When Dog Collars Become Deadly

Standard dog collars, hardly ever considered to be dangerous devices, do pose risks during playtime or in a dog fight.

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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.

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.

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.

18 COMMENTS

  1. The thought of dogs getting tangled in collars is concerning however, I would not consider it responsible to have dogs in a dog park that potentially end up needed to be separated from a fight but nothing to grab onto. Or, if you have a foster dog in a home and an unexpected altercation occurs. There have been too many times when having collars to grab onto to separate dogs have saved a dogs life or from harm. I’ve had collars come off of a dog during a scuffle and had to get it back on a dog while they were fighting so I could separate them.

    I’m concerned your message is sending to inexperienced dog owners.

    • Relating to the comment: What you are saying makes a point, however, in my view, the best way to separate two dogs is to grab them from behind under their bellies just in front of their back legs and pull them away from each other. Usually when they are having an altercation, the heads are moving around fast but the back ends are more stationary.

    • the last thing you should do to break up a dog fight is to reach near their collars. I’d throw a towel or shirt over them, put something in between them, or use the wheelbarrow method by lifting their hind legs and waiting for them to let go as you walk backwards separating them. Pretty much every dog owner is ‘inexperienced’ at breaking up a dog fight and this article is about collar safety. You’d be shocked just how many dogs have died due to collar strangulation, usually in their own home.

    • Having experienced this, it is not irresponsible but is something all dog owners should be aware of. I actually took a collar off my female dog after I nearly lost her to this very event. My other dog got his mouth stuck on her collar and nearly killed her. The vet told me his jaw would have broken and she would have died if I hadn’t been there to release the collar that they were trapped by. It is more of a risk for them to play with collars on than it is for them to be in a fight and be unable to restrain them by their collars. As mentioned above, it is much safer to approach and restrain a fighting dog from behind than from their collar, where you are likely to get bitten in the fray.

  2. Thank you for this message. This happened to us today. It was not a dog fight. It was two dogs playing and the one got her jaw tightly wrapped in the other dogs collar. The two were fighting for thier lives not each other. As a result, we were bitten but they survived. If I hadn’t run out with my kitchen shears and my neighbors were able to help, both my dogs may of died. Perhaps picking an adjustable collar was our mistake… but we are not inexperienced dog owners. Those that are missing the point of this post simply dont understand the what this tragic event is. The collar becomes so tightly bound to the dog’s jaw tongue and neck that the struggle to set them free requires a tool to cut the collar.

    Please dont be a hater. And understand how deadly collars can be with playing dogs. These tips are life saving!

  3. This happened to my two dogs in the backyard while they were playing. I was just a few feet away when one dog’s mouth got caught in the other dog’s collar. In his panic to get his mouth free he twisted the collar tighter and tighter around her neck. It all happened so fast. My dog’s eyes were bulging out of her head. My other dog was out of control trying to free himself. It was a nightmare. I didn’t think I had time to get scissors and was screaming. I finally got close enough but couldn’t get the release for what seemed like forever. I almost got it once but my dog bit me in her panic. It took her losing consciousness for me to finally find the latch and release both dogs. One collapsed, the other cried in relief from his jaw being free. My girl was near death, unconscious with blood pooling in her swollen eyes. Rushed both to the vet and they were miraculously ok. I will never forget it. I got so lucky. I never let them play with collars on again. I was shocked at how many people this has happened to. I am now more aware of how deadly collars can be.

  4. I pull off collars when I leave for work. My Berner got his collar stuck on a drawer in the bathroom when he was a pup. Now I’m paranoid and he won’t go in the bathroom.

  5. My son and I were discussing collars last night. Our dogs got out the other day (fence is repaired now). They went to the vacant lot next door. Neither was wearing a collar or harness. They are both micro-chipped. We decided against collars because of the way they play and I know what they did to their Soresto flea collars. As for you keeping box cutters handy, you need a different tool. If you use the box cutter you will either cut yourself or the dogs. I suggest getting a seatbelt cutter. They are meant to cut the type of material a collar might be made from. There is no exposed blade and would probably fit in your pocket.

    • A seatbelt cutter might not fit under the tightly twisted collar. A box cutter can be used on the back of the neck where any laceration can be repaired surgically and their are no big important nerves or blood vessels.

  6. This very thing happened to my family today, my Belgian Malinois passed away due to this and our giant schnauzer is going to recover !but her jaw and mouth and gums are damaged from the collar on my Belgian, getting caught on both her canines on her lower jaw ! which I never had an idea could ever happen, that is how I can across this site today.
    I had to remove the collar from the Belgians neck in order to free my giant schnauzer! By the evidence of our fenced in patio area, the struggle had went on for a while , which is devastating to think about!! I performed CPR on her feverishly for along time to no avail!!! My wife daughter and myself are going to educate as many Fellow dog owner’s as we can on this matter!! To hopefully prevent this from happening to other dog families. As far as the collars go , our dogs will never play with collars on again! and they will never be left unattended with collars on!!! My family and I wish somebody would have informed us that a dogs canine and lower jaw could get caught so tight on another dogs collar And not be able to free itself!!!!

  7. 😭 This just happened to our 2 dogs about 45 minutes ago. I think we were very very close to losing our oldest boy. It was so so scary. We worked and worked and finally got the collar off the dog who was suffocating. I am completely shaken and wanted to see if any one else had experienced this… and boom I find this. I am so so sorry for anyone that has lost their pet this way. There will definitely be changes made in our house with collars going forward.

  8. Before I witnessed this happening to the neighbor’s dogs, I thought people who worried about this were being a little over the top and hysterical. Once you have had the dying dogs in your own hands, trying to desperately cut the collars as they desperately struggle for air, you never forget how dire and difficult the situation is, and you become — like me and the people who have commented who have been through it — a little over the top and hysterical about warning others, too.

    I wouldn’t EVER let a dog play with another dog if either dog was wearing a buckle collar, choke chain, or pinch collar. The buckles with the plastic squeeze-releases are safer; it’s * possible * to release them under pressure, but also difficult as the dogs are thrashing about. Safest is playing naked.

  9. This happened to my 2 german shepherd girls playing in the living room tonight. I heard blood-curdling squeals and jumped up from another room to find my dogs’ jaws locked together by collar entanglement. The one collar was a quick release but it was pulled so tightly that I thought tongues were being cut and one dog was being strangled. Her airway was cut off and she was highly distressed. Both dogs were writhing together and I the collar was so tight and the dogs were so violently thrashing that I couldn’t release the collar. I ran to the kitchen for scissors and cut the collar and freed the dogs. Blood flowed and it was coming from my fingers which had gotten gashed by dog teeth in the struggle. We were all very distressed and I will need stitches and antibiotics. Luckily my dogs are okay! I will never use collars again! I live alone and had to deal with all this mess by myself, a 56 year old widow. Too much stress for my dogs and me! Never again!

    • I’m so sorry to read your note! Having experienced the same thing, albeit with strangers’ dogs, I cried reading your account! I have a little PTSD about this — and you probably will, too. I’m telling you, it doesn’t seem all that likely, until it happens to you, and then you, too, turn into a “dogs play naked” warrior. I hope you all heal quickly. Thanks for sharing your account. — Nancy Kerns, Editor

  10. Today this very thing happened to my golden retriever and husky mix. My huskie was crying in distress. I was able to untangle the collar after it being a drugged. I thought I could’ve lost him today. After releasing my pups from each other my huskie is growling aggressively and crying at my golden. I think he’s scared and afraid of him and I have them separated for now but my question is how do I get him to trust him again. They’re both loving pups but this is scary and I would love answers please.

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