Features May 2013 Issue

Take It All Off!

Five things you can do to protect your dog.

I was pretty traumatized recently by a phenomenon I had heard about many times but had never before seen: the intense, chaotic, life-or-death struggle that ensues when one dog gets his jaw stuck in another dog’s collar.

It happened to some dogs that live a few houses down from my home office. I was working at my computer when I heard a dog screaming. I leaped up from my desk and ran down the sidewalk toward the screaming.

These dogs are just playing and are not entangled. But if they were, the leather collar would have to be cut to save them; its buckle can’t be released under tension.

It was two young Lab-mixes in the front yard of a house down the street. One had grabbed his friend’s collar and then mostly likely rolled over, twisting his lower jaw in the collar. His tongue, trapped under the thick nylon, was being lacerated by his own lower teeth; he was the one making all the noise.

His buddy was not screaming; he was fighting for his life, and being choked to death by his own collar. Both dogs were thrashing in pain and fear. The owner of one dog was trying to get close enough to them to free them, and I tried to help.

I grabbed one dog by the scruff; she grabbed the other. I frantically ran my hands through the mass of writhing fur, trying to find a buckle on the collar. I felt a quick-release buckle and released it – but it was the wrong one, not the collar that was threatening their lives.

Then I saw the other buckle; it was in the mouth of the dog whose jaw was trapped. And it was a standard metal buckle – the kind that you have to tighten slightly to free the metal prong from a hole punched in the nylon fabric. It was already so tight, there would be no way to tighten it enough to release it, if I even could get my hand in the dog’s mouth.

Just then, the owner of the other dog ran out of the house with a pair of scissors. I was doubtful that they could cut through the thick nylon, but they did. And in the nick of time! Even as the young woman worked, feverishly, the dog who was choking released his bowels. He was seconds from death.

Imagine what would have happened if that young woman hadn’t had the scissors handy. Or if the same thing happened at a dog park; maybe someone would have had a sharp-enough knife. What if the dog had been wearing a choke chain or pinch collar? I’ve seen dogs wearing these while playing at dog parks – but I’ve never seen a person there with bolt cutters.

These dogs survived the experience. But since I’ve been telling my friends about my experience (with all the fervor of the recently converted), I’ve heard about a number of dogs whose jaws were broken in similar situations – and other dogs who didn’t survive an experience like this. Don’t let it happen to your dog!

Here are five things you can do to keep your dog safe when he’s playing with other dogs.

1. Play Naked! Remove your dog’s collar or harness. A harness may not present the same choking hazard as a collar if another dog got tangled in it, but on the other hand, a harness has many more straps to get caught in.

2. Use a Collar With a Quick-Release Buckle. If you’re nervous about having your dog naked (and without ID), use a collar with a buckle that can be released even under tension. Another option is a safety breakaway collar, such as Premier Pet Product’s KeepSafe Break-Away Collar (see premierpet.com or call 800-933-5595).

3. Don’t Allow Your Dog to Play With Dogs Who Are Wearing Gear. At times, this may mean your dog won’t be able to play at a dog park, because it’s nearly impossible to get everyone to comply with sensible rules at a dog park. If I had a young dog who really liked wrestling and mouthing other dogs, I just wouldn’t take him to a dog park that was crowded with collar- and harness-wearing dogs. Not after what I saw.

4. Spread The Word. I’m now telling every dog owner I know about the way, the truth, and the light. Many people have never considered this potential hazard and may be open to hearing about how they can prevent a tragedy happening to their dogs.

5. Keep Something Sharp Handy. This is quite a long shot – and yet, I now know a young woman who saved two dogs’ lives with sharp scissors. I now have a box cutter in my car, and another one on a shelf near my office door. I hope to never witness this again, but I feel a little better knowing that there would be more I could do to help.

Comments (25)

This happened to me a week ago, I lost my dear Pal, a whippet mix playing with my lab/chow mix, supervised by me in my fenced in back yard. But Pal was wearing a choke collar, my husband did not hear me screaming, my own physical attempts did not work. The wire cutter did not work. The second one did but it was to late. I have not tried to educate myself before about dog safety. I thought I knew what was common. Don't leave them on a leash or tether. Other things, but I never knew about this. I had taken my dogs to the dog park many times, I never heard another owner warn me. I don't think this is common enough knowledge. I have heard others and read others talk about the danger since then. I wish pet stores would provide more education when you are looking at / purchasing items. It was a horrific experience and I miss my sweet boy.

Posted by: MonicaO | June 25, 2016 7:10 AM    Report this comment

Unless your dog is so well trained that it would listen to you if a squirrel jumped into its mouth (and before you laugh, there ARE dogs THAT well trained) Allowing your dog to play, ESPECIALLY in a public setting, without any means of controlling him or her is FAR more dangerous in my humble opinion. Just like with our children, keeping a close eye on our animal friends is imperative, so that you may be there to help should he or she need it. There are far more instances of NEEDING to gain control over our animal not only because of their behaviour, but the behaviour of another animal. I am alarmed that so many people are touting the benefit of leaving dogs 100% out of a persons control.

Posted by: JillDB | September 17, 2015 11:27 AM    Report this comment

This just happened to my girl and guy. They were playing and all of a sudden it was like war. Her collar was choking her. His mouth was being crushed. They were terrified, as was I. The collar was so tight and the buckle would not release. There was blood everywhere and I could not figure out from where. Turns out she cut his eye and her nose was split. I have never heard of this as being a danger, but I read alot. My dogs have a doggie door and pen to play in, so their collars are coming off today.

Anyone who is reading my comment, please know the danger is serious. If my babies hadn't gotten free, one would have been dead and the other a broken jaw (imagine feeding him then?). He loves her so much and I can only imagine how sad he would've been without her. She's been cowering in the corner, while he stares at her in sadness and regret. She doesn't seem to understand he wasn't trying to hurt her, he just couldn't get his jaw straight. It's truly terrifying how serious this was, and I couldn't even get sissors into the collar to cut it, bc it was that tight.

Posted by: Tabby | September 11, 2015 10:57 PM    Report this comment

I didn't realize this was so common, but it makes sense. This happened to me a couple of years ago. I have a pair of lab mix rescue dogs, one of which is missing a front leg and is skiddish about many things. I had a metal choke collar on him at the time because it was difficult to get him to come back inside sometimes. Early one morning the dogs were outside playing when I heard what sounded like a dog massacre in my backyard. I ran out to find the choke collar of the one dog twisted around the lower jaw of the other and they were in a twisted heap on the ground. I initially thought they were fighting but realized quickly what was really wrong. Since I was unable to loosen the metal choke collar I had to pick up the 60 something pound trapped dog and flip him around to untwist the collar (which was no problem with the adrenalin I had flowing through my body at the time). Luckily they were both fine, a little shaken though. They recovered much quicker than my wife and I did. I will never forget that experience or sound. Now they only wear collars when we take them to the vet.

Posted by: Ed B. | July 7, 2014 6:47 AM    Report this comment

We never leave collars on at home because of this very real risk! We have several dogs and they play rough and tumble at times and it is just too dangerous. We use martingale type collars which can only go "so tight" but even those aren't safe in rough play if a jaw or even a leg gets caught in a collar. Too many people leave collars with hanging tags or loops on their dogs when in crates too! I have heard of dogs strangling in their own crates or backyard fences when collars with tags or just collars get caught. Someone said they weren't allowed to remove collars with tags EVER and I just cannot believe that is true IN ONE'S OWN HOME! If it is I would surely be questioning the interpretation of that "law"! Off your property of course the dog should wear proper ID, but a breakaway collar and NOT be allowed to play with other dogs. NEVER LEAVE A COLLAR ON A DOG IN A WIRE CRATE!! OR AN XPEN!! If you must, use a martingale that tightens only so far and it stops tightening before choking the dog wearing it. The possibility of the dog bolting out of an open crate MUST be weighed against the risk of entangling the collar in the wires of crate/expen.
I would NOT count on a " box cutter" either, because it would require getting under the collar and cutting AWAY from the dog's neck ( toward yourself in the midst of two struggling, thrashing, screaming, terrified dogs!!) to avoid cutting the dog's neck. A pair of strong utility scissors would be better, but both would be useless if you have chain "choker collars in the mix. Microchip/tatoo your dog and take collars off dogs when on your property or use only " breakaway" collars. I would never count on a breakaway collar to walk/train a large or untrained dog however. So many differrent, dangerous scenarios come to mind after reading this article!

Posted by: AnnM | July 6, 2014 3:14 AM    Report this comment

This happened to my two dogs also about a year ago. Even with the quick release collars it was very difficult to get it open with two panicked dogs even with both my wife and myself working with them. Now the are without collars. Even though they are both microchipped we are uneasy with no id on them. I've ordered the recommended breakaway collars to try.

Posted by: Gillies | July 5, 2014 6:14 PM    Report this comment

This actually happened to me. My 2 puppy Havanese were playing supervised in backyard. All of a sudden, Baylee was flipping Rylee. At first we couldn't see that Rylee's collar was actually stuck in Baylee's lower teeth, but we soon saw Rylee go limp hanging from Baylee's mouth. We tried and were trying to free the collar but it was wrapped in circles so tight around Rylee's neck we couldn't get it loose. My daughter ran in the house to get scizzors to cut them loose as we witnessed Rylee die in front of us. After finally getting Baylee still so we could cut them apart, my neonatal nurse brain kicked in. Mouth to snout!!!! Still no breathing seen. So CPR started. Just like I do with Babies and continued moth to snout. After about 4 minutes he started breathing and I could feel a heartbeat. We then loaded him in the car and 3 miles later to the VCA ER. After about 20 minutes they brought him out to see us!!! He ran and jumped in my arms!!! My baby would be ok. Both eyes were hemorrhaged as a typical strangulation would look like. But he was back and fine!!!! He suffers from some "lack of oxygen" brain dysfunction but is fine. We no longer keep collars on them unless we are physically walking them and even then they use a harness!!!! I tell my story so others know it actually happens and not all have the happily ever after ending. Also to take an animal CPR class. A few hours out of your life will and can save other fur animals lives!!!!!

Posted by: Pam Johnson | July 5, 2014 5:00 PM    Report this comment

This actually happened to me. My 2 puppy Havanese were playing supervised in backyard. All of a sudden, Baylee was flipping Rylee. At first we couldn't see that Rylee's collar was actually stuck in Baylee's lower teeth, but we soon saw Rylee go limp hanging from Baylee's mouth. We tried and were trying to free the collar but it was wrapped in circles so tight around Rylee's neck we couldn't get it loose. My daughter ran in the house to get scizzors to cut them loose as we witnessed Rylee die in front of us. After finally getting Baylee still so we could cut them apart, my neonatal nurse brain kicked in. Mouth to snout!!!! Still no breathing seen. So CPR started. Just like I do with Babies and continued moth to snout. After about 4 minutes he started breathing and I could feel a heartbeat. We then loaded him in the car and 3 miles later to the VCA ER. After about 20 minutes they brought him out to see us!!! He ran and jumped in my arms!!! My baby would be ok. Both eyes were hemorrhaged as a typical strangulation would look like. But he was back and fine!!!! He suffers from some "lack of oxygen" brain dysfunction but is fine. We no longer keep collars on them unless we are physically walking them and even then they use a harness!!!! I tell my story so others know it actually happens and not all have the happily ever after ending. Also to take an animal CPR class. A few hours out of your life will and can save other fur animals lives!!!!!

Posted by: Pam Johnson | July 5, 2014 5:00 PM    Report this comment

This happened at our home. Luckily we were right next to the dogs and my husband had a knife in his pocket. I have a friend who was not as lucky - although the family was right there, they were unable to save one of the dogs. My dogs NEVER wear collars in the house anymore.

Posted by: K9Castle | July 5, 2014 11:19 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing this. This happened to our two pups (from the same litter) when they were about 7 months. We also thought that they were fighting. The one who was not caught actually stopped breathing by the time we could get the collar off. (I did the same thing and unclipped the wrong collar at first). I ran for kitchen scissors and in the meantime the one who stopped breathing stopped moving all together and we were able to unclip the other collar. Then my husband had to give CPR to one dog and we though his brother would be scarred for life. The vet said it is a very common incident. Not only did one dog have to go to the emergency vet and be on oxygen and fluids for 2 days, my husband received major tendon damage on both hands and had to have surgery. We always share our story and try to spread awareness. While the breakaway collars are a great idea, after they are unclipped with the breakaway part a few times they come off very easily so I think naked puppies is the way to go. Thank you again for sharing this important message!

Posted by: swiftnicole | January 23, 2014 8:13 PM    Report this comment

This just happened to my dogs today. Thankfully they were in the house instead of outside. And thankfully I was cutting up chicken in the kitchen when it happened so I had a knife. I initially thought one dog was ripping the other's throat out. Worst day of my life. I never knew this was something that happened.

Posted by: KelliC | August 26, 2013 11:56 PM    Report this comment

I think this is an issue that is not getting enough attention. We are so used to looking a collars as a safety device. I just wrote about this in my blog to spread the word. Thanks for bringing this to my attention again. My dogs always play without collars on, because one of them is a terrible collar grabber, but it is definitely something I need to remind my clients of more often. I also posted a video of my dog grabbing another dog by the collar. Nothing happened, but I think it shows how easily something could go wrong.

Posted by: Sarah V | July 13, 2013 6:04 PM    Report this comment

My dogs never wear collars at home. Collars had not been an issue until a newly aquired dog (at the time) grabbed onto collars and went for a ride with the dog wearing it. So all collars come off until we leave the property and when we leave, I don't allow dog-dog interaction because... well, I just don't trust other dogs. I microchip to ensure my dogs have some form of identification.

Posted by: cptrbrown | May 31, 2013 9:05 AM    Report this comment

Unfortunately where we live it is illegal to remove a dog's collar and rabies tag at any time, including on the owner's property or in their home - by State Law. Residents risk losing their pets if they remove their dog's collar and rabies tag.

Any dog found without a collar is confiscated and euthanized within 24 hours for rabies testing.

Posted by: runforthehills | May 20, 2013 7:21 PM    Report this comment

Though you hear from most dog owners that they have left their dogs collars on without an incident I am a believer. I have two huskies that engage in rolling play. Had I not been home the day the tangle occurred they both would not have made it. Luckily this happened in the house and I had scissors. I released them just as my choking husky dropped limp into my arms. Had to shake her and blow into her nose to wake her. My other husky luckily had no fracture. Even though these girls are flight risks I will never leave them with their collars on to play. They are micro chipped and rarely leave my sight. Thanks for the acticle

Posted by: khill | May 7, 2013 1:36 PM    Report this comment

I had a scary incident that could have turned tragic if I wasn't home. My dog had a choker chain collar on and was sniffing around the base of my glass-top wrought iron bistro table. One of the large metal loops of the collar caught on the curling legs of the base. She panicked and pulled, the choker tightened, she pulled the table over. I was right there and was able to catch the table before it hit the floor. If I wasn't home she could would have strangled herself trying to free herself, the glass on the table would have also shattered with her right there. I always use a quick release collar now.

Posted by: Unknown | May 5, 2013 6:28 AM    Report this comment

I wrote to WDJ several years ago about this topic after 2 of my dogs had a second similar episode. My goldenseal were playing in both cases. In the first, I was able to get in there and release the collar. In the second, my girl Emma was choking badly. Luckily, my husband was there and picked up our younger male so I could get to Emma's collar and release it. After that, we switched to break away collars. Whenever I see two dogs playing, I am sure to tell the owners our scary stories. Better safe than sorry!

Posted by: truckeetree | May 1, 2013 10:49 PM    Report this comment

My dog wears a collar because her ID is on it. If I have a fire in the house or she runs too far for some reason, she can be identified and returned. This collar business is unduly frightening, although I do like the idea of a quick release clasp.

Posted by: Herbert F | May 1, 2013 12:36 PM    Report this comment

NO scissors!!!!! Use emergency seat belt cutters (Google - TRECK - Talon Rescue Emergency Clothing Knife & Seat Belt Cutter).

Posted by: RAY B | April 26, 2013 6:49 AM    Report this comment

The same thing happened to me. Two young labs, rolled leather collar with metal buckle..fortunately a sharp knife was found in time, but another minute and it would have been too late. And we had to cut toward the dog because the collar was so tight the knife wouldn't fit between it and the dog so we could cut in an outward direction. My dogs don't wear collars now except when out on a walk. Thanks for letting lots of people know!

Posted by: Mary J | April 25, 2013 12:06 PM    Report this comment

What a frightening scene that was - so glad the dogs are OK. I always leave my girls collar on, but she only wears the ones with a quick release buckle. It never occurred to me to get any other kind for her.

Posted by: Diana K | April 24, 2013 1:04 PM    Report this comment

On the flipside, though, I've seen scenarios at our local dog park where it was absolutely crucial that the dogs WERE wearing collars so that their owners could get hold of them and haul them away from each other after they got into a fight.

Yes, yes, I know: aggressive dogs shouldn't be at a dog park to begin with, and grabbing a highly aroused dog by its collar is not recommended by experts -- but most owners aren't experts, ANY dog can get into a fight given the right (or wrong) situation, and in the panic of the moment, I'd grab a collar too. And in at least two of these situations, I am absolutely sure that in the absence of those collar grabs, the dogs would have drawn blood and possibly caused serious injury to each other.

So it's a tradeoff, as are most things in responsible dog ownership. My personal choice is to have my dogs wearing quick-release collars -- and not to let them play with other dogs wearing prong collars or choke chains.

Posted by: Jennifer A | April 23, 2013 1:04 PM    Report this comment

I was very glad to hear this. Our little Maltese loves to play and run with other dogs, most bigger than he. When we go to the dog park we will take his collar off. Very good article. I never would have thought that could happen but see now it could. Thanks, Linda

Posted by: Linda M | April 21, 2013 10:39 PM    Report this comment

This happened to my dogs when they got in a fight (ah, the end of adolescence) & probably escalated the fight. Fortunately there was no twisting, so the one dog did eventually get her jaw out while I was running into the house for something. I would never leave my dogs w/out ID, but they both now have quick release collars.

Posted by: JayNRiver | April 20, 2013 5:56 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for the article. This happened to my two dogs a few years ago. One of my Pit Bulls teeth went through the collar of my other Pit Bull while they were playing. They both started to panic but luckily after what seemed like eternity I was able to pinch the quick release buckle and free them. If they were not wearing quick release collars my boy would have choked to death. Now both my babies play naked. :)

Posted by: Melissa M | April 18, 2013 9:31 AM    Report this comment

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