Play and Collars Can Lead to Accidents

Removing them makes play safer
By Karen B. London PhD, August 2017

It was one of the worst moments of my professional career. During a supervised play session in a group class, the buckles on two dogs’ collars got stuck together. Being attached at the neck caused both of these sweet social dogs to freak out. (That’s a better description than any technical term.) It’s hard to say what they thought was happening, but both of them were receiving a lot of pressure on the neck and the more they struggled, the more panicky they got. Neither was choking, but it was not a safe situation. After a quick attempt to release both collars while several guardians tried to steady the dogs, I ran to the supply closet to grab a pair of blunt-edged scissors, and ran back to the dogs to cut off one of the dog’s collars.

The dogs were safe, and we could then attend to their emotional condition, which wasn’t great. One was whining and the other was shaking. Luckily, neither dog appeared to hold a grudge against the other, and they remained friends. I did encourage the guardians to take their dogs to their veterinarians to make sure that they did not have any injuries requiring medical care. (The dogs were a little bruised but fortunately neither of them suffered any serious damage.)

Why did we have blunt-edged scissors in our supply cabinet? Because one of our trainers had once had a similar situation that was even worse than the one I faced. If a person in that class had not had a Swiss Army Knife and used it to free the dogs, it could have been disastrous. After that, we were always prepared for such worst-case scenarios, and it is now my preference to remove all collars before playtime.

Collars are helpful to dogs in many ways, but also pose dangers. On the up side, collars hold tags that have been responsible for the safe return of countless dogs. They allow people a way to prevent a dog from running into the street or getting into less serious but still dangerous trouble—with a leash or as something to hold onto directly in a pinch. They are stylish, in the opinion of many.

On the down side, they are attached around a dog’s neck and therefore pose a danger. Dogs have been injured, even fatally, when collars have caught in things as random as heating vents, fences, crates, branches and other collars. The most common accident that I have heard about involves another dog’s lower jaw getting stuck in the collar during play and causing strangulation.

I prefer to see dogs play without collars because I know that serious collar accidents can happen. If dogs with collars must play together, I advise having something sharp on hand to cut the collars, such as a pair of blunt-edges scissors. (Pocket knives can also be used, but they are more likely to cause an injury during the attempt to help the dogs.) I don’t like metal collars because of the various risks they pose, and they are especially problematic in the case of an accident during play because they can’t be cut off.

Playing without collars is safer because of the risk of collar accidents, but breakaway (also called quick release) collars are also an option. They have a safety buckle that releases when significant pressure is applied to them. The safety buckle has a D-ring on either side of it so the breakaway section can be bypassed for leash walks by attaching a leash to both D-rings.

Have you ever witnessed an accident involving collars when dogs were playing?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.