Over the years, I have walked many miles with my own dogs on leash and also with others of all sizes and breeds during the years that I owned a pet sitting business. I found there are no absolutes to easy leash walking but experience has taught me what works best for me and mine. I want to start with the ones that I found do NOT work well.
Extend leashes have their purpose but that is not for walking a dog for exercise. I do use them for little puppies in my yard that are learning potty habits with no other dogs around but that is about it. Extend leashes are dangerous for lots of reasons. The leverage a dog has when they “hit” the end of the long line amplifies the pressure on their neck for injury to them and the pressure on the person’s shoulder as well as a risk for fall. Even more dangerous is when the dog catches a finger in the rope and then decides to pull or when they run around another dog or person or your own legs with the rope extended. A cut is the least that can happen, and a rope around another dogs leg or even neck could be a disaster. There is also the psychological aspect of the extended leash to the dog who now thinks they are the leader. How many times have you been for a walk and seen a dog at the end of their extend leash pulling their owner down the street? Sadly, I’ve even been that person in my early years of owning dogs.
Harnesses that have a clip on the back of the neck or shoulders also have negatives. While they protect the dog’s neck from the injury of pulling and are good for puppies, they increase the “need” to pull by creating that negative force which I call the “sled dog” mentality.
Collars are meant to use for identification and are important, but unless fitted properly can slip right over the dog’s head when walking. I’ve seen many dogs do a little twist about and slide right out of their collar and dash away which was a nightmare in my first year as a pet sitter.
Slip chains…just too dangerous for the dog. When the chain tightens, the dog can sustain damage to their neck and esophagus. These were the standard for a long time and trainers told us to snap the chain to get the dogs attention. Now we know that may have left permanent damage. Plus, if a dog pulls, they are literally choking themselves.
Pinch collars have their place and I have in the past used them for dogs that just are too strong for me and refuse not to pull. Do I like them? No. Do I use them any more? No. There are other solutions in most cases. While not nearly as dangerous as a slip chain that tightens as the dog pulls, the negative with a pinch collar is when the dog you are walking sees another dog or person and leans toward the dog he is meeting..he gets a pinch. In the dog’s mind, the pinch was caused by the otherwise friendly dog and can and often does lead to on leash aggression because of the association. My German Shepherd who has been gone a few years was a very friendly dog but I walked her using a pinch collar. Over time, she became very dog aggressive on our walks and I now believe the pinch was part of the cause.
So…what should we use when walking our dog to keep them safe and to help them learn not to pull? What has worked the very best for me are the Easy Walk Harness and the Gentle Leader Head Halter. Note here–I find them periodically for a very low price, as low as a third of the regular price, on Amazon under the Used tab but coming directly from Amazon with free shipping. I’m guessing these are items that have been returned so they cannot advertise them as new.
My trainer leans toward the Gentle Leader and encourages everyone to use them, especially those with medium to larger dogs. They do work miracles but it takes time because the dogs hate them at first and they have to be fitted properly. They work much like a halter on a horse and once the dog is acclimated to the little strap over the nose, it’s all good. I use one on Fancy, my larger mini Aussie because she has notoriously been a puller when excited. First trip out she was aggravated by the nose strap, but we just kept on walking. I didn’t acknowledge her pawing at it and by the time we had walked a mile and she had learned to stay with my pace so there was no pressure, she walked perfectly.
My two smaller dogs, Rosie and Swagger, do best on the Easy Walk Harness because their little noses are small. The harness has the leash clip on their front chest and if they pull, the setup of the harness actually turns their body toward me instead of creating leverage against me. It works.
Ike, my old male, and Izzy walk just fine with a flat martingale collar. A martingale collar is a flat collar with an extra loop that stays loose around the dogs neck that only tightens if they pull which those two don’t. I only use the collar for a dog that never pulls.
It is so much more enjoyable to walk with a dog that isn’t pulling and I think the trick is to evaluate what you are using to lead them and how their doggy minds might be reacting as you walk. And, of course, be sure you have a 4-6 ft leather leash, with a couple of knots, for the comfort of your hands. The leather gets soft with time like a comfy shoe 🙂 Have fun, walk more!