I was in Roswell last Thursday at a new Home Dog Training client and his Australian Shepherd, Hunter. Hunter was about to celebrate his one-year birthday and was in need of some training. After a very short amount of time, my client understood how to let Hunter know he was Hunter’s leader. It was now time for Hunter to start paying attention to him.
Now that we got the “Who’s the leader thing” resolved, we continued on to fixing Hunter’s bad behavior. Hunter’s big “no-no’s” included jumping, taking food from the table, and going nuts at the front door when people came over. After we resolved the behavior problems, we went on to simple obedience commands. We worked on “the classics” that included come, sit, stay, and walking.
Being an Aussie, Hunter was prone to pulling and lack of focus on the leash. One of the big things I focused on with walking was the use of the correct equipment. I would like to share my discussion with you.
The first thing that I told Hunter’s owners and the first thing that I tell all my clients is to understand what they are trying to accomplish when walking their dog. Without going into all the wrong answers, I initially remind them that their dog must always understand that they are their dog’s care giver, protector, and care giver. Their dog must always look to them for guidance when doing something wrong and assurance when doing something right.
When walking your dog, you must always be in charge and calmly direct your dog to the right action and correct decision. The first thing you must do is to figure out what the decisions and actions you want your dog to perform. I like to keep it simple and although I never force rules on clients, I will always “offer suggestions”. My advice to my clients is that, when walking their dog, their dog should be at a safe distance they define, always be paying attention to them, and both owner and dog should be having a great time walking.
Now that we have the “game plan” in place, we can consider how to most effectively create an excellent walking experience. Although there are obviously behavioral and situational factors to consider, I always like to start my recommendation with a discussion on equipment.
Let me make this clear. I do not like walking a dog off leash. Some people do; I don’t. Because of that, I always use a leash when walking my dog or any dog I am training.
I do not use an extension leash. These are the leashes with the handle and a button. You hook your dog to the leash, normally a cord, that can be extended by pressing the button on the handle. This is a terrible walking tool for several reasons:
- When you push the button, your dog is given more leash on which to roam. It is often difficult to stop the leash from extending farther than you wish.
- There is no easy way to use the leash to bring your dog back to you. There is no “reverse button” on the leash.
- You can only hold the leash with one hand. If you have a strong dog, it is very difficult to control their pulling, jumping, and other hyperactive activities.
- Part of the walking experience between you and your dog is your physical linkage. It is very, very hard to “feel each other” when there is a plastic handle and a button for control between the two of you.
What I do suggest is a simple, “no frills” leash made up of a handle on one end and the collar hook on the other. I suggest a nylon or leather leash because of their simplicity and stability. I do not suggest the leashes that “act like rubber bands”. The “rubber band leashes” decrease your ability to actively control your dog because of their inability to provide a consistent and timely correction communication.
Next comes my discussion of the length of your dog’s leash. I walk dogs on six-foot leashes, and I also walk dogs on thirty-foot training leads. My decision regarding which to choose is based on the following:
- I always want to keep my dog safe. If I am in a busy area or there are people, animals, or things that might detract from my dog’s safety; I will keep him closer to me. This will either mean that I will use a six-foot leash or only part of the thirty-foot training lead.
- I always want to be able to maintain my dog’s focus. This can be done by calling their name and/or giving the leash a slight tug. I can also tell if I am maintaining my dog’s focus because they are looking back to me from time to time. If these items are occurring, I am maintaining my dog’s focus while they are at the distance I have provided. If this is not the case, I need to switch to the shorter leash (six foot) or use less of the training lead.
- I decide what I want to do. If I feel that I am keeping my dog safe and they are providing me with respectful focus, I can pick either style of leash. If I like walking my dog on a long leash with all the above criteria met, no problem. The same can be said if I like walking my dog on the shorter, six-foot leash.
Now that we understand about the leash, let’s move on to the collar. I always like to have a collar on my dog all the time. For my clients, I always “suggest” that they have a collar on their dog whenever the dog is going to be outside the house. They should also have a dog tag on the collar that includes the dog’s name and their phone number. If there is room to include their name on the dog tag, that would be even better.
If the dog is a “great walker”, doesn’t pull on the leash, never goes after squirrels, bikes, mail trucks, etc.; hooking the leash to the collar for the walk is all the equipment that you will need. This means that your dog is always walking near you at the distance and location you desire. You very rarely need to tug the leash to get your dog’s attention and correct their inappropriate behavior.
In the case I just described, the collar and leash are being used as passive safety devices. You don’t believe that you will need to use them, but they are there in the rare case when your dog may misbehave.
In my long experience of training dogs, this is normally not the case when you step outside for a walk through the neighborhood with your dog. There is normally something that will get your dog to pull, jump, etc. Sometimes your dog is just in “one of his moods” and you need to give him additional direction that is normally not needed. In these instances, an additional piece of “walking gear” is needed.
When your dog is misbehaving, you need to regain control and his focus. The only way that this will ever take place is if you are calm and can easily have him look towards you. In other words, your dog must stop being crazy, turn around, and look towards you.
The only way you can accomplish this is through a “Front-Loaded Harness”. This is a dog harness that has the hook for the leash positioned on the chest portion of the harness. We suggest that you hook the leash on the hook on the chest portion of the harness and also the collar. This will give the maximum amount of “touch points” when you actually engage in it’s use.
When your dog is misbehaving, jumping, going after the squirrel, etc.; simply give the harness a quick tug. Since the leash is attached to your dog’s chest, your tug action will cause him to swing around and look at you. Since the leash is hooked to both your dog’s collar and harness, multiple touch points are used to “swing him around”. This causes the least stress on any one part of his body and will keep him extremely safe during the process.
We suggest that you use the Easy Walk Harness from Pet Safe. We have used them for years and have always found their reliability and ability to properly fit all sizes and shapes of dogs exceptional. Other Front-Loaded Harnesses may also work just fine for your dog. Just find one that works and use it.
One last thing. Many people use (what I call) “Nose Harnesses”. These are devices that are placed over your dog’s nose. The leash is attached to the harness and when you tug the leash, it pulls your dog’s nose towards you. The problem with these devices is that you could easily “yank the leash”, snap your dog’s head around, and damage your dog’s neck. Even though they are designed to do the same thing as the Easy Walk Harness (have your dog look at you and give your focus), using them could be dangerous for your dog.
It all gets down to using the right tool to achieve the appropriate outcome.
Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years. We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and excellent families and are ready to help you.