Tools of the trade
|Drop models a reconfigured pressure harness. Photos by Dorris Dressler|
By Doris Dressler, CPDT-KA
Have you ever observed dogs walking calmly next to each other, side-by-side?
Walking side-by-side, next to each other or their owner, is not a natural dog behavior. Because dogs naturally sit, lie down, jump and roll over on their backs, it’s easy to put these behaviors on cue.
But loose leash walking? Most dogs, when left to their own devices, will dash, dart, sniff and run circles around their owners. This is why loose leash walking can be so challenging to teach.
Most dogs also learn early on that pulling works; it gets them where they want to go faster. Teaching polite, loose leash walking requires work and consistency, but never fear, there are tools that can help.
One issue with standard buckle collars is dogs can back out of them suddenly if frightened. Choke (chain) collars may prevent your dog from slipping out, but this type of collar continues to tighten around your dog’s neck, which can result in tracheal and esophageal damage.
No-slip, limited closure collars (often called martingale collars) tighten and reduce the risk of your dog slipping out of his collar, but the closure is limited, so the collar is safer than a choke collar that continues to tighten as the dog pulls.
|The no-slip collar is attached to a double-handled leash.|
I’m not a fan of retractable dog leashes. The thin cord used in these devices can cause burns, cuts and, even, finger amputations. Leashes are designed to keep your dog safe and under your control; it’s impossible to keep your dog safe if he is on leash 25 feet away. And because the retractable leash is spring-loaded, there is constant pressure on the dog’s neck. By its very design, a retractable leash will teach your dog pulling is what allows him to move forward.
A standard 4- or 6-foot leash provides most dog owners with the best control. One particular design of leash I like is the double-handled leash (Google “two handle leash”), which has a handle near the front as well as the end of the leash. This gives you extra control when you need it.
No-pull walking harness
There are a number of no-pull harnesses on the market. This type of harness typically has a strap across the chest and another strap that goes over the dog’s back and across his belly right behind his front legs. The leash attaches to the dog’s chest, not his neck or back, giving you control and leverage.
Traditional harnesses, where the leash is attached to a clip on the dogs back, can encourage dogs to pull harder because of a phenomenon called “opposition reflex,” which is the reflex that makes sled dogs pull.
The front chest leash attachment stops pulling by tightening slightly across your dog’s chest and shoulder blades. The gentle pressure steers your dog to the side and redirects his attention back towards you. This harness does not choke the dog because the chest strap rests low across the breastbone.
Head halters for dogs work the same way a head halter works on a horse; when you guide the nose and head, the rest of the body follows. A head halter is an excellent tool for high-energy pullers. Some dogs adapt to a head halter quickly; with other dogs it may take a little more time, but, with proper introduction, most dogs get used to wearing the halter quickly.
|Tanner sports a head halter.||McDoodle finds his no-pull walking harness to be comfortable even when he’s not walking.|
The halter does look like a muzzle, but it’s not. The dog can still breathe, eat, drink water, carry a stick or tennis ball and, yes, bite.
In addition to helping with pulling, users have found the head halter also can help with leash reactivity, barking and jumping (by gently pulling the leash down and over to the side to face you). The pressure around the muzzle also frequently calms anxious dogs.
The Thunderleash, developed by the Thundershirt folks, is a relatively new product that can be used as a regular leash or can be reconfigured into a pressure harness, if the dog is pulling.
If the dog is pulling, the leash can cleverly be wrapped around the dog’s torso; the leash then puts a gentle pressure on the dog’s torso, which usually results in no pulling.
Proper fit of these products is important. Most trainers carry these products and can help you properly fit your dog.