Putting a collar on your dog seems like a fairly standard safety measure. Most pet parents don’t give it a second thought. But is it really that simple? As with most subjects related to pet care, no. Collars can be as dangerous as they are useful. The benefit of making your dog easily identifiable if it gets loose is balanced by the risk of strangulation if a dog catches its collar on something and hangs itself. Furthermore, dogs can choke one another by pulling on collars during rough play. Let’s examine the risks and benefits of collars, and what you can do to prevent a collar-related accident.
Benefits of Collaring Your Dog
The primary and most obvious benefit of dog collars is control: You’ve got something to clip a leash to, something to grab as you open the door for a guest to prevent your dog from taking off, and so on and so forth. There’s also safety if your dog is lost: Collars give you a way to attach identification tags to your dog. Microchips are great, but they don’t do much good if a neighbor finds your pooch. With ID tags, the dog can be returned without the need for a trip to the shelter or vet for a microchip scan.
Risks of Collaring Your Dog
There are numerous ways a dog wearing a collar can be injured, particularly if he’s unsupervised. When I interned with a veterinarian, one pet parent rushed a vomiting dog to the ER. X-rays revealed he’d swallowed his collar and tags while left unsupervised in his crate. Thankfully, with surgery (and a hefty bill for the owner), the dog survived and had no long-term ill effects from his unusual dietary choice. I suspect that owner will be more careful about removing his dog’s collar when crating it in the future.
Some other ways dogs can be injured by their collars– I know people who’ve experienced each of these horror stories:
- Collar gets hooked on the top of a fence; dog is hanged.
- Two dogs wrestle and one dog gets the other dog’s collar wrapped around its jaw, and chokes the other dog while trying to escape.
- Dog lies on heat or A/C vent, tags dangling; when the dog stands up, the tags are caught in the vent, and the dog panics and injures itself trying to escape.
- Dog hooks a toe through the ring where tags attach to its collar and injures its foot and neck struggling to escape.
- Dog catches its tags in the slats of a wooden porch, falls off the porch in its panic, and chokes to death rapidly.
It’s clear that collars aren’t completely safe; yet, at the same time, your dog is statistically more likely to become lost and need its tags than to injure itself with its collar. So what’s to be done?
Here are the safety measures I’ve adopted for my own dogs. You’ll need to make your own choices based on your dogs’ habits and needs, but this list may provide a jumping-off point.
- No collars in crates, ever.
- Collars are removed when dogs are home alone or in the backyard with supervision.
- Break-away collars are worn when guests are in my home who might make a mistake and let a rambunctious dog out the front door, and sometimes if I’m expecting guests and will need to clip leashes on quickly while I answer the door.
- Break-away collars are worn when traveling in unfamiliar areas.
- Regular buckle collars (and one harness, in the case of my foster Pug) on walks.
- Dogs are not left out of doors when I’m not home. This eliminates the need for identification in case of an escape from the yard, since they will not escape from my yard if they’re shut in the house.
- If the dogs go to a vet, daycare, or groomer, I make a point of ensuring that their collars and tags are removed before being shut in any type of kennel or pen.