Off-Leash Dog Play: Ensuring Safety and Fun at the Park

For Immediate Release, June 12, 2013

Dog parks are often seen as havens for our furry friends to frolic and play freely. However, a recent incident in Pennsylvania serves as a tragic reminder of the dangers that can arise during off-leash dog play. The incident involved a dog suffocating after getting its jaw trapped under another dog’s collar. But is this really just a freak accident?

According to experts in the field, such incidents are not uncommon. Robin Bennett and Susan Briggs, known as The Dog Gurus, emphasize the importance of collar safety when dogs engage in off-leash play. While teaching pet care facility owners how to create safe play environments, they consistently address this potential danger.

Bennett emphasizes, “Understanding collar safety is crucial before allowing your dog to play off-leash with others.” It’s a common sight to see pet owners unleash their dogs at the park while leaving their collars on. However, for dogs that engage in rough play, such as grabbing the neck area of other dogs, there is a real risk of collars becoming stuck under jaws. When this happens, panic ensues, and the collar tightens, leading to suffocation.

But how can we balance the need for safe play with the necessity of managing our dogs effectively? When supervising off-leash play, owners must carefully consider whether their dogs should wear collars at the park.

The Four Es of Excellence in Off-Leash Play: Collar Safety Guidelines

In their comprehensive guidelines for pet care centers, Briggs and Bennett outline their baseline standard for collar safety. This standard is highly recommended for pet owners as well. The safest way to let dogs play is by removing all collars and harnesses, allowing them to “play naked.” Since dogs interact with their mouths, there’s a high risk of teeth and jaws getting caught in another dog’s collar. Tragically, deaths have occurred due to this risk, which is why “play naked” is strongly encouraged for safety.

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However, there are situations where collars may be necessary for safety or legal reasons. In such cases, Velcro safety collars or break-away collars are recommended for easy removal. Another option is using paper collars marked with the dog’s name by hand. Owners should also have slip leads readily available to quickly leash their dog if safety becomes a concern (a slip lead can be fashioned using a standard leash by feeding the hook through the hand grip).

The Chaotic Reality of Collar Mishaps

Both Bennett and Briggs have witnessed firsthand the dangers of dogs getting their jaws caught in collars. Bennett describes the situation as a “chaotic, stressful struggle that appears like a fight but quickly turns into a life or death scenario for the dogs involved.” Briggs adds, “In these situations, the collar tightens to a point where it becomes nearly impossible to remove, especially when the dogs are in a state of panic. The only option is to cut the collar off, but even that poses risks of injuring the dogs.”