Pulling Dogs And What To Do Val Cairney
Hi everyone and thank you for joining me on this episode of Val Talk’s Pets. On this episode we are going to explore another question I get quite frequently and that is, what can I do stop my dog from pulling? Yes, this is one of the frequent questions from pet parents and want they want, is a magical tool that will sort the whole thing out. Unfortunately, that isn’t really possible, but there are tools available that can help or even create a pleasant walking experience.
A dog that pulls just creates a stressful walk for the human and in turn creates a stressful walk for the dog because they sense their parent is stressed. Plus, a dog that doesn’t come back to you leaving a loose leash, can pull you off your feet while going to investigate a smell or meet another dog. That can be dangerous, because being pulled off your feet could mean the dog is loose and could run out into traffic or engage in a dog fight. Getting a dog to listen to your commands while walking is for safety and for the pleasant time spent with your dog.
Obviously training a dog from the get go is optimum but not everyone has their dog from puppyhood. And if people are doing what we encourage them to do, which is adopting from shelters, than the possibility of an older dog is pretty good. So, if you find yourself with a dog that pulls, what are your options? First and foremost, think about going to training. A training school or private trainer, can help you teach your dog to walk beside you and remain in that position until you release him to move away from your side. Then you want the dog to come back to heal when asked. Different trainers and schools, have their preferences for what tools they ask their clients to get. Depending on what they require, you may have to go out to the shop to get what is needed. I find most training schools ask their clients to have a Halti or gentle leader. I’ll explain what these are shortly. If you decide to try this on your own, you will need to research the different tools available and I would suggest doing a lot of videos on line and then choose which method you want to begin with.
Okay, so let’s say you decide to go it alone and you are shopping for something that will help arrest the pulling. I have chosen these words, because there isn’t anything on the market that you can put on your dog and instantly have the slack leash, calm, at your side dog. The tools are just that, tools. They are designed to help you as you train your dog. Think of the task as a scale. If you can get the job done using a number level one tool, then perfect. If not, you dial up the tool to the next level and so on.
Let’s look at the head collar tool particularly the ones I mentioned earlier, the Halti and the Gentle Leader. You’ve probably seen these on dogs or used one or are using one. Many accredited service dog organizations use head collars so you may have seen them in this context as well. A head collar is basically a strap that goes around the dog’s nose and behind his head. There is a length of strap under the chin that has a ring to attach the leash. Halti’s and Gentle Leaders really only differ through that one has a floating martingale. This is a length of strap underneath the dog’s chin that can be floating or snapped into a static position. What this means is that, as the dog pulls the strap under the chin will cinch up tightening the strap around the nose. The dog will feel this tightening and the result is hopefully that the dog’s head will turn slightly in the direction of you, so you can then follow through with control. The floating martingale allows you to teach the dog that when he pulls, he feels the pressure but when he stops, the martingale will loosen and therefore he will feel a lessening of pressure and with time, realize that pulling creates the pressure he doesn’t want to feel. The option to cinch up the martingale and use the provided clip allows you to keep the desired pressure on, giving you full control continuously which can be very helpful with a reactive dog that wants to pull you off your feet to get to another dog. The other thing to look for is a safety strap that attaches to the dog’s actual collar so that if he pulls the nose strap off, you still have something tethering you to the dog so he just can’t run away.
Do these work? Well, that depends. Some people have great success with a head collar and won’t go anywhere with their dog without it. If you have introduced the head collar to a puppy, your chances are higher for success. If however, you have a dog that has come to you with a few months under his belt or years, you may not be quite as successful. I have seen pet parents want so badly to see a real change in their dog because the head collar was recommended to them either by a friend or trainer and all they get is a dog writhing away on the floor or on the sidewalk or against their leg, doing everything in their power to get it off!! And sometimes with some perseverance, you may be able to get the dog to accept wearing a head collar, but I can say not always. When I speak with pet parents who want to try a head collar because it was recommended, I always tell them, this may not be the magic answer they are looking for. Just because so and so’s dog behaved like a gem when having a head collar put on, does not mean your dog will. I just don’t want someone to get their hopes up, expecting a miracle. It could be the answer, but as I say, not always.
So what do you do if the head collar is just not going to work? A lot of people gravitate to harnesses as a tool to stop pulling. Some dogs work well with a harness and the pet parent feels that they have more control. Some dogs however, will use the harnesses’ ability to provide them with power from the chest to actually pull more. And just to be clear, if you have a husky or malamute or Samoyed, or cross of any of these, I would strongly suggest not using a harness. These dogs are hardwired to pull, and putting a harness on them just gives them the exact tool they need to fulfill that desire. A regular harness will have a ring on the back where the leash is attached and that’s pretty much it. If your dog responds to this, great, but if he doesn’t you can look into no pull harnesses that have a ring on the front of the harness designed to do a similar thing as the head collars, which is to gently pull the dog to the side and then you can redirect that forward motion to come back to you. These front leading harnesses can be quite effective. To take it to the next level, Halti has a no-pull system, where the dog has a harness and two leads, one attached to the front and one on the back. This gives double control to provide a pull back on the dog and a redirect to the side. As I said, you may have to dial up your tools to get the job done.
There are a number of front leading harnesses from Pet Safe, to Canada Pooch to Halti. You would just have to have a look at the different types to see what is appropriate. I do find that smaller dogs tend to react better to a plain harness. I can tell you that I have seen many large dogs, barge in with a human being dragged behind and the large dog is wearing a harness. Personally, I would never use a harness on Tundra, not just because he is half Husky but because he is a large dog and personally I just wouldn’t feel confident that I had control. Thankfully he is a great walker that stays right by my side.
We have looked at head collars and harnesses so let’s now look at training collars and prong collars.
A training collar looks just like a regular collar except the collar is interrupted with a chain or material that is in a loop with a ring for the leash. As the dog pulls, the chain or material piece called a martingale will contract creating pressure around the dog’s neck. As the dog stops tugging or pulling the collar will relax creating a teaching method of when the dog stops he gets the message. Many dog’s react quite well to training collars and give the pet parent a good sense of control. The collar will tighten slightly when the dog pulls, but will not choke the dog or harm his neck in any way. The gentler nature of the training collar with a martingale is a great option and has the added benefit of being non-slip.
Prong collars mean we have had to dial up our tools. They look a bit scary for sure and some people are absolutely against their use, but if the prong collar is the difference between the dog getting out and having some exercise or staying in the house or backyard all the time, well maybe some compromise has to be made. It all depends. Rescuedogs101.com, states that “the prong collar when fitted properly is designed to be the most humane way to train and to NOT harm your dog.” The advantage of the prong collar or pinch collar and a feature that a lot of people do not know, is that “the prong collar puts universal pressure around the entire dog’s neck, kind of like a mother dog does with her puppies.” The best way to fit the collar is for it to be snug but not tight. You will need a bit of play so that when the dog pulls, there is movement of the collar. Best results usually occur when the collar is higher up on the neck. The prong collar should not be used to punish a dog or be worn all the time. This is a training, walking tool only. A gentle pop of the collar when the dog is pulling usually is all that is needed. A constant constriction of the collar is when things go negative.
I have found that many dogs learn very quickly with a prong collar and when they have it on they behave quite well. As I said, if you have exhausted all options, you have to think of the next level of tools. Is it crueler to have a dog being constantly yanked on with a head collar twisting them continuously to the side or to have the job done in a few moments? Many dog parents have found that after several frustrating attempts and money down the drain, the prong collar has saved the day. The ability to take a dog out that either pulls or is reactive with confidence that you have control is a game changer. Also, many dogs end up in shelters for this very reason. Some people just give up because they cannot walk the dog or when they do it is a disaster. Would it not be kinder to use the tool that gets the job done and saves an animal’s life? Well these are things to consider as the issue around using a prong collar will always have its sides.
And a quick comment on choke collars is that many stores do not sell them anymore based on what this collar does, hence its name. The problem with choke collars is that most often they are used improperly and can cause damage. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell people that are still using them, that this is not something a dog should be wearing all the time. That scares me.
The last tool I will talk about is the remote trainer. In this case the dog wears a collar that has a receiver on it. The human has a remote in their hand. If the dog is pulling or lunges to another dog, the person can hit a button to send a sensation to the dog. I hate these collars being called shock collars. Maybe some cheap remote trainer that only has a static correction at high level would fall into this, but most have many levels of correction and have an audio and vibration mode. You can easily set the collar to only vibrate when the button is pushed or give an audio beep, or both where the dog hears a beep and then a vibration. If this fails you can then enlist the help of the static modes.
The static modes give the buzz at a low level that can be dialed up, but most dogs react positively at the low levels or with audio and vibration only. I have tried the static mode on myself at level 1 – 5. I would equate the sensation to a slight hit of your funny bone or a bit of a snap of an elastic band on your wrist. Of course the higher levels are going to illicit a more dramatic response, but as I said most dogs do not need anything more than the audio or vibration. And as with the prong collar, this could be the difference between enjoying time outside and together, or giving up.
So there we have it. There are several tools available to help with a dog that pulls and tugs on the leash or is reactive to other dogs. The satisfaction of walking with a dog on a loose leash, enjoying nature is a dream. I see people walking their dogs all the time. Some look like absolute pleasures to have out on a stroll. Some people look like they are about to face plant into the ground and be dragged along like a sack of potatoes. I give these people credit for being out there but I’m sure they would love to have a better experience. The tools available can really help but you have to remember they are tools not miracles. The collar or harness or trainer is used to help you with training and that is going to be the key. Being consistent and finding the right thing for your dog is what can turn things around. And if I can just add, if you have a dog that pulls, tugs or is reactive, do not use a retracting leash. They are just not safe.
So do some research, see what works, practice, look up training videos and enlist the help of a professional trainer. Don’t give up. Your dog wants to enjoy the outdoors with you just as much as you want to enjoy outdoor time with him. The tools are there, you just have to find the one that works for your dog, because as I say, knowing is caring.
Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.
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