How to get off on the right foot when it comes to walking your dog. The first step...which device.
Updated: Jun 20, 2020
The sun is shining and there is a pleasant breeze keeping you comfortable even in the midday sun. Sitting inside, you look around the room and realize that you want more. You want to go for a beautiful walk but you hesitate. You're tired of your dog dragging you all over the place, but you would also feel super guilty not bringing your pup. Catch-22, what do you do?
Walking side by side is a human behavior. Dogs, although may end up in a similar location, take very different paths to get there. So it is up to us humans to teach our dogs the concept of walking next to each other. But how do we go about doing this. There are, as always a variety of theories and practices. Some hold a tight leash in hopes that their dog learns from being physically held in a location that this is where they belong. Others try clicking away with a clicker and reward the dog with high value treats or human food when the dog is next to them. The problem with holding a tight leash is that you are reinforcing the act of pulling and many times you can hurt the dog and yourself from constant pressure. With clicker training here, you will always need to carry a clicker and know how/when to use it and be able to treat the dog all while walking and holding a leash. Most of my clients have a hard enough time just walking straight and holding on to the leash. Many find it very difficult to simply walk and treat the dog. It's like the difficulties of walking and chewing gum, forget about training a living creature at the same time.
So, let's take a step back and look at the details that go into walking a dog on leash. One major component that people don't focus enough attention on is the device the dog is wearing, that the leash is attached to. It's like the tires on your car. No matter how great your vehicle may be, if you are using the wrong tires for the job or your style of driving, you are going to run into so serious trouble.
There are a few basic devices that we tend to use in the dog world and some of these can be broken down into multiple versions on their own. What every you choose, the best device is the one that gets the dog to not pull. That being said, let's start off with collars. We have a regular flat buckle collar, choke chain, martingale, slip lead, prong and good dog collar. A regular flat buckle collar is good for holding tags but not much more when it comes to training purposes. Choke chains are good as back up devices working in conjunction with some of the other collars but I would not recommend them for training. Similar difference with slip leads. I use them if I need to get a dog with no collar on, leashed up and out somewhere quickly but when it comes to training, they are not the most efficient. When it comes to collars, I like the martingale because it can be used for training and as your dogs everyday device for tags. The extra loop in the front grants us to feel better when it does come to the dog pulling because it disperses the pressure around the entire neck rather then just one side. I don't use it to often for training other then being a back up to other devices but depending on the dog, it can be useful. Finally we have the good dog collar and prong collars. These are much like the martingale but with the prongs on the inside of the collar. Some dogs have strong necks and even stronger personalities and these collars can help get our point across while maintaining a loose leash. Many people are adverse to these devices due to the look and fear of hurting their dogs but when used right, they can be very effective tools. Chiropractic-ally these two collars with martingales are the best for a dogs neck because you should never have continual pressure on the leash, just momentary pops on leash.
Next we can talk about gentle leaders and the head haltie. These go around the dogs snout. They are not muzzles, the dog can open their mouths all they want. These are similar concepts to what we use with horses. If you have control of the animals nose, you have control of their head which leads to the body. It is very difficult to pull something or someone with your head. Now, when you put glasses on your face, you know why they are there. From a dogs perspective, all they think of is "Get this off of my face". Many dogs are not comfortable with something on their face and it can be a struggle to not just getting it on them but also keeping it on them. Most dogs can get used to the feeling and it can become a simple solution but you want to acclimate your dog to them over time and also not give in or feel bad for them when they try to get it off of their face.
The last type of device that I will talk about here are harnesses. This eliminates the possibility of hurting a dogs neck and dealing with their discomforts of having something on their face. The original harness, clip to the back, then they designed harnesses where the leash clips to the chest and now they have harnesses that clip to both the chest and the back. Let's be honest, harnesses were originally designed by humans to put on large animals to pull things, like horses pulling carriages across the country and oxen dragging plows in the earth. So, many lessons I go on where the owner uses a harness, the dog pulls often. It allows them to get their shoulders into it. And when we clip the leash to the chest, dogs are now walking on a slant but still pulling. I don't care which device you use as long as you hardly have to use it and the leash is loose. So when I hear about people now clipping two leashes, one to the front and one to the back of the dog, it seems way too complicated for most people to understand let a lone use properly.
You may want to test different versions of each and figure out which is best for you and your dog. Simplicity is the key. Minimize commands reinforce desired decisions made by the dog. And make sure that you have a loose leash as often as possible. Any pulling is bad and counter productive.
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