Leash-pulling is more than just a pain in the neck for dogs and their owners -- it's a practice that can cause serious injury to pets as well as the people walking them. No matter how big and muscular a dog is, his neck and throat are among the most vulnerable parts of his body. Leashes of any length can cause harm if dogs pull against them forcefully enough. However, many vets believe that retractable leashes are much more likely to lead to traumatic neck and spine injuries than fixed-length leashes.
Leash-Pulling Injuries Can Be Serious
Dogs straining on leashes can inflict serious and sometimes permanent damage on themselves in various ways, according to veterinarian Peter Dobias on the "Dogster" website. The pressure of the collar against the neck affects nerves controlling movement and sensation in the front legs and compresses blood vessels, thereby restricting blood flow to the head. The thyroid gland in the neck, which releases hormones essential to metabolism, can be injured. Some dogs incur "severe whiplash-like injuries from being jerked around" on a leash, Dobias says. On her Healthy Pets website, veterinarian Karen Becker adds seizures brought on by cervical spine injuries to this list, a particular problem among dogs left chained up outdoors. If they dash off in pursuit of something and are abruptly brought up short by the chain, damage to cervical vertebrae is common.
Fixed-Length vs. Retractable Leashes
If a dog on a fixed-length leash bolts, he won't muster much momentum before he reaches the end of his tether, thereby limiting the amount of damage he can do to himself. Retractable leashes, on the other hand, allow dogs up to 26 feet of leeway, meaning that those who bolt are capable of picking up a lot of speed before being brutally stopped in their tracks by a maxed-out leash. The Veterinary Information Network reported the case of a dog on a retractable leash darting into traffic and being struck by a motorcycle. After the dog was rushed to the hospital in severe respiratory distress, vets found no external injuries -- only a torn trachea deemed to have been a leash-pulling injury.
Leash-Pulling Hurts People, Too
Leash-pulling dogs can hurt not only themselves, but also the humans struggling to bring them under control at the other end of the strap. In March 2009, Consumer Reports News published the findings of a statistical analysis based on 2007 data collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That year, 16,564 leash-related injuries severe enough to be treated in U.S. hospitals were reported. Of these, 10.5 percent involved children age 10 or younger and 23.5 percent involved finger injuries, including amputations. Though these injuries weren't broken down according to leash types, the news story quoted a Boston woman who had lost one of hers after her large dog bolted while the retractable leash she was holding was wrapped around it. “It just cut it off like a sharp knife,” the woman said.
Reducing Leash-Pulling Injury Risks
Some dogs accept leash training more readily than others, and some are just stubbornly resistant to the process, but with patience and perseverance, all dogs can be taught to behave themselves on leash, says the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Obedience classes are a good start, but if techniques you've learned there aren't producing the desired results, consider consulting a certified professional dog trainer, advises the ASPCA. Getting the right leash for your dog's shape and disposition is also vitally important. Some dogs, including long-bodied, short-legged breeds such as dachshunds and those with delicate necks including greyhounds, are better off with a harness than a collar. Ask your vet for recommendations appropriate for your dog.
- Dogster: Dog Collars -- The Hidden Cause Behind Many Injuries
- New York Post: Incorrectly Used Collars, Leashes Can Do Harm
- VIN News Service: Injuries, Behavioral Problems Linked to Retractable Leashes
- Healthy Pets: The Surprising Connection Between Pet Collars and Seizures
- Rice Village Animal Hospital: Retractable Leashes -- Why We Do Not Recommend Them
- ConsumerReports.org: Retractable Leashes Pose Problems for People and Their Pets
- ASPCA: Teaching Your Dog Not to Pull on a Leash