Two of the most important tasks a dog owner has are 1) to keep his or her dog safe from others and 2) to keep others safe from his or her dog. In order to achieve these 2 tasks, we must walk our dog on a leash. The leash keeps the dog from running into the street, from greeting our neighbors with too much enthusiasm, or from getting lost. When considering the type of equipment to use to walk the dog, we must consider both our ability to control the dog, and the dog’s safety.
In a perfect world, we would all walk our dogs on a six foot leash attached to a plain buckle collar. For some dogs the six foot leash with a plain buckle collar will work, for others, more specialized equipment is needed. One of the least known, but most useful, types of collars is a limited slip, or martingale collar. This kind of collar is also called a greyhound collar. A Greyhound’s neck is actually wider than its head. A normal collar would slip off right away. A limited slip or martingale collar tightens just enough to stay on the dog’s neck. If your dog has a history of slipping out of his collar, or if you have a dog with a large neck and a not so big head, try a martingale collar. Many martingale collars do not have a buckle and are designed to slip on and off the dog, however I prefer a martingale collar with a buckle. With or without a buckle, a martingale collar with tighten just a bit when the leash pulls, keeping your dog safely with you and on leash.
For very small dogs, or very young puppies, I strongly encourage you to use a harness with a strap between the front legs. Most collars put pressure on a dog’s throat. Unfortunately, there is a lot of important soft tissue in a dog’s neck. Young dogs and small dogs can easily have their throat permanently damaged from the use of a collar. Using a harness with a strap between the front legs places the pressure on the dog’s breast bone. The breast bone is more able to withstand the forces applied during training and walking. Consequently, the dog is much safer when using a harness. I walk my cats on leash, and always use a harness for their safety. If they become frightened, or I accidentally pull on the leash, the harness should prevent any neck damage.
If you have a brachycephalic (short nosed) dog like a Chinese pug, Boston terrier, or French bulldog, be aware that tight collars, pulling on a loose collar, or choke chains can cause eye damage. Excessive pressure on the neck can cause an eye to pop out of its socket. Harnesses are strongly recommended for brachycephalic dogs.
For those with large or strong dogs, we must be sure of our ability to control the dog. Sometimes a plain collar does not offer enough leverage to the dog owner. A wonderful solution to this predicament – the Gentle Leader – was developed by a veterinarian R. K. Anderson. A Gentle Leader fits on a dog’s head much like a halter fits on a horse. Having control over the head gives the person at the other end of the leash much greater control over the dog’s movements. A number of inventors have developed variations of the head halter. If you have a large dog that you cannot control, try a head halter. Each variant has its own idiosyncrasies, be sure to read the directions carefully. No matter what version of a head halter you try, you should NOT jerk on the leash.
Also available to the pet owner is an old fashioned choke chain, sometimes called a training collar. A choke chain is well named: made out of chain, it is designed to choke the dog. As you might imagine, this type of collar can easily damage a dog’s neck. While this collar is often called a training collar, it provides very little training. This old fashioned collar is really designed to use physical punishment. Now that we know more about animal learning, we know that physical punishment is not necessary for a well-trained dog.
Another old fashioned collar is a pinch collar. The pinch collar looks a bit like a torture device. It has lots of prongs that poke into the dog’s neck. While many people use pinch collars without harm to the dog, this collar can cause serious damage. If you are having difficulties controlling your dog, a head halter will provide much more control than a pinch collar.
Now that you have chosen a safe and effective collar, head collar or harness for your dog, think about the leash. While the retractable leashes are very popular, your dog must pull to make them work. Not the best plan for teaching your dog not to pull on leash. The retractable leashes are often unsafe. With so much length between you and the dog, and the very thin strap, injuries to the human and the dog are easy to come by. For young dogs, who often bite and grab the leash with their sharp teeth, I usually recommend the fattest, thickest leash you can find. The sturdier leash is harder to chew into multiple pieces, an important consideration with an active, chewing puppy. For dog owners who find their hands scratched by nylon leashes, I recommend a leather leash. Leather is gentle on hands, making the walk a more enjoyable process.
Next month we will begin to teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash.
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