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and Choke Chains:
Proceed With Caution!!
by Judy Kody Paulsen,
A lovely four year-old female greyhound is rushed to the veterinarian
to determine the cause for her labored breathing and difficulty swallowing.
Noninvasive procedures to restore her breathing are unsuccessful and an
emergency tracheotomy is performed. It is determined
that improper use of a choke chain (also referred to as a slip collar)
fractured the hyoid bones in the neck which form a cradle that supports
the larynx. The trauma resulted in tissue swelling and bleeding
into the surrounding area, cutting off the dog's ability to breathe or
Greyhounds, because of their structure, can be
especially susceptible to neck injuries resulting from harsh corrections
while wearing a slip collar, especially of the chain variety.
According to veterinarian, Dr. Raymond Bouloy, of Manzano Animal Clinic
in Albuquerque, NM, "The cinching down of a choke
chain can cause many cervical problems". Dr. Bouloy's
personal experiences with choke chain injuries occurred mostly during
five years of practice at an animal emergency clinic.
Choke chains (slip collars) can be dangerous in the hands of the inexperienced,
but a professional obedience trainer should be well aware of the lurking
dangers of these potentially lethal devices. The
injury to the above greyhound occurred in the hands of a professional
trainer. The trainer was demonstrating to the dog's handler
how to get the attention and respect of her greyhound. This greyhound
was not recalcitrant nor aggressive; she was merely letting her attention
stray from the subject at hand. The instructor
chided the handler for not establishing herself as the "boss" and proceeded
to demonstrate how this could be accomplished with a quick jerk of the
leash which was attached to a choke chain around the unsuspecting greyhound's
neck. The damage was not immediately evident. It took over two days for
the swelling to occlude the airway to the point of asphyxia.
This type of correction (jerking sharply on the leash, also referred to
as compulsion training) has long been held as the standard for training
dogs. The most disturbing aspect of the above incident is the trainer
apparently did not take into consideration that some dogs are particularly
susceptible to this type of injury because of their physiology; greyhounds
have long, thin necks with very little hair and very thin skin. Combine
these characteristics with a ligature such as a choke chain and it can
Formal obedience training is widely recognized as a valuable tool in establishing
good communication between a dog and its handler. It is valuable for some
dogs but unnecessary for others. Many dogs are so willing to please and
obey their people, they are capable of learning good social manners without
the intervention of professional trainers. Basic commands utilized along
with positive reinforcement can be taught by even the novice pet owner.
However, for the more resistant dogs, some formal training may be essential.
Newer and very effective methods of training
have all but eliminated the need for punishment methods and compulsion
training, once thought to be the only path to a dog's cooperation.
From seriously harsh and abusive methods to pure positive reinforcement,
theories abound as to what is most effective. The "Koehler method" is
a disturbing approach to punishment-based training that is still widely
used today. Named after William Koehler, considered a foremost authority
on training in the 60's and 70's, these incredibly harsh methods to modify
various canine behaviors included lifting a dog off the ground by the
choke chain and holding him there until he ceases resisting or goes unconscious;
filling a hole with water and submerging the dog's head until he is near
unconsciousness to teach him not to dig; jerking, kicking and "cuffing"
dogs. The theory behind this type of training is that the dog must be
corrected quickly with punishment or it will learn to ignore the command
and continue the undesirable behavior.
On the other hand, according to *Pat Miller of
Peaceable Paws Dog Training of Chattanooga, TN, "Positive reinforcement
based on rewards rather than punishment builds trust in the human-canine
relationship...". Even protection dogs are now being trained
successfully with positive training methods instead of force- and fear-based
training. Miller states, "Increasingly, these enlightened trainers are
realizing that positive training not only produces a dog who is just as
reliable as a dog trained with old-fashioned force-based methods, but
also builds a strong and deep relationship between dog and handler".
The no-slip collar: Leash attaches to D-ring within loop of fabric
that passes thru metal guides on collar. When dog pulls, the 2 metal
guides on collar come together preventing pinching or choking.
still recommend the use of a slip collar, commonly known as a choke chain,
but a safer and more humane option is a "no-slip collar".
No-slip collars prevent unlimited choking and if properly adjusted, will
prevent an escape artist from slipping his collar. Head halters (also
called headcollars) are recommended by some trainers for dogs who pull
while being walked on leash, but again there is danger of cervical or
spinal damage with improper use. Pat Miller states that "Headcollars work
because they lead the dog from the head, where they lack the strength
and leverage to be able to pull. A dog who tries to pull while wearing
a headcollar simply has his head turned gently back toward his handler".
Some dogs have difficulty adjusting to the idea of having a muzzle-like
apparatus on their head and face. However, because retired racing greyhounds
have very likely spent a good deal of their lives in muzzles, they would
likely adjust to a product of this nature with very little objection.
Humane lead & separate collar:
Leash is integrated into a wide neck band that creates a no-slip
collar. Separate collar is used to bear ID tags. Should the dog
escape the lead, he will still be wearing collar & ID.
emphasizes the importance of positive reinforcement with frequent rewards
while training a dog to walk loosely on a leash, no matter what type of
restraint device you use.
Harnesses are probably the safest and least likely to allow escape.
A harness attaches around the dog's shoulders and chest. Harnesses should
be used for any dog with a known history of cervical or spinal problems.
It should go without saying that greyhounds (or any dog for that matter)
should never be tied to anything for any amount of time for any reason.
Never, never, never tie a greyhound. And any type of slip collar should
never be left on a dog when it is not with its handler on a leash.
Personally, I believe that obedience training
has its place in creating a comfortable coexistence with an obstinate
dog, but not every dog needs behavioral training, just as not every human
needs professional counseling or behavioral management. Professional
trainers should be particularly cognizant of the differences in breeds
when it comes to using the same method of correction on every dog in a
class. A very elementary concept here is that all dogs are not the same
and should not be treated the same in training.
Before enrolling your greyhound in an obedience
class, do some research. Observe classes at various training
schools before signing up to join one. Look for
positive reinforcement methods versus any type of punishment, such as
jerking the leash. Be particularly observant of the instructor
and his/her demonstrations of how commands are to be enforced. Do the
dogs and handlers look as though they are having fun or are the dogs slinking
along next to the handlers as though waiting for the next harsh correction?
Are the handlers glancing nervously at the instructor waiting to be singled
out as the nonassertive failure at dominance? What personality traits
does your dog exhibit? Shy, submissive dogs generally do not do well with
compulsion training. Greyhounds, for the most
part, are sensitive dogs and don't respond well to harsh training methods.
For those who do enroll their dogs in obedience training or agility classes,
a few simple precautions could make a big difference:
Don't allow the instructor to demonstrate corrections with your dog unless
you are completely comfortable with the methods being used in the class.
If you feel uneasy about the method or amount of correction used by the
instructor at any time, disenroll your dog immediately and be sure to
tell the school why you are leaving.
Tell others why you left the class - don't be afraid to say you felt the
instructor was overly harsh in correcting the dogs or the handlers - you
could spare another dog and handler the grief of experiencing the same
thing as you.
After an obedience class or any situation where undue pressure was applied
to your dog while on leash, if you notice any change in the dog's breathing
or ability to swallow, get your dog to the veterinarian immediately. Time
is of the essence with these injuries as the airway can close and the
dog will suffocate.
attaches below the jaw & encourages the dog to walk on a loose
lead, as any pulling by the dog results in him turning around.
Don't allow your dog to be
a statistic. If you use slip collars, don't use sharp, jerking corrections
and do not let someone else take control of your dog while wearing a choke
collar. Choose your obedience school carefully.
There is no longer need for force when training a dog. Following
a rash of reports of dog deaths at the hands of trainers, the **Association
of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) released a statement denouncing any training
methods which can cause physical harm to dogs. Says APDT President Allan
Bauman, "Many dog owners don't realize that there are other ways to train
dogs. They assume that the trainer is the expert and that harsh training
methods are the norm. But there are effective and humane ways to communicate
with our four-legged friends. There is absolutely
no reason for any dog to die in the course of learning to be a well-behaved
The Harness: Pressure is distributed evenly around the shoulder
area rather than directly on neck.
sensible about how you use the leash and collar you choose for your dog.
The likelihood of injury or escape is present with any combination, so
don't limit yourself to one choice because of one experience or one need.
Your dog is wholly dependent on your common sense and your ability to
predict or identify any threats to him - think safety, think comfort,
*Pat Miller is a professional trainer and contributing editor for The
Whole Dog Journal. To subscribe to Whole Dog Journal, call 1-800-829-9165.
You can "cyber-talk" to Pat Miller, Peaceable Paws clients, and other
"positive" dog owners and trainers on the Peaceable Paws e-mail list.
Subscribe by sending a message to: email@example.com
**A searchable database of trainers registered with The Association of
Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) can be found on the APDT web site at www.apdt.com
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