It's a beautiful, sunny day and you're heading out for a walk with your dog to stretch your legs. You take a deep breath of fresh air, and....YOINK! Your arm is promptly torn out of your socket as your dog lunges forward to furiously sniff the nearest light post.
Leash pulling is one of the most common training issues experienced by pet dog owners. The bigger the dog, the bigger the problem, as you enter into a battle of strength between yourself, and your highly motivated dog who has long since perfected the art of pulling.
Dogs pull for many reasons, but at the foundation of all of these reasons is because it works! It gets the dog exactly what they want: access to new scents (the light post, grass, neighboring fence, etc.), the opportunity to greet/investigate passing dogs and people, and gets them where they want to go!
The more our dogs pull, the more they are reinforced by the behavior, and the more frustrated we become; which generally translates into shorter or fewer walks. The less access the dog has to the wonderful world outside of their yard, the more motivated they are to pull, and so the cycle continues!
Yes, teaching your dog polite walking or a "heel" position on the leash is a great way to combat leash pulling, but that is something that takes time, and sometimes time is something we just do not have to spend.
A great way to manage your dog's pulling and bring some sense of control (and enjoyment) back into your walks, is through anti-pulling equipment.
So, where do you start? The world of dog collars, harnesses and leashes can be an overwhelming one, so let's go over the equipment I recommend, the equipment I avoid, and the reasons why!
*The "Do's" and "Don't" in this post are simply referring to my personal preference of equipment in regards to managing pulling.
A harness is piece of equipment that is secured around the torso of the dog, with straps in front of the chest, and around the rib cage. Harnesses are popular for small dogs with delicate throats, to protect them from pulling against, and potentially damaging, their trachea during walks.
Back Clip Harness (DON'T)
A back clip harness is one where your leash clips to a D-ring over the back or shoulders of the dog. These harnesses are designed for a dog who is already trained not to pull on their leash, and does very little in the way of discouraging pulling. As mentioned above, this is an option well suited for a small dog, whose pulling may not be a problem for you, or a trained dog.
In an untrained dog, a harness that clips at the back creates a 'sled pull' action with your dog, where you replace the sled; sounds fun, right? The harness makes it comfortable for the dog to lean into and pull against, without the worry of coughing or gagging as he may do when he pulls against his collar.
Tightening Harness (DON'T)
These harnesses are designed to tighten and add pressure when your dog pulls, which can discourage the behavior. This tightening can be uncomfortable and even painful for your dog. This harness is not teaching your dog not to pull on the leash, rather, don't pull when wearing this specific piece of equipment. They can be functional in managing a dog's pulling behavior, but I feel there are better options.
Front Clip Harness (DO)
This harness is fashioned on your dog the same way a back clip harness is, however the D-ring to attach your leash to will be at the front chest area of your dog. The leash will then come around the dog's chest, pass their shoulder and into your hands. The chest clip gives you control over the direction your dog is moving and allows you to redirect the dog to face you much easier.
This harness style works great for managing mild to moderate pullers, or small-medium dogs. For large dogs (with a lot of weight to put into their leash pulling) or a chronic leash puller, see the section on head collars!
Head collars mimic a horse halter, where they have a loop that slips over the dog's nose, and they fasten behind the ears on the back of the neck.
They are designed to help you control your dog by gently guiding his head (an animal tends to go where it's head goes!)
The biggest downside to head collars for most dog owners is that many dogs take time to become comfortable and happy wearing one, where lots of dogs will accept a harness with minimal fuss. To me, this is a "short term pain, long term gain" situation, and I always encourage clients to be patient, and do lots of fun training sessions to teach their dog to be comfortable having the collar put on, and walking with it.
The two most common brands of head collars are the Gentle Leader and a Halti.
I prefer the Halti brand, mainly due to the feature where you can clip into the regular collar in the event that your dog gets out of head collar. This way your leash is still indirectly attached to your dog's collar and they are not 'free' to run off, creating a potentially dangerous situation.
Martingale Collar (DON'T)
A martingale collar is made with two loops; the larger loop goes around the dog's neck, and the smaller loop is where your leash clips onto. Should the dog put tension on the leash, the smaller loop will tighten, making the entire collar tighter on the neck. Some might call this a "humane choke collar." For pulling management, this collar would best suit a mild pulling dog of small to medium stature. I personally don't find that many dogs pay much heed to this tightening action of the collar, and will continue blazing forward at the pace they desire.
I do like the martingale collars for dogs who are experts at slipping out of the collars, or dogs with necks larger than their heads, where traditional collars will simply slip off if the dog backs out based on the dog's anatomy alone!
The reason I don't recommend martingale collars, is that although I have no major issues with them being used on dogs, but do not find them particularly helpful with managing pulling!
Choke Collar (DON'T)
The choke collar looks like a thick chain, and works in direct relation to tension on the leash. The collar acts like a rope looped through itself, tightening when tension is applied, and loosening when tension is removed. With choke collars, you run the risk of damaging the dogs neck if: they pull chronically despite the tightening of the collar, and/or you are giving harsh or inappropriate leash "corrections."
Aside from the potential danger of using a choke collar, they can be extremely averse to our dogs. Often our dogs do not make the connections that we hope they make during leash training. You may want to communication that "your pulling on the leash to greet the approaching dog resulted in me snapping my leash and 'correcting' you with the choke collar." Your dog may hear "that dog started approaching us and made my collar snap around my neck, which hurt and scared me. Now, I do not like dogs approaching me on the leash."
Choke collars may be effective on dogs when used correctly, but I firmly believe there are equally if not more effective, and more humane equipment options out there to manage leash pulling.
Pinch/Prong Collar (DON'T)
The pinch collar is composed of multiple links, each with a set of prongs on the end that lies against the dog's neck. The collar has a small chain portion, where you clip your leash, that will tighten much like a martingale collar when tension is applied. This will result in the tightening of the collar, and pressure/pinching of the prongs that are against the dog's neck. The idea is that this discomfort teaches the dog not to pull against the leash to avoid the uncomfortable feeling.
Much like choke collars, the pinch collar can result in a dog who does not pull against their collar, as they don't like the resulting feeling. You can also get a connection between what caused that dog to pull initially (the sight of a person or dog they are eager to greet) with the pain of the collar tightening, resulting in an aversion/sensitivity or reactivity towards that dog/person. "Go away because when you are around my collar hurts me."
As for all of the above mentioned equipment, there are many brands and variations available. Ensure that whatever piece of equipment you choose it fits your dog properly, and you are comfortable with how the apparatus functions.
If you are unsure of what piece of equipment would work best for your leash puller, contact us today to discuss your options!
Happy Clicking, and Happy Walking!