars. My response is that even one or two “corrections” with these tools can cause irreversible damage (see Dr. Peter Dobias’ article for more info).
I hope you found this helpful. As always my only goal is to provide pet owners with information so they can make educated decisions for their pets. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!
- Dodds, Jean. “The Canine Thyroid Epidemic”