Ahimsa Dog Training, Seattle

Collar Warnings, Foxtails

I have some awful news. A dog that took puppy class with me this spring passed away last week. Her harness caught on the exercise pen that she was kept in when her owners were gone for a bit, and she strangled.

The family emailed me because they wanted to prevent other dogs from danger. They asked me to be sure to tell people that it was a Shih Tzu – not the kind of dog one might expect to leap acrobatically into the air and get stuck on something high up.

I had heard rumors of this problem, and put my dogs into breakaway collars, but having never actually known a dog that had this happen, I thought it was very rare and got rid of the collars.

Looking into it, it seems it’s common enough to warrant warning you: 91% of vets say they have had 1-5 dogs in their practice who have strangled in the last year. I have just ordered several KeepSafe breakaway collars, which bust open if the dogs tangle in something but can be clipped to work like a regular collar when on leash. You can get them at the training center starting next week, or you can order them on our online dog store.

If you do get a breakaway collar, or have your dog go collarless in the home, it’s *especially* important to microchip your dog.

Love them every day, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Life is too short for dogs, even if we do everything right.

FOXTAILS – Danger!

Foxtails are a plant seed that land on your dog’s fur and then keep burrowing in, given the chance. I’ve had clients whose dogs and cats have had them in eyeballs, paws, and skin. They are known to go deeper, too, into the animal’s body, winding up in hearts and lungs. The dog parks are full of them and they are traveling now due to the hot weather drying up the plants. I spent yesterday removing as many as I could from the front of the training center.

Make sure to look at your pet’s fur whenever you come back inside from a walk or play time. Look in the fur and between the toes. Take note of any strange pawing at the ears or an unusual amount of sneezing. One cause of sneezing is that there may be a foxtail up your dog’s nose.

For more info, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxtail_%28diaspore%29

And of course, the top of the summer danger list: do not leave your dog in a car during the summer. It heats up much faster than you think, even with the windows down.

Written by Grisha Stewart, Ahimsa Dog Training, Seattle [Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon] Tweet This Post!
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15 Responses to “Collar Warnings, Foxtails”

  1. Maureen Says:

    I am very very saddened by this. I do thank you for this news however. I think i will go with a safety collar. thanks and i pray for the person that lost their sweetie.

  2. Sandy Says:

    What a sad story. I feel terrible for the owners. They must be heartbroken.

    I would like to tell you about something that happened with our dog that could have been disastorous had we not been sitting right there with her.

    We have tight berber carpet in our family room. Somehow, the ring that holds Sydney’s tags on her collar got caught on one of the berber loops. It was the end of the ring where you split it open to slide the tags in. After it got caught, Sydney started pulling and unravelling the carpet. In just a couple of seconds the length that was unraveled was as tall as Sydney. Fortunately, we were sitting right next to her and were able to remove her collar immediately.

    While her collar is a breakaway collar, I don’t think it would have helped in this situation. Sydney could have easily gotten tangled up in the loop itself and strangled.

    If I hadn’t seen this happen myself I never would have imagined the carpet could present a danger. There were no loose loops. There was no reason for the ring to get caught, but it did. I’m still thankful we were right there.

  3. Grisha Says:

    How scary! Thank you for pointing out that tags themselves can be dangerous.

    For my dog, we drilled a second hole in her ID tags and sewed them onto the collar, so nothing dangles down.

  4. Randy P Says:

    I’m very glad you shared this story with everyone. A close friend lost their dog due to the same causes. The had buckle collars (that buckle just like a belt buckle). When two Labs were playing/wrestling somehow one got stuck underneath the other and was strangled. When the dogs were found the were still stuck together. They have since gotten the breakaway collars and advised me to as well. The buckle collars are sold as attractive fashion pieces, but are not practical nor safe.

  5. Jen Says:

    That is so sad, I didn’t think dogs could strangle with a harness.

    I had to tell you what happened to our puppy shortly after she finished puppy class with Ahimsa.

    Ava and Tanky were playing in the backyard, like normal, collars on. We’d just upgraded Ava’s collar, since she was growing bigger by the day. It was a normal flat nylon collar, with a metal belt buckle piece for the attachment. They were wrestling, like normal, when I heard an ungodly sound coming from the backyard, Tank was screaming and Ava was making wheezy sounds so I ran out, and they were stuck together.

    Tank had grabbed Ava’s collar, and flipped her (she was relatively small to him), so her collar did a figure 8, one part of the eight stuck behind Tank’s molars, the other half tight around her neck. They were both so upset, I tried to undo Ava’s collar and couldn’t, those belt collars have to get a little tighter before they release, and there was no room to do that.

    I ran in to grab the kitchen shears to try and cut Ava out of the collar, and when I got back out her eyes were all bulged out, and her tongue was purple. As I watched (and screamed maniacally) she collapsed to the ground. Magically, Tanky’s teeth were freed, and they both released. She seemed to wake up just as she hit the ground, and ran as fast as she could into the house, to hide under the coffee table. Tank was just fine, Ava was incredibly freaked out, but doesn’t seem to carry any emotional trauma to this day. Physically though, she hurt her trachea, it’s now a collapsed trachea, and she honks and wheezes a little when she runs. The vet thinks she’ll be fine as she gets older, just because she was a small puppy when this happened, she seems to be growing out of the honking.

    We threw that collar away that day, and got her one with a snap release. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen, and I will never buy another buckle type collar for my dogs. I can’t imagine what could have happened if I hadn’t of been there.

  6. Susan Says:

    Here’s another example of the danger of foxtails to add to your list: when I was a child, our family dog got a foxtail stuck inside his throat. We couldn’t figure out why he was hacking and coughing so had the vet take a look. The really sad part of the story is that after the vet removed the foxtail, which had penetrated the tissues in the throat, he gave our dog a shot of penicillin. Unfortunately, he had a severe allergic reaction to the penicillin and died :( …. Needless to say, I REALLY keep a look out for foxtails on my doggy walks!

  7. Richard Says:

    After reading your email and visiting the KeepSafe web site (http://www.keepsafecollar.com), I immediately removed the collar from our young and active Swedish Vallhund, Tilda, and convinced myself that I needed to get new collars for her and our old Corgi Popcorn right away. Considering that Popcorn has worn the same collar for 14 years without incident, this was probably an overreaction, but the thought of strangled dogs was just too much to bear.

    Thank you so much for sending out that email. I hope everyone who hears of this takes it seriously and that the breakaway collar will become the norm rather than the exception.

    On another note, Tilda has been doing very well with the things we learned in Basic Manners, and the fear issues we talked about in Fraidy Dog are fading away. I think that within a few months we’ll be ready to move on to some more advanced training. Ahimsa has been a great help to us. You are doing a fabulous job! Thanks again.

  8. Linda Says:

    Thanks for the warning. I am from central California, where there is an abundance of these weeds. Many years ago I had cocker mix that routinely would get these in her ears. Unless I caught them immediately, they required a trip to the vet to get the little devils out. I hadn’t noticed a lot of them around here until last year — and they seem to be getting worse. I mentioned the problem to a couple of my friends, and they were completely unaware of it.

  9. Julia Says:

    Hi, Grisha. Just a suggestion to remind new puppy owners about the foxtail. It’s out and I’m seeing it a lot. Despite best efforts, one got way down into my dog’s ear without my seeing it, and thankfully he started shaking his head and crying so I knew and could get him to the vet to take out….

  10. maureen Says:

    Foxtails are a nightmare. my baby got one in his leg and he actually had to have surgery. This has been financially very expensive ($700.00) not to mention now he has gained weight due to having to not be active so it can heal. I believe he got this from a dog park that he has been to numerous times in Tacoma. Please be careful.

  11. katie Says:

    Our small puppy nearly strangled to death while playing with the older, much larger puppy tonight. The little guy was wearing his harness, and somehow, the larger pup’s front paw lodged in the neck half, and as he tried to pull it out, he twisted the neck portion of the harness tightly around the little one’s neck. The buckle clip was so small, it was difficult to undo, and the puppy passed out before we could get it off him. We gave him mouth to mouth, and he came back around immediately, but it was very scary. Tomorrow I’ll be buying breakaway collars, and neither pup wears his harness when they play, now.

  12. Grisha Says:

    Oh, that’s terrible, Katie! I’m happy to hear that there was no permanent damage. I definitely prefer dogs either naked or in breakaway collars when they’re not on leash.

    And of course, I’m pro micro-chipping, since the collars will not provide the id you need if they come off.

  13. Grisha Says:

    Maureen, thank you for sharing. People really sit up and take more notice now, when I say foxtails can cost $700 to remove, versus just saying they’re dangerous.

  14. Patti Says:

    We just bought our daughter a 1 year old AKC shih-tzu last week for her birthday. The puppy was adjusting very well to our home and fit in with the three other small dogs that we have had for the last 3 years. She was out in our fenced yard with the other dogs and got her collar caught on the fence and strangled to death. We and our three dogs are devestated. I had never heard of this happening and keep wishing that we hadn’t left her collar on her. Our dogs have always been in this yard with their snap collars on and we had never had any problem. Now I don’t have any collars on our dogs when they are at home. I will look at breakaway collars. Thank you and I am sorry for anyone else that has had this happen, it is horrible.

  15. Mark_2160 Says:


    I inherited my Mother’s Shi-tzu after she passed away several years ago. Her Shi-tzu “Casey” picked up FOXTAILS that became lodged in her throat during the Summer of 2008. I believe that the Vet charged her $300.00 to have them removed, plus the medication was a secondary expense.

    It is Summer, 2013, and once again, I believe that she picked up foxtails in the backyard, as we were careless in not keeping the backyard trim and low. About 12 weeks ago, I notice “Casey,” sneezing, as if she was suddenly allergic to something. Later, she started shaking her head from left to right. After that, she began rubbing her head periodically on the ground. Within a few weeks, I noticed that she became somewhat reserved, laying around, showing signs of lethargy, and not responding quickly as she typically does.. Hmmm, I said…

    Well, I figured it was time to take a good look at what was going on, so I picked her up, placed her on top of the washer and examined her. At first, I didn’t see anything. However, upon deeper examination, I noticed that she had a half dollar sized lump under her left ear, under the skin, and between her ear and upper leg. …I did a little research, and alot of data out on various sites spoke of cysts, lumps, and other diseases, especially as a dog ages. However, I found another page that described her signs and symptoms that leads me to the conclusion that she probably/likely – picked up a foxtail in her coat, or perhaps she simply swallowed one.

    Either way, I don’t have the funds to have the foxtail removed, but I guess I’ll have to find them somewhere. *She’s a good little dog. I must be honest; I don’t like her “quite” as much as my Mother’s Sheltie (that I also inherited), but it would be wholly unfair to not try my hardest to have her seen, as I would probably spend my last dollar to have the Sheltie looked at, because I guess I like her just a little more, as the Sheltie was my gift to my Mom who was retired and living alone. Neighbors like Mandee the Sheltie, simply because she looks like a little Lassie. By contrast, the Shi-tzu, Casey, is just as pretty, but needs much more support and upkeep because of her breed.

    Back in 2005, the Shi-tzu, was previously owned by my Ex-Wife, who was frustrated with the young Shi-tzu, offering me her little Shi-tzu named Casey, thinking that she was over bred and as a result, was a little touched by the Sun.

    I instantly saw the real problem, as my family and I do really well with dogs; Mom had several dogs that lived indoors back in the day; so, you have to learn how to train and interact with dogs when you live in a big city like New York. – …….Meanwhile, I was loathe to say anything to my at the time, “new girlfriend.”

    ….Get this little tidbit: She places the little puppy outside to live it’s life on a 9’x12′ cinderblock enclosed patio 7′ feet high; a three quarters covered patio, keeps the dog in this enclosed area from the time she was a puppy for over a year in closed isolation until she and the daughter came home each day. Then, wonders in amazement, that this year old little girl puppy, now young adult is: “drinking her own pee, eating her feces, and is constantly scratching on the patio door until the bottom is all scratched to hell and back…”

    …Of course I understood the problem, and so did my Mother. ..It wasn’t the Shi-tzu that was crazy, it was my Ex-Wife who didn’t understand that, – YOU CANNOT/DO NOT – place a young puppy into ISOLATION for over a year to live on a cement patio, by itself, greet and play with the dog for the most part on the way to work and when returning from work, – then wonder why the dog is acting crazy…

    Yikes! Can’t believe how some people can be so dense.

    At the moment, I don’t have the funds to have her seen, but I am going to figure it out because it’s the humane thing to do. So, if you can’t afford the costs of having a little life (or two) to take care of, then you really need to think it over once you decide that you want a pet. Wish me and my Shi-tzu “Casey” luck this summer for health and healing. Mark_2160 Fresno, California

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