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Greyhounds and Choke Chains:
Proceed With Caution!!

by Judy Kody Paulsen, Founder, GCNM

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 swallow.

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 spell disaster.

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".

no-slip collar (Left) 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.

Many instructors 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.

collar and lead

(Top) 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.

Miller 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.


(Left) The "Halti" Headcollar:
Leash 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 family companion."


(Top) The Harness: Pressure is distributed evenly around the shoulder area rather than directly on neck.

Be 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, think humane.

*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: peaceablepaws-subscribe@egroups.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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