Elementary safety rule for dogs is to take the collars off
I'm a big fan of not reinventing the wheel — learning from the experiences and wisdom of those who have gone before. But as a pioneer in this new industry, there were no guidelines. We developed standards and practices as we went along, revising, adjusting and changing as we learned and grew, sharing our experiences with others who contacted us for information.
There was one procedure I insisted on from the very beginning: collars off for safety. This has been one of my mantras from the time I first started “in dogs” over 40 years ago. I learned this lesson from my first mentor, who had two German Shepherd Dogs, mother and son. The dogs were playing together when the dog's mouth got entangled in his mother's collar. As he struggled to free himself, the collar wrapped completely around his lower jaw, strangling his mother, choking off her air supply. One person cannot disentangle two 80-pound dogs thrashing in pain and panic. This horrific event would have ended tragically for one or both dogs were it not for my friend's mailman arriving just in time and helping her avert disaster.
Two of our instructors had a similar experience when two of their golden retrievers got entangled in a collar. It took four people to separate them, and hours before their heart rates (the people's) returned to normal. Sadly, this event permanently affected the relationship between these two dogs, which were once best friends. They have avoided playing together ever since, and it's been years.
I tell these stories at day care seminars when I'm talking about safety, and I share them when people ask me advice for finding the right day care for their dogs. This is one rule that I won't compromise unless the dogs are wearing breakaway safety collars that automatically release if they catch on anything. It isn't enough that a day care operator is willing to remove your dog's collar. No dogs should be wearing collars — or find a different day care.
At our day care, we put breakaway collars on dogs new to our day care to identify them easily for everyone to get to know them. Also, since we take photos of the dogs every day and post them on SmugMug, we can be sure to post pictures of the new dogs for their owners' enjoyment.
A few years ago I spoke on this topic at a day care seminar where an attendee who had been working in a doggie day care for five years proudly exclaimed that they've never had an incident, and they keep collars on the dogs.
I suggested she consider it like any safety measure, such as backing up a computer hard drive or wearing a life vest or seat belt. You don't need a backup unless your hard drive crashes. You don't need a life vest unless you fall overboard, or a seat belt unless you crash, but we intelligently prepare for worst-case scenarios. Taking collars off dogs is a safety measure to prevent the worst-case — a dog strangling to death because the collar got entangled on another dog or an object. At that point, it's too late to say, “If only we had . . .”
I recommend this not just for dogs playing with other dogs, but also for all dogs unless under direct supervision. Years ago, a client lost their dog when it was alone outside, jumped over a fence and its collar got caught. By the time my clients found their dog, it was too late. That's just one of the tragic, collar-related stories I've heard over the years.
My dogs don't wear collars at home. When we're out, they wear martingale collars that slip over the dog's head. Martingales don't tighten to the point of choking. Even so, I don't leave them on if there's even a remote chance of the collar getting caught on something.
I also recommend breakaway collars. For more information about these collars, go to www.breakawaycollar.com.
Gail Fisher, author of “The Thinking Dog,” runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a column topic, email email@example.com or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.
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