Whole Dog Journal's Blog March 26, 2013

An Avoidable Horror

Posted at 02:45PM - Comments: (35)

I’ve heard of it happening, but have never witnessed it before tonight: the horror of a dog getting his jaw twisted in another dog’s collar. May I never witness it again.

These dogs are not stuck, and both are wearing quick-release collars. But because both of them love to play-bite and grab each other by the neck, it would be even safer to remove their collars when they are together, particularly if they are left alone together.

I was working at my computer when I heard a dog down the street, screaming. The only other times I’ve heard a dog scream like that were when one was hit by a car and another was kicked by a horse. I ran out my office door and down the street toward the noise. There is a black Lab-mix who is often playing in a fenced front yard two doors down, and I saw a young woman bent over what I thought was just that one dog. My first thought was that he had somehow broken a leg and she was restraining him. I ran through the gate and saw that she was, in fact, bent over TWO black Lab-mixes. I couldn’t tell at first what I was seeing, just this tangle of screaming dogs. I yelped, “What’s happening?” And the young woman shouted, “They’re stuck, I don’t know how!” It was SO confusing because both dogs were solid black and writhing around.

Then I saw the collar around the lower jaw of one dog. “”It’s the collar!” I yelled. “Do you have anything to cut it?!” My mind was racing but I couldn’t think of a single thing I had in my office that would cut it. The young woman yelled at someone else – her roommate, it turned out. “Get something to cut the collar!!”

I was also feeling all over the collars for a buckle. I felt a quick-release buckle and released it – but it was the release on the collar of the dog who had his jaw stuck.  Just then I smelled poop; the dog whose collar was twisted was collapsing, and had just evacuated his bowels. He was being choked to death right in our hands. 

I finally located the other buckle. It was a plain metal buckle. It was also in the mouth of the dog whose jaw was twisted inside. There was NO WAY I could get it to release.

The woman who was holding the dogs with me was screaming for her roommate. I said, “Let’s try to roll them to untwist it.” We grabbed the dogs’ bodies and tried to figure out which way would release the twist, but we simply could not see the solution in the mass of twisting black fur. One dog was moaning, the other gasping.

The other woman ran out with a pair of sharp scissors and a knife. I doubted the scissors, but it looked safer than a knife. She tried to jam the scissors under the collar and it was incredibly tight. She quailed for a moment, yelping, “I’m afraid to cut him!” And I said, “Just do it! Stitches are better than dying!”  She jabbed the lower blade of the scissors under the collar and worked them with all her might, and by some miracle, the material started to separate.  “Yes! Good! You’re doing it! Keep going!” the two of us holding the dogs encouraged her. We were ALL gasping for air at this point.

Then it was done. The collar fell off and the dogs literally fell apart. The one who was being choked coughed and gasped. The one with his jaw twisted ran away from us across the yard, then ran back with his tail between his legs – scared but ok. We encouraged the other dog – Good boy! You’re ok! – and he got to his feet, wobbling, and wagged his tail weakly, but it was apparent that he was regaining strength moment by moment. I said to the young women, “Are you ok?” “Yes, yes, are you?” We were all ok.

For the next 20 minutes or so, we talked and watched the dogs. In those minutes, both dogs defecated. The choked dog peed, too, and a few minutes later, he vomited. He seemed just really shaken but ok. I ran back to my office and found one of Otto’s older quick release collars to give them. We all hugged each other and the dogs.

Thank God the dog hadn’t been wearing a choke chain; I don’t have bolt cutters hanging around and don’t know anyone else who does either. That dog would have been dead if he had been wearing one.

Please: If your dog has a buckle collar – or one that has to be pulled over the dog’s head to take it off -- PLEASE remove it before he or she plays with other dogs. Better yet: Don’t ever put any collar on your dog that doesn’t have a quick-release buckle.

Comments (34)

OMG! This just happened to me! Taking down the Christmas tree and my Boston Terrier and Boarder Collie/ Beagle are playing. My Boston always pulls my Boarder mix by collar. I’ve never thought anything if it other than “how cute” until today. I looked down and it appeared my Boarder had the Boston pinned. I gave a release command and nothing. Then I bent down and my Boston’s lower jaw was twisted around the Boarder’s collar. I quickly turned her around to untwist it.

Thank God! My Boarder got a ruptured blood vessel in his eye and Boston had a skin burn on her chin from collar tightening around her lower jaw. I will NEVER put a collar around my Border’s neck!!!

Posted by: T.O. | December 30, 2018 7:29 AM    Report this comment

Even the quick release collars can be a problem if they become very entangled. I've switched to Breakaway collars for my two who wrestle. They do work when needed.

Posted by: GlennP | June 4, 2017 4:37 PM    Report this comment

Our son lost a dog to being strangled to death by their collars getting stuck. It was the saddest thing as the lost dog was only 7 mths old. Their dogs don't wear collars at all now except when leaving the house. We never have ours wear collars either - we call it "go naked". One instance that just happened this weekend (June 3, 2017)- We are campers. One dog had jumped on the bed - then off - next thing we know - his tags are flying all over the place and the dresser drawer is wide open. The collar had gotten stuck on the dresser handle when he jumped off. The metal clasp on the tags was totally straightened out. Thank heavens he didn't get stuck AND we were there at the time. Now, even in the trailer, they "go naked". Theresa

Posted by: thinken5 | June 4, 2017 3:33 PM    Report this comment

This such an important topic, because playful dogs who mouth wrestle can easily become entangled, especially when the collar is loose. You conveyed the terror of the dogs accurately. I don't allow my playful pair to wear collars at home anymore, the risks you described prohibit it. Thanks for an important and timely warning that will prevent needless heartache and suffering.

On a similar note, I observed someone leaving 2 dogs tethered in a pickup, with an overly long lead. One dog was straining against the lead, and one could clearly see that the dog could hang himself trying to follow the owner. I very politely explained that I knew someone who lost their dog, when it hung itself under similar circumstances, and that my own dog had been saved by my kind neighbor in similar circumstances. Although I never tie my dogs, it was an emergency expedient necessitated by my dog leaving the yard on the occasions that I was required by my employer to work 16 hours........not an ideal situation for a dog, but fortunately short lived. I tied him too close to the fence, cause that was where the shade was, not realizing the horrible risk I was creating.
Unfortunately, the owner insisted that his dog hated to jump out of the truck and would never do it voluntarily. Maybe another article specifically on the dangers presented by tying might get attention, inform, and save a dog's life. These seemed like caring, but careless, owners. One can do a careless thing 1000 times and get lucky-it is the 1001th time that gets you! I hesitated to call animal control, cause it is a small town, and I have a distinctive vehicle, sure hope the guy was right about his dog. If it had been a puppy, I would have had no choice but to call.

Posted by: hilfri | June 4, 2017 2:33 PM    Report this comment

This happened to 2 of my young adult foster dogs. I used to use pretty cotton collars with their id tags on them. I always use harnesses for walking and any time outside of our fenced yards. The collars had quick release buckles but the dogs were stuck by the hanging tags and were strangling trying to jump and get loose. I was right there and pressed the quick release and got them separated but it was scary for all. I have never used any kind of collar since the incident.

Posted by: Olivia | June 4, 2017 1:27 PM    Report this comment

If no one is there to open the quick release buckle, then what? I have another idea that works for me. I order my pet supplies from chewy.com. At a decent price, they sell the PetSafe Break-Away Dog Collars, made by the people that make the break-away cat collars. I have heard that the lady behind PetSafe Break-Away collars made these collars because her dog caught it's collar on a branch while she was out walking with him. He ran ahead and disappeared. When she found him, he had caught his collar on a dead branch and he had choked to death.

These collars release when minimal pressure is applied. The collars have 2 metal rings. You can attach the ID & rabies tags to one ring and you can pinch the rings tigether to attach a leash so that the collar doesn't come apart while you are walking your dog.

Years ago, I came home and found my Sheltie's collar hanging by the tags on his rolled leather collar. I had liked the rolled leather becanse it won't damage the long fur. I no longer use rolled leather. I almost died when I saw his collar hanging from the grate. Fortunately Jake wasn't hurt, but it scared me to death that I wasn't there when he needed me and could have died from something I had put on him.

These collars are what I use now, and they may not be for everyone. I don't leave collars on when the dogs are in the house, but if I were to forget to remove the collars after a walk, I feel confident that these break-away collars would protect them from a strangulation horror.

Posted by: Paula B | June 4, 2017 8:36 AM    Report this comment

Years ago, when my wife and I lived in the mountains, our six dogs spent much of their time in a large fenced enclosure behind the house. To enable them to stay up off the ground, I had built a four foot high wooden platform composed of 1" x 6" wooden planks with 1/2" spaces between them. One summer day I was startled to hear high-pitched screaming coming from the dog pen. It's the same sound that you describe in your harrowing account, the kind that dogs make only when they're absolutely terrified. One of our dogs, an eighty pound NAID (Native American Indian Dog) was lying on the platform and screaming. The loop on one end of her metal choke chain collar had slipped down between two of the planks, turned sideways, and jammed, when she tried to get up. It took nearly half an hour to free her, most of it spent talking and petting her, until she was calm enough to stop pulling long enough for me to unjam the metal loop.
We live in a complex world. As the variety of stories that have been posted here reveals, it's impossible to anticipate every potential hazard associated with collars and to provide ready access to the tools necessary to remove them. The wisest course, many of your readers have concluded, is to put collars on dogs only when it's necessary and only when a responsible person will be available to deal with an emergency. These accounts provide even more support for the use of subcutaneous chips as a means of identification.

Posted by: ajhil | June 2, 2017 10:56 AM    Report this comment

Situations like this and getting hung on something in the woods are what had me always buying quick release collars. This Winter, the flat, webbed collar had to be replaced. For whatever reason, the collar was causing my long haired dog much discomfort. Her neck was raw from her constant scratching. I read where long coated dogs do well with rolled or round collars. Alas, I haven;t found any that are quick release. Are there any rolled, leather collars with quick release buckles?? Amazon has proved useless and our local pet store only has a limited selection. Thank you !

Posted by: Annab | June 2, 2017 5:46 AM    Report this comment

I read this article awhile ago, and realized, I like cotton collars (quick release) that match the season. I do keep collars on in the home, but not in crates. this is so easily a thing my old dog could have gotten into until he was 10.
I wonder if the all in one car emergency tool would have been any use. I was introduced to it by my father in law, it has a sharp blade you slide along the seat belt to cut it, a hammer for glass if you are in an accident and need to evacuate a car, and finally, on bad back days, acts like a strong handle to help a person out. we use heavy duty velcro in middle of the front console of the mini-van.
I can't use links, but, I think can share key words.

I used key words: car seatbelt safety slicer window hammer, and ther are key chain safety seatbelt slicers, and a hammer too.
I'd probably want something bigger for me and my seat belted loved ones (Thanks, WDJ, my dogs are so much safer in their seatbelts, and helping me learn what to look for is greatly appreciated)
I already have the larger hammer/slicer/flashlight, but I like that keychain seatbelt slicer, and, no lying, I found8 inch bolt cutters. I need to have a kit, beyond first aid I think. This is the result of different key words: compact bolt cutters. I am in no way affiliated with these products, no commission, they just might save dogs from terrifying situations. I am so glad you were there! I have broken up dog fights between the same color dogs, this is something you are going hear and the rest of your life, and I hope that when this really hard memory shows up, you are able to quickly remember that it worked! you guys saved them! As a dog owner, I am so grateful. I am checking harnesses on walks too, for quick release, and I have been happy to see they are.

Posted by: lclass003 | June 2, 2017 12:45 AM    Report this comment

It happened once to one of my dogs when attacked by the ******** dog next door. Luckily my daughter was home and the neighbour on our other side came out and cut the collar.
I never use quick release collars, because the plastic is so easily broken and the collars fall off. I got sick of replacing collars, and also of the clips failing when a large dog jerks it.
I now buy Broad Thick LEATHER collars -- one size too big for the dog and cut them down in length. By doing this the collar cannot twist. It is safe, it is secure and I've never had a problem with them.

Posted by: Jenny H | June 1, 2017 6:08 PM    Report this comment

Happened to two foster Golden Retrievers in my home about 10 years ago. Luckily, I was watching them play and recognized the problem instantly. Both wore leather collars and I was able to unclip the problem collar immediately. Since then, no more collars unless we are on a walk and I have a lead attached. Whew! A very scary scene
Yes, all are micro-chipped.

Posted by: JackSivak | June 1, 2017 4:57 PM    Report this comment

In addition, I watch dogs in my home. On two occasions I have had small dogs who were wearing collars around their necks get the collars stuck on their lower jaws... now I never let them wear their collars in the house anymore... and I thank goodness that I was there with them when these events occurred and I was able to extricate their little jaws from their collars.

Posted by: justsusanhere | June 1, 2017 2:47 PM    Report this comment

Agree collars are not to stay on dogs.
If you even take you dog to a daycare or boarding facility make sure they don't leave collars on the dogs. If they do find another facility.

Posted by: tv | June 1, 2017 2:40 PM    Report this comment

Thank you. I have hesitated to get a breakaway collar for my dog because, nervous little guy that he is might run in panic after anything that tripped the collar. I can now clearly see the error of my ways: lost is better than dead. Now, what do I do about his Seresto collar?

Posted by: Alice R. | June 1, 2017 1:45 PM    Report this comment

This happened to me many years ago. My Dachshunds were playing and one got the other's choke chain around his canines and twisted under his jaw. He was strangling the other to death. I came out of the shower and her eyes were already rolling back in her head. I didn't have the strength to cut the chain with wire cutters and raced across the street (almost forgetting to put on any robe) got a man who came running back with me. He was so afraid of cutting the dog (his jaw was totally swollen) I'm just screaming it's better a cut then she is dead!! Thank God we were in time. I never left a choke collar on a dog ever again. I nearly passed out from adrenaline shock over this.

Posted by: pap luv | June 1, 2017 1:12 PM    Report this comment

Happened to my Kelpie years ago, with her sister (belonged to a friend). I was able to pick one dog up and untwist. Phew!! Scary for sure -glad this one turned out okay!!!

Posted by: PPaws | June 1, 2017 12:30 PM    Report this comment

This happened to my 2 pit-mixes; the young daughter had caught her lower jaw in her mother's leather collar. Luckily, I was in the kitchen and was quickly able to cut the collar, but I'll never forget the sound of her screams. From then on, none of my dogs ever wore collars at home again. When we're outside, a sharp multi-tool is always with me.

Posted by: Czerny | June 1, 2017 12:08 PM    Report this comment

Yep--get those collars OFF when possible.

A recent visit to my Dentist resulted in a teary recollection how his Dalmatian choked himself to death at home in their fenced in yard. The dog was fond of leaping up to the top of the fence--his collar stuck on one of the fences "prongs," and no one was around to help. Never saw a DDS cry like I did then....

Posted by: BeNotAfraid | June 1, 2017 12:02 PM    Report this comment

I too have had this happen on 2 occasions, once with a pair of Basset Hounds and more recently with a Catahoula and an Australian Shepherd. It seems that the smooth coated dogs are more in danger because it is easier for the other dog to slip his/her jaw through the collar. I live in the country, and although my dogs don't tend to run unsupervised, I still feel more comfortable having a collar on them. "Stray" dogs sometimes, sadly and illegally, meet with "accidents." Not a proud admission but there are cruel people out there. My solution has been the "Pet-Safe" breakaway collars. It is a pain when the dogs are wrestling in a field and a collar comes off, but better a collar hunting session than a grave digging one. I can more easily replace a collar and ID tag than a precious companion! Yes, in both cases the dogs survived and had no long term effects.

Posted by: All Around Dog | June 1, 2017 11:39 AM    Report this comment

I'm a pet-sitter and did not see this personally, but a friend of mine reported this to our group. The client had a pair of Lab pups (8 months old) and a pool. She had kept them separated from it when they were younger, but had recently taken down the fence. The dogs had access to the back yard. When the pet-sitter arrived to take them for a walk, she found them in the pool, drowned. They had been playing and got their teeth caught in each other's collars and fallen into the pool. You can imagine the rest.

Posted by: Andee Rivera | June 1, 2017 11:21 AM    Report this comment

My dog never, ever played with another dog while wearing her collar - and we also insisted that the other dog had their collar removed as well, before play began...and indoor play is safer; outdoor play in a fenced, safe yard only. And as a general rule, our dog is always "naked" in the house. She wears her collar only when there is a leash attached.

Posted by: dogwoman | June 1, 2017 11:07 AM    Report this comment

Had a similar incident with a material martingale collar where there is a material loop instead of chain. The dog got his tongue twisted in the loop part of the martingale. He was in the back seat of the car and we could hear a funny noise. When I turned around, he was struggling to get it out of his mouth but his tongue was dark purple! I happen to carry a tiny swiss army knife on my key chain which we used to saw through the collar. I thought he was going to lose his tongue if it had gone on any longer. Very scary.

Posted by: Zoe | June 1, 2017 10:05 AM    Report this comment

I'm very familiar with the dogs getting twisted in collars. I heard of an incident like this years and years ago so collars are off in the house. And just a few years ago one of my best friends lost one of her dogs while she was at work and her two dogs got tangled. It happens so easily. I also witnessed a dog wearing a collar with a tag on it get the tag caught in the Heating/AC vent when he was laying on the vent enjoying the cool air. The dog panicked of course, but there were two of us there and it was easy to get him untangled. Collars are just too dangerous.

Posted by: Malinwa3 | June 1, 2017 9:54 AM    Report this comment

I would add that 'quick release' buckles (where you pinch the sides in to unclasp the buckle), can sometimes become inoperable due to the force of the entanglement. The prongs actually spread wider when there is extreme tension.
Cutting is the only sure method to undo this horrible situation. I do not think allowing dogs to play in metal choke chain collars is ever a good idea.

Posted by: trecmc | June 1, 2017 9:05 AM    Report this comment

I am actually a dog collar fan. BUT, I always use a broad, heavy leather collar. And I cut down larger collars for my dogs so that their collars are broader than those that are normally sold for that dog's size.
These collars do not twist and are unlikely to ever be caught in a dog's jaw.

And yes, one of my dogs years ago DID get caught, in a flimsy narrow collar, by a dog that attacked her. -- and THAT is why I changed to leather collars.

I feel that my dogs are more at risk from getting out and being without identification, than they are for accidents with their collars. And, by the way, do NOT rely on microchips -- the 'finders' need to think to check for them -- which in my sad experience seems to be only after they have destroyed the dog :-(

I feel that my dogs are more at risk from getting out and being without identification, than they are for accidents with their collars. (And, by the way, do NOT rely on microchips -- the 'finders' need to think to check for them -- which in my sad experience seems to be only after they have desproyed the dog :-(

Posted by: Jenny H | April 30, 2013 9:05 PM    Report this comment

I was horrified to hear about a similar incident from my sister-in-law involving her two Scotties. I have always used quick release collars. I have 3 Springer Spaniels, one being a puppy, and I've seen her grab a collar when she is playing. I take the collars off when I'm not home since they are confined to the house while I'm gone anyway. I'm so glad the Labs are OK.

Posted by: Bonnie W | April 2, 2013 6:21 PM    Report this comment

After reading these stories I am glad I have never left a collor on any of my 3 dogs when in our fenced in yard or house.The only time they have one on is if out walking with me and a leash on them. But I never thought of them catching a collor in their mouth, was afraide of catching one on bush or tree or furniture. Thank you all for your stories.

Posted by: Mary H | April 2, 2013 1:54 PM    Report this comment

This happened to me when my young dog was playing with my adult dog in the house. Her lower jaw got caught in the other's collar. I'll never forget the sound of that screaming. Luckily, it was a webbed collar and I had scissors at hand. Never again have they worn collars inside the house. For this and other reasons, it's wise always to carry a multi-tool just as you would your cellphone wherever you go.

Posted by: Czerny | April 2, 2013 12:46 PM    Report this comment

This EXACT same situation just happened to me last month. Two of my four Labs were playing in the house, one of them likes to grab at the collar of the others. This time, his lower jaw went under the collar of the other dog...and that dog twisted around. Suddenly, one dog was in pain and the other was choking. I was sitting in the same room with them (thank goodness) and it still took me about one minute to get them apart. I have quick release collars, too. It was SCARY! I now remove all of their collars when I leave the house...just in case.

Posted by: Lab Mom | April 2, 2013 12:41 PM    Report this comment

I had my pups snout twisted in another dog chock collar. It was the worst experience I have ever had with me animals. I wish this experience upon nobody. It was wrapped around his snout. There was blood.... no more needed to be said!! We now avoid dogs with dangling collars!!

Posted by: Shannon G | April 2, 2013 12:12 PM    Report this comment

I am breathless after reading that...how horrible for everyone!
I have a pup who needs some work, but she is one of those that will be tempted to chase and run, so I am uneasy relying on those easy plastic buckles and have continued to use the standard buckle type. I would be terrified of having her be collarless even in the fenced in back yard...in the house ok, but not outside. I know in the end we all want our pups to be safe...but breaking free, getting lost or hit by a car...I don't know which is preferable compared to the collar mouthing.

Posted by: robin r | April 2, 2013 11:15 AM    Report this comment

So glad everything turned out okay. This happened to us a couple of years ago when our two Standard Poodles were playing. Fortunately my husband and I were both there and I saw what had happened right away. My husband held the dog that had his jaw caught while I held the other one and with the quick release buckle got the collar off her. It is a very scary situation. If they are particularly wound up when they are in the yard playing, I will often take their collars off so I don't have to worry. I have seen dogs with choke chains playing and my heart pounds just thinking about what could happen.

Posted by: Jals | April 2, 2013 11:05 AM    Report this comment

This happened years ago when we had two of our large dogs playing (a big German Shepherd and a Pyr mix that was mostly full grown, but still a puppy). He rolled over twisting the collar in the Shepherd's mouth and it was pretty much like you described except we managed to untwist them. After that, ALL of our dogs wear the quick release collars because I never want to go through that again. Glad the dogs were ok.

Posted by: Wendy L | April 2, 2013 10:49 AM    Report this comment

I have been through this with my 2 lab mixes - it is the scariest thing in the world!! My trainer suggested break away collars. Now when they grab the other's collar it comes off - no more worries about one choking and the other breaking her jaw.

Posted by: Karen Z | April 2, 2013 10:35 AM    Report this comment

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