Don’t Wait! Prevent Collar Accidents

Ask your friends; "freak accidents" are actually quite common

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I’m not one of those dog owners who has her dogs wrapped in cotton wool, constantly looking to protect them from any and all possible hazards. I walk my dogs off-leash in rattlesnake habitats. I sometimes feed them raw eggs. I allow them to swim without wearing life jackets, and so on. 

Some of my willingness to expose them to potential health risks might be due to my generation. As the youngest of four kids raised in the 1960s, I grew up unseatbelted – in fact, most of the time I sat on the hump between the two front seats! My generation was subjected to many more potentially life-endng risks than are even legal today. 

But there are a couple specific risks I absolutely will not take with my dogs, and they have to do with their collars.

STANDARD TANG BUCKLE

The first danger I won’t expose my dogs to is a collar with a regular metal buckle – you know! The kind that has a frame and a tang or prong that fits through a hole on the collar and is secured by the back of the buckle frame. Why have I taken a stand against such a ubiquitous piece of dog equipment?

The answer is: Because in a terrible emergency, when a dog’s collar is caught on something and he’s choking to death, the only way to unbuckle that buckle – to get that metal prong or tang out of its hole – is to pull it a little bit tighter. And you will have to believe me when I say I know, from personal experience, that when a dog starts choking to death, he won’t be holding cooperatively still in perfect understanding that you need to make his discomfort worse for a moment in order to save his life. 

The dog who nearly choked to death in my hands was not my dog – he belonged to a neighbor. But I ran to help when I heard the sound of dogs and women screaming, and was confronted with a writhing tangle of gasping, screaming, urinating, panicking canines. Two dogs had been playing when one grabbed the other by his collar and then rolled over; the collar twisted, pressing his tongue into his own lower teeth – and tightening to the point of choking his playmate. 

I and the dogs’ owners, both young women, tried frantically to figure out how to untwist the dogs, but they were big, strong dogs in a full panic, and we couldn’t do it. I dug my hands into the dogs’ fur, looking for buckles to unbuckle. One dog was wearing a quick-release collar – but it wasn’t the collar that was tight. I finally found the buckle for that collar, and it was partially in the mouth of the dog who was twisted, impossibly tight – too tight to be able to tighten it more in order to get the tang of the buckle undone.

As I was working to find the buckles, one of the other women ran into the house and got scissors. She managed to hack through the thick nylon collar, releasing the dogs just a moment after the choking one lost consciousness and released his bowels. About two seconds after the collar was cut, he took a gasping, ragged breath, and then another, and slowly came to as we sobbed and patted him and the other dog and hugged each other. 

PLAY NAKED

There is a second lesson to be learned from my nightmare story: When dog friends are playing bitey-face games, they shouldn’t be wearing collars at all. Playful dogs who are left home alone together shouldn’t be wearing collars, either. 

TAG, YOU’RE IT

As I was completing this article, I saw an Instagram post by Tricia Case of Trailblazing Tails. An assistance dog that Tricia is raising got her tag stuck in a bathroom floor vent as Tricia was, um, in the bathroom. Real life! Tricia shared the photo to warn others of this potential danger.

Here’s the other thing I don’t like to see hanging from dogs’ necks: Metal or other rigid ID tags – because it’s easy for tags to get caught on things, pinning a dog in a scary position and causing her to panic.

The last time I used tags was on a foster dog I had crated in my kitchen. I heard a ruckus and found her thrashing; her tags had somehow slipped through the ventilating slits on the side of the crate (perhaps when she was turning around?) and got stuck.

More commonly, dogs get stuck when they lay on a floor near a floor-mounted vent, either warming or cooling themselves, as appropriate for the season. Their tags slip through the vent as they lay on the floor, and when they try to get up, the tags turn and get stuck. Hysteria generally ensues. Best case, someone is home and rescues them. Worst case? Don’t ask. Awful. 

SOLUTIONS

Personally, I am comfortable having my dogs collar-free most of the time. If they escaped my home, say, in an earthquake or something, I know that they would readily go to my neighbors or even strangers for rescue. They are microchipped and the chips are registered to me with current contact information. 

But if keeping ID on your dog is more critical to you, perhaps because your dog might be a major flight risk if she got loose, there are a few safer solutions. 

As an alternative to using ID tags, I buy collars that have side-release plastic buckles (easy to unsnap in an emergency) and have my phone number stitched into the fabric. However, even these are taken off when I am not home or when I am fostering a dog who might play with my younger dog (my older dog doesn’t play). 

Silicone tags, such as the ones from Silidog.com, are a safe alternative. They are strong but flexible; even a spindly, tiny dog would be able to pull free if his silicone tag got caught.

I am aware of one collar that closes with a patented break-away buckle, which can tear apart if a dog gets caught by the collar. It’s called the KeepSafe Break-Away Safety collar, and is available from breakawaycollar.com.

Please consider employing at least one of these alternatives if you currently use a standard buckle collar and/or metal tags on your dog. 

Nancy Kerns is WDJ’s editor. 

56 COMMENTS

  1. Good post! I learned that lesson when I had a horse. We used to leave nylon halters on them when they were turned out – in a herd of 30-35 other horses. Then one of the older hack horses got his hind foot caught in his halter, fell thru a fence down into a ditch & was there all night. He had to be put down. Saw it again with a draft horse – he survived but took a long time for the damage to his neck muscles to heal. I boarded at that barn & the first time it happened was the last time my horse was turned out with a halter – especially a NYLON halter with buckles! Now it seems most dogs have nylon collars – mine does. But it is one of the quick release kind.

  2. Excellent advice re collars. I still have a scar on my hand from freeing two playing young dogs when the canine tooth on one caught in the collar of the other. It ended OK, we got them apart but they didn’t play together again.
    Look up BOOMERANG tags, great company – the tags are flat and can be slid onto a flat collar, even those with att buckles , due to clever design. A dogs playing or left alone or wherever wearing collars are accidents looking for a place to happen. When leaving my dogs at home , I have a soft, orange velcro “collar” that can be left on with my name ID inked on, just in case of accidental door opening, fire…..

    • I had the same question, too but I think I’ve thought of a “reach around”. We don’t have rabies here in Hawaii so no rabies tag but the dog license is required. I think post-Covid when I go to the dog park or elsewhere, I’ll carry the dog license with me to show to any authorities that might do a spot check at the park for licensed dogs. Any other thoughts?
      Hmm.. I will check with our local authorities and see if the dog has to be wearing the tag.

      • I just lookes up the regs for the County of Honolulu which says:

        ” Dogs are required to wear a
        County-issued license tag on their
        collar at all times. A City & County
        of Honolulu dog license is what’s
        considered legal proof of
        ownership. If your animal is lost, an
        ID can be your pet’s ticket home”

        I’ll contact them and see if they are willing to change that for certain circumstances. Worth a try.

        • Or perhaps put on a halter. I stopped using neck collars when my mother’s pup suffered throat damage. When on leash, the front part of a neck collar is pulling against their trachea etc. So I will transfer their tags to their harness. Though if left home alone and something happens I hope their internal tags get them back to me not that they are left alone any longer

          • exactly… collars shouldnt be used at all! i hear at least a dozen dogs a day choking as they pull their owners and many get yanked with prong collars. people should train their dogs to walk on leash

    • I thought of the same question. I had a friend whose dog got loose after being scared on a walk. When found and turned over to the local APL, they were immediately given a whole set of shots – before even scanning for a chip. The dog had recently had her shots and this double dose caused her several serious health issues. She had the tags with her and not attached to the pup. We need to educate APL’s and other shelters.

      • this happened to my dog 12 years ago! was given all the vaccines at once, sadly, to cross the birder from mexico. she escaped foster care and was picked up by animal control and given all the vaccines again plus oral and topical flea medication without checking the chip! she went from 19 pounds to 11 and almost died. it took a year to get her healthy. today she just turned 15 and has dementia…

  3. Thank you for this great article. Same thing happened with 2 of my dogs over 10 years ago. They were wrestling outside and one dog got his tooth caught under the other’s collar. She had twisted round so much that she was being strangled. My husband was home and had his sharp pocket knife on him and managed to cut through the collar. Ziva’s eyes were bulging and had rolled back by then – the blood vessels had also burst – but she came to quickly – both the dogs were in shock. None of my dogs have ever worn a collar at home since then.

  4. This is a very important article for sure. Several years ago my small active terrier mix was playing while wearing a collar that had one tag – her microchip ID tag shaped like a house. She dove under the bed as part of her silliness, and the tag cut her neck – – thank goodness in a place where she was OK, but she had to have stitches, a drainage tube, and a cone for a few weeks. It scared the you-know-what out of me and now: no more collars when inside at home. I wrote to the microchip company to let them know that their house-shaped tag is/was dangerous, but I don’t think they made any changes, unfortunately.

    • Suzy that had to be terrifying for yo
      u. Poor little dog. Thanks for sharing this as an example of how we need to anticipate all the creative ways that a dog can injure him/herself. This is one I didn’t think of and it could happen to cats too who love going under the bed.

  5. Great reminder, Nancy. Another collar folks don’t realize can be dangerous in dog play are the metal choke chains. A friend of mine had these collars on two of her Tervs and turned them loose to play at a park. This breed has narrow muzzles and one got her jaw under the other’s collar. This panicked both dogs who tried to fight each other off. She had a very hard time disentangling them without breaking the jaw. For anyone who leaves their dogs without collars in the house or yard, be sure and get your dogs tattooed in case they get out and microchipped. I’d also suggest that you walk your dog a lot and get to know your neighbors – friendly waving at them, etc so they notice you and your dog. When a wild pig dug under our fence at dusk and my border collies decided to go adventuring. I soon had 6 (yes 6!) neighbors under my window yelling up to me that my dogs were out. Other neighbors were holding on to the dogs. I only knew one of these folks by name. I am so thankful that they recognized the dogs and knew that I would never let them out by themselves. We set up a Critter Cam which verified it was the pigs and fixed the fence. Sadly from the dogs’ point of view their adventure was short-lived so I had to make it up to them with lots of other safe, entertainment activities.

  6. I personally know of two situations where this scenario occurred.
    One resulted in the death of a young lab of a coworker…it was a nightmare…they came home after a lunch out with friends , leaving their dog and their friends dog to play together in the backyard. One dead dog, and one panicked dog attached by a tooth and collar ring.
    The other was my son , who fortunately was home and able to cut the collar of one of his Boston’s….his wife tried to separate them , but didn’t have the strength. The Boston who was strangled had severe eye hemorrhages and trachea damages.
    I am glad you brought this up…it is unfortunately too common.

  7. I hate those side release plastic buckles that modern dog collars and harnesses have. I have not found even one of them I can open easily whether I have time to open it or am in a hurry! I can open a buckle much faster, but, I too let my dogs be collarless when at home. Thanks for mentioning the PetSafe callors, I shall check them.

  8. Another ID alternative is available from an online company called Leash Boss. It is a metal plate with name & contact info, etc., but the plate is affixed onto the dog’s collar or harness. No dangly tags! Another plus is that it is quiet ( no jingly tags either). We’ve used this with our labradoodle for 2 1/2 years now, without loss or damage to the tag — and on the one occasion when she did get lost (a long story that ended well), it did its job.

    • I’ve seen those and other alternatives. Unfortunately our local humane society, which had taken over animal control, requires a QR code. It’s some service they contract with. So no number to engrave on a tag. It’s a proprietary QR code on the tag that is then registered to your dog. If it’s not in their system, you can’t use it. so I’m stuck with tags.

  9. I Agree:
    -You should never crate a dog with a collar because of risk of getting caught and the possibility of the dog choking.
    -silicone slider tags or collars that can be embroidered are better alternatives to hanging metal tags.
    -quick release collars are better than buckle collars that need to be tightened to release.
    I Disagree:
    -with the idea of taking off collars as a general practice. Collar ID is important in getting a dog returned home quickly. Most dogs that get out do not walk to the neighbors and in a natural disaster dogs can do unexpected things that could lead them far from home. I believe dogs should always wear collars – the pros outweigh the cons IMHO.
    **Many say “oh but my dog is microchipped”. That may be true but if a citizen picks up your dog it is much easier to get them home quickly and safely if they have a collar with ID, phone number and address. It’s a lot less likely someone will find your dog and then take the time to take them to be scanned for a microchip AND many times microchips do not scan. It happens all the time.

    • I totally get the concern about taking collars off. I would feel absolutely fine with leaving the collars on my two dogs, as they don’t play with each other. But when I have a guest or foster dog here, one who WILL play with my younger dog, then the collars MUST be off, as my younger dog loves to play bitey-face games and has been known to grab hold of any gear another dog might be wearing and try to drag them around. My concern is mostly for dogs who are known to engage in games like this when unsupervised.

  10. My dogs were playing & the small chi started yelping but they seemed stuck together. I was close by and shocked to find the end of the s hook holding license of larger dog had somehow gotten caught in eyelid of chi!! A bizarre accident requiring emergency visit. Fortunately no serious damage. No tags now. Embroidered collars when we r home!! We never leave them together when no one home but we were right there, thank goodness.

  11. THANK you! I’m very paranoid about things like this. My dad was the most catastrophic thinker on earth and I learned it well. 🙄 So I usually think of everything but I missed this one. Off to Amazon for new collars!

  12. I’d like to relate why I NOW keep dangling tags on my dog. Previously I kept a flat collar tag on the dog while @home and substituted the dangling tags when we went camping or non-familar places. My last dog was taken on a walk by a stupid houseguest while I napped recovering from medical procedure (clearly stupid about dogs, did not ask if he could and went out into the woods behind our house without a leash). Dog had walked on our road and our well worn trails 100s of times, but had no idea where she was in random woods and didn’t come back to his calls (duh! why would she?) She was lost forever. 😢 Her collar had a flat tag with our information on it, but no one seeing her would have known that without being in touching range. From a distance she would have looked like a dog w/no id. My new dog wears dangly tags. Even @home yo don’t know when they are going to be out and in unfamaliar circumstances.

    • And if that flat tag (or dangly one for that matter) is attached to a breakaway collar and that collar gets caught on something and breaks away, then your dog has no ID at all except for that chip.

      I highly recommend chipping dogs. At least then either a vet or the local shelter has a chance of reading it and contacting you.

      I also have my dog’s photo and info on an app called Finding Rover. If she should get out and lose her collar, I would alert on the app in the hopes that someone would check it if they found her.

  13. We lost a beautiful Weimeraner puppy to a choke chain collar. This was the 60s and there weren’t a lot of options available. She was a big puppy and that is what fit. My parents had always used them. But Penny loved to jump at the birds. There was a nail head sticking out of the roof of her dog house just a quarter of an inch. I don’t need to go into details. We’ve never put chain collars on our dogs since that time. When I got my own dogs I used the web safety break away collars with the plastic buckles.

    It’s all well and good to say your dog doesn’t need a collar at home, but my parent’s dog, Candy, used to take herself off for an occasional walk in her senior years. She knew the route as she walked it every evening of her adult life. Just, sometimes, she felt like a walk in the middle of the day. Most in the neighborhood knew her but an out of town houseguest on a side street found her and called animal control. Cost my Mom a mint to get her out of doggie jail, plus she was vaccinated again because they didn’t check for her