Posted: July 10, 2013, 3:00 p.m. EDT
By Katherine Houpt, VMD, Ph.D.
Leash pulling, an all-too-common problem experienced by many dog owners, can be dangerous to both creatures at opposite ends of the leash. Dog owners can experience sore elbows or even sustain fractures if they are pulled over or down by their pets’ power. The dog is in danger if it pulls free and is hit by a car, runs away, suffers a damaged trachea or is relinquished because it is so unpleasant to walk.
If owners understand why dogs pull, they might be able to change the animal’s motivation for doing so.
Help customers understand how different collars and leashes help control leashpulling.
Some dogs just want to run. Others walk at a reasonable pace on a loose leash until they see something they want to approach. The most common goal is prey—squirrels, cats, rabbits, deer, etc. In some cases, a dog might want to play or greet another dog; in others, the dog pulls to reach what it perceives as an adversary.
Fortunately, many products exist that can help dog and owner enjoy a more calm and satisfying stroll together. Here’s how to better understand their features in order to educate and assist customers.
The plain buckle collar and leash combination is sufficient for the well-behaved, properly trained dog that succumbs to few distractions.
For the less well-behaved, there is the choke collar.
The trick to the choke collar is to fit it properly so that it tightens and releases quickly. Jerk and release is the proper way to punish (a correction that lowers the frequency of an undesired action) pulling. Many owners command "Heel” and then jerk the choke chain before the dog has had a chance to misbehave; that dog will not learn not to pull, but it might learn to dislike the heel command.
A final option is the prong collar, which features metal prongs that push into a dog’s neck when the leash is pulled.
Head collars, such as the Gentle Leader, Halti and Snoot Loop Halter for Dogs, help control pulling.
Similar to a horse halter, head collars feature one loop that fits around the nose and another that fits around the neck. Instead of exerting pressure on the underside of the neck, they apply pressure to the back of the neck and around the muzzle. If the dog pulls on the leash, the nose loop tightens, and the dog’s head will turn toward the owner. Head collars must fit properly. If the nose loop is too tight, it irritates the dog; if it’s too loose, the dog can paw it off.
Many dog owners might decide to use a harness because they can’t control their pet using a collar. Owners who go this route should choose a harness carefully. The Easy Walk harness’ key feature allows owners to clip the leash on the chest strap, not the dog’s back, so the dog can’t pull against the pressure applied in front, giving owners a little more control. The Freedom Harness offers the option of attaching the leash to both the back and the chest so the owner can switch to the front clip when the dog might be tempted to pull. The ThunderLeash’s design features a strap that can be used as a leash or can be wrapped around the dog’s body and clipped to the collar.
Leashes come in many lengths and materials. One of the most popular styles is the retractable leash. Its best feature is that it gives a dog an 18- to 26-foot radius to explore; its worst feature is that a dog can have a 18- to 26-foot radius to find trouble. The leash extends more easily than it retracts, making it difficult to pull a dog away from the street or another dog or person. The dog doesn’t learn how close it should stay to its owner because the leash length varies widely and constant pressure is applied to the collar, so the dog habituates to it rather than responds to the pressure. Dog owners should not use a retractable leash with a head collar, because doing so keeps constant pressure on the dog’s nose.
Several products are designed to prevent pulling by signaling the dog when it exerts pressure on the leash. One product simply makes a noise audible to humans when stretched. Another, the Dog-e-Walk, is an ultrasonic device that is attached between the collar and the leash; it emits an ultrasonic signal when stretched. Ultrasound startles dogs, but most habituate quite rapidly. If the decibel level is high enough it might be a punishment.
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