Misuse of Choke Chains
During a recently completed Instructors Course earlier this year, I elected, as a special study, to carry out a small survey into the Misuse of Choke Chains. The preferred name of these chains in the dog-training world is Check Chains, but as they check the dog initially by choking it, I decided that for my special study I would use Choke Chain as a more apt description. My survey extended to 51 pages on completion so the following is a shortened version containing most of the important points discovered.
My interest in this survey stemmed from my original use of Choke Chains on my own Golden Retrievers, which I soon stopped once I realized that the chain was removing hair from my dogs necks. At the same time, I had taken up agility and soon realized that I had to maintain control over my dogs by voice and encouragement alone. I was further puzzled by seeing handlers who had good verbal control over their dogs during competition and yet slipping a choke chain over their dogs necks at the end of the run.
My study was therefore to find out if there were recorded injuries to dogs caused by these chains being misused, and to gather the views of as many differing bodies as I could. I therefore contacted The Kennel Club, The National Canine Defense League, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Veterinary Practices, Trainers, Pet Shop Outlets and Chain Manufacturers/Distributors.
After badgering The Kennel Club and the RSPCA several times I managed to establish that neither have any particular policy on the use of Choke Chains, and that both consider they are relevant pieces of training equipment, if used "by experienced handlers". (Surely, that statement in itself constitutes a policy.)
The National Canine Defense League does not use choke chains in any of their kennels and advises against their use when re-homing dogs to new owners.
From 16 Veterinary Practices, I received 13 responses and seven confirmed recorded cases of injured dogs caused by choke chains. This number in the Norwich area alone would amount to hundreds on a national scale if this were the average. Add to that the ones that never are brought to the attention of a veterinarian. Almost all the Practices agreed that they would advise against the use of chains if there were confirmed cases. None recommended their use.
Most of the trainers I contacted do not use chains but 2 recommended their use, with one recommending their use on untrained dogs. One trainer advised that they should be banned altogether after nearly losing one of his own dogs through strangulation when a choke chain locked. Only one agreed they should only be used by experienced handlers, which I personally found disturbing. Seven thought it might be a good idea to add a warning label to each chain at the point of sale.
Pet shop outlets seem more interested in the till takings but agreed they may consider displaying "warning information" about choke chains only being used by experienced handlers if injury proof existed. The two distributors I contacted apparently are not aware of any problem but one of them decided to consider adding a warning into its standard label.
My survey also brought me into contact with Robin Walker, a Veterinary and Dog Behaviourist, who had an article on this very subject printed in The Veterinary Record in March 1999 showing evidence of injury to dogs. He listed:
Radiographs showed misalignment of the cervical vertebrae and in some cases Horner's Syndrome was diagnosed. I personally suffer from this condition. The injury was caused by a suddenly, but in my case voluntary, movement of the neck which has left the nerve supply to one eye damaged, resulting in occasional pain to the eye and headaches. The injury is not visible to another person so it would not appear to show in a dog without a radiograph. Some of the conditions described above were at the time known as "Woodhouse Neck".
Obviously, the most dangerous chains are the long link chains. These can lock in the tightened position if one of the links turns at 90 degrees and jams across the opening in the end ring. Secondly, all chains would appear to be dangerous if used on an untrained dog, which is most likely to pull. Further stress is then put on the dog by the chain tightening and in some cases, the dog then starts to struggle. This situation in the hands of an inexperienced handler is obviously likely to lead to injury. There are obviously also ideal situations where a chain is used correctly and the trained dog responds correctly. However, why the necessity to use a chain on a trained dog which should be responding to voice command?
Most of the injuries must be caused before dogs ever get to training classes and before the correct guidance is given to the new owner. Therefore, if we are concerned for general dog welfare and not just for the ones in the training classes, I can see no alternative but for some legislation to be put into place. Unfortunately, the Kennel Club and the RSPCA who between them control almost the total registration and welfare of dogs is this country cannot see that their may be a problem.
I would appreciate any comments any reader may have on the above subject that may assist in my further perusing a hazard that may lead to the safer handling of dogs sometime in the future.