Dog Collar Safety: When to Let Your Dog Go Naked
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
Here in our house we have names and phrases for a lot of things that most “normal” people do not when it comes to our dogs. I have found that they have learned more than I ever imagined they would just from us using the same phrase each time they do something or we humans do something. This also applies to our practice of taking off and putting on their dog collars throughout the day.
“Naked dog!” is what we exclaim to them when we remove the collar, said with a happy joyful voice and a neck scratch for them.
“Get dressed” is the phrase that they have learned that means to lean their head forward and wait for their collar to be snapped back into place.
Before Jackson and Tinkerbell were born our other dogs, who have since gone to the Rainbow Bridge, always wore their collars, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. By the time they became a threesome, none of them had to be in crates and they were all older middle-aged or senior dogs so there was really not any rough-housing taking place. They bonded mostly by snuggling and sniffing the yard together instead of playing zoomies and bitey face. Their collars never posed a hazard and our kids and their friends were so young and in and out of the fenced yard so often that the biggest threat was that a gate would be left open and one of the dogs would go exploring the neighborhood on their own, so a tag with identification on it was a must.
When we picked up Jackson as a little eight week old puppy, we noticed that our friend/breeder had entirely naked dogs; not a single one of her ten or so dogs wore a collar as they frolicked in and our of the house to greet us. Of course she is a professional dog trainer who owns a large piece of land in the country and her dogs are absolutely perfectly trained and seem to hang on to her every word, so the need for a collar and identification is not as strong as for some dog owners.
Over time, between watching how my dogs play with each other and from reading articles on crate safety, as well as from anecdotal stories of bad accidents or tragedies from collar related incidents, we now remove or put on Jackson and Tinkerbell’s collars throughout the day depending on the situation. additionally, we have had a few random incidents in which their tags on their collars got caught on things that could have been a hazard if we were not there to help.
When Jackson was a puppy he was persistent in his attempts to lick off our dirty dishes every time I loaded the dishwasher. We had many battles of wills during that time, with me patiently removing him and telling him “off” and him immediately resuming his licking attempts. Over and over, I would remove him, he would try again.
One day when he was around five months old he was sitting a few feet away from me, watching as I loaded the dishwasher. He was being very good in his sit and wait position but I could tell he really wanted to run over and lick off dirty plates.
As I turned to the sink to grab another dish, in the span of just a few seconds, he managed to put his front paws on the dishwasher door, and steal a lick from a dinner plate. I told him “OFF” and as he quickly backed away from the scene of his indiscretion, his tags caught in the wires of the dishwasher rack.
Jax panicked at the pulling sensation on his collar and took off in the opposite direction, but the dishwasher rack was firmly attached. Knives, forks, and plates bounced out and landed on the kitchen floor as Jax and the dishwasher rack went racing through the room like something out of a cartoon. I ran after him and stopped him and quickly unclipped his collar so that I could untangle the tags from the dishwasher rack.
The incident remedied his dish licking and he never approached the dishwasher again, but he could have really been hurt. Oddly enough, the same exact thing happened to Tinkerbell during her dish licking obsession as a puppy, and I had to chase her down and release her collar, like I was in some weird puppy vs. dishwasher deja vu situation. Of course we don’t leave the dishwasher open unless we are cleaning up after a meal, so this is not something likely to happen when an owner is away, but it definitely showed that their tags could get caught in bizarre things as our curious young dogs went about their daily lives.
Last summer we had a scary incident in the middle of the night when Tinkerbell woke me up by standing and whimpering next to my side of the bed. She had a habit of sleeping on top of the air conditioning vent and her tag had gone down through the slats while she was laying down and twisted. As a result, the entire metal vent cover came off of the vent when she stood up and was dangling awkwardly from her collar, the corner of the metal poking her in the neck slightly.
Since I was sound asleep it took me a minute to figure out what was attached to her and I quickly released her collar. Free from the metal grate, she jumped up into our bed and squirmed into my lap, her tail wagging furiously in fear and relief. After that I began to remove both dogs’ collars at night, although I have not seen her sleeping on top of the vent since.
Why Use Collars at All?
The function of the dog collar is of course to attach a leash for walking and to ensure that your dog has identification on him or her. If your dog slips out your front door and runs to a neighbor’s house, they can easily look at the tag, give you a call, and within minutes reunite you with your best friend. In fact, many people who find loose dogs falsely believe that a dog without a collar is a stray or uncared for, even though collars can come off rather easily and you cannot see if a dog is microchipped without having him or her scanned with a chip reader.
I personally prefer a harness for walking dogs because it takes the pressure off of the dogs’ throat and distributes it across their body. Even the best loose leash walking dogs get excited every once in a while when they see a favorite person or a rogue squirrel and could pull and damage their throat, spine, or neck. I cannot remember the last time I actually attached a leash to a collar. Jax and Tink wear their collars on walks but that is to carry their identification; the leash itself is attached to the back ring on their harness.
Dog Collar Hazards
Collars can pose a considerable hazard when you have multiple dogs who play with each other. Games of bitey face and zoomies can become dangerous or even deadly if one dog accidentally gets his or her teeth or jaw caught in another dog’s collar, causing damage to the dog whose mouth is stuck and potentially strangling the dog with the collar that is tightly stuck around the other dog’s mouth. You should always remove all collars before allowing your dog to play with another dog.
In our house Jax and Tink are never left unsupervised for very long and I always remove both of their collars when I see their body language and behavior indicate that a game of rough housing is about to happen. They are both good about stopping in mid-play when I intervene, waiting to become “naked dog” and then resuming their play session. As they have become adult dogs and are trusted for longer times without a human in the room, I have started to remove their collars so that if a game erupts when I am in another room of the house they will not become intertwined.
I am a huge fan of crates but only if they are used correctly and in a positive way, which is to keep your dog safe from harming him or herself when you are not there to supervise their activities and decisions. Crates and collars together are a potentially deadly combination, as collars and tags can easily become caught in the slats of plastic crates or between the wires of metal crates and choke a dog. In fact in the last few weeks I have heard two different stories of dogs being strangled by collars that were caught in crates, which is the tragic and heartbreaking reason for the timing of this blog. Always remove your dog’s collar before putting them in a kennel or crate.
I follow a very simple process any time the dogs go into their crates. I give the “kennel” command and they run to their specific crate to wait for their treat. First I give Jax his treat and remove his collar, then I give Tink her treat and remove her collar. I place each collar about six inches away from the kennel so that I know exactly where they are and so that they are handy to put back on the dogs when we come home and let them out of their crates.
An On/Off Approach to Dog Collars
I have ultimately taken an on/off approach to our dogs and collars so that they are either naked or wearing their collars depending on the situation. Their collars are always on if we go outside in our own yard or on walks because having my phone number on their collars means that they could be reunited with me quickly and not have to go somewhere to be scanned for their chips. I believe that if they ever slipped out of the gate or front door that they would be the type of dogs to run right up to the next person they saw for belly rubs and treats rather than the type of dog who would run away or evade humans, so having my phone number on their collars would lead to a faster reunion.
When they are in their kennels or I am sleeping or even just hanging out in the house, their collars are off and always put in a place where I can reach them quickly, like hanging from my dresser draw pulls or in front of their kennel doors in case of an emergency. Their harnesses also stay in the same spot on separate hooks that I can access quickly if we needed to leave the house or go into the basement for a tornado warning.
It may sound like a lot to put the collar on, take the collar off, but at the end of the day, it is how I feel safest and prepared for all situations. We take our own shoes on and off multiple times a day, we change our clothes depending on what we are doing, it is literally a few seconds per dog to put a collar on or take the collar off. That is very little time and effort to avoid a potentially life altering accident or tragedy because of a collar related incident.