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Choke Collars Carry Risks

Head Halters are Safe and Effective

Question:
How do you feel about choke collars for dogs?

Dr. Nichol:
You ask a complex question with behavioral as well as physical implications. Walking a dog is a lot more fun when everybody is under control but jerking on a pet’s neck can have unintended consequences. There are good alternatives.

Most thick furred brutes like malamutes and Chow Chows are sturdy and difficult to injure but some small breed dogs like miniature poodles, Yorkies, and Pomeranians have collapsing tracheas (windpipes) that can suffer permanent damage. Many others, including dachshunds, beagles, and Maltese, have degenerate discs in their necks. Jerking on a choke collar can result in paralysis. Glaucoma is another serious risk when a choke collar compresses the jugular veins and drives up the pressure inside the eyes. Blindness is a big price for the crime of pulling on the leash.

Choke collars are a popular training tool because they work. A quick jerk delivers an immediate punishment. Prong (pinch) collars are even more effective. They inflict pain by poking multiple blunt metal prongs into a dog’s neck.  Thankfully, they are limited by how much they can squeeze.

You can sidestep every one of these concerns with a harness but it’s mighty hard to control a wild lurching beast this way. A head halter, on the other hand, would be a safe and effective tool for leading your dog by the very front of her body, rather than from her neck or chest. Just like a member of a real canine social group your dog can learn to earn interactions by focusing her attention where it belongs – on you, her leader.

All of that said, choke collars should not be considered taboo in the hands of people who understand how to use them safely, humanely, and without damaging the bond with a well-loved pet, not to mention the dog’s physical well-being. The real problem with punishment, though, is that while it can discourage a behavior you want to eliminate it does nothing to teach a dog what you want him to be doing instead. Modern behavior methods extinguish (abandon) undesirable behaviors while reinforcing appropriate alternatives.  When properly used and correctly fitted a Gentle Leader head halter will get the job done without sacrificing your dog’s trust.

Dr. Jeff Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). Questions on pet behavioral or physical concerns? For answers, Like my Facebook page at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.