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Why you should not walk your dog in a collar

What is the right equipment to walk your dog in? Clearly it has to be comfortable for the dog and easy for the guardian to put on

Our dogs’ comfort is really important, and there are situations that mean that some dogs have to wear muzzles but these too can be comfortable

This post is about walking with our dogs and making sure that they are having a good time and are not restricted or feeling vulnerable. Vulnerability is something which people do not think clearly about. In an effort to reproduce the perfect obedient dog people resort to equipment which actually makes them feel uncertain and vulnerable and if this is combined with restrictive equipment then a dog will feel miserable and stressed

No matter who recommends what to you, think carefully, as equipment which hands us ultimate control can and does make dogs miserable

Walking a dog shouldn’t be about control and obedience-and if a professional tells you that this is essential their ethics must be bought into question

There are facts about how damaging collars and other equipment can be-and it is always the most simple equipment that is best, but there is a dizzying array of equipment instantly available which looks innocent but is inherently aversive. In a previous chapter we have already discussed how stress and other problems can escalate stress but aversive equipment can also be the source of stress, so choose carefully because wellbeing is at the heart of so many decisions we make

It is easiest to discuss the types of equipment available in some kind of order so let’s start with collars.

When most people think of collars they probably think of the simple flat collar and this kind of collar is very popular as both a way of attaching a tag and many people clip their leads directly onto them when they walk their dog.

There are many types of collar and lots of reasons why a lead shouldn’t be directly attached to a collar. If a collar is used to solve a training problem, think carefully about the age of the dog, where you are walking and why the dog is pulling.There are many reasons why switching to a good harness is far better then continuing to correct a dog that is pulling, these are as follows

If a collar is used for making check corrections (as is often advocated) it is likely to cause whiplash. It only takes a few yanks to cause long term pain and discomfort which will radiate out into many other areas of the body. A dogs’ body may look very different to a human body but pain is experienced in exactly the same way and many ailments that we suffer from are identical for our dogs. It may also be a good point to mention the valsalva manoeuvre, this is the term that refers to tightening of the glottis ( the area between the lungs and vocal tract)  which indicates airflow has been cut off. This can be heard when dogs pull particularly if they are walked on a slip lead but can also occur when a dog pulls into a flat collar  

Other consequences of a dog pulling on a collar are

  • Damage to the trachea, larynx and oesphagus. These areas are often in direct contact with a collar when a dog pulls as they lie directly under the area where the collar sits. Damage to these structures can result in respiratory problems and can create difficulties with swallowing, and can cause choking and difficulties when eating the trachea and oesphagus are not well protected, if damaged this will cause an enlargement of the oespahgus and muscle tone will be lost and this leads to a greater risk of the trachea collapsing due to extreme pressure 


·       Skin-skin is the largest organ in the body and it serves a very important purpose that of forming a barrier between the external environment and the internal structures of the body. It can become damaged and bruised very easily and lead to hair loss, irritation, and wounds.


·       Muscles and fascia -a dog carries the majority of his weight on the front area of his body, or the forehand which means that any restriction of the neck affects movement. If a dog isn’t able to use his head and neck freely he is less able to be well balanced (leading to more pulling) and he is less able it may affect the sense of equilibrioception, and damaged tissues often become shortened as they heal which in turn  draw the vertebrae of the neck closer together than before damage was inflicted -this compromises the gaps between vertebrae and can affect major nerves in the area


·        Thyroid- trauma caused by a collar can lead to hypothyroidism



·        Hyoid (lies at base of throat) and attaches to the skull and base of the tongue. It is a very delicate horse shoe shaped bone and facilitates swallowing and the movements of the tongue, damage to this area will directly affect balance, and swallowing will become very painful.


·        Spinal cord and vertebrae-the dog has the same number of neck vertebrae as we do and they consist of bone collagen and cartilage. The spinal cord is the vital part of the nervous system and passes through the canal between vertebrae. These areas can be impacted by a collar and strain and tension can cause movement to alter which causes stresses and strains to these areas and can result in degeneration, impingement and even osteoarthritis in the intervertebral discs and narrowing of the spinal cord

·        Arteries, veins, nerves-these areas are all open to becoming damaged through pulling into a collar. A collar can create raised intra ocular pressure and impaired blood circulation in the brain leading to glaucoma


·        Thymus-The above points are relevant to dogs of any age, but there is one further consideration when walking puppies.  The thymus is important in the development of the immune system. This is where T cells mature, these cells are a type of white blood cell which are essential in the development of the immune system. The thymus is larger and more active in puppies but reduces as the dog enters adolescence. The impact of damage can though affect longevity if it has become damaged in early life. This is why puppies should always walk in a well fitted harness, not only because they are learning to walk with a human but collars can restrict and frustrate movement  

This is why I insist that the puppies that come to my classes wear a harness


Anyone that walks a dog should be familiar with this information and understand the damage that collars cause, and although this may build up over years, sudden violent force on a collar can cause immediate damage.

This kind of damage can be done by a simple flat collar, especially if it is attached to a flexi lead, but there are collars which are likely to cause more immediate damage to the wellbeing of a dog, as well as being likely to cause all the physical problems listed above

This is a segment of my new book which will be released later this year-my other book "A Dog For All Seasons can be found on Amazon

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