Harness the Love - Tips for On-Leash Walking September 2016
Training a dog to walk on a loose leash is one of the biggest challenges most dog owners face. The need for consistency is paramount, however when you are trying to be consistent with an activity that your dog needs at least 3 times a day to do their business and get exercise, it doesn’t always happen. Life is busy and gets in the way and that is why the invention of the “no-pull” harness has been a life saver (literally) for many dogs and owners. Walks can become more pleasurable and manageable in an instant without causing the dog pain or stress which means that owners will be more likely to take the dog out for regular walks which leads to less behavioural problems and less dogs surrendered to shelters. When I worked full-time as a dog walker I worshipped no-pull harnesses since it was impossible for me to train my client's dogs when I only saw them once a day. No-pull harnesses saved my arms, back and maybe even my life the many times my group walk of 4-5 large dogs would lunge at squirrels in unison (see photos above and below).
There is a lot of dispute over the best gear to walk your dog on and it often centres around an argument about how strong and tough a dog’s neck is. Some trainers and owners claim that dog’s necks are thicker skinned and/or have more muscle then we humans do and so collars will not cause any damage. In actuality dog's necks are anatomically quite similar to our own. Their thyroid gland, trachea and esophagus are all in relatively the same position sticking out at the front of their neck. If you don’t believe me please take a second to feel your own throat, then reach down and feel your dogs throat. Besides the presence of fur, they feel virtually the same. Now imagine this, If you had to be tethered to a slow walking and unpredictable chaperone EVERY time you went outside, would prefer it to be attached to a harness on your torso or a collar around your throat?
These same trainers and owners will also often dispute harnesses saying that they encourage pulling. I see the flip side, that collars discourage pulling because they are uncomfortable. Often times the sensation of a flat collar is actually not uncomfortable (punishing) enough compared to how rewarding (reinforcing) new smells, or getting to the dog park is and so a dog will still pull on a flat collar despite the discomfort they may feel. This is often when owners will resort to even more extreme (more punishing) collars such as choke or prong that cause even more discomfort (pain) which are more likely trump any of the rewards for pulling. Since (ideally) a harness does not feel uncomfortable when a dog puts pressure on it, the dog is certainly more likely to pull, but to say that harnesses “encourage pulling” is a misnomer.
It is important to note that if not properly sized and fitted ANY harness can restrict natural movement and/or cause discomfort (watch out for the armpits) so please keep that in mind and find the best fit for your dog.
No-pull harnesses are not just for big dogs, they work great on all sizes!
- Back Clip harnesses: These are the most standard type of harness. The leash attaches to a clip on the upper back of the dog and are generally the least restrictive and most comfortable style. They do nothing to discourage pulling and so are not recommendeded for dogs who pull a lot. There are step in versions, over the head styles, and special varieties specifically designed to distribute weight for pulling sports like sledding.
- No-Pull Front Clip harnesses: If your dog is a strong puller or lunges at dogs or squirrels while on leash, “no pull” harnesses are a godsend. The leash attaches to a clip on the front of the dog's chest so that when they pull forwards they are redirected back around towards their owner without putting any pressure on their throat. These harnesses are designed to decrease pulling through redirection and by giving an owner more leverage via the point of connection. The most common brands are The Easy-walk and the Sensation Harness.
- Two in One: Many harnesses these days have both a front and a back clip. I adore these for the simple fact that you have the day to day choice. My own dog Shadow used to be a full-time puller, he is now well trained in loose leash walking however there are some situations where he will still pull. During those times I can work on training but I am not always in the mood so the front clip option allows me quick and painless relief from pulling. Alternatively for really strong dogs, using a double ended leash to attach to both the front and back clip can give the walker added control with two points of connection. If you are training a leash reactive dog having two points of connection can aid greatly in keeping the leash loose and free of tension. My favourite brands are: The Freedom Harness which has a velvet lined under arm strap to reduce chaffing, The Front Range harness by Ruffware, and The Perfect Fit Harness.
The Ruffwear Front Range Harness attached to the front clip only despite it being a "Two in One" option.
To learn more about harness options or the "Harness the Love" campaign please visit the official website
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