CHOOSING THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT FOR YOUR DOG
Walk into any pet store and you'll see an array of collars, halters, harnesses and other gadgets that will make your head spin. Maybe you are lucky enough to have a dog that walks perfectly on a regular, flat collar, but if you need a little equipment support, this guide is for you.
It will likely take some trial and error to figure out what works for you and your dog. Most pet stores will let you try on collars or harnesses in the store, and have a good return policy if they don't work out. Below are some of the most common categories of equipment and notes on how they work:
The martingale collar looks like a flat collar with an extra chain or fabric loop that can tighten if the dog puts tension on the leash. It will not reduce pulling on its own, but it is a good safety option, particularly for dogs with big necks or small heads!
If the collar is fitted properly, the dog can’t easily slip out of it. It should dangle when there is slack on the leash, and should not choke the dog if tightened to its smallest size.
The martingale design is available at most pet stores in a variety of sizes and designs. These collars should be removed if the dog is left alone or is playing with other dogs, as there is a risk of the loop becoming caught on something and causing a choking hazard.
Basic body harness
This is a good option for small dogs, mellow dogs, or those who can’t tolerate pressure on the neck from a collar. A standard body harness will have the leash attachment at the back, and this will not reduce pulling. Because it distributes weight around the body, it may actually increase the urge to pull.
There are a variety of designs out there at different price points! Shop around to find a design that doesn't chafe or restrict your dog's gait.
Pulling on leash is one of the most common training challenges! If this is causing stress to you and your dog, we recommend consulting a trainer for some loose-leash walking tips.
A front-clip harness can reduce the urge to pull by turning the front of the body towards you when the dog pulls forward. There are many brands available and you may find that you have a preference for a particular style or fit. We have had a lot of success with the Freedom Harness - it is adjustable to fit a variety of dog body types, has a back clip and a front clip (you can use either or both), and has a velvety strap across the belly to minimize chafing.
The front-clip should ideally be used along with positive reinforcement training methods to encourage loose leash walking. Over time, the constant tension of the harness across the chest may affect their gait.
Some dogs pull through a front-clip harness or may have injuries that are exacerbated by its use. A head halter may be an appropriate alternative. When you have control of the dog’s head, it is difficult for them to pull with the same force, and you can help direct their focus back to you.
Again, we recommend that you use this in conjunction with behaviour modification training to encourage loose-leash walking skills, and pay close attention to any potential for injury. If the dog is extremely reactive, for example, holding them back by a head halter may cause injury to the head or neck.
Leashes are mandatory in most places, most of the time, so invest in a good one! Look for canvas, leather, or another sturdy material that is comfortable for you to hold for long amounts of time, in all kinds of weather conditions. A length of 4-6 feet is ideal, and some leashes come with features like padded handles or an additional "traffic handle" for extra control.
Remember that being off-leash is a privilege and not a right! Keep your off-leash activities to designated area, and ensure you have control over your dog before letting him/her off-leash.
If your dog is not ready for off-leash play, seek out fenced areas or try a long line. You can make your own or purchase them at various lengths at a pet store. A long line allows the dog some freedom to run, play, or chase a ball, but you can easily grab or step on the line to guide them back to you if lose their focus.
If there is a risk that your dog might bite a person or other dog, a muzzle might be a great solution. It keeps your dog safe and may allow you to relax knowing that even in a surprise scenario, no one will be hurt.
Certain jurisdictions may have breed-specific legislations requiring certain dogs to be muzzled, no matter what their individual risk to the public.
In any case, don't be deterred by a muzzle! If you introduce it in a positive light and the dog comes to associate it with walks and good times, many wear them happily. It's imperative to use a basket muzzle on walks to ensure the dog can pant or breathe - fabric grooming muzzles that force the mouth shut should never be used for more than a few minutes at a time. Check out Why Muzzles Are Marvellous (blog post) and the Muzzle Up! Project for some information and inspiration.
Now go walk!
A daily walk is more than just exercise! It's bonding between you and your dog, and an enormous amount of mental enrichment as the dog explores his or her world. The right equipment is essential but won't function as a “band-aid” for problem behaviours. If your dog is having challenges with his or her leash manners or having other problems on walks, contact us for a referral to a qualified, positive reinforcement trainer in your area!
HugABull does not condone the use of shock, prong or choke collars, and recommends against retractable leashes.